Election 2010: Congress, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi

Nov 03, 2010

Washington Post staff writer Paul Kane will be online Wednesday, Nov. 3, at Noon ET to discuss the midterm election results and how Congress has been affected.

How the President will be affected?

Good morning everyone -- ooops, good afternoon. We're going straight to the Qs, because as you know by now, the Dems received their own "thumpin'" last night, to borrow a W phrase and to ape from PK friend Naftali Bendavid's book on the 2006 midterms.

So, how will the president be affected? First off, his ambitious domestic policy agenda is dead. DOA. We're talking about playing small ball and centrist compromises for at least the next two years. Nothing big, comprehensive, sweeping will get approved unless it has broad bipartisan support.

Perhaps more importantly, the president is deeply affected politically. The "killing field" along the I-70 and I-64 corridors was as bad, or worse, than some feared. Those are states/regions that Obama has to win back in order to win re-election. Dems got their butts handed to them in Ohio -- losing 5 House seats -- and in Mizzou, Roy Blunt coasted to victory while Ike Skelton got dumped. This poses serious issues for his re-elect. As Shailagh Murray and I noted in our final "Crucial Corridor" piece in Monday's paper, to win the White House you have to win 3 of the 5 states along I-70: PA, OH, IN, IL, Mizzou. Now, Indiana and Missouri look like goners. Illinois will almost surely go for its favorite son. Obama now must win PA and OH to win reelection, it appears.

At the polls yesterday, a fellow Democrat told me that she blamed Harry Reid for the Republican wave, because he never made the Republicans 'actually do' a filibuster, like in the movies. Having read many of your replies to these chats, I told her that Paul Kane of the Washington Post says that under modern rules, it's impossible to force such a cots-all-night option in Hollywood (or historic) fashion -- it simply no longer exists. As I understand you, there was literally nothing Reid could do that matches our mental image of a 'real filibuster.' She was shocked and asked me for details. I didn't have them. You are the expert. Can you explain this for us one last time?

Here's the thing. Under current Senate rules, the chamber functions under unanimous consent requests. Reid asks for "UC" to pass a bill, McConnell objects. In its most basic function, at that moment, the onus is on Reid to produce 60 votes to shut off McConnell's objections. All McConnell needs to do is make sure he has at least one ally in the chamber at all times to object.

Now, if Reid forces a cloture vote to kill off the filibuster, and he falls short with, say, 57 votes, he could do one other thing to symbolically prove his point: Just leave the chamber open in a state of suspended animation, stuck in neutral on the same piece of legislation and refuse to move on to something else. But there's nothing he can do to force the Rs to come down and hold the floor.

Hopefully, this isn't off-topic but will the write-in campaign for Murkowski fail because of spelling errors? Or is "Murkoski" or "Merkowski" close enough to count as a vote?

This is up to poll watchers. They have set standards that will give broad leeway to allow a "Merkowski". The question is whether someone writing just "Lisa" will suffice, because there may be dozens of people who write in some version of Lisa -- Lisa Smith, Lisa Miller, etc.

I'm seeing Politico list the House of Representatives as 239 R's and 196 D's, however the Post has it as 240 R's and 184 D's and 11 undecided. Are these races still too close to call , or is Politico correct on the new makeup of congress?

Sorry, I"m not sure what the difference is, whether we've given the Rs a race that the others haven't.


That's our breakdown.

Either way you slice it, here is the most fascinating detail I've figured out yet: This is the largest Republican majority since the Truman administration midterm rout of '46. The Gingrich-DeLay gang never topped 235 seats, and in one night John Boehner has surpassed his mentors in terms of majority size. And yes, size matters.

Can we do it now? Can a Republican House manage anything?

McConnell and Boehner, in a press conference I attended just before this chat, sounded the tones of humility. It's entirely unclear that they will live up to that, and they'll get tested quickly with showdowns over the Bush tax cuts and the need to raise the federal debt limit early next year.

Paul, thanks for the chat. What are the chances that Pelosi a) steps down, b) has a challenger, or c) retires?

No one really knows the answer to the Pelosi question, mostly because no one has spoken to her about this, not even her closest colleagues. At least the conversation hadn't been had before 10 pm/11 pm last night. The betting money is that she steps down.

This is by every single possible measure a historic defeat on her watch. I've got any House Dem chiefs of staff telling me privately that the entire leadership team -- Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn, Van Hollen -- should all offer their resignations.

Is Boehner really going to become speaker? I think the new Republican Tea Party members are going to want to elect one of their own. And they won't compromise. I don't expect this to be pretty. Fun to watch, but not pretty. Politics is my favourite spectator sport.

Let's be very clear: John Boehner is the 61st speaker of the House. Only health issues or shocking/Massa-level scandal could prevent this from happening.

Coaches who win the World Series or the Super Bowl don't get fired. John Boehner just won the World Series AND the Super Bowl.

Do all bills that have any sort of money involved have to originate in the House? Or just the yearly budget? Given all this talk about "listening to the American people" could Obama and Reid pass a bunch of small, clean bills that have majority American support and dare the House to vote them down?

