Regional Congressional Democrats React To Republican Gains

Nov 6, 2014

Credit Wikimedia/Public Domain

The results of Tuesday’s national elections mean both the U.S. House and Senate will be controlled by Republicans when the new Congress is seated in January.  What does that mean for many of the Democratically-leaning districts in the Northeast? WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley gathered some thoughts from some of the region’s representatives.

Vermont has one at-large representative. Democrat Peter Welch was re-elected on Tuesday, soundly beating Republican opponent Mark Donka 64 to 31 percent. While he has been working in a Republican-controlled House, the Senate will turn to Republican control in January. Welch thinks that while the switch in control is a victory for Republicans, the only clear message is discontent from the electorate.  “In the sixth year of a presidency oftentimes when folks don’t think things are going well they take it out big time against the incumbent party. That’s what we’re seeing here. But now the challenge for us, the Republicans who won and the Democrats who lost, is to act responsibly and focus on the gridlock in Congress and number two is making the economy work.”  

Veteran representatives note that they have served in both the majority and minority. Massachusetts First Congressional District Democrat Richard Neal is an At-Large Whip for the House Democrats. First elected in 1988, he is one of the most senior members of the House. He says the election signals that the American people want a spirit of cooperation and a move away from hyper-partisanship.  “Republicans or Democrats,  regardless of who’s in the majority,  have never impeded my ability to get things done around here. We’re likely to have Paul Ryan as the chairman of our committee. Paul and I don’t agree on everything but we certainly have maintained a friendship. I think that there are opportunities here to work with the other side on some issues that I happen to feel very strongly about including immigration reform and I think America needs to do tax reform. With tax reform everybody agrees with it in general. They disagree with it in specificity.”

Current New York 21st district Democrat Bill Owens will retire from the House at the end of the year.  “I was in a Republican controlled House for the better part of four years and it was very difficult. It was not an environment that lent itself to thoughtful analysis. It was in large measure knee-jerk reactions from people on the far right which drove, unfortunately, the Republican caucus. And that to me is very problematic.”

New York 20th Congressional district Democrat Paul Tonko, who cruised to a fourth term, plans to continue to work with the entire state delegation no matter their party.  “I look forward to working in a bipartisan fashion in a way that will enable us to make use of all ideas and come forth with the best compromise that will offer the most effective and stable and sustainable outcome for our economy

Owens believes Republicans must rein-in the far right of their party.  “They can’t propose an agenda that is a solely or strictly Republican agenda and expect to get results.  So the ball is really in the President’s court and it’s in the Republican’s court to get results to pass bills out of Congress that are closer to the center or at least closer to a compromise. The Republicans may in fact pass more pieces of legislation but if they are far-right pieces of legislation they will not get signed into law.”

Vermont’s Welch feels the new Congress has an opportunity to be more productive than the past two years.  “The initial decision has to be made by the Republican leadership. I think that if the cool heads prevail they’re going to decide that they want to reach out to find some common ground and make progress. Now we in the minority have a responsibility to try to find common ground. If there’s too much pride in victory or too much bitterness in defeat you have more gridlock. The bottom line all of us who have been elected, either side of the aisle, have responsibility to do our best to get the job done.”

The lame duck Congress returns to Washington next week.