Trump Gets a Republican Congress
Republicans retained control of both chambers of Congress Tuesday night, riding Donald Trump’s surprising strength on Election Day to hand the president-elect a unified Republican government.
Republicans went into Tuesday confident about their chances to maintain control of the House and cautiously optimistic about the Senate, but Trump’s surge in states that few expected to be in play swung the majority of the close races into GOP hands.
"I want to congratulate Donald Trump on his incredible victory,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement after the race was called. Ryan had spoken with Trump several hours before the results were final.
The s win "marks a repudiation of the status quo of failed liberal progressive policies," Ryan said. "We are eager to work hand-in-hand with the new administration to advance an agenda to improve the lives of the American people. This has been a great night for our party, and now we must turn our focus to bringing the country together."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also praised the victor.
“I congratulate President-elect Trump on his historic election. After eight years of the Obama administration, the American people have chosen a new direction for our nation. President-elect Trump has a significant opportunity to bring our nation together,” he said in a statement.
In his victory speech, Trump reached out to those who had not been with him, striking a surprisingly somber tone, aiming to unify a party that remained fractured to the end, despite his triumph. Though he congratulated Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at length, he didn’t mention Ryan or McConnell in his remarks.
“For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I'm reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country,” Trump said.
In the end, GOP candidates nearly swept all the battleground Senate races despite defending 24 seats to Democrats’ 10, holding seats in North Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Indiana, all races that were tossups heading into Election Day, while Democrats flipped Illinois and held onto Nevada. With New Hampshire too close to call in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Republicans held at least a 52-seat majority in the upper chamber.(With 93 percent of the vote counted Wednesday morning, Kelly Ayotte held a 1,500-vote lead over Democrat Maggie Hassan.)
And while strategists in both parties conceded Democrats could not flip the House of Representatives this year, Republicans held onto seats in the majority of districts Democrats targeted, minimizing their losses to the single digits and maintaining a large majority in the lower chamber.
The victories in Congress, coupled with Trump’s ascension to the White House, give Republicans an opportunity to control critical issues they have been discussing throughout the campaign and for the past eight years, including repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, passing the agenda Ryan has touted nonstop throughout this campaign, and appointing conservative Supreme Court justices, starting with the current vacancy.
Republicans still face questions about the unity of their party, with a number of members of the House and Senate refusing to vote for Trump and speaking out against him during the campaign. Republicans will have to grapple with whether the pro- and anti-Trump coalitions, as well as the moderate and conservative wings of their party, will be able to govern effectively.
“We now have a country to run,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the party’s most outspoken Trump critics, who voted for third-party candidate Evan McMullin. “President-elect Trump and the new Congress will face many challenges. We have wars to win, threats to be dealt with, and a stagnant economy which must be revived. To the extent I can help President-elect Trump, I will do so.”
Democrats, reeling from unexpected electoral defeats up and down the ballot, were at a loss Tuesday night. Many in the party had been optimistic about their chances to retake the Senate and make gains in the House heading into Tuesday, expecting Clinton to cruise to victory and hoping congressional Democrats would be lifted with her.
Few had reactions to Tuesday’s results.
Catherine Cortez Masto, the senator-elect from Nevada and one of two Democratic wins Tuesday night, promised to be a counterweight to the incoming commander-in-chief.
“Our government is based on a system of checks and balances. And trust me, I will be one hell of a check on Donald Trump,” she tweeted as Trump finished his victory speech.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, in the hours before polls closed, blamed FBI Director James Comey for reigniting the controversy over Clinton’s email server in late October, accusing him of “throwing a Molotov cocktail in an explosive arena” and saying he “became the leading Republican operative in the country, wittingly or unwittingly.”
Meanwhile, Republicans -- energized by their congressional wins but in many cases caught off guard by Trump’s surprise showing -- tried to wrap their heads around Tuesday’s results and the next steps for the party.
Ryan, who has faced questions over his future as speaker after this election, called both Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, to congratulate them on their “big night,” according to Ryan’s spokesman.
But those questions were surfacing again Tuesday night even before the results were final. Fox News host Sean Hannity, a close ally of Trump, said he didn’t think Ryan would be speaker come January.
Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of House Republicans’ campaign committee and a close associate of Ryan’s, dismissed those concerns.
“You start over tomorrow morning,” Walden said in an interview before the results were final. “If he’s the president-elect of the United States, we have a lot of work to do. I guarantee you with Mike Pence in there as his vice president-elect -- they were campaigning together in Wisconsin. I think all that gets put behind you really quickly because Mike will know, and I think Mr. Trump will know that we’ve got to get to governing, and we’ve got to get to governing right away."
Others were still trying to grasp where things would stand come Wednesday.
“I think we're all in a state of shock,” said one GOP aide. “This is insane. It's going to take time for it to settle in. But policy-wise, we're well defined.”