Americans stampeded to the polls on Tuesday in a midterm election that was as much a referendum on President Trump’s policies and personality as it was about control of Congress.
While votes were still being counted across the country, Democrats were expected to gain about 33 seats in the House, well over the 23 they needed to gain control of the chamber for the first time since 2010.
But the blue wave didn’t wash over the Senate, where the GOP was poised to add to its razor-thin 51-49 majority.
The president seemed in good spirits, despite his party’s House defeat, which imperils his agenda.
“Tremendous success tonight! Thank you to all,” Trump tweeted shortly after 11 p.m.
He even called Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to offer congratulations.
With a House majority, Democrats will have the power to investigate Trump’s tax returns and possible conflicts of interest, and can challenge his overtures to Saudi Arabia, Russia and North Korea.
They also could force Trump to scale back his legislative ambitions, possibly dooming his promises to build a border wall with Mexico, pass a second major tax-cut package or carry out his hard-line policies on trade and immigration.
Pelosi said her party had no interest in trying to impeach the president — a position that could change depending on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
“We are not going after the Republicans the way that they came after us,” she said. “For those who want impeachment, that’s not what our caucus is about.”
But in her victory speech she also talked about what a Democratic House would mean for Trump’s agenda. The win, she said, was “about stopping the GOP and Mitch McConnell’s assaults on Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act and the health care of 130 million Americans.”
Despite their victories in the House, some Democrats sounded disappointed that the much-anticipated wave didn’t carry farther.
Former Clinton staffer and party strategist James Carville said Democrats’ hopes for a wave election that would also capture the Senate were dashed.
“This is not going to be the wave election that people like me would have hoped for,” he said on MSNBC before most results were in.
But other analysts said the outcome was fairly predictable based on polling.
“I don’t know why so many liberals are all gloom & doom tonight,” tweeted Laura Seay, a Colby College political scientist. “The results are pretty close to what was predicted, with Dems taking the House & losing a couple of seats in the Senate. Governor’s races looking pretty good for D’s, too. Chin up, y’all. This is far from a bad night.”
Among the key developments:
- The first House seat to flip was in Virginia’s 10th District, where Democrat Jennifer Wexton was the winner over GOP incumbent Barbara Comstock — setting the tone for the night. Then, in Florida’s 27th District, Democrat Donna Shalala defeated Republican Maria Elvira Salazar in another pickup for the party, replacing Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who is retiring — the first time in three decades Democrats took the district. Not too long after, Staten Island Rep. Dan Donovan, the only Big Apple Republican in Congress, lost to Afghanistan vet Max Rose.
- White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Democrats should not use their majority to investigate Trump, though many were already on record saying they would seek his tax returns as well as probe his possible ties to Russia and whether he was profiting from his office. “If Democrats take the House, they shouldn’t waste time investigating” the president, she said.
- Republicans spun the election as a victory because they added to their Senate majority. “When the GOP maintains control of the Senate, the conservative judicial train is going to keep running!” tweeted South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a one-time Trump critic turned fervent fan.
The result was a bitter outcome for Trump after a campaign that became a referendum on his leadership.
But Sanders hailed her boss for energizing the GOP.
“The president has energized a staggering number of Americans at packed arenas and in overflow crowds at rallies across the country,” she said.
Yet according to exit polling by CNN, two-thirds of voters said their ballot in Tuesday’s congressional election was about Trump, with more saying they were showing up at the polls to express opposition than support for the president.
Trump’s approval rating was negative among the nation’s voters, and more said the United States was on the wrong track than heading in the right direction.
Still, almost 7 in 10 said the economy was in good shape, and those who said their personal finances were in better shape now than two years ago outnumbered those who believed their finances were worse off, according to the polling.
Earlier Tuesday, Pelosi had boasted that she was 100 percent confident the Democrats would take over the House.
“We’re going to win, based on data,” Pelosi, of California, said at Democratic campaign headquarters in Washington, DC.
Pelosi argued Democrats’ success at the polls was related to their decision two years ago to focus on protecting ObamaCare.
“We made our own environment to make sure the people knew the difference between Republicans and Democrats on this issue,” she said.
All 435 seats in the House, 35 seats in the 100-member Senate and 36 of the 50 state governorships were up for grabs.
Pollsters had nearly all predicted that a blue wave would swamp Trump over his policies and personality.