Republicans

Dems Manage Only Blue Ripple in Midterm Election

The projected blue wave was reduced to a blue ripple as Democrats regained control of the House, but Republicans retained their hold on the Senate, setting the stage for split government and potentially more partisan bickering.

The projected blue wave was reduced to a blue ripple as Democrats regained control of the House, but Republicans retained their hold on the Senate, setting the stage for split government and potentially more partisan bickering.

What was perhaps the most anticipated midterm election in recent memory went largely as polls and pundits predicted it would – a sharp contrast from two years ago. Democrats leveraged their fury over President Trump to recapture the House, while Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate, a split verdict presaging divided government and partisan conflicts for the rest of Trump’s first term.

The campaign efforts of Trump and GOP members mobilized enough Republican voters to reduce a projected Democratic blue wave to something closer to a blue ripple. Presidential campaigning helped Republicans win hotly contested Senate races in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas. Trump proclaimed the election outcome a “tremendous success” as Republicans held their grip throughout the South and in rural and exurban areas.

But Democrats – propelled by a rejection of Trumpism in the nation’s suburbs, and especially from women and minority voters – notched victories in areas that just two years ago helped Trump reach the White House. Incumbent Republicans fell in an array of suburban House districts, including one held by House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions in the Dallas area. And in West Virginia – where Trump is wildly popular and campaigned heavily for Republicans – the reelection of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin delivered a personal blow to the president.

In Washington’s 3rd District, 4-term GOP Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler squeaked out a victory over Democratic challenger Carolyn Long, who mounted a serious, well-funded challenge and sounded like she will try again in 2020.

Democrat Kim Schrier, a pediatrician making her first political run, defeated two-time GOP gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi in Washington’s open 8th District. Republican Congressman Dave Reichert chose not to seek re-election. The Schrier-Rossi contest was one of the most expensive House races in the nation. Her victory bumps up the double-digit Democratic margin in the House and further increases the number of women who will serve in the 116th Congress. The 8th District has never sent a Democrat to Congress before Schrier.

In the high-turnout election, Democrats picked up at least seven governorships, performing well across much of the upper Midwest and even in ruby-red Kansas, where Laura Kelly was elected governor over the President’s handpicked candidate, Kris Kobach.

In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers bested Governor Scott Walker, once a Republican star who ran for president in 2016. Walker survived a hard-fought recall vote in 2012 and was reelected in 2014. Democrats failed to take over the Florida governorship left open by Rick Scott, who challenged incumbent Democrat Senator Bill Nelson and held a slight edge in a tight race that may be headed for a recount. Trump-backed Ron DeSantis narrowly defeated progressive Democrat Andrew Gillum in a race that might be a preview of the 2020 presidential election if Trump faces one of the more left-leaning challengers eying the race. 

House of Representatives 

As expected, Democrats regained control of the House for the first time since Republicans took the majority in 2010. Returns early Wednesday show Democrats poised to pick up more than the 23 House seats they needed to gain a foothold in Congress from which to counter Trump.

Democrats were projected to flip at least 29 districts currently held by the GOP, while they were on track to surrender only a few seats in the chamber. As of now, Democrats have taken 220 seats (enough for the majority) and Republicans have 194 seats. That leaves 21 seats still on the board, including the two close races in Washington. 

With Democrats in charge, Trump will face a different set of committee chairmen who seem poised to investigate alleged administrative corruption and will have subpoena power to push their investigations. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff will ascend to the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, which will translate into more discerning oversight into the potential of Trump team collaboration with Russian operatives in the 2016 presidential election, a sharp turn from the sycophantic role of GOP Congressman Devin Nunes. The Mueller investigation also will have a solid firewall.

Maybe the biggest irony of the 2018 midterm election was that defending Obamacare may have propelled Democrats back into control of the House after costing them their majority in 2010 following its passage.

Senate 

In the Senate, the GOP was able to take advantage of a favorable map heavily tilted toward Republican-friendly states where Trump remains popular. The GOP scored a series of wins in those states, with only a few setbacks. Incumbent GOP Senator Dean Heller of Nevada was unseated by Jacky Rosen. And in West Virginia, a state Trump carried by 42 points in 2016, incumbent Democrat Senator Joe Manchin retained his seat. 

