Donald Trump’s life in Washington is about to become ‘a living hell’. Picture: AFP
Donald Trump’s life in Washington is about to become ‘a living hell’. Picture: AFP

What vote really means for Trump

DONALD Trump's job just got much harder.

His political opponents, the Democrats, took control of America's House of Representatives with a massive swing in the midterm elections today.

At the same time, Mr Trump's Republicans retained control of the Senate.

So Congress has been split down the middle. The question is, what does that mean for the President?

Mr Trump seemed happy enough with the result, calling it a "tremendous success".

That is very much a "glass half full" kind of attitude.

"It's nice for Donald Trump to tweet about a 'tremendous success' tonight. It's not a tremendous success," CNN host Jake Tapper said.

"They (the Democrats) are going to make his life a living hell.

"He is going to find an opposition that he has never really encountered before."

First, and most significantly, Mr Trump will no longer be able to pass legislation without support from the Democrats.

For the first two years of his presidency, he has been able to rely on Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress, and sometimes even that has not been enough.

For example, Mr Trump's push to repeal his predecessor's signature health care law, Obamacare, failed when a few members of his own side went rogue.

Now even perfect, iron-clad discipline from the Republicans will not be enough. To pass anything, he needs the Democrats' help.

Is there any hope at all of something productive getting done? Maybe.

Nancy Pelosi, who will probably become Speaker when the new House sits for the first time in January, promised she would "strive for bipartisanship" in her victory speech today.

"We've all had enough of division," she said.

Former Republican senator Rick Santorum said the President was "not an ideologue" and could be willing to work with the Democrats on issues like infrastructure spending and raising the minimum wage.

In truth, it would require a degree of co-operation that has rarely been seen in Washington D.C. since Mr Trump became President.

And that's not all.

The Democrats will now assume control over powerful congressional committees, whose responsibilities include oversight of the White House.

They can investigate Mr Trump and his associates. They can subpoena executive agencies, officials and departments for evidence, documents and testimony.

They can even compel the President to hand over his mysterious tax returns, so the world can discover whether he is as upstanding - or as rich - as he claims.

Keep a particularly close eye on Congressman Adam Schiff, who will now chair the House Intelligence Committee.

Under its current Republican chairman Devin Nunes, that committee has largely protected Mr Trump from the prospect of a more expansive congressional investigation into his presidential campaign.

Mr Schiff will undoubtedly press the committee to do a more thorough job.

He will also be keen to ensure Special Counsel Robert Mueller is allowed to complete his own investigation into Russian election interference unimpeded.

"I don't know if he (Trump) understands how much his life changed tonight," MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace said.

She pointed out that "every tax return, every scandal" would now be mercilessly scrutinised.

On top of that, her colleague Kurt Bardella believes five members of Mr Trump's Cabinet - Ryan Zinke, Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, Kirstjen Nielsen and Wilbur Ross - could face fresh pressure from the House Oversight Committee.

"For the better part of the last two years, the House Oversight Committee has gone dormant," Mr Bardella wrote.

"Chairman Trey Gowdy hasn't sent a single subpoena to the Trump administration.

"Democrats, however, will have no such hesitation."

Over on Fox News, former judge Andrew Napolitano said the Democrats wanted to run "shadow investigations" into Mr Trump, exposing information that Mr Mueller has so far kept away from the public.

Mr Trump is not the first president to face this quandary.

His predecessor Barack Obama also enjoyed majorities in both houses of Congress for the first two years of his presidency. He used that power to pass Obamacare, and other legislation, without the Republicans' support.

Like Mr Trump, Mr Obama endured a fearsome backlash.

In the 2010 midterms, the Democrats lost 63 seats, and for his last six years in office Mr Obama struggled to get anything through the Republican-controlled House.

Negotiation occasionally worked. Very, very occasionally. But more often than not, Mr Obama was forced to circumvent Congress and use his executive powers.

Those powers, which give the President authority over government agencies, regulations and foreign policy, will give Mr Trump quite a bit of scope to enact his policies without needing to change legislation.

The problem? If those policies are not enshrined in law, whoever becomes president after Mr Trump can simply saunter into the White House and revoke his executive orders with a stroke of their own pen.

"Tonight was a massive win for Donald Trump and the people he campaigned for," one of Mr Trump's biggest supporters, Fox News host Sean Hannity, said today.

"The Democrats winning the House is meaningless."

That is, to put it mildly, wishful thinking.

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