The Impact of the Midterm Elections on US Climate Policy
Climate, Politics/Capitol Light©, is a service of The JBS Group and Civil Notion
The Impact of the Midterm Elections on US Climate Policy
Climate, Politics/Capitol Light©, is a service of The JBS Group and Civil Notion
Special Post-election Edition
Context is critical — a note to readers.
With the call in Nevada that Senator Catherine Cortez Masto has successfully defended her incumbency, the Democrats have managed to get through the 2022 elections keeping their 50-vote majority. It is even possible that the president’s party may even be able to Manchin-proof their upper hand with a victory in the Georgia runoff election between Senator Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker (R). More on this in a moment.
It still seems likely that the Republicans will capture control of the House but by a very thin majority. Currently, the Washington Post is scoring the House — Democrats 203 votes and the Republicans 211–218 votes are needed for a majority.
Even without knowing the final outcomes, the focus shifts to the halls of Congress and state legislatures, as well as to the White House and executive mansions around the nation. What it all means for US climate policy is an unfolding story.
As with most things these days, it’s complicated with many moving parts. How best to tell the tales? For this, I’ve decided the most efficient and flexible way to deal with what quickly becomes a dense dump of information is to follow the format of my Climate Politics/Capitol Light client newsletter.
Each newsletter will begin with a narrative about the politics of the hour and highlight some of the following information in a bulleted format. I urge readers to take the time to think about and understand the underlying politics of the 2022 midterm election cycle. Nuances are too easily missed by simply jumping to conclusions. As we’ve learned in 2022, politics can be a game of inches.
Finally, readers should note that what’s true today may not be tomorrow or the next day. Moreover, a single data point — even a series of two or three — is not enough to identify trends and directions with any reliability. Therefore, for the next few weeks, I’ll continue to make the Climate Politics/Capitol Light newsletter, ordinarily a client service of The JBS Group/Civil Notion, available to the general public.
Overview — Week 1
History is being made rather than repeated just days after the 2022 midterm elections. It’s an important distinction to understand. If the past were simply prologue, the Republicans would be ballyhooing their capture of both chambers of Congress — or at the least of the House.
Instead, they are looking for culprits to blame for their failure to repeat the “shellacking” Republicans gave to Presidents Obama and Clinton in their first midterm elections. The Democrats lost 52 House and eight Senate seats in 1994, while Obama bested the mark in 2010 — losing 63 House seats and six in the Senate.
As it stands now, it appears that the Republicans will take the House but by a very narrow majority. Control of the House requires 218 seats. Many of the uncounted districts are among the most competitive races based on a Reuters analysis of the leading nonpartisan forecasters — likely ensuring the final outcome will not be determined for some time.
What’s holding things up? In some cases, the vote is too close to call. Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO) has a lead over her Democratic challenger, Adam Frisch, of 433 votes, with 98 percent of the votes counted. An automatic recount will likely be triggered because of Colorado’s election laws.
Boebert is a leading MAGA proponent in the cast of Marjorie Taylor Greene. Whether she wins or not, the fact that Frisch is even competitive is one of the signs of trouble for the Trump wing of the party. As I’ll explain in a moment, Greene promises to be a very outsized player in the 118th Congress.
In one of the weirder — although not unprecedented happenings of election day — Pennsylvanians in the 32nd Legislative District voted for the recently deceased incumbent Democrat, Tony DeLuca. DeLuca died a month before the election. He received 86 percent of the vote — defeating the Green Party candidate, Queonia “Zara” Livingston.
Pennsylvania law “stipulates that substitutes, in the case of the death of a candidate, cannot be submitted after ballots have started printing.” A special election will need to be held.
As the blame plays out, it looks like former President Trump will be the biggest loser of the 2022 elections. The New York Post — a seriously conservative publication of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire that also includes the Wall Street Journal and Fox News Corp — belittled the ex-president with the headline —
Trumpty Dumpty…(who couldn’t build a wall) had a great fall-can all the GOP’s men put the party back together again?
Murdoch and company have turned their allegiance to the day’s big winner Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis pummeled his opponent, Charlie Crist, taking nearly 60 percent of the vote. Although, as Eric Wemple of the Washington Post writes Wake me when Hannity turns on Trump. It’s Hannity of Fox News, one of Trump’s most ardent allies, who blurs the line between news and public relations.
Trump is scheduled to make a BIG announcement on November 15. The announcement, if made, will hardly be a surprise. The former president has been teasing he’ll be a candidate in 2024.
