WASHINGTON ― The Democratic “blue wave” crested on the steps of the Senate on Tuesday as Republicans held on to their majority in the upper chamber.
Republicans are poised to pick up even more seats than expected as Democratic incumbent Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) all lost their seats, while the GOP has lost only Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada. Three other races were too close to call as of Wednesday morning.
Unlike the House, where every seat is up for grabs every two years, Senate elections are staggered. Democrats faced a tough map this cycle, defending 10 seats in states President Donald Trump won in 2016.
Republican control of the Senate gave the president something positive to talk about after an Election Day that was otherwise favorable to Democrats, who have regained control of the House.
More importantly for Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can continue confirming Trump’s judicial nominees ― further cementing the judiciary as a key part of his and Trump’s legacy. The Senate has now confirmed 84 of Trump’s judicial nominees ― 53 to district courts, 29 to circuit courts, and two to the Supreme Court.
Trump is also expected to make a number of changes to his Cabinet in coming months ― including possibly replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions. A larger majority in the Senate means Republicans will have an easier time confirming the president’s choices.
Republicans argued the rancorous, monthlong debate over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the high court helped drive up enthusiasm among their base ahead of Election Day. Indeed, several Democrats up for re-election red states saw their poll numbers dip in October following the confirmation hearings.
“The Democrats energized the Republican Party in a way we’ve never been able to do,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said of the Kavanaugh hearings during an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt earlier this week.
Both Republicans and Democrats have talked up the prospect of bipartisan compromise on infrastructure next year. But while they agree on the need to overhaul the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges and waterways, they don’t see eye to eye on how to pay for it.
Lawmakers spent little time jousting over spending in Trump’s first two years in office because most Republicans dropped their doomsaying about the nation’s deficit and embraced big budget bills. That will probably change in the next Congress.
McConnell will now have to cooperate with a Democratic House in order to raise the debt limit and keep the government from shutting down. And with Trump still calling on Congress to fund construction of his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border ― despite repeatedly promising to make Mexico pay for it ― odds are good we’ll see another messy fight over spending before the year is out.