But with GOP pickups in Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota, and likely Florida, the GOP expanded its grip on the Senate for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, increasing the GOP’s narrow 51-49 seat majority. We can expect McConnell’s Senate to retain a focus on confirming Trump’s appointments to the judiciary over the next two years and ignore legislation sent over from the Democratic House that would undermine the Trump agenda.

It’s important to note that in 2020, the Senate map is nearly the exact opposite of this year with 21 Republican-held seats up for election compared to just nine Democratic seats.

Oregon and Washington Elections

There were no shockers in Oregon. The state’s five incumbent members of Congress were swept back into office. Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden, who have served a collective 69 years in the House, will return for another two years, but in a House chamber markedly different than in the previous eight years.

Perhaps the most interesting result was in Oregon’s 2nd District where Republican Greg Walden won his 11th term by defeating Jamie McLeod-Skinner 57.5 percent to 38.06 percent. Though he still won comfortably, the tally was a sharp decrease from the 69.9 percent Walden posted in 2016.

Senator Maria Cantwell cruised to victory as did GOP Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and the remainder of Washington’s Democratic congressmen.

Congresswoman Jaime Herrera-Beutler is expected to eke out a victory in the 3rd District, while Democrat Kim Schrier leads Dino Rossi by 53 to 47 percent margin.

Legislative Prospects in the Next Congress 

With little chance of getting major legislation through the Senate, congressional Democrats will remain on the sidelines for federal judicial confirmations in the Senate, play the role as pesky thorn in the side of Trump in the House and, in turn, serve as a predictable foil in Trump’s anticipated 2020 re-election bid. 

Democrats may get an early start on their fall-guy role with a vote to restore Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, who has become a familiar political piñata at Trump campaign rallies.

Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio is on track to become chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which raises hope of a more serious effort to push a major infrastructure package in the next Congress – one of the few possible bipartisan legislative projects in a split Congress. 

Strong voter interest in health care expressed in the midterm elections might prompt bipartisan efforts to shore up popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act. 

It seems less likely bipartisan common ground can be found in the next two years on Medicare and Medicaid and on immigration reform, which may be headed for the 2020 presidential election as political wedge issues.

Walden will lose his chairmanship of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee, but will continue as the Ranking Member. Walden has a track record of advancing legislation in divided government and may look for bipartisan wins to shore up support back home. 

With the GOP retaining control of the Senate, Washington Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley aren’t expected to take on any new committee assignments. But they will enjoy increased bargaining positions over appropriations and other legislation where they have a Democratic partner to dance with on the House side. 

The “lame duck” Congress now becomes very important to Republicans who will try to accomplish some political objectives before the 116th Congress convenes in January. An aggressive GOP push on contentious issues in the lame duck session could poison the well for any possible collaboration in the next Congress, but it could bolster Republican efforts to satisfy their political base.

  

A Peek at Midterm Election, World Series Probabilities

News headlines follow waves while Nate Silver hunts for probabilities in elections – and sports. Silver likes the chances of Democrats recapturing the US House, Kate Brown remaining as governor of Oregon and the Boston Red Sox taking home another World Series trophy.

News headlines follow waves while Nate Silver hunts for probabilities in elections – and sports. Silver likes the chances of Democrats recapturing the US House, Kate Brown remaining as governor of Oregon and the Boston Red Sox taking home another World Series trophy.

If you want a sneak peek at how the 2018 midterm election will turn out, Nate Silver has a white board full of numbers, percentages and probabilities. Notably absent are any predictions.

Silver, founder of fivethirtyeight.com, is famous for looking at the bigger picture and blending a bunch of polls to reach a probability. His website is chocked full of probability. For example, he says, “Odds are, your next governor will be a Democrat” and “Democrats’ prospects worsen in Nevada and Arizona.”

