It’s common for one party to control the House while the other controls the Senate, and this often leads to federal government dysfunction. But the partisan gridlock is particularly bad at the moment. It’s not just that Democrats control the Senate and the White House while Republicans control the House. The problem is that the House GOP is divided between those who recognize that divided government requires compromise and those who would happily trigger national debt defaults (which we narrowly avoided in early June) and government shutdowns (which is almost certain to happen at the end of September) while attacking their more responsible colleagues as RINOs.
The good news is that the oddsmakers have believed for a while now that the House is likely to turn blue in 2024, as Roll Call’s Stu Rothenberg explained back in January:
Democrats need to net just five House districts to win back control of the chamber, and, unlike in the Senate, Republicans will be defending more Biden districts than Democrats are defending Trump districts. Eighteen Republicans currently sit in districts carried by Biden, while only five Democrats sit in districts carried by Trump in 2020.
Democratic opportunities are particularly abundant in New York and California, and the stronger turnout in presidential years could enhance the party’s opportunities in those two states. Moreover, if Trump is the GOP nominee for president, Democrats are likely to grow their numbers in swing, suburban districts.
A House-GOP-triggered government shutdown and a Biden impeachment inquiry aren’t likely to improve prospects for House Republicans, who are spending more time savaging each other than protecting their more vulnerable colleagues. So even as Kevin McCarthy desperately tries to keep his right-wing troops from ripping the gavel from his hands, it may slip right into the grasp of House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries.
If President Biden can hang onto the White House, then flipping the House may mean a Democratic trifecta like the one that made the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act possible during Biden’s first two years as president, right? Well, maybe not. The same election wizards who expect the House to flip from red to blue also figure the Senate is likely to flip from blue to red, barring a couple of upsets or maybe a boffo straight-ticket performance led by Biden. The Senate landscape for 2024 has long been anticipated by Republicans as the best for the GOP in living memory. They’re defending just 11 of the 34 seats up next year, all in states carried twice by Donald Trump. As for the 23 seats Democrats are defending, Sabato’s Crystal Ball succinctly explained the peril earlier this year:
Democrats are defending all 3 seats they hold in states that Donald Trump carried for president in 2020 — Montana, Ohio, and West Virginia. Additionally, they are defending 5 more in states that President Biden carried but by margins smaller than his national edge (roughly 4.5 points). Those are Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Senate Democrats have just a one-seat majority, which means the net loss of one seat will cost them the Senate if Biden and Harris lose, and a two-seat loss will flip the Senate even if they win.
If early speculation is right and both the House and Senate flip, it would be the first time ever that party control of congressional chambers changed in opposite directions in the same election. But it would also mean the current dysfunction might persist with the same players in different roles. It could be Speaker Jeffries frantically trying to whip his troops into line to resist Trump administration initiatives. Or it could be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (or a less aged and ill successor) deploying the Senate rules to sabotage a Biden administration agenda. Or it could be Biden and Jeffries versus Senate Republicans. There are a lot of possible variations but they all add up to a lot of gridlock.
Even a trifecta, of course, wouldn’t unlock all doors in Congress so long as the minority party has 41 Senate seats and can use the filibuster to throw sand into the legislative machinery. But a game of musical chairs in which the parties exchange gavels might be the most bewildering outcome of all.
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