Predicting elections is a fool’s errand, and we are living at a time of dramatic crosscurrents.
Republicans tout high inflation, low (though improving) approval numbers for President Joe Biden and the historical reality that the President’s party nearly always loses seats in his first midterm election. Democrats are counting on the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to overturn abortion rights, and the rage it’s unleashed, along with a slate of very weak Republican candidates in some key races.
At this point, most prognosticators favor Republicans to flip the House, and Democrats to hold the Senate.
That could change, or those models could be off. But if that is the government configuration come this January, here’s what Republicans say they’ll do with their newfound power.
Investigations, and then some more investigations
It would be Benghazi on steroids, over and over. Hunter Biden alone could spawn multiple hearings, as Republicans and the Fox News apparatus that supports them have become singularly fixated on Biden’s son.
“We’re not investigating Hunter Biden for political reasons,” Rep. James Comer (R-KY), who is poised to chair the House Oversight Committee in the case of a GOP flip, told TIME this month. “We’re investigating Hunter Biden because we believe he’s a national security threat, who we fear has compromised Joe Biden.”
Comer then quickly told on himself, adding: “The Hunter Biden investigation is slowly becoming the Joe Biden investigation.”
Republicans have also said they’ll investigate Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s immigration policies, the pullout from Afghanistan, the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, the causes of inflation, the Jan. 6 committee and baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
Many of these topics are shot through with conspiracy theories, and will all revolve around trying to make the Biden administration look bad.
Debt ceiling hostage-taking
In the case of a split Congress, Republicans would be stymied legislatively. But they would be able to indulge in their habitual pastime when a Democrat occupies the Oval Office: taking the global economy hostage to extort political concessions from him.
The tactic was first used in earnest by Tea Party Republicans in 2011, and the party has warmed to it ever since. Each time, Republican members say they won’t help suspend or raise the debt ceiling, threatening to let the United States default on its debts, which would almost certainly trigger a global financial crisis. In exchange for relinquishing their hostage, they demand that Democrats give them what they want. (Concerns about the national debt conveniently fell by the wayside during the Trump administration.)
This time, they plan to demand cuts to Medicare and Social Security — a position so staggeringly unpopular with voters that it may explain why they didn’t attempt to enact the cuts during the two years they had unified control under then-President Donald Trump.
After 2011 when Democrats unwisely tried to negotiate with Republicans, the GOP lawmakers have largely had to capitulate after some kind of standoff. As the GOP becomes increasingly dominated by hard-right actors, though, the danger only grows.
Impeach Biden and assorted Cabinet members
Republicans have been mulling impeaching Biden since before he was even the Democratic nominee.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) said in February 2020 that “I think this door of ‘impeachable whatever’ has been opened” by conspiracy theories about Biden’s supposed role in the ousting of Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin. (These, you may recall, are the same conspiracy theories that Trump tried to extort Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky to investigate, an episode that resulted in Trump’s first impeachment.) Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) introduced articles of impeachment related to the same conspiracy theory the day after Biden was inaugurated.
Some Republicans have been explicit about the political motivations underlying such an impeachment push.
“I believe there’s a lot of pressure on Republicans to have that vote, to put that legislation forward, and to have that vote,” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) said on NBC last month.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said on his podcast last winter that a Republican House would likely impeach Biden “whether it’s justified or not.”
Republicans have tended to be vague on exactly why they would impeach Biden, though some have tossed out their displeasure with his handling of the southern border, and others have pointed in Hunter Biden’s direction. They’ve frequently named Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as another likely target.
It only takes a simple majority of House members to impeach a President, but two-thirds of the Senate to convict him. Even if Republicans took over both chambers, there’s virtually no chance they’d take enough Senate seats to actually remove Biden or a Cabinet member from office.
(Try to) Slash the social safety net
This goes hand-in-hand with the debt ceiling threats, but Republicans have been expansive on this point.
“Entitlements are gonna consume the budget,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said recently on Fox News, adding: “Entitlement reform is a must for us to not become Greece.”
The Republican Study Committee released a budget this summer that elaborated on these priorities. It calls for raising the age of eligibility for both Medicare and Social Security, and encourages increased means testing for Medicare. It also contemplates reducing payroll taxes that fund Social Security, instead redirecting them to private alternatives.
Separately, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, released his “Plan to Rescue America” which called for letting “all federal legislation” — presumably including Medicare and Social Security — sunset every five years unless Congress reauthorizes it. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has also floated funding the two programs through the annual budget rather than letting the spending be automatically dispersed, as it is now.
The Republican Study Budget goes after other social programs too.
It would make SNAP — formerly known as food stamps — more selective, and make home visits — “as a means of deterring welfare fraud” — a condition of eligibility. It would eliminate the Community Eligibility Provision from the school lunch program, which allows schools in low-income areas to provide free lunch to all students, regardless of individuals’ eligibility. It would also push those on the waitlist for public housing to have to live with roommates, so as to stop “needlessly increasing costs for both the federal taxpayer and the beneficiaries.”
Republicans would not be able to institute these changes legislatively over either a Democratic Senate or Biden’s veto. But we’d see energy channeled in this direction, particularly if they take over House committees with jurisdiction over these programs.
Pass dead-on arrival, culture war red meat
Finally, Republicans would introduce a raft of bills that won’t go anywhere.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) Commitment to America gives some clues in its promise to “defend fairness by ensuring that only women can compete in women’s sports” and “uphold free speech, protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers, guarantee religious freedom and safeguard the Second Amendment.”
The Republican Study Budget has more, decrying “woke politics” in the military, naming a slate of anti-abortion bills and decrying “discrimination” towards people who oppose same-sex marriage.
These bills too would run into the buzzsaw of a Democratic Senate, a Republican Senate with a filibuster or Biden’s veto. But they’d provide hours of Fox News fodder and Republican floor speeches.