His probabilities are more than hunches with percentages. He has closely followed the US Senate race in Texas in which incumbent Republican Ted Cruz is trying to fend off a determined challenge by Democrat Beto O’Rourke. Earlier, Silver forecast O’Rourke had a 35 percent chance of upsetting Cruz. Now he has reduced that forecast to around 25 percent. By this time in an election cycle, probabilities start baking into reality. 

Cutting to the chase, Silver says there is an 83.9 percent chance Democrats will regain control of the US House, while Republicans have an 80 percent probability of retaining control of the US Senate.

On governor’s races, Silver says a Democratic victory is likely in Oregon where incumbent Kate Brown is facing Republican Knute Buehler. He gives Brown nearly an 85 percent chance of winning with just slightly more than 50 percent of the vote.

Some political pundits believe midterm elections foreshadow who will run for president in the next election. Silver and his team show there is no clear evidence midterm elections presage anything in a subsequent presidential election year. Nothing exactly predicted Donald Trump would run in 2016 and few, including Trump, believed he would actually win. Few imagined Barack Obama would outshine Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination and the 2008 election. His keynote address in the 2004 Democratic National Convention was more telling than the outcome of the 2006 midterms.

For those weary of politics, fivethirtyeight.com also offers probabilities in sports. Boston has the best chance to win the World Series and Clemson and Alabama have a 65 percent chance to win a ticket to the NCAA National Football Championship.

GOP, Dems in Turmoil Over Midterm Voter Pitches

To regain political power in the midterm elections, Democrats need to reconnect with American workers who have gradually lost confidence in the party of the New Deal and the Great Society, according to a veteran Democratic political strategist. Republicans have to find a way to tout their tax plan that is sagging in popularity.

To regain political power in the midterm elections, Democrats need to reconnect with American workers who have gradually lost confidence in the party of the New Deal and the Great Society, according to a veteran Democratic political strategist. Republicans have to find a way to tout their tax plan that is sagging in popularity.

Heading into pivotal midterm elections this fall, Republicans and Democrats are both in turmoil over their value propositions to voters. Republicans may not be able to run on their record and Democrats are still searching for a platform with political traction.

Congressional Republicans planned to campaign based on a popular tax cut. However, the GOP tax cut faces sinking support, including in so-called Trump country as evidenced by a recent special House election in Pennsylvania that a Democrat captured.

Now congressional Republicans have an immigration mess on their hands. Already deeply divided, the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that separated children from their asylum-seeking parents at the border has apparently deepened the divide. House GOP leadership canceled plans last week to vote on a pair of immigration measures until after the November midterm election.

GOP congressmen face another political problem – backlash from their base if they criticize President Trump, as conservative voters seem bent on asserting at the ballot box that it is now the Trump Party, not a big-tent Republican Party.

Democrats aren’t any better off. They have a smoldering debate among progressives and centrists. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has been demonized and molded into a rallying cry for conservatives. Trump has pummeled Democrats as obstructionists. There is confusion about whether to attack or ignore Trump and what themes will work in the midterm elections to flip control of the House and not lose ground in the Senate where the GOP holds a slim 51-49 margin.

In steps Jake Sullivan, who has been a senior adviser to President Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, with a keen read on where Democrats stand with voters and how they could earn their way back into power.

Sullivan argues in an essay published in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas that Democrats should realize public opinion is more conservative than liberals might hope on deeply divisive issues such as abortion, guns, immigration and race. Political pay dirt for Democrats, Sullivan says, lies in left-of-center economic issues such as taxation, health care, minimum wage and education funding.

“Just as the Great Depression discredited the ideas of the pre-New Deal conservatives who fought for total laissez-faire outcomes in both the political branches and the courts, so the Great Recession once again laid bare the failure of our government to protect its citizens from unchecked market excess,” Sullivan writes. “There has been a delayed reaction this time around, but people have begun to see more clearly not only the flaws of our public and private institutions that contributed to the financial crisis, but also the decades of rising inequality and income stagnation that came before — and the uneven recovery that followed. Our politics are in the process of adjusting to this new reality.”

