What the 2022 midterm results mean for abortion, other key issues

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What the 2022 midterms results — so far — really mean for abortion, Ukraine and the control of Congress

There wasn’t a red wave, but even a narrow House majority would change policy priorities.

What the 2022 midterms results — so far — really mean for abortion, Ukraine and the control of Congress
THE NEWS

It’s Wednesday after Election Day, and the race for the House still hasn’t been called, with Democrats exceeding expectations and holding Republicans at bay in a handful of critical seats.

It’s the same story in the Senate, where Democrats managed to hold on in New Hampshire and pick up a seat in Pennsylvania but are still waiting to hear results for three vulnerable incumbents.

The battle for Congress will be finished in the coming days, and possibly weeks from now if Georgia’s Senate race heads to a runoff vote. But already, one thing is clear: Control of government in the next Congress looks increasingly likely to be closely divided, with narrow majorities in each chamber.

Republicans could still clinch both chambers — but the possibility of a “red wave” faded last night as the party got pushed back in key House races in Virginia, Ohio and Minnesota and Senate contests in states like Pennsylvania, where Democrat John Fetterman defeated Mehmet Oz.

In general, a narrowly divided Congress — coupled with the upcoming 2024 presidential elections — will make legislating difficult over the coming two years. Republicans will have to choose between pleasing the right flank of the party, which is closely aligned with Trump, and putting their support behind more bipartisan legislation that’s potentially out of step with the party’s base.

This means that some of the more conservative policy ideas that had been floated by some Republicans — like trying to reform entitlement spending like Social Security and Medicare — will be exceedingly difficult for Republicans to pursue if they succeed in clenching the House.

THE CONTEXT

A narrow Republican majority, which might be the most likely outcome as votes continue to be counted, would give Republicans power to set the agenda in Washington in the midst of a presidential election. But the narrower the majority, the more room there will be for individual members to derail leadership’s plans.

Donald Trump is widely expected to run for the White House, and Republicans will likely use their investigative power to change the narrative around the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack and delve into some of the more questionable parts of Hunter Biden’s past.

Much of the divisiveness will stem from the fact that the presidential election essentially starts the moment the final votes are counted in the midterms. Meanwhile, states will be left to grapple with things like abortion policy on their own, leading to a state-by-state mosaic of access and a tremendous amount of uncertainty.

Grid reporters from across the newsroom broke down how policy issues including the economy, health policy, climate change and the war in Ukraine will all be affected by the changing dynamics in Washington.

ECONOMY LENS

McCarthy’s leadership role possibly in flux

Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) who currently heads up the House Republicans as minority leader, has made it perfectly clear in recent weeks that if Republicans regain control of the house, he wants to take California Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s spot as House speaker.

But with Republicans’ lackluster performance in the midterms, McCarthy might have less of a case for the speakership — and he also has less room for dissent with a smaller majority. This could make it easier for Democrats to squash a debt ceiling fight by picking off moderate Republicans to join them to avoid a showdown.

McCarthy expects to trade increasing the debt limit in exchange for some kind of spending cut. While he has been ambiguous about exactly what spending programs he would look to slow or get rid of entirely, Republicans in the House have talked about looking at entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. But cuts to entitlement programs — which some moderate Republicans do not support — would be exceedingly difficult to make in a narrowly divided Congress, though some conservative lawmakers still might try.

— Matt Zeitlin, Maggie Severns and Leah Askarinam

HEALTH LENS

States are voting for abortion rights — so far

Five states had abortion referendums on the ballot. Of those, three states — California, Michigan and Vermont — passed referendums ensuring access to abortion and other forms of reproductive freedom. Referendums in two states considering restrictions on abortion, Kentucky and Montana, had not been decided as of early Wednesday.

A number of races for governor could also affect which way a state goes on abortion. In Kansas, which recently voted against abortion restrictions in a statewide referendum, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly won reelection.

On the federal level, Republicans could introduce national abortion bans in the coming year, but President Joe Biden would likely veto any such bill. In September, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) put forward a bill that would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the pregnant person. The proposal drew both criticism and support from within the GOP, making its long-term prospects less clear.