Some Trump advisers have suggested that he wait until after the Georgia election on December 6. Even with the Democrats already having secured the Senate, the Georgia seat could make a critical difference to whichever party wins it. A 50/50 split keeps the current arrangement, including Senator Joe Manchin’s (WV-D) leverage over his caucus by being the 50th vote.
Manchin is mad as hell that he hasn’t gotten his expedited permitting procedures; he made part of his deal with Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) over the Inflation Reduction Act. A cushion of one could help deleverage the West Virginian’s sway over the president’s party.
None of this is to say that others in the majority caucus, e.g., Kristen Sinema, won’t exercise their leverage. It’s the curse of thin majorities.
DeSantis and Florida were both big Republican victors on election day. Florida is now solidly Republican red joining southern and western trifecta states, including Alabama, Arkansas, and the Dakotas. A trifecta state is one in which the governor, legislature, and attorney general are all of the same party.
One survivor of Florida’s rising red tide was the Democratic Maxwell Alejandro Frost. Frost, a part-time Uber driver, succeeds Val Demings. Demings vacated her Orlando-area seat to challenge Florida’s incumbent senator, Marco Rubio (R), unsuccessfully. Frost is the first Gen Z Democrat to win a congressional seat from anywhere in the nation.
Frost was not the only progressive elected on Tuesday — neither was he the only one doing it in a solidly red state — that was Greg Casar in Texas. Delia Ramirez won in Illinois, and Summer Lee in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania also elected a progressive senator — John Fetterman.
Fetterman beat Dr. Oz, notwithstanding his stroke in May and Trump’s support of the good doctor. Keystone state Republicans gave up their hold on the state House for the first time in more than a decade, an outcome that was considered a long shot by even the most optimistic Democrats.
With the election of Josh Shapiro (D) as the next governor and the real possibility of the Democrats taking control of the state’s senate, Pennsylvania will become a new trifecta for the Democrats. The Dems have increased their number of trifecta states to 16, four more than before the election.
Although it is still too early to know the final outcome of the November balloting, some conclusions can be reasonably drawn from what we already know. There are also things to watch for in the coming days and months as the politics play out in Washington and state capitals.
US Senate majorities and leadership
· Remain in control — in theory. If Senator Warnock (D-GA) doesn’t successfully defend his incumbency, the split is 50/50 as it has been. In which case, it’s a majority status only when Vice President Harris gets to break tie votes.
· Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) will continue as Majority Leader in the 118th Congress.
· Schumer will continue to support Biden’s agenda, including funding for various climate-related policies and programs, e.g., the Inflation Reduction Act. The Democrat’s 2024 platform will include planks on abortion and voting rights, as well as the environment.
· For the next two years, everything will be about messaging in the lead-up to the 2024 elections. A Republican House guarantees gridlock — assuming no moderate Republican House members are willing to work across the aisle.
· Once the 118th Congress is gaveled into existence, we’ll know the membership on various Senate Committees. Although there are likely to be some adjustments, it’s fair to assume that committee assignments will remain much the same.
· Moderates and progressives will claim that theirs was the policy agenda that saved the Senate’s majority. Both are right, and both are wrong. The Supreme Court’s decision on abortion created both heat and flame to a midterm election that looked to repeat the usual midterm election pattern.
In the wake of the abortion decision, many red states enacted very harsh and restrictive abortion laws. Although the ardor of the abortion issue was being called into question towards the end, it’s clear that supporters of a women’s right to choose came out to vote.
Other cohorts will also be claiming — legitimately — a part of the victory. Each will highlight its criticality to the Democratic base. None are going to be able to assert much dominance.
· Look for Senate moderates and progressives to duke it out throughout the next Congress. The battles between Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Joe Manchin will surely continue.
· The fear factor shouldn’t be discounted. In this midterm year, the extreme right was scarier than the radical left. For this, the Democrats have Donald Trump to thank.
· Senate Democrats would be wise to begin the generational shift in leadership NOW.
· The prospect of Biden’s seeking re-election will hang over Senate Democrats like a sword until the issue is resolved. As the Senate is a source of presidential candidates, there will be tensions in the caucus.
· There’s a lot of tension in the Senate Republican ranks. The battles boil down to the forces of Trump versus Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY) and more traditionally conservative Republicans like Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Susan Collins (R-ME).