In the face of political maps showing a lot of red, Sullivan insists “There’s something profound happening in American politics right now. A tide is moving. The center of gravity is shifting. Democrats have a rare opportunity to set bold goals and meet them. By offering new ideas based on tried and true principles –taking the big, ambitious governing style that used to define our party and our politics and putting it to work to meet the challenges of our time – we can achieve growth and fairness, innovation and equality.” 

He added, “Moments like this don’t come around that often in history. Democrats must seize this one.”

The four pillars of his advice to Democrats are:

  • Recognize that present-day jobs are as or more valuable than future jobs, which demands rethinking the contemporary workplace to ensure health insurance coverage, fair wages, antic-discrimination and the right to unionize.
  • Promote policies that reflect changing family structures with more two wage-earning parents, single mother-led households, college students moving back home and a ballooning older adult population that is living longer.
  • Talk about workers in sectors beyond manufacturing in fields such as health care and the service economy and promote workplace, tax and educational policies that sustain the American Dream, while addressing serious issues like opioid addiction.
  • Build alliances with 21st century entrepreneurial businesses to pursue tax, trade and antitrust policies in a globalized economy that keep America competitive and increase income security for US workers.

Republicans have a clearer litany of their policy views – lower taxes, fewer regulations, anti-abortion, free trade and conservative judges. However, like any party in power, the GOP has to defend what it has done – or not done – as well as it what it stands for.

Sullivan’s prescription for Democrats may be the clearest expression of what Democrats could wield to win the seats in Congress and state legislatures they need to gain back power they have gradually lost in the past decade as worker confidence has waned.

 

Republicans Hold Their Breath; Democrats Keep Debating Themselves

The 2018 midterm election is just six months away, with congressional Republicans eager to defend their record in the face of unpredictable Trump tweets and Democrats still groping for the right mix of messages that will move America.

The 2018 midterm election is just six months away, with congressional Republicans eager to defend their record in the face of unpredictable Trump tweets and Democrats still groping for the right mix of messages that will move America.

With the pivotal 2018 midterm elections less than six months away, it is timely to assess likely Republican and Democratic campaign themes. They aren’t exactly obvious. And neither is the election outcome, which could be a blue wave or red dawn.

The one sure thing is that Republican candidates will be tethered to President Trump, whether they like it or not. His zig-zags on trade, immigration and diplomacy will vex GOP incumbents and hopefuls, especially in Farm and Rust Belt states. Trump’s doubling-down on culture war issues will buoy social conservatives and complicate campaigns for Republicans running in swing districts or blue states.

Democrats appear to be still arguing over their 2018 themes. Do they run against Trump and tout the prospect of his impeachment? Or do they focus on bread-and-butter issues such as health care, income security and retooling job training? And what about the ongoing Russia investigation?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told NPR last week congressional Republicans should run on their record. “This is the best year and a half for right-of-center policies since I've been here,” he said. “Everything from tax relief, to repealing the individual mandate to 15 uses of the Congressional Review Act. We mentioned the courts, comprehensive tax reform.”

In the same interview, McConnell admitted the GOP faces a stiff wind to hold on to one or both houses of Congress. That’s largely because of the shadow cast by the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, potential Trump campaign collusion with Kremlin-connected Russians and presidential obstruction of justice. The failure to reach a deal on immigration – from an expanded border wall to protections for DREAMers who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents, but have grown up in America. Then there is Trump going off message, even on the issue of the importance of the 2018 mid-term elections. 

Democrats are torn by deep divisions, which have clouded their 2018 campaign messaging and eroded what once was a commanding leaded over Republicans. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party wants the campaign to center on new initiatives such as universal health care insurance, a federal jobs guarantee, tougher enforcement of anti-trust regulations and allowing the US Post Office to enter the consumer lending business. Center-left Democrats worry that isn’t the political chemistry to turn red states into blue ones. In early-state contested primaries, progressive candidates seem to be carrying the day, but the question remains whether they can win in November.

If Democrats have an ace up their sleeve, it is the number of women running for office.

If Democrats weren’t confused enough, conservative commentators have egged them on, with political cracks about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and identity politics.

