Massachusetts Democrats Poised To Help Run House In Divided Congress

Nov 7, 2018

In Massachusetts, it didn't take a wave to turn the state's representation in Congress blue. But the all-Democrat Congressional delegation might be poised to take advantage of the Republican washout in ways few other state delegations can.

A crush of voters turned out Tuesday in Massachusetts and around the country to vent their pent up frustration from the 2016 election, and deliver a partial verdict on President Donald Trump's first two years in office.

While the GOP defended their control of the Senate and even gained seats, the midterms delivered control of the U.S. House of Representatives to Democrats for the first time in eight years, bringing long-time members like U.S. Reps. Richard Neal of Springfield and Jim McGovern of Worcester out from the cold.

"In two months, and at least for the next two years, the House of Representatives, the people's house, is going to do a lot more work for the people," U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said during her victory speech in Boston Tuesday night.

The party makeup of the Massachusetts delegation remains unchanged with nine Democrats in the House and both senators carrying a D next to their names. All seven incumbent House members on the ballot Tuesday won.

Neal, the dean of the state delegation, is now poised to take control of the powerful tax writing Ways and Means Committee, and has promised, according to the Wall Street Journal, a thorough review of all elements of the Trump tax reform law. That would include a controversial $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions, which hit states with high property values like Massachusetts hardest.

The western Massachusetts lawmaker plans a post-election press conference this afternoon outside the federal courthouse in Springfield amid separate reports that the committee he will soon control may be getting ready to request Trump's tax returns, a further sign that Democrats could use their House control as a check on the president.

Meanwhile, McGovern could assume the gavel of the Rules Committee, controlling how bills get debated on the House floor. He is currently the highest ranking Democrat on the committee, and the chairmanship would fulfill a vision of the late Congressman Joe Moakley, a mentor to McGovern who chaired the Rules Committee under Speaker Tip O'Neill, another Massachusetts Democrat.

Both perches likely give Neal and McGovern, and with them their home state, a pivotal role in the direction the House will move between now and the 2020 president election, when the party will get another crack at winning back the Senate and the White House. It also gives the state a significant voice at the table when budget and funding decisions get made, which could come into play if, for instance, Democrats and Republicans try to compromise on infrastructure spending.

Despite strong turnout, the wave election that some had forecast for Democrats didn't fully materialize across the country in these midterms.

Warren easily won re-election, but she will return with U.S. Sen. Ed Markey next year to a Senate where Democrats are in an even smaller minority. Markey said last week he's counting on the new Democratic majority in the House to help export Massachusetts gun control laws around the country.

"I'm going to have a lot more allies after next Tuesday in the United States House, and hopefully the Senate," Markey told reporters. "I think it's inevitable that the whole country realizes that it makes sense that every police chief in America determines who can purchase a gun in their city or town."

Two of those new allies joining the Massachusetts Congressional delegation are Congresswomen-elect Ayanna Pressley and Lori Trahan.

Pressley, of Boston, knocked off incumbent Democrat Mike Capuano in the primary, and ran unopposed Tuesday.

"We have been bold in our vision and clear in our convictions lifting up and affirming what we are for. Equity. Justice. Equality," Pressley said Tuesday night. "So I don't come here to deliver a victory speech tonight. Only one of vision. And when we realize equity, justice and equality, these rights for everyone, then and only then will I deliver a victory speech."

Trahan, the Westford Democrat who outlasted a deep field in an open primary in the Merrimack and Nashoba Valleys, triumphed over Republican Rick Green of Pepperell to keep retiring U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas's seat in the blue column.

A Republican hasn't held the Merrimack Valley Congressional seat since Paul Cronin defeated future presidential nominee and secretary of state John Kerry in 1972, only to lose two years later to Paul Tsongas in the 1974 election, just months after Richard Nixon resigned.

Trahan and Pressley will join U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark in the House, forming an historic group of three "badass women," as Pressley put it. Clark said its the first time Massachusetts will send three or more women to the House, and while Pressley and Trahan will be freshmen, Clark could be on the rise again within the Democratic caucus.

"Thanks to this woman right here, I will be coming into a House that is in the majority," Pressley said, crediting Clark, who has climbed the ranks of leadership during her five years in Washington.

Currently a senior whip, the Melrose Democrat co-chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red to Blue" initiative this cycle working to flip control of the House. Even before Tuesday's positive House results, Clark had announced plans to seeking election to the fifth-highest ranking post in House Democratic leadership – caucus vice chair -- later this year.

"By electing a Democratic majority to the House, we have chosen compassion and common sense over policies that are motivated by callousness, fear and division," Clark said.

Pledging to "enact policies that will create opportunity and security for everyone," Clark listed affordable child care, protection of Social Security and Medicare and equal pay for equal work as priorities.

The standing of some members within the delegation, however, could well depend on how Democrats resolve their leadership disputes.

Only three members of the delegation – McGovern, Clark and U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy – have said definitively that they would back Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker, while five have kept their options open, including Pressley and Trahan.

Neal, who is the dean of the delegation, told the Boston Globe before the primary that he would support whoever the Democratic caucus nominates. But U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton has made clear that he believes it's time for new leadership in the House, and could support an alternative to Pelosi if someone steps up to run. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio has been mentioned as one possibility.

For Gov. Charlie Baker, who also won a second term, dealing with Democrats will be nothing new, but having a state member of Congress to call who has the ear of leadership will be.

Maybe that's why Baker last week declined to stick up for his party's continued leadership of Congress, saying he was more narrowly focused on his own re-election.

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on Tuesday, however, said it's true there might be a silver lining to Democrats taking control of the House, even if she and the governor are Republicans.

"Well, I mean we'll see how the votes track across the nation but we do have an all Democratic House delegation now and there are members that may be elevated within our Congressional delegation to leadership positions on committees that could be important to Massachusetts. So there may be an opportunity to have more of a voice if that did flip into a Democrat majority," Polito said.

This report was originally published by State House News Service.