I'm just a bill, sitting in committee on Capppp-i-tol Hill.

Sorry, my apologies to School House Rock fans. Yes, all spending/revenue bills must start in the House, or else they can stopped by what is known internally as a "blue slip" measure that halts the Senate-approved bill in its tracks. Now, you can get around this requirement if the House majority agrees to get around it.

But with Senate Majority Leader Reid passing stuff Dems want, it would be hard to see how this would then get through the House.

One of the big questions on one network's election coverage was whether Rand Paul will vote to extend the debt ceiling when the new Congress convenes. Do you believe McConnell can keep him in line with the rest of the caucus?

McConnell and Boehner were asked this question at their presser. Let's just say this: they didn't really have an answer as to what they were going to do.

Hi - what's going on in the Washington state and Colorado Senate races? I've seen no movement in the numbers between checking, um, another newspaper's website at 9 a.m. and another check of the same site just now. (Your site, by the way... well, I can't open the Dan Balz article because my not-particularly-obsolete computer is getting hung up processing all the extras y'all have loaded the page with.)

Well, yeah, our web story pages can be cumbersome. Sorry about that, we're working on a redesign.

Now, as for those two outstanding states, some local Colorado media outlets are calling it for Bennet. It's really close, I can't swear he's gonna win. But I'd rather be in his shoes than Buck's. In Wash, Murray has the lead and she also has upwards of 250,000 votes left to be counted in King County, which is home to Seattle and the hipster liberal crowd, which is her base.

They're not confident in Murray's camp, but they say they feel better than they did at 10 pm PDT last night.

How does the poor showing of Palin-endorsed candidate Miller in Alaska impact on Palin's political future?

I've had an argument with The Fix and some other reporter friends on this today. I think Palin and DeMint were losers last night. Overall, for the entire 2-year cycle, sure, they're now significant power brokers in the national Republican Party. And whether both or neither runs for president, they will be very significant players in that primary.

But the results in Delaware, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska and, to some extent Pennsylvania, showed the very strict limits of the tea party movement in general election contests. Christine O'Donnell was a disaster. How many of you true conservatives ever heard of Jim Huffman?

Very few, that's what I thought. He was your conservative nominee against Ron Wyden. He got no attention, no energy, no boost from the national tea party movement, and he got 40.3 percent. O'Donnell got all that attention, and she got 40 percent on the nose. Both ran in liberal states. Well done, Christine.

The tea party energy was critical to much of the success Tuesday, but some of its candidates -- with Palin and DeMint's backing -- were disasters. In New Hampshire, Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Republicans nominated mainstream conservatives who won ... most of them by double-digit margins.

In Pennsylvania Toomey initially ran as a tea partier but once Specter left the GOP fold, he went mainstream conservative. He ran a nearly picture perfect campaign. And he only won by 2%, showing that a Ken Buck-O'Donnell-Angle-Joe Miller candidate in PA simply would have been destroyed.

So you can lie about your military record like Democrat Blumenthal and Republican Kirk or you can cavort with whores like Republican Vitter and still get elected to the Senate. I'm glad to see the voters are so discerning in whom they choose to represent them or are they just trying to get them out of the state and make the politicos D.C.'s problem?

I'll just post this question without comment.

'Nuff said.

Paul are you going to host a regular chat again or is this a one time deal? We miss your insights.

My people want to hear me!!!

Fire up the PK Brigade, start flooding The Fix chats with Qs demanding my return!!!!

Don't you feel they will stay in place at least through the lame duck session? Otherwise there would be chaos and irresponsible of them don't you thing?.

Oh yes, I'm sorry. Without question Nancy Pelosi will serve out the next 2 months as speaker. The change in power won't happen until early January, probably Wednesday, January 5.

But we'll know in the next 24 hours whether Pelosi expects to try to fight for post, now as minority leader, or whether she's going to step down. And all expect Hoyer to run to replace her, the only Q being, will someone from the liberal wing challenge him. But this is all about next year, to be clear.

Why? This has been the best two years for Democratic ideas being put into law in a long time. I suppose it goes to the question: Is the primary purpose of the leadership to pass legislation or to win reelection? I'm hardly saying that I'm happy about the outcome of yesterday's election, but I don't think that is the correct measure of Pelosi's effectiveness.

I've always been yelled at in these chats when I describe how effective Pelosi was. Unquestioned, she did more as speaker in 4 years than anyone did since John McCormack (D-Mass.) oversaw JFK's and LBJ's Great Society.

But members of Congress, first and foremost,  base leaders on the political map, and that map was decimated last night for Democrats. This is a lot like sports, and she's the coach, and it's going to be difficult to see her staying on in power. Plus, she's already been minority leader, did it for 4 years. These jobs are brutal, personally, and you can't blame her if she decides it's time to move on.

Am I the only Democrat out there who'll be happier once Murray or Bennet is in the bag, because we don't trust Lieberman not to decide he's a Republican now?