The gang at FiveThirtyEight conducted an online chat about midterm election themes. Micah Cohen, the politics editor, put government corruption and Trump’s behavior at the top of his list and downplayed trade, the economy, education, Social Security and the Russian investigation. Nate Silver, the creator and editor of FiveThirtyEight, said Democrats should concentrate on health care, the Russian investigation and gun control because they are tangible issues. Senior political writer Claire Malone recommended centering on Trump administration corruption, ethical lapses and rollbacks of environmental and consumer protection.

Polling continues to show that Trump’s political base remains solid, even though there are some cracks beginning to appear among college-educated women and disaffected union workers. The same is true on the Democratic side, which has been energized by Trump policies and congressional attempts to repeal Obamacare. Republicans need to hold on to their moderates while Democrats need to hold on to their progressives. Both parties need to appeal to unaffiliated voters who think the country isn’t moving in the right direction and GOP control of all the levers of federal power hasn’t moved in the country in the right direction.

While the national stakes in the election are clear – control of the House and Senate, most congressional elections tend to boil down to local issues and candidates. But national politics does play a role. Texas Senator Ted Cruz’ role in a federal government shutdown earned him an unusually well-funded Democratic opponent. Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana is facing a stiff re-election test in the face of criticism by Trump on Tester’s role in blocking his nominee to head the Veterans Administration. If Trump can pull off a verifiable deal to denuclearize North Korea, that could sway voters in the fall.

Only 48 out of 435 House seats are regarded as competitive by political experts. To regain control of the House, Democrats need to flip 25 GOP seats and not lose any of their incumbents. Democrats will likely concentrate on the 25 House districts that gave majorities to Hillary Clinton in 2016, but are held by Republicans. A 25-seat switch in the midterm election following a presidential election is not uncommon historically.

Democratic chances to regain control of the Senate, which the GOP holds by a slim 51-49 margin, are complicated because they have far more incumbents to defends. Democratic hopes go out the window if they lose seats they hold now in West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri and Montana. Their best hopes to gain seats are in Nevada, Arizona, North Dakota and Tennessee,

Meanwhile, congressional Republican candidates will be holding their breath about the next Trump tweetstorm and Democrats will continue debating how to approach the American electorate as a preferred alternative to GOP control. For Republicans, six months can be like infinity. For Democrats, six months can go by in a blink of the eye.

 

Lessons from Reagan’s 1982 Gas Tax Hike

In the fall of 1982, President Reagan’s opposition to a gas tax increase couldn’t be more clear. When he was asked at a September 28 press conference, “Can you assure the American people that you’ll flatly rule out any tax increases, revenue enhancers or specifically an increase in the gasoline tax?” Reagan responded, “Unless there’s a palace coup and I’m overtaken or overthrown, no, I don’t see the necessity for that.” 

Well, it didn’t take a palace coup. It took a mid-term election in which Republicans lost seats and rising unemployment, which cracked double digits for the first time in decades. Three months later, in December 1982, President Reagan signed a groundbreaking transportation bill that more than doubled the federal gas tax from 4 cents to 9 cents and increased transit funding.

The measure's incredible journey offers lessons for today’s leaders who face a similarly troubled landscape  – crumbling infrastructure, a highway trust fund on the verge of bankruptcy and divided government. 

Eno Trans Jeff Davis researched the provocative tale of the 1982 transportation bill and revealed how one of the most important public infrastructure bills of the 20th century became law. With his new report, “Reagan Devolution: The Real Story of the 1982 Gas Tax Increase,” Davis unearths a roadmap for how leadership, pragmatism and relationships can be leveraged to move past ideology. You can read the report for yourself here. Below are some reflections on what I think are the most relevant components for today’s debate.

