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As Congress Turns Red, Faculty Expect Continued Gridlock

As Republicans took control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate late Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, Harvard political experts said that the new power dynamic in America’s government would not significantly change the existing political climate in Washington.

Prior to the midterm elections, the Republican Party already held control in the House with 233 members, but on Tuesday they clinched the Senate by picking up seven seats from the Democrats in Montana, South Dakota, Colorado, Iowa, Arkansas, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Additionally, the Republican Party enjoyed even greater gains in the House Tuesday, extending their existing majority for the two years that President Obama has left in office.

“It is pretty clear that politics in Washington are broken, and I'm not sure that a Republican-controlled congress, both houses, is going to fix that,” said Timothy P. McCarthy ’93, a lecturer of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, adding that the already polarized Washington would probably not turn around significant policy changes during the new legislative session.

Votes Coming In
Members of the Harvard-Cambridge community come and go at the polling station in the lobby of Quincy House Tuesday afternoon.

Other faculty members agreed, saying that President Obama has faced difficulty moving forward with legislature in the past few years with a Republican-controlled House, and that the new, Republican-dominated Senate will only add to this difficulty, particularly on hot-button issues like healthcare and immigration reform.

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“Anything Obama has asked for over the last four years since he lost the House, anything he wants whatever it is, the answer is no,” said Jeffrey A. Frankel, a professor at the Kennedy School. “I don't really see how that’s going to change.”

Some posited that, as a result, Obama may try to use his executive power more than before.

“The legislative possibilities of Barack Obama's presidency are effectively over,” McCarthy said. “What Barack Obama has now is the power of the presidency to veto legislation he doesn't agree with or sign executive orders to move certain pieces of the agenda forward at the legislative level.”

Barbara L. Kellerman, a professor at the Kennedy School, agreed that Obama may need to use his veto power in order to defend against Republican legislation.

“Will Obama find it difficult or if not impossible to work with these leaders?” she said.“Will a whole slew of executive decisions occur?”

Despite potential challenges the Obama Administration will encounter, faculty experts said that the midterm results may actually improve public perception of Democrats for the 2016 presidential election.

“It’s probably better for the President politically and the Democrats in 2016 to have the Republican majority,” said Matthew A. Baum, a professor at the Kennedy School. “It gives them a foil because someone else is partly responsible.”

Yet most were quick to reiterate that the bipartisan divide in the government remains stifling.

“It’s not a good outcome tonight,” said Government professor Theda R. Skocpol. “[There] is continued stalemate of the national government in dealing with very important issues with the country.”

In Massachusetts’s only Senate race, Democrat Ed Markey was re-elected by a wide margin. Democrat Katherine Clark was re-elected to the House to represent the state’s Fifth Congressional District, as well, to which part of Cambridge belongs.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at meg.bernhard@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @Meg_Bernhard.

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