Subscriber OnlyPolitics

Democrats take full House - but Trumped by Republicans in Senate

Democrats’ House win will allow party undertake investigations into president

Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke failed to overcome Ted Cruz in Texas. Photograph: EPA/LARRY W. SMITH

So how to assess the midterm elections in the United States? If it’s a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency, then the jury is still out.

Sure, the first cardinal point from the results that have been filtering in across the US overnight is that the Democrats have scored a big victory in the House of Representatives, overturning a Republican majority with a gain of up to 35 seats.

It's the first time the Democrats have controlled the House for eight years, and the victory will allow them obstruct the Trump presidency and launch investigations into the president, including one into his secretive tax returns.

Moreover, the number of female members of Congress reached something of a watershed, topping 20 per cent for the first time, with key gains for Democrats in Pennsylvania where four women candidates won seats in a state that had no female representation in the House in the last term.


But the Republicans not only held onto their slim 51-49 majority in the Senate but consolidated it, with a gain of at least three seats. In Texas Ted Cruz held off the challenge of Beto O’Rourke, the great (and massively financed) hope of the Democratic party, by a slim majority. The Republican Party also doubled down on its growing hold of Florida, winning both the Senate and gubernatorial races.

And in a big blow to the Democrats, incumbent Claire McCaskill was beaten by her Republican rival Josh Hawley in the Missouri Senate race.

Most of the Senate seats being contested were in rural areas, which tend to be Republican strongholds. But, still, it was a good day for the party in those elections.

Trump was at his modest best on his Twitter feed this morning: “There’s only been 5 times in the last 105 years that an incumbent President has won seats in the Senate in the off year election. Mr. Trump has magic about him. This guy has magic coming out of his ears. He is an astonishing vote getter & campaigner. The Republicans are . . .”

The tweet tailed off, but I guess the word needed to complete the sentence was probably not “morons”.

As our Washington correspondent, Suzanne Lynch, reports: “Democrat minority leader Nancy Pelosi hailed the House victory, pledging to use the majority to restore the constitution’s checks and balances on the Trump administration. But speaking to activists at Democratic headquarters in Washington she also promised a new spirit of bipartisanship “because we’ve all had enough of division”.

It will be hard to see a bipartisan House with the White House incumbent in situ. It is also hard to see any Democrat rival toppling Trump in the 2020 White House election - unless there is a scandal of Nixonian dimensions.

Here is Suzanne's full report.

A full Irish Brexit (with an invisible Ulster fry)

The British government has a plan after all because it is going to spend the next month selling it.

What purported to be British government notes were leaked to several British media outlets yesterday. They set out ambitious proposals to sell the Brexit deal to the British public and to politicians. The British government denied the notes were an official document, pointing to the “childish” language. But if their status was not official, the notes clearly gave an insight into Cabinet thinking.

The “grid” for November would kick off tomorrow, two days after a crucial cabinet meeting. Brexit secretary Dominic Raab would announce “a moment of decisive progress”.

“The narrative is going to be measured success, that this is good for everyone, but won’t be all champagne corks popping,” the notes say.

Later, on November 19th, the prime minster will make a keynote address at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference calling for the whole country to unite.

On the same day, “the Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework will be put to Parliament by way of a statement from Raab who will also do media. Junior ministers are doing regional media all day. Government lining up 25 top business voices including Carolyn Fairburn [CEO of the CBI] and lots of world leaders eg Japanese PM to tweet support for the deal,” the notes say.

Over the following ten days, the notes add, May will visit Scotland, vote in the Commons and will publish an explainer setting out how the deal is better than No Deal.

In the following week, the themes will be business and immigration - “take back control of our borders” - with world leaders joining in. On the 24th the theme will be Northern Ireland and the Union: “No hard border in the UK and the integrity of the Union is protected.

“Trying to get Varadker to support and Anand Menon and Henry Newman too.”


Is it real? Well it’s a grid, and it seems to be in the ballpark. The only problem is that, as yet, there is no plan, and there is no sign of an agreement on the horizon just yet.

The British government is now trying to come up with a plan for a backstop that would have a “review mechanism”. Would that be a backstop for the whole of the UK or just for Northern Ireland? And how would the review mechanism work? It would certainly not allow a withdrawal after three months as Raab outrageously suggested on Monday.

