The 2014 midterm election results are in.
And in keeping with the expectations and conventional wisdom, the Republicans have taken control of the U.S. Senate from Harry Reid and the Democrats. For the President, the results lay the groundwork for a very interesting final two years in office. With no possibility of common ground with a GOP-controlled Congress, expect Obama to use his veto pen often, and go it alone through the use of executive orders.
With 36 Senate seats in play, mostly in red states, the deck was stacked against the Democrats from the outset. Sen. Mary Landrieu — who faces a runoff election because no candidate broke through the required 50 percent threshold — created controversy when she suggested the obvious, which is that the South has a problem with Obama because of his race.
“I’ll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans,” Landrieu said. “It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.”
Meanwhile, with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) winning his race against challenger Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, the GOP lawmaker is poised to become majority leader of the upper chamber of Congress. Grimes — who attempted to distance herself from the president in a state where he is unpopular — was faulted for refusing to say whether she voted for Obama.
Compounding the problem for Democrats this election cycle was the issue of lower turnout by the base in midterms, when President Obama was not on the ballot, and the specter of voter suppression efforts such as voter ID, purges and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act making an impact in key races.
Among the more high profile races, North Carolina incumbent Senator Kay Hagan (D-North Carolina) lost to Republican Thom Tillis. In Georgia, Republican David Purdue beat Democrat Michelle Nunn, and Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) held on to his seat, while incumbent Senator Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas) lost his reelection bid to Tom Cotton. In the New Hampshire race, incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) defeated challenger Scott Brown, while Cory Gardner, a Republican, bested incumbent Mark Udall in Colorado.
The two African-American U.S. senators, Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) will return to the legislative body. Booker is the first black senator elected in New Jersey. Scott, who had been appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley in 2012 to finish the term of resigning Senator Jim DeMint, is the first black senator elected to the South since Reconstruction.
Republicans also maintained control of the House of Representatives, with its 435 seats at stake. Looking at races for governors, a number of Republican incumbents, such as Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin), Rick Scott (R-Florida) and Rick Snyder (R-Michigan) won reelection, while the unpopular Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett lost as expected to Tom Wolf. In Maryland, Anthony Brown, the African-American lieutenant governor, lost in his gubernatorial bid to Republican Larry Hogan.
With a Republican controlled Senate and Congress, Americans can expect more gridlock. It is all but certain that the GOP — emboldened and full of hubris — will interpret their victory as a mandate to jam through all types of Tea Party-anointed pieces of legislation. In the short term, conservative lawmakers are likely to pursue matters such as corporate tax reform, Keystone XL Pipeline and gutting the Affordable Care Act.
President Obama is expected to use his veto pen frequently, with continued, futile attempts by Republicans to repeal Obamacare. Further, we should expect some intra-party strife within the GOP as presidential aspirants such as Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul position themselves for the 2016 contest, and Cruz is expected to make things difficult for Mitch McConnell with calls to investigate the president.
Further, a Republican takeover of the Senate could result in a constitutional crisis over the president’s future appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. If there is a vacancy on the high court during Obama’s lame duck presidency, it is conceivable that the Senate simply will not hold hearings on a judicial candidate that fails to meet the GOP ultraconservative litmus test. In addition, whether the Senate will stall on a replacement for Attorney General Eric Holder remains to be seen.
In the midst of partisan gridlock and a perpetually broken Senate that refuses to act on important matters, President Obama has the option to use executive orders on issues such as comprehensive immigration reform and amnesty for undocumented immigrants. One could argue that the president should have pursued such an effort on immigration before the election — as he had promised — as a means to further energize Latinos and the rest of the Democratic base. Certainly, such an executive move today would anger Obama’s opponents and may be interpreted as overreach. But he is still the president, and the legislature does not pass legislation these days, mostly to make a black president look bad.
And in light of his GOP detractors who have sabotaged the government for political gain, maintaining a legislative logjam only to blame him for the mess, it would seem Obama has little choice.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove