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Here are 7 things that could change after the U.S. midterms

Americans vote Tuesday. Republicans are favourites in the race for Congress. Here are seven things that could change after the U.S. midterms

Americans vote Tuesday. Republicans are favourites in the race for Congress

Among the many people affected by the U.S. midterm results are these two men, U.S. President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump, seen here reflected in plexiglass during their second presidential campaign debate on Oct. 22, 2020. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Midterm elections get treated like the boiled broccoli of the American electoral calendar. They elicit less enthusiasm and lower turnout than the pièce de résistance of presidential elections. 

Which is a pity. 

Because midterms matter: They elect one-third of the U.S. Senate, the entire House of Representatives and thousands of state and local offices.

Their effects can linger for years.

On Tuesday, Republicans are expected to regain some power: election forecasters view them as overwhelming favourites to win back the House of Representatives and, increasingly, as slight favourites to regain the Senate, too.

Here are seven potential effects of this election.

Trump's comeback plan

A good night for Republicans could accelerate Donald Trump's return to politics.

The former president has been hinting he intends to run again. Now, some U.S. media report he wants to use the midterms as his springboard: If Republicans do well, he will take credit, announce a presidential run around Nov. 14, and start holding campaign rallies.

Trump hints at political comeback:

Power to shape the courts

You know that abortion decision at the U.S. Supreme Court? Had the 2014 midterms turned out differently, parts of Roe v. Wade might have survived.

The reason: the Senate confirms judges. When Republicans took power in the Senate in 2014, there was a Democratic president, too; judicial confirmations slowed to a historic trickle; Barack Obama even had a Supreme Court pick ignored.

The long-term consequences of court control were underscored in a dramatic way this year with right-leaning decisions on abortion, gun control and climate change. Next, affirmative action and control over elections are on the docket.

Democrats have been racing to reverse the rightward shift of U.S. courts, with President Joe Biden now appointing judges at a historically rapid pace, including a Supreme Court justice.

For now. A Senate led by Republican Mitch McConnell would regain veto power over judges and slow those appointments considerably.

Abortion-rights protesters at the Supreme Court last summer. Roe v. Wade might not have been overturned the way it was, in its entirety, if not for the result of the U.S. midterm election of 2014. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Democratic agenda: stalled?

Some bills do get passed in a divided Washington. It can happen on issues where there's a national consensus, a crisis or an external threat.

The parties recently agreed on bipartisan bills aimed at competing with China, and at helping Ukraine against Russia.

But if Republicans win either chamber, everything gets harder for Biden. Even passing a future Ukraine bill seems less certain, amid vocal opposition from some Republicans.

What about the legislation Democrats campaigned on — their more partisan, more progressive plans? There are many synonyms in the English language for the word "dead" and they all apply here.

The record will show that the Biden-era Democrats got wins on infrastructure, clean energy funding, some lower drug prices, minor gun reforms and tech research.

And that's where things risk stalling. Democrats' unfinished business includes immigration reform, election reform, parental leave, universal pre-K, expanding public health care and statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

On immigration, it's conceivable, in theory, that a border crisis or court decision could force some sort of limited bill.

But the odds against significant immigration reform like in 1986 are monumental. These are more partisan, more polarized times, and immigration attitudes are at the core of the divide.

Any successful bills would have to reflect the Republican Party's priorities: for example, Sen. Joe Manchin is talking about spending cuts to ease the national debt. Bill Clinton did just that with a Republican Congress, passing the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

An unfinished part of the Democrats' agenda: immigration reform. It's left millions in a precarious legal status. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Past bills under attack

In fact, we could see Democrats playing defence simply to protect bills they've already passed.

Republicans have said the first bill they'll introduce if they take power is to defund the IRS: they want to strip funds Democrats gave the tax agency to fill staff shortages, replace old equipment and pursue higher-income tax evasion.

They're trying to roll back prescription drug-pricing controls and to cut recent green-energy spending. Some even want to strip funding from the FBI for its investigation into Trump.

Most of those are long shots, to put it mildly. 