1.  Under the Guise of Devolution: President Reagan understood well the nation’s infrastructure gap, but he also didn’t want to grow the size of the federal government. Initially, Reagan supported a plan that would transform the federal transportation framework by giving significant control back to the states. If Reagan was going to support a gas tax increase, the authority to spend every penny of the new increase would ultimately be given back to the states – a concept called devolution. The feds would thus retain spending authority over the current 4 cent per gallon gas tax to focus on the federal highway system, but over time, the 5-cent increase would be devolved to the states. While devolution was ultimately left on the cutting room floor, the ideological framework would give transportation supporters in the Administration the space they needed to keep the option of a gas tax on the table. These architects knew full well it was unlikely the Congress would go along with devolution, but they were appealing to Reagan’s conservative values. Ultimately, their persistence paid off.  

Today, devolution supporters point to Reagan’s efforts to return control of transportation spending authority to states but often fail to acknowledge that Reagan acquiesced in favor of pragmatism. While devolution never materialized, it was a big part of feeding Reagan’s conservative, reform minded ideology as the package was being devised. Legislators today could consider a similar approach. While devolution is not a realistic nor prudent option in my opinion, leaders could try to appease conservative devolution advocates. Congress could consider adding elements of local control of federal resources without jeopardizing the health of the nation’s interconnected network of roads. 

2.  User Fee and Shock Absorbers: Reagan was vehemently opposed to raising general income taxes, but he understood the need for increasing the gas tax because those who paid directly benefited. He always preferred to use the term user fee over gas tax.

This is how Reagan framed the discussion in his November 27 radio address. “So, what we’re proposing is to add the equivalent of 5 cents per gallon to the existing Federal highway user fee, the gas tax. That hasn’t been increased for the last 23 years. The cost to the average motorist will be small, but the benefit to our transportation system will be immense… The program will not increase the Federal deficit or add to the taxes that you and I pay on April 15. It will be paid for by those of us who use the system, and it will cost the average car owner only about $30 a year. That’s less than the cost of a couple of shock absorbers.” 

Today, the same argument could easily be restated. The gas tax hasn’t been increased in 22 years – back in 1993 – and the impact to the average driver would still cost less than the price of a couple shock absorbers. The shock absorber argument was effectively and brilliantly used often by the Administration. Because a driver would likely need to replace their shocks more frequently if the government didn’t fix the roads and potholes in disrepair, you might as well fix the roads. That logic still holds up today.

3.  Leadership: In 1982, the country was still in the grips of one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression. Unemployment had just surpassed 10 percent.  Passing a gas tax increase was just as toxic back then as it is now. After Democrats had picked up seats in the mid-term election, the President and his team knew action was needed on the jobs front. There were leaders in both the Executive and Legislative branches that had strong working and personal relationships. This trust was critical to the Democratically controlled House and Republican Senate. The transportation bill was portrayed as a “jobs” bill by both parties and the President understood the Congress was going to act. 

As a pragmatic politician, the President got on board and ultimately pushed for the bill. As Jim Baker, the President’s chief of staff said at the time, “If Reagan told me once, he told me fifteen thousand times – I’d rather get 80 percent of what I want than go over the cliff with my flags flying.”

Today, there is a serious lack of leadership in DC and trust between the Executive and Legislative branches is nearing all-time lows. As the transportation proposal moves through Congress, this may be the most challenging obstacle to overcome. If the transportation bill can be reframed as a jobs bill, like in 1982, maybe both parties can pull another rabbit out of the legislative hat and come up with a compromise that both parties could tout. 

4.  The Grease – Demonstration Projects: When the Reagan Administration got on board and started lobbying for a transportation bill, agency officials started reaching out to wavering Members of Congress. The Administration promised federal funding for pet projects across the country. Not only were “Demonstration Projects” explicitly written into the bill, but DOT officials would call wavering Members to assure certain construction projects would be funded by the DOT. Runway extensions, control towers, roads and bridges were all used to grease the congressional wheels and quiet opposition to raising the gas tax. 

Earmarks are prohibited in the current Congress. Members have little incentive to support a gas tax increase because they can’t point to projects in their states and districts. While earmarks may be out of favor with the public broadly, Congress could come up with a way to ensure enough states and districts receive their fair share of federal spending to construct key infrastructure projects that benefit the daily lives of commuters.

