With Necessary Victories, Republicans Take Over U.S. Senate
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's get some analysis now from NPR's senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, good morning.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Steve.
INSKEEP: Long night for you. In practical terms, what powers have the Republicans gained here?
ELVING: Republicans have gained the power to run the Senate. That means they take over all the committees. It means they take over control of the agenda on the floor.
INSKEEP: Although that's probably not going to mean they're going to pass a lot of legislation. It's going to become law necessarily.
ELVING: They're probably going to have about as many seats or nearly as many seats as the Democrats have had. And how much legislation have they been able to pass in the Senate? You need 60 votes to move anything of great significance in the Senate.
So the main thing that will have changed is that control of the committee structure, control of the floor agenda and the power to stop the president's appointments to executive positions and to judicial vacancies. Right now, the Democrats have been approving those slowly with some resistance from the minority, but they've been doing it with 51 votes. They're not going to have nearly 51 votes anymore. The Republicans are going to have more than that. So they'll be able to say no unless the president appoints someone that at least some Republicans like.
INSKEEP: So the Republicans will have greater powers in some areas. In other areas, it'll still be very hard to run the Senate, and the president can veto legislation if it does get to his desk. But the Republicans have this big victory. So what mandate do they have here if they have any mandate?
ELVING: They have two mandates. One is to show that they can govern, that they are the party that can address the country's problems, that can make people feel more secure in a world of ISIS and Ebola, that can make people feel that the government is doing something to make the economy better for them - that is, for the voters.
And then they have another mandate, and that is the mandate to show their own parties - most activist members, their most aggressive conservatives - that they are going to dismantle not only some of Obama's governmental moves - things such as the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, such as the re-regulation of the financial industry, a lot of energy regulation - but that they are going to roll back government itself. That is what the other mandate is, and those two, to some degree, are going to compete with each other.
INSKEEP: You know, it's interesting - Mitch McConnell, on his way to becoming Senate majority leader, made a statement the other day about Obamacare. He said - and I'm paraphrasing here - we owe it to the American people to try to repeal Obamacare entirely, even though McConnell has, more or less, made it clear he doesn't think that that's practically possible. Does that mean a lot of show votes from Republicans?
ELVING: If you want to call it that. But these are also important demonstration votes. They will vote to repeal Obamacare as the House has done more than 40 - something like 50 times. Perhaps they will agree with the House on what form that should take. They'll send it on to the president for his veto and fail to override the veto. Then they'll get down to negotiating some kind of practical limitation and delimiting of Obamacare. They could try to take away the funding, for example, for its administration. They could change the rules by which the states participate or refuse to participate. In Mitch McConnell's own state of Kentucky, they have a state-run program and a state-run exchange for health insurance. That's quite popular, including with Mitch McConnell. So he may want to preserve that at least for those states that want to have it.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about one other thing. Republicans, in many key races, successfully downplayed social issues. Abortion and gay marriage are issues where they're out of step with some key constituencies, but a lot of key Republican constituencies still have a lot of the same views. So do they go after social issues or not?
ELVING: Probably not would be most peoples' guess at this point. Although to some degree, they are going to have to demonstrate some fealty to those issues for those Republican voters who are motivated by those issues. So here again, you have the contrast between what they want to do to show themselves the governing party, the bridging party and still the party for those most-zealous conservatives within their own ranks.
INSKEEP: Ron, thanks very much.
ELVING: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: For a long night at work, that's NPR's senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.