By Julia Huentemann, 3rd year Student in International Relations and Editor-in-Chief of International Relations Today.
Following the presidential elections on November 8th, 2016, the United States held its Midterm Elections on Tuesday November 5th, while the world was eagerly watching how America voted halfway through Trump’s term in office.
What mandates stood for election?
Both chambers of Congress, the Senate (consisting of 100 Senators, two from each state) and the House of Representatives (composed of 435 members representing the states according to the size of population) had to be re-assembled. In both chambers the Republicans have been holding the majority; in the Senate (Upper House) with 51 to 49 Senators and in the House of Representatives (Lower House) with 235 to 193 seats.
While the members of the Lower House only serve a two-year term (but in practice are often re-elected), the Senators are elected for six years. In order to guarantee continuity, not all Senators are elected at the same time. Hence, every two years one third, i.e. 35, of the 100 Senators and all members of the Lower House stand for election.
In this Midterm-Election, among the Senators 26 Democrats and 9 Republicans and among the Representatives 193 Democrats and 235 Republicans had to defend their mandates. Even though no final results are at hand when writing this article, it is a fact that the Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives (at least 223 of the 435 seats) and that the Republicans were able to firm up their position in the Senate with at least 51 of the 100 Senators.
What do these results bring about for President Trump and his Administration?
The primary function of Congress is the enactment of laws. To make a new law, a bill is introduced by a member into one of the chambers. Each house of Congress has the power to introduce legislation on any subject except laws for raising money, which must originate in the House of Representatives. Hence, a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives can (and most likely will) refuse to authorize money for projects they do not support (such as the wall at the Mexican border). Moreover, a Democratic majority can submit requests making sure that the Trump Administration has to engage in matters other than prioritized. And finally, as a united front, the Democrats could force Trump to transparency (e.g. in terms of his private tax declaration) and to account, e.g. concerning the Russian involvement in the election campaign 2016.
In order to bypass a blockade policy by the Democrats, Trump could bring through his policy via presidential decrees, just like Obama did in his last years in office, struggling with a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress. But in this case, his successor in office (in case he should not be re-elected) could rescind such decisions. To ensure sustainable change, Trump is reliant on Democratic cooperation and needs to find compromises, a skill he has not proven so far.
Another threat for Trump resulting from a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is the initiation of an impeachment process. But this is rather a theoretical threat, because in practice, Trump’s removal from office will not happen, since this requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate-vote, and a Republican-led Senate will not vote for Trump’s impeachment. Hence, this would be a waste of time and resources.
His power to appoint Supreme Court judges and ambassadors and to choose the heads of all executive departments and agencies is not affected by the new balance of power in the Lower House.
To what extent can these results affect Europe and the rest of the world?
The president´s chief duty is to protect the Constitution and to enforce the laws made by Congress. But for formulating and executing the foreign policy of the United States, the president has overall responsibility and participates in summits conferences where chiefs of state meet for direct consultation. In this field of policy Trump does not depend on the Democrats and a policy of blockade in internal affairs might encourage him to concentrate on foreign policy instead with unpredictable consequences for the rest of the world. The more he gets under pressure on the national stage, the more he might let off steam on the international stage. A scenario, the world does not need.
Who is the winner of this election?
It was a small victory for the Republicans to have defended their narrow majority in the Senate. It was a remarkable victory for the Democrats to have gained control in the House of Representatives.
And it was a great victory for democracy! No midterm election in the recent decades has enjoyed so much attention – neither nationally nor internationally. Polling participation has increased from 37 per cent to 48 per cent respectively from 83 million to 113 million voters. Many young Americans have found their way to the polling station and especially the female electorate has been mobilized. Whatever his legacy will once be associated with, Trump obviously managed to boost appreciation for democracy itself, whether on purpose or not.
It was neither a triumph for Trump nor actually for the Democrats, even though both parties claim election victory. Only future will tell who the real winner is, but for sure this election made Democracy strong again.