While the Government would never countenance a backstop with a time limit (“not worth the paper it is written on”, said Leo Varadkar), the Taoiseach did accept some kind of review mechanism could be the creative solution that might break the impasse.

The Taoiseach told the Dáil yesterday it could also work to Ireland’s advantage. But he said “a review is very different from an exit clause, and we can’t accept an exit clause that would allow the UK to unilaterally resile from the backstop nor could we accept an expiry date”.

Mr Varadkar said the Belfast Agreement and European Treaties would never have been agreed if the participants had not been open to “creative solutions and creative language”.

His point was that Ireland has the backstop but that a creative review mechanism might be preferable.

The Government referred media to a draft protocol from the draft withdrawal agreement that said the backstop could be “overtaken by a subsequent agreement provided that it also addresses the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, avoids a hard border and protects the Good Friday Agreement”.

Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin took that as more than a nuance and accused Mr Varadkar of shifting position in a reckless manner.

As Marie O’Halloran reports, he rounded on her in the Dáíl during Leaders’ Questions: “It is a very good thing that you’re not leading these negotiations.

“You hold the world record for failing to negotiate a coalition agreement in Northern Ireland, for now more than two years.

“You’re too extreme, you’re too uncompromising, and you’re too bullying. You would turn friends into enemies within months.”

Ms McDonald said “now we’re at crunch time” and all the Taoiseach had done was to “muddy the waters”. She continued: “You’ve torpedoed all of that. How on Earth at such a sensitive time in a negotiation you would commit yourself to a review clause?”

Marie's full report is here.

Best Reads

The New York Times says high voter turnout was propelled by voter fury at the Trump administration, portraying it as a good day for the Democrats (it downplayed the Senate results).

The main article in the Washington Post is more measured, noting the Democratic win but adding it "fell short of delivering a sweeping repudiation of Trump that Democrats had hoped for".

Brian Hayes announced his retirement from politics yesterday. An assessment from political editor Pat Leahy is here.

Miriam Lord describes how the usual suspects engaged in vicious backstop backstabbing.

In her column Kathy Sheridan focuses on former HSE chief Tony O'Brien's attack on Simon Harris as the touchstone for a debate about sound bites and truth.

Suzanne Lynch also reports on a possible landmark deal that could win Irish citizens 5,000 visas a year to the United States. The Government's envoy to Washington, John Deasy, has reportedly been instrumental.


The Taoiseach is in Helsinki today for bilateral meetings with the president of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, and the prime minister of Finland, Juri Sipilä. Finland takes on the EU presidency in the second half of 2019.

Mr Varadkar will be joined by Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee for the meetings, which will focus on Brexit, December’s European Council, and the upcoming Finnish presidency.

At home, Tánaiste Simon Coveney will take questions in the Dáil.

Before that, at 10.30am, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone will take priority questions on her responsibilities.

The Wednesday Private Members’ motion is from Fianna Fáil, which wants to encourage more apprenticeships. The Government will not oppose it.

There are a large number of Bills at various stages of passage through the Oireachtas coming before the House in the late afternoon. They include the Home Building Finance Ireland Bill 2018; the Criminal Jusstice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Bill 2018; the Children’s Health Bill 2018; The Data Sharing and Governance Bill 2018; and the Public Services Superannuation (Age or Retirement) Bill 2018.


The Seanad will discuss a motion setting out the arrangements for the address to the House by the lord mayor of Belfast on Thursday.

The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 will continue its committee stage deliberation in the Upper House, while Tánaiste Simon Coveney will update the House on the latest Brexit negotiations.


At 11am, the Housing Committee will discuss the topical issue of Traveller accommodation.

There will be detailed discussions of the Digital Safety Commissioner Bill at the Communications Committee (also at 11am). Representatives from Facebook, Google, ISPCC and Cybersafe Ireland will attend.

The Select Committee on Health will continue its deliberations on the Termination of Pregnancy Bill.

The Education Committee will meet in the afternoon to be briefed by Minister for Education Joe McHugh on the situation affecting a number of schools nationwide that were built by Western Building Systems.