Will the New GOP Majority Be Able to Work With Obama?

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The final counts for most states — with some exceptions, including the gubernatorial race in Alaska, and of course Louisiana where runoff elections will be held — has Republicans ringing in a resounding victory. With both the Senate and House of Representatives controlled by the GOP, it’s likely that gridlock between the houses of Congress will be less of a problem, but President Barack Obama and Congress may be another story entirely.

Understandably, some are concerned about the enormous amount of work that has so far been put off while campaigning and election clatter went on, with promises that issues ranging from immigration reform to tax reform would be dealt with once the power breakdown was decided. If the latter half of Obama’s term is as frustrating and conflict-riddled as the first half, it could be bad news for the reforms and legislation so badly needed.

Two signals from the White House have given conflicting messages on how congressional and executive relations will go from here. One the one hand, a White House official told CNN that the president attempted to get in touch with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who regained his Kentucky seat least night, in the early hours of Wednesday to congratulate him. Likely this is an attempt to reach out and start things off on a good foot.

He’s likely working toward getting things done despite partisan conflict in the past, and the somewhat chilly relationship between himself and Congressmen on the right. Mitch McConnell, for his part, made a statement after winning his re-election, saying “We have an obligation to work together on issues where we agree. Just because we have a two-party system doesn’t mean we have to be in perpetual conflict.”

The response of White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Election Day was not overwhelmingly hopeful, but more cautiously realistic. “Based on anybody who has any familiarity with the U.S. political system, I think it’s safe to assume that the environment for cooperation will improve once the elections have taken place. Whether that leads to actual concrete action remains to be seen,” he said, “the only thing I do feel safe in predicting is that the president will continue to make expanding economic opportunity for middle-class families a top priority.” More details on his reaction to the election results will likely come later November 5, during a scheduled press conference at 2:30 p.m, EST.

For now though, speculation on how a GOP majority is running rampant, and has been for weeks leading up to the election. While McConnell may be using rhetoric of compromise, and the president may have given signs that he’s prepared to work with Republicans, there may be conflict within the Republican party that complicates matters. Yes, a majority of the Senate will be GOP loyal, but that can mean a range of values these days, with Tea Party and more centrist Republicans likely to butt heads at times. Add to that the fact that House Republicans will be inundated with new, young, and potentially principally divisive faces, and you have the recipe for intra-party conflict.

This year saw a total of 28 members of the House Republicans either retire, lose in the primary, or make the choice to leave the House in order to shoot for a different position. “With 25 Republican members of Congress retiring, years of legislative expertise and wisdom are lost,” said James Thurber, head of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, to Time. “Deep knowledge about lawmaking and policy will be replaced by highly ideological amateurs. This is a perfect formula for trouble for Speaker Boehner. He loses knowledgeable and trusted friends for an unpredictable and ungovernable caucus.” Add to that the upcoming struggle for leadership to be decided by the GOP conference in the coming week. While Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) told USA TODAY that he would “under no circumstances” try to take McConnell’s position, he hasn’t chosen to endorse him outright either.

If the House of Representatives is struggling with new rookies and Congress is dealing with division, it’s possible President Obama won’t be the only, or even the largest, problem when it comes to getting important legislation passed. Possibly, but not entirely.

The relationship going forward will likely be very important, and it will have a major impact on the president’s legacy for things that need to get done to be accomplished in these last two years. The more cynical amongst us might argue that whether the Senate win had been Democratic or Republican, the outcome would have likely been the same; gridlock is here to stay.

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