U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday celebrated the better-than-expected performance of Democrats in Tuesday’s midterm elections, calling the preliminary results a “good day” for democracy and the country.
But he admitted the results — which were still trickling in on Wednesday, leaving control of Congress up in the air — showed voters remain concerned with the impacts of high inflation, along with public safety and the rising cost of living.
“While the press and the pundits were predicting a giant red wave, we didn’t have it,” Biden told reporters from the White House.
“Another thing we know is that voters spoke clearly about their concerns…. The voters were also clear that they are still frustrated. I get it.”
Although dozens of races remained too close to call by Wednesday afternoon, Republicans appeared poised to gain control of the House of Representatives and could have another chance to swap the fragile makeup of the Senate next month, when a high-profile race in Georgia heads to a runoff.
But the party did not perform as expected in a midterm year that historically serves as a rebuke to the party in the White House. Earlier projections had predicted Republicans would earn an advantage in the House of at least 10 seats and as many as 30, but it appeared by Wednesday that its majority will be razor-thin, possibly by just a couple of seats.
That could give Democrats a chance to peel away votes from the Republicans to continue to advance Biden’s agenda or help them block legislation pushed by Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the man widely expected to become the next House speaker, who will have authority over what bills make it to the House for votes.
McCarthy’s path to the speaker’s position could be complicated by a slimmer Republican majority, however, with some far-right members openly calling for an alternative candidate more aligned with former president Donald Trump’s populist, “America First” agenda while criticizing McCarthy’s own predictions for a resounding victory.
“Look, we were told we were going to have an incredible, incredible wave,” said Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, in an online streaming show.
“If that would have been the case,” with a 20-, 30- or 40-seat margin, “you would say, ‘Well, OK, Kevin is the presumptive Republican nominee for speaker.’ But I think we need to have a serious discussion.”
What Democrats won’t be able to stop are Republican efforts to scrutinize the Biden administration. The party has vowed to launch congressional investigations into the president’s handling of COVID-19, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, security at the southern border and even Biden’s family. Some extreme members have openly called for impeachment proceedings against Biden and members of his administration, including Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“Good luck in your senior year, as my coach used to say,” Biden chuckled when asked about those potential investigations.
Republicans could also use upcoming votes to raise the nation’s debt limit or set government funding as leverage to push their legislative priorities, which could trigger an financial crisis or a government shutdown — nightmare scenarios for a White House tasked with combating inflation and a fragile economy.
Biden vowed to continue working across the aisle on legislation, adding he hopes Republicans in Congress will do the same. But he drew a line on any legislation from Republicans “that will make inflation worse,” including tax cuts for wealthy Americans and corporations, and efforts to reduce aid to Ukraine or otherwise weaken America’s foreign policy.
“I’m not going to change anything in any fundamental way,” he said, referring to his agenda, while also rejecting Republican campaign pledges to vote on whether to continue Social Security and Medicare assistance for seniors and low-income Americans.
The president added he expected to meet with McCarthy “soon.” The two have had a frosty relationship and have rarely met together since Biden took office.
The Senate is expected to remain almost evenly split regardless of what happens in Georgia, where neither Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock nor his Republican opponent Herschel Walker earned more than 50 per cent of the vote. Warnock overtook Walker in the final vote count, suggesting he may hold onto the hotly contested seat.
Democrats pulled off a major victory in Pennsylvania, where John Fetterman narrowly beat Republican and celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz to flip the seat from red to blue. Fetterman will replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.
But Republicans could be set to return the favour in Nevada, where Adam Laxalt was leading over incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto by three points. The race had yet to be called by The Associated Press as of Wednesday afternoon.
Another race yet to be called, in Arizona, saw incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly leading Republican Blake Masters, who was one of the most eager backers of Trump and his false claims of election fraud.
Several Democratic governors also beat back challenges from Trump-endorsed Republicans, including in Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Democrats were also leading in some high-profile races that remained too close to call, including Oregon and Arizona. The Republican gubernatorial candidate in Arizona, Kari Lake, has been among the most vocal election deniers during the midterm campaigns and raised doubts over the slow counting of votes in the state.
Biden, who has repeatedly warned that democracy itself was on the ballot by pointing to election-denying candidates in the Republican party, said Wednesday that the results were showing voters had rejected those efforts.
“Our democracy has been tested in recent years, but with their votes, the American people have spoken and proven once again that democracy is who we are,” he said.
He added the results would not change his plans to run for re-election in 2024. Trump has promised to make “a big announcement” next Tuesday, which is anticipated to launch his own re-election bid.
“I don’t feel any hurry one way or another to make that judgement — today, tomorrow or whenever — no matter what my predecessor does,” Biden said, predicting he would come to a decision by next year.
Asked later to respond to voters and even members of his own party who say they don’t want Biden to run again, he replied simply: “Watch me.”
More to come…