The 2020 Election: The Questions That Lie Ahead
Matt Reiter - Vice President, Capitol Associates, Inc.
October 27, 2020
Election Day (November 3rd) is one week away. There are many questions beyond “who will win.” But there is no doubt that the two biggest questions heading into the election are who will win the presidency and will the Senate flip from Republican to Democrat control. (The consensus opinion among political observers is that the House will remain controlled by the Democrats).
The answer to those two questions will determine if the executive and legislative branches of the government remain divided or if Democrats control those two branches of government for the first time since 2010. Either scenario presents its own set of questions which are also important to explore.
What if President Trump wins?
If President Trump wins re-election, we should not expect a significant change in the Administration’s health policy agenda. President Trump will continue to balance the pandemic response with his larger health policy agenda that focuses on expanding insurance coverage options, increasing price transparency and reducing prescription drug prices, among other things.
The real question for a second Trump term is will the Senate be controlled by Republicans or Democrats. Control of the Senate is very much in play. Legislatively, a divided government will require bipartisan support to pass legislation. A divided government would mean a continuation of the current trends of gridlock and partisanship.
It is common for a president to experience a large turnover of cabinet officials in their second term. There is no reason to expect anything different under a second Trump term. A Democrat-controlled Senate means President Trump’s appointees will require bipartisan support.
What if former Vice President Joe Biden wins?
Much more is uncertain if former Vice President Joe Biden is elected President. Vice President Biden won a contentious Democratic primary that saw his “moderate” campaign (relative to other candidates) prevail over several energized progressive candidates. If elected, his Presidency will be defined by his ability to balance competing visions for the direction of the Democratic Party.
What does a Democrat-controlled government mean for the filibuster?
This balancing act will prove even more challenging for Vice President Biden if Democrats win both the Presidency and the Senate and retain control of the House. In that scenario, the only thing standing in the way of Democrats having two years to execute their policy agenda without Republican interference is the filibuster - a legislative procedure that the Senate uses to require 60 votes to advance legislation for a vote.
Senate Democrats will face serious pressure from their base to eliminate the filibuster and allow the Senate to advance legislation with a simple majority. The Senate has been slowly weakening the filibuster over the last few years. Each time control of the Senate flips, both parties have incrementally changed the Senate rules to remove the filibuster from nominee confirmations to the point where cabinet appointments, federal judges and Supreme Court nominees can be approved with a simple majority. The last type of Senate business where the filibuster remains is legislation.
Should Senate Democrats move to end the filibuster, it is not clear if Vice President Biden would support or resist that effort. As President, he would not have any direct control over the Senate’s ability to change its rules to eliminate the filibuster but his position on the matter will be highly influential.
The fate of the Affordable Care Act.
The filibuster could face its reckoning if the Supreme Court rules in California v. Texas that some or all of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional. In this case, a group of states led by Texas argues that the individual mandate is no longer constitutional because the associated penalty is now $0. They also argue that the mandate is so essential to the rest of the law that the Court must invalidate the entire ACA. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case the week after the election but a decision is not expected until June.
If the Supreme Court invalidates some or all of the ACA, Congress and the president would be tasked with repairing or replacing the ACA – depending on how far the Court goes in its ruling. If Democrats control Congress and the White House, they would be positioned to repair or replace the law how they see fit. Meanwhile, if Republicans remain in control of either or both the Senate and White House, bipartisan cooperation will be needed.
We will be having a much different conversation if the ACA is upheld in its current form. The two Presidential candidates have different views on the ACA. President Trump could continue to expand the types of health plans that are sold on the exchanges while a Biden Administration would likely try to strengthen the ACA, perhaps by expanding the availability of premium assistance to higher earners.
Will there be changes within Congressional Leadership for each party?
After the election results determine which political party will control the House and Senate, the parties must select the Members who will serve in Leadership positions in each Chamber. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) currently lead the Democrats in Congress while Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lead the Republicans in Congress. Similarly, the two parties will also need to select who will serve in other key roles such as Congressional Committee leaders.
The Leadership selection process could get dramatic, especially for Democrats, as progressive members look to gain more high-profile leadership positions, perhaps at the expense of the legislators who currently occupy those positions.
How will the presidential election impact the federal pandemic response?
On January 20th when the victorious Presidential candidate is inaugurated, the President will immediately be tasked with continuing the federal response to the coronavirus. The Trump Administration does not always receive its fair share of credit in the media for its coronavirus response efforts. A vaccine could be approved by the FDA before inauguration day. The Administration will oversee the distribution of those vaccines to state governments and the healthcare system.
In addition to vaccine distribution, the Administration will need to continue coordinating the broader public health response to the virus.
The Trump Administration has largely left the response to state and municipal governments while simultaneously preparing a massive vaccine procurement and distribution strategy that will be managed by the federal government.
Vice President Biden has criticized President Trump for not asserting a more central role in the pandemic response. A Biden Administration’s pandemic response plan could mean a more heavy-handed federal response such as a quicker trigger for regional “shutdowns” and supporting additional federal relief funding.
It is important to note that it is impossible to predict the results of the election. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was largely expected to win the 2016 Presidential election yet she was not victorious. Current polling suggests that Vice President Biden will win the Presidential election and that the Senate could flip to Democratic control but nobody has a crystal ball for these questions.
Capitol Associates will provide a summary of the election results and what they mean for these and other questions after Election Day.