November is coming. I know, because a tree told me. The stout maple outside my office window has grown a beard of red, like the first flecks of gray in a young man’s whiskers. The trees outside Donald Trump’s windows aren’t changing yet — it’s a muggy 81 down there compared to my foggy 58 — but to crib a line from Melville, it is already a damp and drizzly November in his soul.
The 2018 midterm elections are six weeks and an eyelash away. It will be another two months after that before the 116th Congress is sworn in. If the political prognosticators are right about November and the ultimate constitution of that new legislative body, the next three months may well be the last peaceful ones Trump will ever know. It is hard to say for certain if he knows this, but you’d think he must have at least an inkling. How could he not? Even Fox News can read a poll number.
Currently, there are 240 GOP-controlled seats in the House of Representatives. One hundred of those seats are within striking distance of being won by Democratic candidates, with 60 either in deep peril or already doomed to defeat. The Democrats need to pick up 24 seats in total to claim majority power. Those numbers are all you need to know about why House Speaker Paul Ryan abruptly decided to call it a career and go home.
The chance of Republicans maintaining majority control of the Senate is definitely better, but is no longer the cakewalk it appeared to be a few short months ago. To secure that chamber, the Democrats will have to pitch the electoral equivalent of a perfect game, and November is a cold month for baseball.
With the gruesome Jon “Not A Factual Statement” Kyl temporarily filling the seat left open by the late John McCain, Senate Republicans currently maintain a minuscule majority. Democrats must win or defend 12 seats — Texas, Tennessee, New Jersey, Florida, West Virginia, North Dakota, Nevada, Indiana, Montana, Wisconsin, Missouri and Arizona — to take the Senate, and more than a few of those races are long shots at best. For all that, it is a goofy year for electioneering; if the so-called “blue wave” crests high enough, there are some who think even Mississippi might be in play. Stranger things have happened.
For the moment, let’s lay aside a discussion on the Senate and focus instead on the House, where their prospects are far better. What will happen if they recapture the Speaker’s gavel? In recent history, we’ve seen Democrats celebrating victory with, “Hooray, we won! Let’s be Republicans now!” If they take the stronger path, however, the fruits of victory could be substantial indeed.
“Get ready,” writes Lesley Clark for McClatchy News. “If Democrats take control of a chamber in the November election, expect a flood of hearings, investigations, probes and special commissions starting in January. Democrats on two government watchdog House panels say Republicans have stifled and blocked nearly 75 lines of inquiry into various Trump policies and issues. Democratic members of Congress are already at the starting gate, ready to pounce.”
The immediate change will be visible and dramatic. Nancy Pelosi will seek to replace current House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is taking his ball and going home after denouncing the poisoned political atmosphere he was instrumental in creating. If there is a genuinely muscular showing by progressives in November, however, Pelosi may have a contest on her hands if she wants her old position back. However that shakes out, whoever does wind up holding the gavel will have a (D) after their name.
All the committee chairmanships will flip. Barring some legislative swap meet between House Democrats, Eliot Engel will replace Ed Royce on Foreign Affairs, Maxine Waters will replace Jeb Hensarling on Financial Services, Jerrold Nadler will replace Bob Goodlatte on Judiciary, Elijah Cummings will replace Trey Gowdy on Oversight and Government Reform, and the indefatigable Adam Schiff will replace Devin Nunes on Intelligence.
For Donald Trump, the switch from Nunes to Schiff will be the equivalent of finding out his most trusted bodyguard has been replaced by a bull shark. Devin Nunes spent the last two years being all places at once in his effort to derail and destroy his own committee’s investigation into Russian collusion by Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Schiff, for his part, has been waiting in the tall grass with all the subpoenas he has not been allowed to issue. Once seated, a newly minted Chairman Schiff will release them like a horde of angry bees.
The change will be equally dramatic on the Oversight Committee, where Trey Gowdy has spent his chairmanship turning down dozens of motions for subpoenas put forth by Democrats. During the Trump years, Gowdy has allowed a grand total of exactly zero subpoenas to be issued. (This is a swooning departure from his days as chairman of the preposterous Benghazi Committee, when he issued no less than 13 subpoenas while investigating President Obama and Secretary Clinton.) This no-subpoena norm will change virtually overnight when Elijah Cummings takes Gowdy’s seat.
“If Democrats win the majority in November,” said Cummings this past August, “we would finally do what Republicans have refused to do, and that is conduct independent, fact-based, and credible investigations of the Trump Administration to address issues like the security clearance process, conflicts of interest, the numerous attempts by Republicans to strip away healthcare from millions of Americans, postal service reforms, prescription drug pricing, and voting rights.”
Specifically, these newly minted House committees are likely to investigate:
- the question of Russian election collusion;
- corruption within the Trump Organization and Trump Foundation;
- the location and content of Trump’s infamous tax returns;
- Jared Kushner and the process of security clearances;
- the refusal of the White House to produce vital policy documentation;
- the administration’s ghastly response to Hurricane Maria and the ongoing plight of Puerto Rico;
- corruption among Trump’s Cabinet secretaries;
- the process that led to immigrant children getting ripped out of their parent’s arms at the southern border.
“We need to attack the problem of corruption we see in the administration and do our oversight,” Adam Schiff recently told The New York Times. “But Democrats are mindful of the fact that if we want to stay in the majority, we have to show that we are responsibly governing.”
That is code for “We’re not talking about impeachment right now because impeachment is a long shot thanks to the Senate so don’t say impeachment out loud, OK?” Personally, I’d like to see the entire Trump administration put into orbit around Neptune, but that’s probably why I’m not in charge. In any event, the Democrats haven’t won anything yet except a bunch of polls. If they do win in November, there is no guarantee they will do what is required to begin salvaging this ridiculous state of affairs.
I got out of the prediction business two years ago when I discovered, along with most every other political analyst on the planet, that my divining rod was badly bent. What will be will be, the song says, and anything else is conjecture. However, impeachment is on the table along with all manner of other things whether Nancy Pelosi likes it or not. At a bare minimum, the nation and the world may be three short months away from bearing witness to something unseen for far too long: oversight, investigation and perhaps — gasp — a reckoning.