· McConnell is already facing some opposition to his leadership position. POLITICO reports that “four senators — Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Lee of Utah — have called for delaying the vote, scheduled for Wednesday (11/16/2022), in which McConnell was expected to be reelected in a secret ballot. Hawley suggested waiting until after the December 6 Senate runoff in Georgia, a delay of weeks.
“Holding leadership elections without hearing from the candidates as to how they will perform their leadership duties and before we know whether we will be in the majority or even who all our members are violating the most basic principles of a democratic process,” Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Lee wrote in a letter they circulated to their GOP colleagues.” (Washington Post)
Scott, Hawley, and Lee are all dyed-in-the-wool Trump supporters. Scott has been battling with McConnell over his unabashed support of the former president and his willingness as the Republican Senate re-election committee to back Trump’s endorsed candidates of low quality.
The two senators also have had problems over Scott’s putting together and releasing a MAGA manifesto if Republicans retook the Senate. McConnell’s view is why give the Democrats something solid to shoot at before the vote. It’s better to wait and release it after the fact and from a position of power — assuming, of course, that you win.
Politico is reporting that: “Senator Rick Scott of Florida was poised to challenge McConnell, Republicans briefed on his plans told me, until he decided against a bid Wednesday morning when it became clear Republicans may not capture the majority, and there was to be a Senate runoff in Georgia.” (Politico)
Senator Lee is a long-standing supporter of Trump, so his name on the letter isn’t surprising. Hawley, ditto squared. Hawley was seen giving the January 6 seditionists a fist salute as they were preparing to storm the Capitol. The National Review states, “Senator Josh Hawley declared Saturday that the old Republican Party ‘is dead’ after its significant underperformance in the midterm elections.”
· McConnell is prepared to ignore his own advice about the quality of senatorial candidates when it comes to Hershel Walker and the December showdown between him and the Democratic Senator Warnock.
To deflect some of the blame being heaped on him, the Minority Leader has agreed to give $2 million to keep Governor Kemp’s campaign staff working for Walker. The latter has to be one of the least qualified — by any standard — ever to run for the US Senate. McConnell must have had Walker in mind when he warned that candidate character matters. His change of heart shows that party does trump — everything else?
· Trump, as is his wont, is pushing blame onto everyone other than him. However, it’s going to be hard for him to convince all but the most diehard that he isn’t to bear the greatest responsibility for the situation Republicans in Washington are finding themselves in. Consider that every Democratic incumbent senator defended their positions.
It all depends upon the willingness of others to believe yet one more lie. At least in the Senate, Trump’s lie is wearing thin.
· McConnell is both a very powerful and accomplished politician. He’ll undoubtedly hold his ground against Trump and his more conservative caucus members.
· It’s hard to know what the Senate Republican agenda will be — beyond just saying “NO” on spending and likely judicial nominations to the extent he can.
· Senators Manchin and Sinema will undoubtedly play into McConnell’s calculus as blue dog Democrats willing to buck their party.
· Much more will be known about how the Minority Leader and the establishment wing of the Republican Senate conference will work with the Democrats and how isolating they will be of the Trump forces.
· Both McConnell and Schumer can be counted on as foils to the extremes of a Republican House, although too much different degrees and on different matters.
Although McConnell will work with Schumer on keeping the more extreme MAGA-related proposals and actions of the House at bay, the Kentuckian will continue just saying “NO” both to Biden’s progressive and core policy positions.
· When it comes to bipartisanship, McConnell doesn’t participate as much as allowing others to negotiate it, except perhaps on budget matters.
US House majorities and leadership
· Although there is still a path to the majority for the Democrats, Republicans look to have retaken the House, albeit by just a few votes.
· The Republican House is a very untidy place at the moment. House Minority Leader McCarthy (R-CA) is acting/has acted as the presumptive Speaker going so far as to appoint a “transition team.”
However, it’s not at all clear that McCarthy has the votes he needs to assume the Speaker’s chair. Staunch Trump allies like Marjorie Taylor Green, Matt Gaetz, and Chip Roy (R-TX) look to be negotiating with him over their votes.
· Jason Miller, a trusted advisor helping Trump make his November 15th announcement, is being reported by multiple outlets as having said that McCarthy needs to be a lot more vocal about his support for Trump’s next run for the roses.
· The Washington Post also reports that “the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus (HFC) is calling for a delay” in the leadership vote. For those unfamiliar with the Caucus, it chased John Boehner and Paul Ryan off their Speaker’s platform and out of Congress over the gridlock they caused during their respective tenures.