The Longest Wait

Loretta Lynch will become the first African-American women to be the U.S. attorney general, but only after setting a contemporary record for her delayed confirmation, which has stalled because of politics. Photo by  United States Mission Geneva .

Loretta Lynch will become the first African-American women to be the U.S. attorney general, but only after setting a contemporary record for her delayed confirmation, which has stalled because of politics. Photo by United States Mission Geneva.

Much of what goes on in the Capitol is opaque to most Americans, including the lengthy delay in confirming a presidential cabinet nominee.

Loretta Lynch is close to becoming a record. President Obama's choice to become the next attorney general − and the first African American woman to hold the job is approaching the 147-day record of Togo West, a President Clinton appointee for Veterans Affairs. Republicans delayed West's confirmation because of concerns Clinton gave Arlington Cemetery plots to campaign donor, allegations that were later called unfounded.

John Bryson, Obama's nominee for Commerce secretary, stalled for 142 days. Republicans held up his conformation until free-trade deals were passed.

Lynch is in limbo because Republicans, who control the Senate, are using her confirmation as political leverage to pass an anti-abortion provision as part of a human trafficking bill that enjoys bipartisan support. Some Democrats have charged that Lynch, a Harvard law graduate with impeccable prosecutorial credentials, has been left waiting in the wings for 137 days so far because she is black. Some Republicans were enraged because she defended Obama's executive order on immigration.

The Washington Post assembled a chart showing the longest confirmation delays over the last three presidencies. It shows that the average confirmation time for Obama appointees is 56 days, compared to 44 days under President George W. Bush and Clinton.

Lynch is likely to be confirmed at some point. Her delayed approval is also likely to deepen partisan feelings that already run pretty deep. Her appointment and confirmation is a case study on how political parties wrestle for advantage, using whatever holds they can.

Related Link: Which Clinton, Bush or Obama Cabinet nominee waited longest to be confirmed? Soon it will be Loretta Lynch.

When Immigration and Sex Trafficking Law Meet

While politicians are finger-pointing, thousands of unaccompanied children are pouring into the United States to seek asylum.

President Obama is blamed for lax border enforcement and former President George W. Bush is fingered for signing a bipartisan-backed bill in 2008 designed to give legal protections in the United States to children trying to escape sex trafficking in their home countries, excluding Mexico and Canada.

The flood of unattended children showing up at the nation's doorstep coincides with a widespread political belief that comprehensive immigration reform is dead in this Congress, and maybe even longer. A Democratically controlled Senate, which sent a bipartisan immigration bill to the House, isn't likely to go for a bill that merely tinkers with immigration issues. 

So the Obama administration faces the task of what to do with children with legal rights, but not legal residency status. One community already has balked at having children bused to temporary housing there. And Obama is asking Congress for $4 billion for housing and more judges and courtrooms to process the children who risked their lives coming here. 

It is an ugly scene, no matter how you look at it. It also appears to be coagulating quickly into another partisan battlefront, which could obscure the humanitarian issues involved. The children coming here are clearly in harm's way in their Central American home countries. Their life prospects look pretty dim if they are returned to sender.

Congressional Republicans, who blame Obama for the surge, appear to favor a change making it easier to send back the children. But not all Republicans, including many in the evangelical community, are on board with that idea. Those who played a key role in passing the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act disagree that it should be changed. They say the law is doing what it was intended to do — protect children. 

Deserting the Middle Ground

The ideological middle in Congress is an endangered species. And, contrary to popular belief, it may not be the fault of politicians.

Many have speculated that congressional redistricting, which occurs every 10 years, is a major culprit. As the theory goes, districts are made politically safer for incumbents, which means they cater more to the majority and neglect the minority.

However, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post says data may not support that theory. He cites the work of a trio of political science professors who wrote a paper titled, "Does Gerrymandering Cause Polarization?" Their answer is "no."

What Congressional Bipartisanship Wrought

Fallout from the government shutdown last October is having wide ranging impact on the mood and actions of federal legislators in Washington, DC. The term compromise, a dirty word since 2010, has reemerged in the lexicon of American politics as both parties try to avoid lurching from crisis to crisis.

