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If U.S. House flips, Minnesota lawmakers would face dramatic shifts in power

If voters on Nov. 8 return all incumbents to Washington, and that’s not guaranteed, they would return to very different jobs under a GOP-led House.

Rep. Tom Emmer is campaigning for the No. 3 leadership position in the House if Republicans gain control of the chamber come November.
Rep. Tom Emmer is campaigning for the No. 3 leadership position in the House if Republicans gain control of the chamber come November.
MinnPost photo by Ashley Hackett

WASHINGTON – A Republican takeover of the U.S. House, which most analysts say is likely, would dramatically shift the balance of power in Washington – and upend the roles of Minnesota’s members of Congress.

The state’s delegation to the House is now evenly split. Four Republicans and four Democrats represent Minnesota’s diverse rural, urban and suburban residents. But most of those Democrats – with the exception of Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th – have been in the majority since they took office.

Meanwhile, most of Republicans, except Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th District, have only served in the minority.

That could all be about to change.

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If voters on Nov. 8 return all incumbents to Washington, and that’s not guaranteed, they would return to very different jobs under a GOP-led House.

Like many who study American politics, University of Minnesota Morris political science professor Tim Lindberg expects the Republican Party to win at least the five additional seats it needs to take control of the House.

“There’s a very good probability of that,” he said.

Predictions over how many new seats Republicans could win has vacillated, from about 50 to just a dozen or fewer as President Joe Biden’s popularity and Democratic prospects rose during the summer. But the party that controls the White House traditionally loses seats in midterm elections and more House Democrats than House Republicans are facing competitive races for reelection come November.

The lawmaker with the most to lose in a GOP takeover of the House is McCollum, who rose through the seniority system to chair of the House Appropriations Committee’s panel on defense. She would remain the highest-ranking Democrat on the panel, but no longer hold the gavel and determine what military issues deserve priority. Among other things, this could influence how the United States continues its military support of Ukraine.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th, would also experience change. She, and a small group of House progressives, have been influential because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., could not afford to lose their votes to win approval of key bills that were opposed by Republicans.

Lindberg said Omar and other “Squad” members could be “marginalized” if House Democrats are in the minority.

“Do they become the (Rep.) Marjorie Taylor-Greenes of the left?” Lindberg wondered, a reference to a Georgia congresswoman and far right conspiracy theorist who is at the fringes of the House GOP caucus.

In fact, the political careers of all Minnesota Democratic members of Congress would be paused in a GOP takeover of the House. They will find it very hard to move forward with their legislative priorities, and even be less able to bring home money for fewer “earmarks,” or local projects.

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Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd, for instance, is in line to chair an agriculture subcommittee with oversight of commodities and farm credit programs. If she wins her race against Republican Tyler Kistner and the House flips, Craig would have to be satisfied with being the top Democrat on the panel.

Meanwhile, of all of Minnesota’s lawmakers, Emmer seems to have the most to gain.

As head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Emmer would be credited with the GOP’s takeover of the House, and that would boost his chances of winning a leadership position.

Emmer is interested in the No. 3 job in the House, if it’s under Republican control in the next Congress. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is expected to win his bid to be the new Speaker of the House, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., is likely to be the new Majority Leader. Scalise is now whip, the job Emmer wants. The whip counts votes, and cajoles and sometimes twists arms to get them.

But Emmer is in a very competitive three-way race for that position. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., and Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-Ga., an ally of Scalise, are also vying for the job.

“I think he’s in a privileged position and he’s running a good race,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who had considered running for the whip job himself, but is now helping Emmer drum up support.

The leadership election will be held shortly after Nov. 8 general elections. All House Republicans who will serve in the next Congress, including the newly elected who won’t have been sworn in officially yet, will cast their ballots behind closed doors. Emmer helped many of those new members win their seats.

But it is Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-7th, whose job may undergo the most change.

House Republicans say they will use their new control over congressional committees to launch a series of investigations into Biden, his son Hunter Biden, and a number of other issues, including military support for Ukraine and the FBI’s raid of Mar-a-Lago, which is former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, to seize White House documents.

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As a member of the House Judiciary Committee and a loyal Trump supporter, Fischbach would be involved in many of those probes. She could also be tapped to serve on specially formed committees – like the one empaneled to investigate the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters intent on stopping Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election.

“The Republicans will flip the switch at what is being looked at now,” Lindberg predicted. And Fischbach’s loyalty to “the current priorities of the party” will be rewarded, he said.

More gridlock expected

Rep. Pete Stauber, R-8th District, said a change from Pelosi to McCarthy as to who’s in control of the House’s agenda would allow him to vote on “real solutions to the problems Minnesotans are battling,” including “high inflation, unaffordable energy costs, and out of control crime.”

But new House Republican leaders would face the same frustrations as its current Democratic leaders, namely the Senate.

The Senate, now controlled by Democrats, could flip, too. Or Democrats could pick up one or two seats. It’s hard to tell because of the number of toss-up Senate races.

But neither party is expected to win enough seats, at least 60, needed to overcome the filibuster. So GOP House leaders would soon find out, like their Democratic predecessors, that the Senate is the place where their bills usually die.

Still, House Republicans are eager for a chance to lead and be able to kick start their stalled careers in Congress.

Stauber said “if he were blessed with another term and should Republicans win the House,” he would become chairman of a Natural Resources Energy and Minerals subcommittee.

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“This committee has jurisdiction over resource development on federal lands, including for minerals, and is very important to my district,” he said. “I look forward utilizing this position to push for serious permitting reform to help America achieve energy and mineral dominance, and to help promote Minnesota’s mineral wealth which will lead to further jobs and prosperity on the Iron Range.”

While Stauber may be able to bring attention to mining issues by holding hearings and pushing legislation through the Natural Resources Committee, he would also face the hurdle imposed by the Senate filibuster.

Many analysts are predicting Congress’ gridlock will get even worse in the new Congress, which will be gaveled in in early January. Some voters are concerned, too.

In an Axios-Ipsos poll released Saturday, 53% of respondents said they were concerned about the potential for divided government and gridlock after November’s election. The poll defined divided government as divided control of Congress — with one party holding the House and another holding the Senate.

Voter concern about partisan feuding in Congress may help moderates of both parties, including Rep. Dean Phillips, D-3rd, if those centrists can broker deals in a very toxic political environment.

Even if his party is in the minority next year, Phillips, if reelected, plans to run for the co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, the messaging arm of the House Democratic Caucus.