Midterms 2018: Four things we learned from election night and what could happen next

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With Democrats taking control of the US House, but Republicans tightening their grip on the Senate, the split congress means a new political reality that both parties will have to get used to.

This could lead to a number of things. Impeachment proceedings could begin against President Donald Trump in the House, and his tax returns could be requested and viewed. And given the fact congress is more diverse after the midterms, there could be a push to change some of the president’s most divisive policies surrounding immigration.

But how likely are each of these things to happen?

Democrats may use control of the House to push for Trump to publish his tax returns 

Democrats needed to flip 23 House seats from the Republicans to take control of the House, eventually managing it even before results from traditionally Democrat-leaning California came in.

There is some debate whether House Democrats will be able to ask for Mr Trump’s tax returns, a point of contention throughout his campaign for president.

It has become tradition for presidents to make their returns public, however Mr Trump has said repeatedly the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was auditing him and he would have to wait until the audit was complete for the returns to be made public.

Tax returns are rarely leaked because the penalty for it is a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in prison.

This chart shows the Battle for US House of Representatives after the 2018 midterm elections (The Independent)

That has yet to happen, and it is IRS policy not to discuss matters like that publicly.

One set of returns, for 2005, was made public last year but it revealed little in terms of sources of income or ties with any Russian entities, on which critics have been seeking transparency.

“There’s ample justification” for the Ways and Means Committee to go after Mr Trump’s personal and business tax returns, Texas Democratic congressman Lloyd Doggett has said. He added: “We need to act on this promptly.”

A 1924 law allows the chairman of the committee to examine anyone’s tax returns in private, without their permission, and to share the information with committee members.

US Midterms 2018: The five big questions

 Democrat Richard Neal, the likely incoming chair of the committee, said he would pursue the IRS filings, however legally it may be difficult to make them public. 

The request also has to pass through the Treasury Department, whose head Steve Mnuchin is a noted supporter of Mr Trump. 

The agency said in a statement: “Secretary Mnuchin will review any request with the Treasury general counsel for legality.”

Democratic congressman Elijah Cummings, who is set to become the chair of the House Oversight Committee, said about requesting Mr Trump’s tax returns: “Tax returns may tell you something else – that’s why we would like to see them.”  

“Right now, we have a president who is accountable to no one,” he told CNN.

House members would have to actually vote to make the filings public, which could happen with Democratic control of the chamber.

It is not an unprecedented move, either.

President Richard Nixon had his returns made public by congress in 1974.

Here is where classic Washington politics come in: Mr Trump and the administration can protest and tie up the issue in the court system for years, well past the incoming House’s two year terms.

Democrats could retaliate in the short term by cutting budget items to the Treasury Department.

Impeachment proceedings are now a real possibility but not inevitable

A number of Democrats have said they are prepared to open several investigations into the president and his administration, but will likely be wary of pursuing impeachment immediately.

Devin Nunes, the congressman from California, is the current chair of the House intelligence committee, which has ended its investigation into Russian election meddling and alleged collusion between Donald Trump‘s 2016 campaign team Russian officials.

It is thought when his California colleague, Democrat congressman Adam Schiff, takes over that investigation could be reopened, in a potential route towards impeachment proceedings.

However, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told PBS Newshour: “For those who want impeachment, that’s not what our caucus is about.” Ms Pelosi added that she will wait for the outcome of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s federal investigation into the election meddling and possible collusion before deciding what move to make. She noted that a call for impeachment “would have to be bipartisan, and the evidence would have to be so conclusive”.

A push for impeachment could backfire in 2020, in states and districts that were carried by Mr Trump in his 2016 run.

Congressman Cummings told CNN that although Democrats were eager to get to work, he did not want to give voters the impression the new House would “rush in and beat up on Trump”.

However, the will of the people – around 40 per cent of voters in the 2018 midterms, according to a CNN exit poll – want impeachment to be on the agenda and those proceedings start in the US House.

Mr Trump has all but dared the new Congress to try and impeach him, saying he would adopt a “warlike posture” against any new investigations launched at a post-election press conference.

He added: “They can play that game, but we can play it better, because we have a thing called the United States Senate…I could see it being extremely good for me politically because I think I’m better at that game than they are, actually, but we’ll find out.”

Despite the party’s hesitation, New York congressman Jerry Nadler issued a warning to the president on election night. 

He said: “This election was about accountability. [Mr Trump] may not like hearing it but for the first time, his administration is going to be held accountable.

“He’s going to learn that he’s not above the law,” Mr Nadler said.

But, even he argued “it’s way too early” to discuss impeachment, preferring to see what is found in thorough investigations. 

Congresswoman Maxine Waters has been calling for impeachment since Mr Trump entered office, but even she may have to go along with the party for the sake of maintaining control and possibly passing some legislation on their agenda.

Republican control of the Senate foreshadows Trump’s 2020 run

With republicans having gained at least two seats in the Senate, they have strengthened their grip on the chamber and so can block legislation that can come from the Democrat-controlled House.

Control of the Senate means that Mr Trump can keep getting conservative federal judges confirmed – something his administration has already been doing in record numbers. As Mr Trump’s Cabinet appointments are also confirmed by the Senate, any chances will likely face little difficulty in being approved.

The chamber could also block full impeachment proceedings.

And by gaining rather than losing Senate seats, it means Republicans have a vastly improved chance of keeping control through 2020, when they will be defending 22 of 34 seats up for grabs. That represents a table-turning from this year’s election, when Democrats had to defend 26 of 35 seats.

The new ‘Year of the Women’ means a slightly more representative Congress

More than two decades ago in 1992, a “Year of the Women” was declared as the most women ever were elected to the US Congress.

What followed was blocked legislation and condescension from male colleagues, as female members jockeyed for any kind of political power and legitimacy.

This year could very well be different as we saw the most women ever running for office around the country, and winning. Several of these women, many of them under-represented minorities, have made history in other ways as well.

Rashida Tlaib becomes the first Muslim woman to be elected to the US Congress and just a bit later and not to be outdone, Minnesota voted Ilhan Omar to join her.

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Both women will represent their state’s growing Arab-American and Somali-American immigrant populations, respectively.

Two of the first Native American women to serve in Congress were elected as well: Sharice Davids of Kansas and Deb Haaland of New Mexico. 

Their election wins mean all the more since North Dakota, just days before the election, barred Native American voters who lived on reservations from voting in the state, saying they needed an address that was not a Post Office Box, the address issued to them while living on the federal, protected land. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made history as the youngest woman to ever be elected to Congress at age 29. 

Ayanna Pressley became the first black female to represent Massachusetts and she is from John F Kennedy’s former seat. 

Marsha Blackburn became the first female senator to represent Tennessee as well.

Texas will send its first Latina women to congress as Veronica Escobar heads to Washington.

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