WASHINGTON — Democrats took control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday night, a rebuke of President Trump’s divisive leadership style and nationalist agenda, tempered by the Republicans’ success in keeping control of the Senate.
It was a night of significant consequence, if not with an overwhelming message. It is expected to bring the president political pain in the form of multiple committee investigations and a House that will no longer be receptive to his policy proposals.
A jubilant House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi took the stage late Tuesday night to chants of “Speaker!” from the crowd of Democratic staffers, donors, and volunteers at party in a Washington hotel.
She vowed to bring back oversight of the White House, saying, “It’s about restoring the Constitution’s checks and balances on the Trump administration.”
But she also tried to find common ground with the president. “We have all had enough of division,” she said. “The American people want peace. They want results.”
The Democrats’ House victories were aided by support among suburban voters turned off by the president’s behavior and his policies. They picked off 26 seats in their campaign to win control of the House of Representatives by Tuesday evening and projections showed them prevailing in additional contests.
Republicans saw bright spots in early returns, winning Senate seats in Indiana, North Dakota, and Missouri that were held by Democrats and putting them on track to increase their majority in the upper chamber. The GOP Senate victories will ease the confirmation process for new Trump Cabinet secretaries and additional judicial nominees to the federal courts.
And the GOP won a closely watched gubernatorial race in Florida, according to late returns. Mitt Romney, the former Bay State governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee prevailed in his Utah Senate race.
Trump called Pelosi to congratulate her on winning the House, according to White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. He also placed congratulatory calls to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and several winning GOP candidates.
Tuesday’s election represented the first time the nation’s voters have been able to respond to Trump’s norm-smashing performance in his initial two years in office.
Trump’s victory in 2016 was fueled in part by voters willing to take a chance on the billionaire businessman. Two years in, his unconventional governing style and nationalist agenda were on the ballot, igniting deep passion on both sides.
Rather than focusing on the remarkably strong economy, Trump made immigration a key part of his message, stoking fears over a caravan of migrants heading to the border and releasing an ad featuring an undocumented immigrant who killed two law enforcement officers that TV networks declined to show after outcry that it was racist.
His core supporters were also energized by the Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, a spectacle that motivated voters who believed the #MeToo movement had gone too far by ensnaring the nominee in decades-old accusations of sexual misconduct.
Kavanaugh’s nomination was approved, and Trump repeatedly mentioned him on the campaign trail.
If there was a unifying message on the Democratic side, it was health care, which emerged as a major issue in many of the tightest races. Democrats promised they’d defend a law that requires health insurance companies to provide affordable policies even to people who have preexisting medical conditions.
Many Democratic candidates in close races didn’t emphasize Trump — but said that dislike for him was a given among throngs of volunteers and newly motivated voters, some of whom were casting ballots for the first time. Indeed for many in the Democratic base, the vote was part of a resistance movement launched the day after Trump’s inauguration with women’s marches around the country.
Democrats also won a key governor’s race in Kansas, with Laura Kelly defeating Kris Kobach, the firebrand secretary of state who led Trump’s controversial voter rights commission. The party also won gubernatorial contests in Maine and New Mexico as well as Michigan and Illinois — bolstering their party in the Upper Midwest.
But the Democratic Party faced headwinds in Ohio, where Richard Cordray, an ally of Senator Elizabeth Warren and the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was defeated in his gubernatorial bid.
Earlier this week, the president seemed to show some measure of self-reflection about his tenure when asked what he wished he’d done differently.
“I would say tone, I would like to have a much softer tone,” Trump said in an interview Monday with the Sinclair Broadcast Group. “I feel to a certain extent I have no choice, but maybe I do. And maybe I could have been softer from that standpoint, but I want to get things done.”
Later in the same interview, the president speculated that he could have lost ground if he’d offered a more unifying message. “But if I did that, maybe I’d be swamped,” Trump said. “You know, swamped, meaning with the other side, because I wouldn’t say their tone has been so nice either.”
He hinted that his tone could change after the election. “But that is something I say I’ll be working on,” the president said.
The election saw a record number of women launching campaigns for office with 529 filing to run for the House or Senate from a major political party, according to a tally kept by Rutgers University. Most but not all of them are Democrats.
Tuesday’s elections also had a record number of people of color on the ballot: 216 of the candidates running to be a governor, senator or US representative are black, Hispanic, Native American, or multiracial, according to a New York Times tally.
Voters across the country turned out in numbers approaching levels usually found in presidential years. There were reports of hours-long lines, malfunctioning voting equipment, and polling places that were unexpectedly closed.
Democrats needed a net gain of 23 House seats to take control of the chamber. Republicans were hobbled by retirements, with 40 members deciding not to seek reelection. That’s compared with 20 Democrats who decided not to run again.
In the Senate, the Republicans were always favored to keep their majority. They benefited from a favorable map, where 10 of the 35 Senate seats up for election were held by Democratic incumbents in states that Trump won in 2016.
The GOP held on to their seats in a closely fought Senate race in Texas, with newly minted liberal star Beto O’Rourke losing to incumbent Ted Cruz.
Trump was highly involved in the midterms and sought to boost his parties’ chances in these races by crisscrossing the country in the final weeks and holding his trademark rallies.The effect was to nationalize what’s more typically a loosely connected series of local campaigns.
“In a sense, I am on the ticket,” said Trump at a rally Monday in Cleveland.
The effort paid some dividends: Republicans won hotly contested statewide campaigns in Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, and Florida — five of the eight states he hit in the final days of the campaign.
But the effort also caused voters in bluer parts of the country to see their votes as a referendum on Trump, rather than a local election. That included Leslie Kobylinski, 59, of McLean, Va., who said Tuesday that she likes Republican Barbara Comstock, the member of Congress who represents her Northern Virginia district, but would not cast a vote for her.
“I just feel strongly the less power Trump has, the quicker the country is going to regain some sort of decency and values,” Kobylinski said in an interview outside the church where she cast her vote.
Kobylinski said that Trump’s divisive language has ignited an ugly sentiment on the far right, that she hopes to combat by voting for a Democrat.
Last year, the administration’s hard line on immigration prompted massive demonstrations in airports and cities when he hastily enacted a ban on immigrants from several majority Muslim countries. He stoked divisions by his understated reaction to racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., last year. And he invited global scorn by enacting a policy of separating migrant families arriving at the country’s southern border.
In the final hours before voting, however, the president made some attempt to pivot back to an argument about the strong economy that he’s overseen.
“Now, thanks to Republican leadership, the United States has the best economy in the history of our country – and hope has finally returned to cities and towns across America,” Trump wrote in an op-ed published by Fox News.Material from the Associated Press and Liz Goodwin and Libby Berry of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Annie Linskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on Twitter @annielinskey.