Washington DC, after all, is a town of self-interest and even the most novice political observer could see a continuance of governance by shutdown and showdown could jeopardize the GOP's control of the House and prevent a takeover of the Senate, which now is a distinct possibility in November elections.  

Thus, the GOP had every incentive to work with Democrats to craft a bipartisan compromise on the largest spending bill approved in years. Democrats also wanted government working again, as President Obama and the Democratic Senate seek to put forward a record of accomplishment before the 2014 election.

The second term off-year election is historically bad for the party controlling the White House. Democrats fear they could lose their slim five-seat majority in the Senate and even lose seats in the House. The prospect of a united Republican Congress in 2015 has plenty of Democrats losing sleep.

Lame Duck for Holiday Season

Congress is back in town to stare at the same tax, debt and jobs issues as before the election — with the same fiscal cliff looming in a mere 48 days.

In addition to the impact of the 2012 election results, the lame duck congressional session has experienced the financial reverberations of cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy and the surprising sexual revelations that forced the resignation of popular CIA Director David Petraeus.

Pending fiscal mayhem mixed with a DC political drama combining sex, power, cover-ups, imprudent emails and possible national security lapses provides the perfect punctuation mark for what has been a tortuous and seemingly endless political season.

So while Republicans pondered how to reinvent themselves and Democrats openly negotiated on how to negotiate, the Congressional Budget Office renewed its warning of a potential recession unless Congress reaches a bipartisan agreement to avert sharp tax increases and automatic, across-the-board spending cuts. CBO says the U.S gross domestic product in 2013 could drop by 0.5 percent and unemployment rise to more than 9 percent.

Members from both major political parties appear eager to resolve the problem, but at the moment are jockeying for position. House Speaker John Boehner told his chastened GOP caucus some compromise on revenue will be necessary. Democratic Budget Committee leaders signaled an interest in the income tax deduction cap proposed by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, which echoed an idea earlier surfaced by President Obama.

Spanking Congress for Doing Nothing

Ordinarily we would be writing now about what Congress was hustling to get done before leaving town. This year Congress left town before doing very much.

The Seattle Times ticked off what departing federal lawmakers left dangling:

  • A farm bill with provisions to aid farmers damaged by severe drought;
  • A long-term transportation bill;
  • Domestic violence legislation;
  • Student aid; and
  • Budget and tax measures to avoid plunging off the so-called fiscal cliff.

And that doesn't include anything that might qualify as job-creating legislation to speed economic recovery.

Instead, the 112th Congress has earned the epithet of a "do-nothing Congress." It could just as easily be the "blame the other guy" Congress.

So, the country is left to twiddle its thumbs — or wring its hands — for the next six weeks until the general election is over. Then congressional leaders say they will return to town and take up all the major issues it left undone.

A close presidential vote and continued split control of the U.S. House and Senate may not seem like much of a flash of light that illuminates how to unsnarl congressional gridlock. Perhaps, lawmakers have known all along what compromise would look like, but didn't want to tell anyone before they voted.

Dangling on the Fiscal Cliff

Conspicuous by its absence on the main stages of the Republican and Democratic national conventions has been talk about how the country can avoid careening off a fiscal cliff next year.

The fiscal cliff is real and its impacts known. Its pressure on the political system is palpable. Yet no one wants to venture forth to describe what is likely to happen after the November general election as national leaders watch the clock of a $1 trillion time bomb count down.

Congress triggered the time bomb itself to create a bipartisan political dynamic to come up with a budget and tax plan or face draconian budget cuts and automatic tax increases. Spending reductions for defense and other spending programs and hikes on income tax rates and Social Security payroll tax rates threaten to jolt the U.S. economy back into recession.

Despite widespread dire warnings, President Obama and Congress, especially the GOP-controlled House, are so badly stalemated, they haven't even made a serious effort to disarm the time bomb.

And now they aren't even talking about the fiscal cliff on the campaign stump because any significant compromise budget plan will involve spending cuts and higher taxes neither party wants to own heading into an election.