After months of speculation about a possible “blue wave”, the 2018 midterm elections delivered a mixed verdict on President Donald Trump’s first two years in office. For Catholic and pro-life voters, the results offer both disappointment and reason for hope.
Democratic gains in the House of Representatives will likely preclude the passage of any significant pro-life legislation over the next two years. California congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (pictured), a pro-choice Catholic Democrat, is expected to reassume the role of Speaker of the House, a position she held from 2007 to 2011. Even with what will likely be a slim majority of 11 seats, Democratic congressmen are unlikely to break ranks and defy party leadership.
Democrats will have to work hard to hold their majority in 2020. As the Catholic Herald went to press, the New York Times was projecting that they will end up with 229 seats against the Republicans’ 206. That means the GOP would need to win only 11 seats in 2020 to retake control of the House.
On the other hand, the Republican Party will probably end up with 54 senators pending probable recounts in Arizona and Florida, increasing their majority by three seats. This is crucial for several reasons. First, Republicans are in a strong position to hold on to their Senate majority in 2020. The GOP’s most vulnerable Senate seat will almost certainly be in Colorado, although a few others could also prove competitive. The Colorado senate seat is the only potentially vulnerable seat located in a state won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. A loss in Colorado would probably be offset by a victory over Alabama Democratic senator Doug Jones, who beat a Republican candidate accused of sexual misconduct in a 2017 special election.
Second, the power to appoint federal judges and Supreme Court justices is invested in the Senate. During the confirmation proceedings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in September and October, the Republicans held a narrow majority in the Senate: 51 Republicans to 49 Democrats. Defections by both of the GOP’s pro-choice senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, would have spelled Kavanaugh’s defeat. As it happened, Collins, along with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, voted to confirm Kavanaugh. The additional Senate seats give the Republican majority some cushion for confirming Supreme Court justices should additional vacancies arise. A friendly Senate will allow the President to appoint pro-life judges, thereby moving the judiciary in a more conservative direction.
At the state level, the Democratic Party made modest gains, but Republicans largely maintained control of state legislatures. The GOP remains in control of 30 state legislatures, while the Democrats now control 18. In 21 states, the Republicans control both the governorship and the legislature, whereas the Democrats have complete control in only 14 states. The Democratic Party’s minimal inroads at the state level mean many states will still be able to pass pro-life legislation.
For pro-life Democrats, the election proved a disappointment. Joe Donnelly, a Catholic senator from Indiana who was endorsed by Democrats for Life of America, lost his re-election bid. His opponent, Republican Mike Braun, is also a Catholic and will enter the Senate as a pro-life voice. Last month, Braun told the Indianapolis Star: “I’m 100 per cent pro-life and I believe in traditional marriage”.
Two other Catholic Democratic senators also faced defeat. North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill lost to pro-life Republicans Kevin Cramer and Josh Hawley. The National Right to Life Council (NRLC) gave ratings of 0 per cent for McCaskill and 14 per cent for Heitkamp. Hawley, who defeated McCaskill, has said he would vote to confirm “constitutionalist, pro-life judges”.
Other Catholic Democrats fared better in Senate races. Tim Kaine, a Virginia senator who ran as Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, easily beat his Republican opponent. Kaine earned a 0 per cent rating from NRLC. Joe Manchin was a bright spot for Democrats for Life of America, winning re-election in a close race against West Virginia attorney general Patrick Morrisey. Manchin’s record on life issues is mixed: he only received a 42 per cent rating from NRLC, but his was a key vote in favour of Kavanaugh.
Overall, the Catholic vote split between Republicans and Democrats, with Pew reporting that 49 per cent of Catholics supported the former and 50 per cent voted for the latter. Fox News reported an even split of 47 per cent of Catholics voting for each party.
Pro-life voters have reasons for hope after the 2018 election. The increased Republican majority in the Senate suggests the federal judiciary will continue to move in a conservative direction. Although the Democratic majority in the House will likely limit the passage of pro-life legislation, their hold on that chamber of Congress may not survive past 2020.