— Jonathan Lambert and Maggie Severns

CLIMATE LENS

The Republican strategy is not to change climate policy, just underfund it.

The main avenue for Republicans to push back against the environmental policies put in place by the Biden administration is via funding. The Inflation Reduction Act’s $369 billion in climate-related spending is spread out over 10 years, and a Republican Congress could try to slow its implementation by underfunding various agencies or departments.

Republicans have long griped about the prioritization of renewable energy over fossil fuels, but a flipped Congress still wouldn’t have much say over things like pipeline permitting or offshore oil drilling, which remain the purview of the executive branch. Still, Congress could use its oversight role in order to put a thumb on those scales, perhaps using highly publicized hearings on higher energy costs or China’s human rights record in the solar power or battery industry as levers to slow momentum away from fossil fuels.

There is, however, the smallest of chances that a flipped Congress might be losing the stomach for defiantly pro-warming policies. John Curtis, a Republican representing Utah’s 3rd District, is among a small group of GOP members who have tried to work toward some climate action.

— Dave Levitan

GLOBAL LENS

Republicans aim to cut spending on the war in Ukraine

Some Trump-aligned Republicans this year campaigned on their opposition to further aid for Ukraine. Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, who won the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman, said in a recent interview, “I think we’re at the point where we’ve given enough money in Ukraine, I really do. … The Europeans need to step up.”

Fifty-seven House members and 11 senators, all Republicans, voted against the last $12 billion Ukraine supplemental budget allocation in September. And McCarthy recently told Punchbowl News, “I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.”

One hint of what’s to come could be the Countering Communist China Act released last year by the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative lawmakers, in response to what they viewed as insufficiently aggressive proposals from Democrats. The act includes a collection of anti-China measures: banning U.S. companies from receiving federal subsidies affiliating with businesses tied to the Chinese military, blocking funding to U.S. universities that affiliate with Chinese government organizations and mandating a new investigation into the origins of the covid-19 pandemic.

— Joshua Keating and Maggie Severns

POLITICS LENS

A divided government — and GOP caucus

Republicans haven’t yet secured enough votes to win a House majority. Either way, they won’t be elected with a strong mandate to tick off McCarthy’s wish list for the next Congress.

Instead, the next Congress will likely be characterized by fighting both between parties and within the House Republican Congress. Without a strong majority, GOP leaders will have two choices to pass legislation: They can hold their party together, including votes from the combative House Freedom Caucus that has often clashed with leaders in the past. Or they can negotiate with Democrats, which has happened in other recent congresses to broker deals on must-pass legislation.

But legislating is only one part of the equation for lawmakers as they head into the 2024 elections. If they hold the House, Republicans will have leeway to launch investigations into Biden and his family, and place concerns shared by voters about the state of inflation and the economy front and center. If they are in the minority, they’ll again run against Biden and Washington Democrats’ record as Democrats plow ahead with more of their agenda.

— Maggie Severns

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.

  • Maggie Severns
    Maggie Severns

    Domestic Policy Reporter

    Maggie Severns is a policy reporter for Grid covering complex policy stories and major headlines.

  • Leah Askarinam
    Leah Askarinam

    Senior Editor

    Leah Askarinam is Senior Editor at Grid, overseeing coverage of politics, misinformation and the economy.

  • Matthew Zeitlin
    Matthew Zeitlin

    Domestic Economics Reporter

    Matthew Zeitlin is an economics reporter at Grid focused on the domestic impact of major stories such as coronavirus, the supply chain and economic volatility.

  • Jonathan Lambert
    Jonathan Lambert

    Public Health Reporter

    Jonathan Lambert is a public health reporter for Grid focused on how science, policy and the environment shape our collective well-being.

  • Dave Levitan
    Dave Levitan

    Climate Reporter

    Dave Levitan is a climate reporter for Grid where he focuses on interconnected stories about climate and science, and politics shaping action around both.

  • Joshua Keating
    Joshua Keating

    Global Security Reporter

    Joshua Keating is a global security reporter for Grid focused on conflict, diplomacy and foreign policy.

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