Thanks for asking this question so I can put this myth to rest. The era of party switching is over. Once Obama and Reid couldn't clear the field for Specter, and he lost to Sestak, that ended any chances of someone walking across the aisle for a very long time.

Lieberman is up for re-election in 2012. In a Republicay primary against Lieberman, what % of the vote would go to a potted plant that simply had a sign on it reading: "Vote for me, the other guy supported Obamacare."

I'm thinking the potted plant wins 50.5%, or more.

Same goes for Ben Nelson in Nebraska, also up in 2012. And in reverse, same for Olympia Snowe. The potted plant in Maine's Dem primary would say: "Vote for me, she opposed health care for everyone."

Under these circumstances, in today's toxic environment in party primaries, it's just not plausible for someone to switch parties and think they could survive.

Yes, we must have more political WaPo chats! I miss you!!

The PK Brigade. My people love me.

I don't understand why the Democrats expect civility and cooperation from the Republicans. They act like Charlie Brown would be convinced some how that Lucy would not pull the football out this time when he tried to kick it. I don't believe any of the bipartisan rhetoric coming from the Republicans. Do you think there will be government shutdowns coming?

I love Lucy-Charlie Brown references. I'm a total sucker for them.

This is a dicey question, but I know that Republicans tell me privately they have been studying very closely the 1994 elections and how they governed after that. They do not want to make those mistakes, they swear by it. Does that mean it's going to all "shiny, happy people", holding hands and doing bipartisan stuff? Probably not.

Hi, thanks for taking questions. About how many of the Democratic losses in the House this election were amongst first- or second-term Congresspeople? I know that in '06 and '08, they picked up a fair number of seats in districts that were traditionally conservative-leaning, and I'm wondering if last night's results were (in part, at least) due to voters swinging back to their "natural" state/political leanings.

Per the math of political reporter like no other, Dan Balz, as of 2 a.m. last night more than half of the 48 Dems who sat in districts won by McCain in '08 had lost, and there were more still undecided.

Look, there's a chunk of this that is about how Dems had just gone into seats they had no business representing. Let's say for the sake of argument they end up losing 65 seats. My best estimate is that about 15-18 of those seats were simply not defensible under any circumstances. In the summer of '08 Rahm told me that the maximum density for the Dems should be about 243, and by late '09 they had hit 258.

But that doesn't explain the other 45-50 losses.

I had it, until I saw a link for a Paul Kane chat.

You people are just sucking up to me now.

PS -- Since this was my 1st chat in a while, I fired up the best Springsteen bootleg I own, from his Richmond show in August '08. It's genius. This version of "Backstreets" makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up every time Bruce reads the sign from the fan request: "It says, 'My band just broke up, play Backstreets." Then, halfway through, he whispers into the mic: "It sucks when your band breaks up."

But you mean step down from their leadership positions, not resign from Congress, right? (Because, as a Van Hollen constituent, I still want him in there.)

yes, yes, yes, step down from leadership. Now, the past route for speakers booted out of power -- Newt, Hastert -- is to resign as speaker, then about 6-10 months later, resign from the House altogether. Van Hollen, despite last night's disappointment, has a very long career ahead of him. Few people blame him for these defeats.

It's a poorly kept secret that he longs to succeed Sen. Mikulski, as he came of age as a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. CVH is here to say for quite a while.

Okay, the Republicans have done what we expected them to do and won the house. Now it's time for them to govern, which is much harder than throwing out vague statements.... so what's the first thing they do? What is Speaker John (of Orange) Boehner going to make HR 1? A repeal of Healthcare Reform? Tax cuts for the wealthy? What is the first priority of the Republicans in the House?

The first big vote of the new House GOP majority is likely to be legislation to slash $100 billion in federal spending on the agencies, reducing the cost of gov't to fiscal year 2008 levels. The repeal of health care is going to take longer. Today, asked about that, Boehner said, they need to "lay the groundwork" for that effort.

After each election, reporters say, "The people have spoken, and they want change... to repeal the health care... or whatever..." How can anyone really say that? Issues are never really on the ballot, people are. If the American people wanted the Republicans in control of the House and Senate, none of the Democrats would have been re-elected. We may have voted, but what did we really say?

OK, this is my last question and then I'm gone.

It's a great point you raise, and I don't know the answer. The voters in the Rust Belt, along I-70 and I-64, made clear they can't stand the way government is working. Then again, they said the same thing in '06, swinging wildly into the Dem column, and now 4 years later, back into the GOP column.

Broadly, voters seemed to say that tea party candidates running in statewide races need to appear very capable -- that's you, Marco Rubio, one of the best campaigns of the year -- and very steady (hello Rand Paul, amazingly, in the final 2 weeks of that race Conway came off as the crazier candidate). If not, we won't support you. (Looking straigh at you, Miss O'Donnell, and Right Angle.)

But there's a lot of mixed messages here, so, with no further adieu, ON TO 2012.

See y'all. And I went the whole chat without talking about Donovan McNabb. Wow.

- pk

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Paul Kane
Paul Kane is a staff writer for The Washington Post.
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