In a historic midterm election, Democrats have seized control of the House of Representatives, flipping more than two dozen seats. This gives Democrats subpoena power for the first time since President Donald Trump was elected two years ago. While the Democrats will control the House, the Republicans picked up two more seats in the Senate. The midterms were a groundbreaking election for women. At least 100 women will serve in the U.S. House for the first time in U.S. history, including the first two Native American women and the first two Muslim women. We speak with Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, and Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change.
Democracy Now Video: Rashad Robinson Speaks on Democratic Women Seizing House & 7 Governorships in Historic Midterms
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Democrats have seized control of the House of Representatives, flipping more than two dozen seats. This gives Democrats subpoena power for the first time since President Trump was elected two years ago. While the Democrats will control the House, the Republicans picked up two more seats in the Senate. On the state level, Democrats picked up seven governorships. Huge turnout numbers were reported across the country.
President responded to the election results by tweeting, quote, “If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else, at the Senate level. Two can play that game!”
AMY GOODMAN: The midterms were a groundbreaking election for women. For the first time in U.S. history, at least 100 women will serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, including the first two Native American women and the first two Muslim women. Later in the program, we’ll hear from Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
But we begin today’s show with two guests here in New York. Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, America’s oldest weekly magazine, she’s also is a columnist for the WashingtonPost.com. And we’re joined by Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Katrina vanden Heuvel. Your thoughts on what has taken place? The House now in the hands of Democrats, Republicans have expanded control of the Senate.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: I think taking back the House is critical, as a check on President Trump. But also I think it’s important people know that a majority of the committees and subcommittees will be controlled by progressives. The Progressive Caucus will have about 90 members. Some of the women you mentioned will join. And it will have 13 committees and, I think, 30 subcommittees. That’s important. And I think the ability to not only hold the president and the administration accountable on corruption, on self-interest, on self-dealing, but the ability to lay out bold initiatives, bold legislation—may not pass with the Senate as we’ve seen it, but it’s critical, I think, that the progressive Democrats lay out, in this war of ideas, that progressives have been winning to a certain extent—$15 minimum wage, a jobs program, infrastructure, free higher ed.
The governor’s races Juan spoke of? Critical. Critical both as a blue wall against the redistricting scams that we’ve seen from the Republicans, critical also to wrest back the Rust Belt from Trump, who really did well in key parts. Wisconsin, how sweet it is, Scott Walker going down. I mean, my colleague John Nichols has written so much copy about this man, who busted public workers, assault on education, has demeaned and degraded the Wisconsin idea. So I think that’s critical.
Amendment 4, Rashad Robinson and I were talking about it. One thing we’ve seen in this election, Amy and Juan, the barriers to democratic participation, the well-funded targeting voting suppression. So, Amendment 4, restoring rights to ex-felons to vote—1.4 million Floridians will be able to vote—I think, is a vital step on the road to a true democracy.
Statehouses, we haven’t seen the numbers yet, but those will be hopeful, as well, flipping, I think, Minnesota and a few others.
So I think it was—you know, it’s a bittersweet night, because we’ve seen the incendiary, toxic nationalism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant actions, talk of this president and his enablers in the Republican Party. You know, they secured some wins. However, those who say it was kind of split, let’s all recall that this Senate map is the most horrific for Democrats. I mean, it’s just—you know, the one-third up were really states in which the Republicans and Trump have played well. So—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Katrina, you mentioned the Rust Belt. And I think it’s important to note that there were three states—
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —that really delivered.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: For Trump.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: For Trump—Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: And Pennsylvania.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And there, in those three states, the statewide runs, either for Governor or for Senate, for the U.S. Senate, the Democrats won, I think, six out of seven. So you’re seeing a situation where those key states now are really not as—
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: They’re in play.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —not as reliable Republican as they appeared to be in 2016.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: And as you know, Juan, I mean, many of those voters went for Obama in 2008 and 2012. So it was that flip in 2016 that has to be looked at. And I think last night was a good insight into what is possible in 2020. In effect, we can talk about it—2020 began last night—but that’s a different discussion. But I think you see it with taking back those statehouses. There were some good minimum wage initiatives in states. Very troubling that that good initiative in Washington state, the kind of carbon tax, the Green New Deal, went down. You still see the power of corporate money in our system.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And at the state level, I think there were six states that moved into total Democratic control.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Right, to flip.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And one of them being New York state, where the New York state Senate, which had been very evenly divided but the Republicans controlled, now is overwhelmingly Democratic.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: No, I think—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Forty to 23, I think, is now the number in the New York state Senate. What that means in terms of what can be accomplished by progressives in New York?
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, you—
AMY GOODMAN: And Democrats and progressives won a supermajority in the Vermont House—
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —neutralizing the newly re-elected Governor Phil Scott’s veto threats.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: No, this is—I mean, it’s critical on so many levels, but, historically, as you well know, we’ve lost over a thousand state legislative seats in the last few years. So, this is coming back and saying, Democrats, progressives are going to play at all levels.
