Burning Down the House

Republicans have held the House since 2011 Photo credit: Speaker.gov

By Rhys Thomas

The US House of Representatives forms an important part of this election, with what is set to be a closer contest than the battle for the Senate. Whilst less glamorous than the much more exclusive upper chamber of 100 members, the House has the ‘power of the purse’ – the ability to initiate revenue raising legislation. All 435 members are up for re-election every two years, and the Republicans have had control since 2011 when they secured the largest House gains in a single election since 1948.

Paul Ryan (Republican of Wisconsin’s 1st district) is in the all-important position of Speaker – the most senior figure of the governing party in the House. He is not running for re-election so there will certainly be a new Speaker come January next year – but the party allegiance of that individual is less clear. If the feted “Blue Wave” is to be felt anywhere, then it will be in the House.

Most seats are safe, with incumbents under very little threat. Tossup seats are the name of the game, and there are relatively few of these – 31 according to the Cook Political Report, with 29 having a Republican incumbent (or a retiring Representative from that Party), with about three dozen more leaning one way or the other. Democrats need to flip 23 seats to secure a majority.

One more important function belonging to the House is the power to begin impeachment proceedings. Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former Chief Strategist, is convinced that a Democrat-controlled House would immediately start the impeachment process against his old boss. The last President to face this was Bill Clinton in the late 1990s on counts of perjury and obstruction of justice – Republicans got their way by a margin of 228-206, but failed during the trial in the Senate. A similar outcome would be likely this time around.

Five of the toss-up states are in California, where results will come in latest during the night due to time differences. Dana Rohrabacher of the 48th district is under pressure after three decades of incumbency and is notorious for his defences of Vladimir Putin and Russia, with his name appearing in indictments in Robert Mueller’s investigation into election interference. Rohrabacher was even deemed such a useful source by Russian officials that he received a Kremlin code name. Opponent Harley Rouda is a brand-new Democrat – as recently as 2016 he supported John Kasich’s Presidential bid, and his hopes have faded somewhat recently, but his victory would hearten Democrats and a fair few Republicans too.

Another big name under threat is Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington’s 5th district. She is the highest-ranking Republican woman in Congress, chairing the House Republican Conference which produces legislative analysis and hosts meetings for GOP Representatives. Her Democratic opponent Lisa Brown may be a beneficiary of a rejuvenated woman’s movement in the United States, but McMorris Rodgers is digging in with a “working mom” image, producing campaign ads to that effect.

Whilst the main focus is on the Democratic assault on Republican districts, they are actually on the defensive in two key seats. Minnesota’s 1st and 8th districts have retiring incumbents – Republicans scent blood and a chance to make that Democratic hill slightly steeper. The night’s results could well come down to single digits in either direction.

Anything less than an outright victory will be a bitter disappointment for Democrats after their energetic and lengthy campaign. If Republicans can hold onto the Senate then they will have bucked the odds, and should the GOP hold onto the Senate they will have total control in of the legislature in Washington for at least another two years.

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