Votes are still being counted, and control of the next House and Senate is yet to be determined, but it’s clear President Joe Biden survived Tuesday’s elections without the shellacking the last three presidents endured in their first midterms. Current projections favor a razor-thin GOP majority in the House and the Democrats potentially keeping the Senate. 

A Democratic White House and partially or fully Republican-controlled Congress may seem a recipe for gridlock – or worse. There’s speculation about a possible government shutdown and House investigations into figures like the president’s son, Hunter Biden.

Why We Wrote This

Divided government, should it occur, may be a recipe for gridlock. But with razor-thin margins, both parties might also be wary of overreaching. They could even find ways to work together.

But not everyone in Washington is pessimistic. 

“The country has a pretty long history of productive divided Congresses,” says Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center. 

In Tuesday’s election results, Mr. Grumet sees the potential for a strengthened political center, after some centrist Democrats survived tough reelection fights against hard-right conservatives. He also points to Mr. Biden himself as a source of optimism, with his instincts as a longtime moderate senator perhaps coming to the fore in the next two years. 

“Going into a presidential election where all the polling says people want competence, there’s an incentive” to make deals, Mr. Grumet says.

When President Joe Biden was asked at his post-midterms press conference what he might do differently going forward – given widespread American dissatisfaction with the country’s direction – his answer was blunt: “nothing.” 

The problem isn’t with the Democratic agenda, the president suggested; it’s that Americans are “just finding out what we’re doing.” And the more they know about recent measures, for example, to lower prescription drug prices and build roads and bridges, “the more support there is.”

The political context of his comment is key: The Democratic Party just defied expectations and survived Tuesday’s elections without the shellacking the past three presidents endured in their first midterms. Votes are still being counted, and control of the next House and Senate is still not determined, but President Biden feels empowered to stay the course. 

Why We Wrote This

Divided government, should it occur, may be a recipe for gridlock. But with razor-thin margins, both parties might also be wary of overreaching. They could even find ways to work together.

Republicans, for their part, are nursing the wounds of a missed opportunity – the candidates promoted by former President Donald Trump who likely cost them Senate seats and possibly control of the chamber; the competing agendas and messages; the uneven fundraising. 

What’s clear is that each house of Congress will be closely divided, as they are now, with current projections favoring a slim GOP majority in the House and the Democrats potentially keeping the Senate. 

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