New York state—you’ve studied, you’ve written, Juan—it’s a major win. Let us see what Governor Cuomo does with it, because he’s hid behind the inability to do much, with the Independent Democratic Conference now defeated. One last race which I think is very important, Juan and I were talking about, is Antonio Delgado in the 19th Congressional District. That race was supercharged with toxic, racist rhetoric. John Faso has held out against good people like Zephyr Teachout. But he’s gone.
So, I think, you know, it’s bittersweet, but I think real gains were made, and I think it would be wrong to downplay those.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the nation’s most closely watched races of the year remains too close to call, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp holding a slim lead over Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams, who is vying to be the first African-American woman governor in U.S. history. But Abrams is refusing to concede because thousands of absentee ballots have not yet been counted. Kemp is currently at 50.5 percent. If he dips below 50, the race goes to a runoff. The Georgia race was marred by widespread allegations of voter suppression carried out by Brian Kemp—again, who, as Georgia secretary of state, is in control of the elections, despite the fact many demanded that he recuse himself.
Meanwhile in Florida, Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded to Republican Ron DeSantis after a tight race, Gillum attempting to become Florida’s first African-American governor, but faced a string of racist attacks from outside groups and DeSantis, who told Floridians not to “monkey this up.”
And in Maryland, Republican Governor Larry Hogan was re-elected, defeating Democrat Ben Jealous, the former head of the NAACP.
Rashad Robinson, you’re the executive director of Color of Change.
RASHAD ROBINSON: Yeah, and I think these—you know, what happened last night, particularly with Andrew and Stacey’s race, I think, represents the way that the South is changing. These are candidates who came out of Democratic, progressive infrastructure and were able to win primaries, where they were not the establishment choice. And not only did they win their primaries, but they showcased what the next generation can actually look like on the national stage, through their debates, through their campaigns, attracting wide range of donors, attracting wide range of support. And in both places—you know, we’re not sure what’s going to happen yet with Stacey’s race, but four years ago, we have to remember, that Jimmy Carter’s grandson was at the top of the ticket and did not get as close as Stacey Abrams. There has never been a black woman governor in the United States, and so we’ve always known that there was going to be a high hurdle to get there, especially in a state like Georgia.
And so, I do think that the message that the Democrats should be taking away from this, for 2020 and beyond, is that we do have to speak directly to our base, that we do have to excite people with a type of passion and energy about what we can achieve, because Trump is going to mobilize his base. And if we are not working in the space of ideas and also trying to build power down ballot—I think that some of the other victories that happened last night, the secretary of state victories in Michigan and Wisconsin—yes, the governor victories are important, but being able to have those positions as we head into 2020 is going to be incredibly important.
And, you know, we’ve been looking very closely at a much larger secretary of state strategy at Color of Change. We’ve been working diligently over the last couple of years to really focus more attention on district attorney races, and saw some real victories last night, some of which happened in the primaries with, you know, winning that victory in St. Louis in the aftermath of the Ferguson uprisings, but also, last night, a victory in Dallas, where there’s been so much attention around policing and police shootings, and being able to go in and actually win that victory in Dallas, led by local organizers, the Texas Organizing Project and others.
So I think that, you know, this—what this means for a party that I think has oftentimes struggled with having a base that is deeply diverse, with actually addressing the issues directly that that base needs them to address for folks to feel the type of passion and energy to turn out in high numbers, I hope that with this new wave of women, women of color coming into office, that there will be some leadership changes at the top.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Rashad—
RASHAD ROBINSON: That’s a—yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Rashad, I wanted to ask you, in terms of—you mentioned Texas and Georgia. These are states that have been reliably red for decades. And so you’re seeing a situation, whether it’s Beto O’Rourke or whether it’s the race in Georgia, that now the progressive Democrats are really coming close. So, it’s showing you that Texas is no longer as reliably red, nor is Georgia. And also Florida, this may be the last time it’s a swing state, because of Amendment 4.
RASHAD ROBINSON: Amendment 4, which is so exciting. You know, and this kind of debunks a lot of what the political class, some of the consultants, will tell you about what it takes to win those type of seats. Oftentimes what they’ll say is they need to find that sort of middle-of-the-road candidate, someone that maybe has come from the military or has the right last name—maybe their parents or grandparents had won—and that is the sort of pathway to sort of taking back these sort of tough-to-reach places. But I do think that what Stacey, what Andrew, what O’Rourke have demonstrated is that mobilizing a base in states and in places where the demographics are rapidly changing is our best path to power.
It is also our best path to actually delivering real results for folks, because elections are not about getting people jobs or moving people up a ladder, they’re actually about delivering for folks. And in 2016, a lot of what we heard from our members and from the members—our member volunteers who were out talking to folks is that people were just disenchanted with the political process. And this time around, the number of volunteers, the number of excitement, because there was actually candidates willing to speak clearly and directly—and the fact that we are so close in Georgia, and we are—and we were so close to winning in Florida, does send a real clear message about what’s possible.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, a lot is being made of the record number of people—
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —who came out, 113 million people, in these midterm elections, compared to something like 83.3 million in 2014. But still, that is a half the population, the voting-age population, did not vote.