With Congress back in session and most elections completed, lawmakers are returning to Capitol Hill with a new reality of a gridlocked Washington and critical legislation to resolve. The scope of the lame-duck session is expected to include a reauthorization of the farm bill, criminal justice reform, Saudi Arabia relations, the Mueller Investigation, President Trump’s border wall and border security, and a potential government shutdown. Trump has indicated that he may veto legislation without funds for the border wall with Mexico, and seven remaining appropriations bills must be completed by December 7 to ensure that the government remains funded. The appropriations bills will fund several federal agencies, including the Homeland Security, Agriculture and Commerce Departments. For Republicans, the session is a final opportunity to leave a positive mark while they still control the two chambers. And while Democrats have little incentive to comply with Republican demands before their takeover of the House, they would also prefer to clear current legislation in order to start on their own agenda in January.
In continuing election result news, Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith defeated Democratic candidate Mike Espy 54%-46% in a special runoff election in Mississippi on Tuesday, solidifying the Republican majority in the chamber at 53 seats. Hyde-Smith, who served as a Democratic lawmaker for over a decade before changing her party affiliation in 2010, will be the sixth Democrat-turned-Republican to serve in the Senate next year, in addition to John Kennedy (LA), Bill Cassidy (LA), John Hoeven (ND), Mike Braun (IN) and Richard Shelby (AL). The runoff was also a prime example of the critical importance of turnout in an election, as Espy’s 410,000 votes fell well short of Hyde-Smith’s 479,000 votes, but would have easily eclipsed that of Thad Cochran, who last won the seat in 2014 with 370,000 votes. Hyde-Smith’s vote total fell short of the 485,000 Mississippians who favored Hillary Clinton in 2016, and could have resulted in the reverse outcome on Tuesday had those same voters turned out for Espy—all demonstrably proving that “turnout, turnout, turnout” is the key to winning elections.
Hyde-Smith was originally appointed to the seat to replace Cochran, who retired in April for health reasons after serving in the Senate for 40 years. President Trump appeared at two of her rallies on Monday in a final push for her election. The Republicans rarely struggle in a state like Mississippi, where the political landscape has remained stable and the president maintains a 59% approval rating, 15 points above his national average. After facing an unusual challenge on Election Day and a runoff election, Republicans had to make frantic efforts to maintain the seat. Much of this came after Senator Hyde-Smith drew attention for her controversial remarks concerning a “public hanging” and college voters. In response, the senator insisted that she was being unfairly vilified and that she meant no ill will by her comments. The president defended her remarks and her apology. Ms. Hyde-Smith performed strongest in Mississippi’s rural and predominantly white counties, but less well among college-educated white voters and larger suburbs.
In Maine’s 2nd congressional district, Republican Representative Bruce Poliquin has requested a recount, which may take about a month to complete. Democrat Jared Golden was declared the winner thanks to ranked balloting, Maine’s new way of voting. Poliquin’s campaign stated that it didn’t like how Maine voters were confused by the new system, and is concerned that their votes did not count. Poliquin also filed a federal lawsuit declaring that the new voting system is unconstitutional. The ranked-ballot system lets voters rank all candidates from first to last on their ballot. The last candidates are eliminated if no one wins a majority and the new votes are reallocated. The runoff was triggered when both Poliquin and Golden received 46% of first-place votes.
In Washington, the Democratic caucus nominated Representative Nancy Pelosi to become House speaker in January. If elected, she would be the first person since 1955 to serve as speaker, lose the title, and later reclaim the position. Pelosi received 203 votes, with 32 Democratic members opposing her nomination, noticeably down the 63 Democrats who opposed her to lead the caucus two years ago. She will need 218 votes to become speaker, meaning that half of those currently opposed will need to come around for her to regain the title on the floor vote in January. Democrats are on track to hold a 235-200 majority in the House, and most Republicans are expected to vote for Representative Kevin McCarthy as speaker, who has already been chosen as minority leader next year. Several House members are united behind their goal of new leadership in the Democratic Party, though Pelosi managed to reverse some members’ opposition after listening to their concerns or promising them leadership roles. In addition, Democrats elected Representative Hakeem Jeffries to lead the House Democratic Caucus over the more liberal Representative Barbara Lee, Representative Steny Hoyer as majority leader, and Representative Jim Clyburn for whip.
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