But no matter what happens on Tuesday, you'll still need a president's signature to pass a bill, and you'll still need a nearly two-thirds majority to pass most types of bills in the Senate.

But Republicans would have some leverage. There's a mighty weapon at their disposal. Using it, however, can be dangerous.

Republican leader wants to rescind IRS funding:

Debt-ceiling drama 

The U.S. is one of the only developed countries with a so-called debt limit: a ceiling on how much debt can be paid off.

It's been extended by Congress dozens of times as the U.S. keeps piling up new debt by collecting less tax revenue than it spends.

This turned into a prolonged drama the last time Republicans controlled Congress and Democrats had the White House.

Republicans demanded policy concessions in exchange for paying off additional debt. Which Biden, vice-president at the time, compared to terrorism — a threat to blow up the whole economy.

Projections about what would happen if the U.S. defaulted on its debt range from very bad to catastrophic (a nearly four per cent decline in GDP, six million lost jobs, a nearly 33 per cent drop in stocks).

And here we go again: Republicans say they'll force a debt showdown to get action in priority areas.

Trump is egging them on. The former president, who when he was in office criticized the debt ceiling as unnecessary, now loves it, urging Republicans to use it and saying McConnell should be impeached (senators can't be impeached) if he folds on the issue. 

Democrats are considering a pre-emptive intervention. Some want to use the so-called lame duck session, before the new Congress takes office in January, to disarm the threat by raising the debt limit early, or by adjusting the rules.

It would be a time-consuming and complicated struggle to get it done in the next few weeks and there's no guarantee Democrats would manage to defuse this fiscal bomb.

Prepare for a showdown in Congress, with the threat of a U.S. debt default used as leverage. Seen here: the National Debt Clock in New York City in 2017. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Who runs U.S. democracy

There are election deniers or conspiracy theorists running to become the chief electoral officer in almost every swing state.

With rare exceptions, like the more mainstream Republicans in Ohio and Georgia, the Republican nominees tried helping Trump overturn the 2020 election.

4 things to know ahead of the 2022 U.S. midterms

5 months ago
Duration 5:04
You're about to hear a lot more about the 2022 U.S. midterms elections. If you haven't been paying much attention to the races, David Common offers a quick primer to get you up to speed on why these elections matter.

The election rules differ across the country, but people elected as secretary of state set rules, issue guidance to poll workers and confirm the winner in their state.

We'll find out next week how many of these people wind up with power over the vote in 2024.

The man on the right, Hunter Biden, seen here at his father's 2021 presidential inauguration, will be target No. 1 of several congressional investigations Republicans are planning if they win Congress. ( Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

The I-words: investigation, impeachment

Remember Benghazi? Democrats certainly do. A barrage of congressional investigations led to the discovery that Hillary Clinton used her own private server for work emails. It haunted her presidential campaign, until its final days

Expect congressional investigations into the Biden family's business dealings if Republicans win Congress.

Republicans say they'll immediately demand financial records for a probe into the foreign dealings of the president's son, Hunter; they'll ask what the president knew and whether he ever benefited financially.

Republicans have also released a 1,050-page document alleging politicization of the FBI; they say the bureau turned a blind eye to illegal business practices. They also intend to investigate the FBI — over its investigation of Trump.

Then there's impeachment. The loudest Republican backbenchers want to go there; they've already introduced more than a dozen impeachment resolutions against Biden and other cabinet members. 

Republican leaders are downplaying the impeachment issue: The likely next speaker if they win the House, Kevin McCarthy, made clear he'd rather not.

"I don't see it before me right now," McCarthy told Punchbowl News. "I think the country doesn't like impeachment used for political purposes at all." 

We'll see if that position holds.

What we won't see for some time is how the midterms affect the next presidential election. Investigations hurt Hillary Clinton.

But we don't know for certain Biden will run again. And even if he does, he'd take heart in this: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan all suffered big losses in Congress — then won re-election two years later.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexander Panetta is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News who has covered American politics and Canada-U.S. issues since 2013. He previously worked in Ottawa, Quebec City and internationally, reporting on politics, conflict, disaster and the Montreal Expos.

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