Early voting is already underway across the United States in this year’s midterm elections, with less than three weeks to go until election day on November 8. Plenty of mystery remains about what the results will be after an unusual campaign: How much will the Supreme Court’s historic decision to end a nationwide right to abortion have helped the Democratic Party, even as inflation and President Joe Biden’s unpopularity hurt its candidates? Will the Republican Party manage to recapture both chambers of the U.S. Congress or just retake one? Yet unless the results diverge dramatically from pre-election polling, one thing doesn’t seem particularly unclear: Republicans will win a majority in the House of Representatives, where Kevin McCarthy will presumably be the next speaker. What are they intending to do with that power?
David A. Hopkins is an associate professor of political science at Boston College. As Hopkins sees it, Republican leaders have proposed a conventional conservative legislative agenda—cutting taxes and regulations, opposing Democratic expansions of the government—but they won’t be able to implement much of it with a Democratic president remaining in the White House. What they will be able to do is block Democratic legislation, launch investigations into Biden’s administration and his family, and exercise new political leverage over the essential functioning of the federal government. According to Hopkins, there’s potential that congressional Republicans will be able to damage Biden politically—or be seen as overreaching and make him look more sympathetic to voters. Whatever happens, Hopkins sees a generational change in the Republican Party that’s making it more populist and Trump-like by the year, as its members await the former president’s decision about whether to seek the White House again in 2024.
Graham Vyse: How do you understand the key aspects of the agenda U.S. Republicans will pursue if they win back power in Congress?
David A. Hopkins: Their agenda will have two parts: The first is about legislation and policy; the second, investigations. The Republicans’ legislative ambitions mostly relate to standard conservative policies, as they laid out in their Commitment to America policy platform introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives—though there’s more of an emphasis there than there has been in the past on cultural issues. Of course, Republicans won’t be able to achieve any of their legislative ambitions on their own, given President Joe Biden’s ability to veto legislation. But they will be able to use the subpoena power of congressional committees—and the public attention you can get from that power in conducting oversight hearings—to investigate their political opponents, including the Biden administration, Biden’s family, and the technology companies they accuse of discriminating against conservative users.
The last time there was both a Democratic House and a Republican president in the United States, the president was impeached twice. The last time there was a Republican House and a Democratic president, the Republican speaker got run out of town by his own party. So if you’re the presumptive speaker in the next Congress, Kevin McCarthy, one lesson you’re likely to take from recent American history is that there will be tremendous pressure from within your party to attack major Democratic and liberal targets. Now, that might not mean impeaching President Biden, but it certainly might mean investigating his family—or trying to impeach a cabinet official or some other senior member of the administration. Another lesson you’re likely to absorb is that if you don’t satisfy your party’s quests for political retribution, you could easily end up on the firing line yourself.
Vyse: Republicans are widely expected to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter in particular. What will they hope to achieve with that?