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US politics: Republican Congress in the coming Trump years

January 5, 2017


Senate Democrats filibustering vs Trump

– In the incoming Congress, Republicans have 52 out of 100 senate seats. Senate rules effectively require 60 votes for most actions, and a reduced 51 for some forms such as “budget reconciliation”  (use of which has increased in recent years).
– Notably the Senate in 2013 made use of the so-called “nuclear option“, opening up a procedural option to stop filibusters for confirming Presidential appointments, with a simple 51-vote majority. This was motivated at that time by Republican obstruction of some of Pres. Obama’s appointees. Democrats will now have reduced ability to obstruct Pres. Elect Trump’s cabinet posts. The fear is Republicans may now also use the nuclear option, to alter other long-standing rules for tactical purposes (making it more difficult for Democrats to obstruct/resist Trump’s agenda).
– Other options for minority parties to obstruct a majority in the Senate are a “Senate Hold” [ via cartoonist Ted Rall ]

Looking ahead to 2018 and 2020


2018 Senate elections

– Looking ahead to the 2018 Senate election, hope for Democrats to recapture the Senate is limited. Of the 33 Senate seats in play in 2018, 2 have Rep. incumbents who are vulnerable, while a half a dozen or more Democrat incumbents are in states that Republicans did well in this year. Nearly all the “rust belt” states that favored Republicans and won Trump the presidency will again be in play.


2020 Senate elections

– Looking further ahead to the 2020 Senate election, the situation brightens considerably for Democrats. That year, most of the incumbents up for re-election will be Republican. The Democrats will have a serious chance to retake the senate.

The take-away is that Trump will more likely than not have 4 years of a Senate majority. The downside situation for Democrats in 2018 would be if Trump has a strong start and Republicans repeat their performance in northern post-industrial states, and pick up another 4-6 Senate seats. At the same time mid-term elections following the election of a new President have tended to favor the party losing the presidential election, so if Trump screws up badly and cannot successfully blame Democrats, he may well lose the Senate.

House of Representatives

Republicans did lose a few seats in the House in 2016. Republicans now have 241 seats vs 194 for the Democrats, in the kind-of/sort-of/not-exactly population-proportional legislative body. Since House rules do not allow filibusters, this does not help the currently minority Democrats very much.


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