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A noisy, but unproductive, Congress looms

Analyst: ‘There has not been really good messaging about what either party wants to do’

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks as Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan listens during a news conference in the Capitol.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks as Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan listens during a news conference in the Capitol. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ANALYSIS — They would be Washington’s new Big Three.

Call them Mr. Veto (President Joe Biden), Mr. Investigator (Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio) and Mr. X (the eventual Senate majority leader), the powers to be if midterm elections turn out as predicted.

“It would be politically seismic if Democrats defy most predictions and do really well,” Elaine Kamarck, a former Clinton White House official, said last week. “Boy, oh boy, that would be an earthquake.”

But it’s more likely Biden would be dealing with at least one chamber led by an opposition party.

“He will be playing defense and vetoing a lot of bills he doesn’t like,” she added. “He will be Mr. Veto. It won’t be a fun time for him.”

Election handicappers use ranges for the results they expect, but most center on the GOP picking up about 25 seats, or five times the number needed for a majority. The Senate is tougher to predict, with multiple polls showing virtual dead heats in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada — and tight races in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

If voters are in a kick-out-all-the-incumbents mood amid record inflation, high gas prices and an ongoing national malaise, that’s bad news for Democrats, who hold four of those five Senate seats.

This Election Day, both parties actually agree on at least one thing: The country and its oh-so-troubled politics are at an inflection point.

After Speaker Nancy Pelosi was targeted for torture, serious physical harm and possibly much worse, with her 82-year-old husband bludgeoned with a hammer by a man inspired by political differences, it sure feels like an inflection point.

With outlandish right-wing conspiracy theories dominating the days after Paul Pelosi was sent into surgery to deal with a fractured skull, and some GOP candidates openly mocking the politically motivated attack, it’s clear something needs to change. But it is far more likely that Tuesday’s midterm elections will embolden both political parties in their rock-bottom negative views of the other.

That means no one should expect the forces of change to come from the polished hallways on Capitol Hill. Legislation that is signed into law will be hard to come by in 2023, and even more so in 2024 as another election cycle heats up — although there should be some incentives for bipartisan bills to get committee votes every now and again during the 118th Congress.

All indications suggest “Democrats will have a lot of soul-searching to do about their position, how they went into this race,” Kamarck added.

No matter which party controls the Senate, the 60-vote threshold to pass most legislation means the House GOP conference’s bills can’t pass the other chamber. So Democrats should have plenty of time for introspection while Republicans investigate, well, just about everything from Biden World imaginable.

‘Every single liberty’

Jordan, who is in line to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is making few covert moves about his plans, especially regarding Biden’s son.

“Well, we’re committed to looking at all kinds of issues, again, based on what the whistleblowers have told us, and based on what we’ve learned about the Hunter Biden situation,” he told Fox Business on Oct. 19, referring to the younger Biden’s business dealings with foreign entities, tax history and an abandoned laptop claimed to contain other questionable information. In an interview with Fox News 12 days later, the chairman-in-waiting made clear his probes will not stop there.

“You cannot have a political Justice Department and a free country,” Jordan said, contending internal whistleblowers have told GOP lawmakers “how political that place is. That has to change.” Unless Republicans clean up what Jordan and others describe as a biased DOJ, “every single liberty that we have as Americans is in jeopardy,” he said.

Former President Barack Obama, who was called in as Democrats’ campaign-trail closer, predicted to an audience in Milwaukee on Oct. 29 that Republicans intend to use the “next two years investigating President Biden and nothing else.”

“[It’s] all they want to do. They see it as payback,” Obama added. “They’ve already got it prepared that they’re going to impeach Biden. They’re not sure what for. But, apparently, that’s beside the point.”

Republicans also have said they want to investigate the Biden administration’s decision-making process that led to the president withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. That promises to be another loud, lengthy and partisan affair.

One or more of those House probes will inevitably rekindle calls from inside the Kevin McCarthy-led caucus to try impeaching Biden.

“Well, on the question of impeachment, that’ll be decided by the entire conference,” Jordan said on Halloween, a politically spooky matter to manage for McCarthy, who is in line to become speaker. The GOP leader told CNN this week that impeachment should be pursued for valid reasons, but he did not rule it out.

Still, there could be some legislating. Analysts say the parties have plenty of reasons to get together on a farm bill, which would please both sides’ rural and business constituencies. There is also routine bipartisanship on the annual defense policy bill, which has become law every year for more than six decades.

‘Haven’t told us’

But beyond that?

“I can’t answer that question. There has not been really good messaging about what either party wants to do in Congress over the next two years,” said Brookings Institution senior fellow John Hudak, an author on the presidency.

Republicans continue to focus on what they see as rampant immigration and crime. But GOP members “haven’t told us how they’d fix that,” he said. Democrats say they want to pass legislation to curb record inflation. But they “haven’t said how they’d address that,” he added.

This cycle, the American people are largely “voting on personalities and issues, but not on actual solutions to fix problems,” Hudak noted.

Personalities likely will drive the 2024 election cycle, especially with former President Donald Trump looming over other potential candidates. What Trump says and posts on social media also has outsize influence over congressional Republicans.

“It’s crazy what’s happening with this debt ceiling,” Trump told a conservative radio show Thursday, referring to legislation that is still in the discussion stages but could be part of the lame-duck session before any change of control could take place. “Mitch McConnell keeps allowing it to happen. I mean, they ought to impeach Mitch McConnell if he allows that.”

The Senate minority leader from Kentucky has not yet agreed to anything, nor can senators be impeached under the Constitution. But that did not stop Trump from adding, “Frankly, something has to be, they have something on him. How he approves this thing is incredible.”

The outburst was a reminder that Trump will still have a big say over what happens — and does not happen — on Capitol Hill. He reportedly has been reminding Republican insiders of his influence as he gears up for a likely announcement.

“I ran twice, I won twice and I did much better the second time than the first,” the former president said Sunday at a rally in Miami. “In order to make our country successful, safe and glorious, I probably have to do it again. … Stay tuned.”

So make that the Big Four: ring masters overseeing what could be one of the least productive, but most volcanic, Congresses ever.

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