· Whether the next Republican Speaker is McCarthy or someone else, it’s a safe bet that the extreme right will have outsized influence over the Republican House agenda. At a minimum, it means revenge oversight hearings — and even a possible impeachment of President Biden for — well, for being President Biden.
As reported by the Washington Examiner: “the GOP’s inability to live up to pre-election predictions of major wins, coupled with its muddled and mostly silent election messages, is likely to open the door to Greene and other conservative firebrands going into the 2024 election as it once did for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.”
‘A closer House Republican majority will give smaller coalitions of members or single elected officials a much louder voice and bigger spotlight on their positions,’ said GOP political and communications analyst Ron Bonjean.”
· In the past, the HFC has had few qualms about closing down the government by opposing 11th-hour continuing resolutions and appropriations. Nothing suggests that this won’t be repeated in the 118th Congress.
· Given the link made by Trump to the Green New Deal and “socialism,” it’s inconceivable that climate and clean energy won’t be high on the hit lists of the HFC and of conservatives not in the Caucus.
· It’s hard to imagine what an America First Climate agenda would be, other than a b*lls out support for increasing US fossil fuel production — wherever and however that may be done.
· There are moderate Republican House members, e.g., Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who could become the first woman to lead the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who see the need for federal action — although in a much different light than the Democrats.
· Moreover, US businesses and industries are coming around to the need to slow Earth’s warming and see economic opportunity in responding to it. Similarly, some conservative youth groups, e.g., the American Conservative Coalition and Young Evangelical Climate Action, support a national climate policy.
Will these groups be able to soften the most extreme opposition to national climate policy? Let’s just say that’s a good question and save it for further discussion.
· With 20 or so House races still uncalled, Speaker Pelosi hasn’t given much indication of her plans for the coming Congress.
· The Democrats have every reason to keep their plans to themselves, letting the media and others focus on the turmoil in the Republican Party.
· House Democrats are going to go through their own internal conflicts between progressives and moderates. The lower likelihood of passing legislation in the lower chamber can be somewhat freeing because members can propose what they want without much fear of it going anywhere.
· Pelosi and other older members of her leadership team are preparing — or should be — for generational change.
· Messaging and finishing up as much of Biden’s agenda as possible will dominate the Democratic House agenda over the life of the next Congress, along with trying to stave off Republican attacks through oversight hearings.
· Whatever the Republicans do, the Democrats will likely step back and let the chaos within Republican ranks shine through.
Some final thoughts on the impact of the 2022 midterms on US climate policy.
I’ve written before that a Republican House or Senate majority will not be in any position to repeal the IRA or the infrastructure or CHIPS and Science Acts that form the foundation of the Democrat’s climate agenda. However, they will have ample opportunities in budget and money bills to slow things down and challenge Biden’s implementation of the acts. Loan programs administered by the US Department of Energy will be high on the target lists of the Republican fact-finding excursions.
It’s also possible that House Republicans will take the lead in calling out the administration on its support for Ukraine. McCarthy has mentioned it before, and ads run during the 2022 election cycle raised the issue. Undoubtedly it will be presented in tandem with more domestic fossil fuel production.
Many Republicans believe the party has made a Faustian deal with the former president and is now trying to figure out ways to get out of it. Will it work? Maybe.
The biggest challenge to the Republican Party will be getting out from under Trump’s thumb while still being able to rely on his base to vote in 2024. It would hardly be surprising for his supporters t stay home in 2024 out of spite.
So much of each party’s 2022 pitch to voters was about instilling fear should the other side win. A significant difference between the two pitches is that the Democrats paired their warnings with actual policies and programs, not leaving the message “vote for us because the other side really sucks.”
Voters want to know that their leaders are working on solutions. For the party of a sitting president with such low approval ratings and with the overwhelming majority of Americans thinking the nation is going in the wrong direction says a lot about where We, the People, are in our thinking.
Vote splitting seemed to be in evidence this election. Something that voters have not been credited with much in the past. Proof of this isn’t just in the hedged decisions of the 2022 congressional midterms. Where it comes out most clearly is in the outcome of state elections, which just so happens to be the focus of the next Climate Politics/Capitol Light newsletter.
Finally, in what is most definitely a backhanded compliment, climate change was not a top priority of voters this November. However, neither was it directly attacked very often by Republicans strongly suggesting that on the hustings, candidates knew their constituents supported the positive programs of the Inflation Reduction and bipartisan infrastructure acts.