Northwestern Wisconsin’s two congressmen expressed cautious optimism after Tuesday’s elections that the federal government will be able to make progress in a new era of shared power between Democrats and Republicans, but regional political analysts were more pessimistic.
“Oh, my dear God, what a mess that’s going to be,” UW-Eau Claire political science department chairman Geoff Peterson said when asked how he expected Washington, D.C., to function after Democrats took control of the House in the same midterms that saw Republicans retain a majority in the Senate.
The split ends a two-year period in which Republicans, under President Donald Trump and the GOP-led Congress, had total control of the federal government.
“Democrats now will have their hands on all of the investigatory powers that come from having the majority in the House, and I don’t think there’s a question in anyone’s mind that they will use those,” Peterson said.
In a post-election news conference, the president threw down the gauntlet about House Democrats using their new power to investigate him or his administration, saying such efforts would lead to a “warlike posture” and investigations of alleged misconduct by Democrats.
Assuming Democrats elect California Rep. Nancy Pelosi as House speaker, 3rd Congressional District GOP chairman Brian Westrate predicted Washington is going to be a “clown show,” with a never-ending stream of investigations. “I hope I’m wrong, but I have very little hope that will be the case,” he added.
Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, said much of fate of the next Congress rests with Trump.
“Each side has got to realize that you’re not going to get everything you want, so we’ve got to focus on finding common ground,” Kind said. “But we’re going to need help at the top, and that means President Trump has to stop pushing the buttons that divide us.”
With that in mind, Kind said he was disturbed to hear the president threatening retaliation if the House executes its constitutional duty to provide oversight of the executive branch when something doesn’t seem right.
“There’s certainly going to be more oversight,” said Kind, who has been in the minority for all but four of his 22 years in Congress. “The House will act more as a co-equal branch rather than just acting as a rubber stamp for everything the administration wants to get done.”
However, Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wausau, offered a different view, speculating that the American people don’t care about investigating the president and that launching a bunch of probes might cost Democrats their House majority in 2020.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do,” said Duffy, who beginning in January will be in the minority for the first time since being elected in 2010.
Duffy acknowledged Trump can be brash but said he believes the president was being honest when he asserted he wants to work with Democrats but that a series of investigation would mean the war is on. “He’s a fighter,” Duffy said of Trump.
UW-Stout political scientist Rich Postlewaite warned that Democrats have to be wary about treating Trump the way Republicans treated former Democratic President Bill Clinton. In that case, Republicans paid the price at the ballot box for pursuing so many investigations.
“House Democrats will actually have to do some legislating,” Postlewaite said.
Both regional lawmakers said they see potential areas of cooperation for the next Congress.
Kind mentioned campaign finance reform, infrastructure investment, middle class tax relief and prescription drug prices as issues where Republicans and Democrats could reach consensus, while Duffy pointed to infrastructure and immigration reform.
While both sides agree the nation’s immigration system is broken, Kind reiterated that Trump would have to show leadership, and avoid using the issue to demagogue and divide, for there to be hope for bipartisan agreement.
Democrats and Republicans who win elections are generally pretty nice people who care about making the country a better place, Duffy said, so none of them want to see the government stuck in gridlock.
“I want Democrats to be successful because that means America is successful,” Duffy said. “If I didn’t, that would be putting party over country, and I don’t believe in that.”
Likewise, Kind said he hopes to leverage his reputation as a moderate Democrat to work with the other side to produce legislation that has a chance to be passed by the Senate and signed into law by the president.
“Divided government can be good because it does force cooperation,” he said. “It’s going to be an interesting time.”