Legislative / Policy Update
Leadership Elections. During the lame duck session that convenes Nov. 13, lawmakers will not only address legislative issues, they will also select their leadership for the new Congress. The biggest changes will take place on the House side given the retirement of Speaker Paul Ryan and the possibility that Democrats will win enough seats to take the majority.
In late July, the House Democratic caucus voted to hold their leadership elections “after Dec. 5.” They didn’t set a specific date but said they wanted to give newly elected Members time to go through the orientation process. However, it now looks like House Democrats will vote Nov. 28 on their leadership although there has been no official announcement of the date change. Republicans, meanwhile, have set Nov. 14 for their leadership election.
If Democrats win the House by a comfortable margin, Rep. Nancy Pelosi will likely wield the gavel as Speaker in the 116th Congress. While a number of current and prospective House Democrats have said they will not support Pelosi as speaker, she only needs to win a majority vote of the House Democratic caucus to be nominated for Speaker. This is a relatively easy hurdle, but she and her fellow Democrats must look down the road to make sure she has enough support in her corner to win a vote by the full House on Jan. 3.
Pelosi, who served as Speaker from 2007 until 2011 and has spent the last eight years as Minority Leader, is a shrewd vote counter and will know soon after Tuesday’s results are complete whether she has enough votes to return as Speaker. When the full House votes next year, the candidate receiving a majority of the votes cast (excluding those who might vote “present”) is elected as Speaker. If no candidate receives a majority, the roll call is repeated until a majority is reached. The last time there were several rounds of balloting for Speaker was in 1923.
If Pelosi moves up to Speaker, it looks as though Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer would become Majority Leader and Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn would move into the Whip position. Cheri Bustos and David Cicilline have said they would like to fill the potential Assistant Democratic Leader opening. With Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley’s loss in the primaries, two Californians are vying to take his place – Linda Sanchez and Barbara Lee. Sanchez is currently the Caucus Vice Chair and the two announced candidates for her position are Katherine Clark and Peter Aguilar. Other Democrats who may be potential candidates for leadership posts include Ben Ray Luján, Adam Schiff, Jim Himes, and Hakeem Jeffries.
Speaker Ryan’s choice to succeed him is the current Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy. While a number of Republicans would prefer Majority Whip Steve Scalise over McCarthy, Scalise has said he will not challenge McCarthy for the speakership. If, however, Republicans are in the minority, Scalise has not said whether he would put his hat in the ring to be Minority Leader.
The chair of the House Republican Conference for the last six years has been Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who is in a tight race to retain her eastern Washington district seat. Regardless of whether McMorris Rodgers wins or loses her re-election bid, supporters of first-term Rep. Liz Cheney say Cheney will run for the conference chairmanship.
If Republicans maintain control of the Senate, Democrats aren’t expected to make any changes in their top leadership – Leader Chuck Schumer, Whip Dick Durbin, and Assistant Democratic Leader Patty Murray – but there will be changes in the Republican hierarchy. Republicans have a limit of three two-year terms for members of their Senate leadership, except for Leader Mitch McConnell. Assistant Republican Leader John Cornyn, Republican Conference Chairman John Thune, and Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso are term-limited in their positions.
Cornyn is #2 in the Senate Republican leadership and the #1 position is not open, so Leader McConnell has said he will create a position for Cornyn to allow him to remain at the leadership table. Thune is expected to take Cornyn’s place as Assistant Republican Leader; Barrasso is likely to take Thune’s place as Conference Chair, and Vice Chair of the Senate Republican Conference Roy Blunt would move up take Barrasso’s slot as Policy Committee Chair. All of those changes opens up the #5 leadership post, with Deb Fischer and Joni Ernst vying to become Vice Chair of the Republican Conference.
Big Picture. According to The Hill’s Morning Report today, the biggest variable going into tomorrow may actually be the polling data itself. The Hill offers up a range of factors to consider, including “a volatile electorate, a dearth of polling in key races, regional differences, an unprecedented spike in early voting, questions about demographics, and whether first time or irregular voters will show up at the polls.” Pollsters missed badly in 2016, and some Republicans are starting to make the argument that it’s very likely the polling will be wrong again.
Nate Silver, who is not a pollster, has been among the most accurate election prognosticators in recent years. On Sunday he offered the following while appearing on ABC’s “This Week”: “No one should be surprised if [Democrats] only win 19 seats and no one should be surprised if they win 51 seats. Those are both extremely possible, based on how accurate polls are in the real world.”
Factoid #1. One of the principal unknowns going into any election is how many people will actually vote. The answer so far this year is that they are turning out in record numbers. In the House primaries, we saw 37 million voters show up at the polls, a 56% increase from 2014’s primaries. On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that more than 30 million Americans have cast early ballots, eclipsing the 2014 early total of 28.3 million nationally and surpassing the 2014 early votes in at least 28 states. Some states are approaching their early turnout from the 2016 presidential election. In Texas, where early voting was described as “off the charts,” 4.9 million in-person or mail-in ballots have been cast. This translates to 39.9% of registered voters, compared to 2 million early votes, or 18.8% of registered voters, in 2014. Youth turnout rates in the midterm early vote are up by 125% compared to 2014, according to Catalist, a voter database servicing progressive organizations — “an eye-popping and historically high figure, say strategists on both the left and the right.”
Factoid #2. Of the nine special elections that occurred for GOP-held seats since the 2016 election, Republicans won eight. According to an NPR study, Trump carried all but two of these districts by 20+ points in 2016, but in those nine races the average special election shift was 10 points toward the Democrats. If you applied that margin to all 435 congressional districts — using the 2016 presidential margins as a partisan baseline — Democrats would have a net pickup of 63 seats in 2018.
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