United States: Midterm 2018 Postgame: What The Outcome Means For Higher Ed

On October 31, Thompson Coburn's education team hosted a webinar for the higher education community in advance of the midterm elections. Special thanks to our friends Kim Jones from the Council for Opportunity in Education and Kevin Cain from the Association of American Veterinary Colleges for joining us for our live panel discussion.

As promised during the webinar, we are posting this blog to break down the election results and look ahead to the 116th Congress. You may have more questions than answers after a long election night! We hope our postgame commentary will break through the confusion and help you plan for 2019. 

A bird's eye view

The Democrats took back the House, which has been in GOP control since 2010. Though they only needed to flip 23 seats to regain their majority, the Democrats flipped at least 33 — a slightly better performance than many polls had anticipated. 

The president's party often struggles in midterms, as President Obama and the Democrats did in 2010. On average, the president's party loses 22 seats, or 35 if the president's approval rating is below 50%. Because President Trump's approval rating has hovered around 41%, one might characterize the Democrats' wins this week as underwhelming — and certainly far less striking than the 63 seats the Republicans picked up in 2010. While the Democrats achieved their goal of winning back the majority, the size and strength of the so-called "Blue Wave" is up for debate.  

What does this new balance of power in the House mean? 

Broadly speaking, beyond substantive legislative initiatives such as infrastructure, lowering prescription drug prices, and immigration reform, expect House Democrats to focus heavily on oversight of the Trump Administration and its policies. Come January, Democratic committee chairs will acquire sweeping subpoena and oversight powers that will complicate governance for the Administration. We also expect to see significant movement in committee assignments on both sides of the aisle, though actual roles will not be confirmed for several weeks.   

There were surprise victories for both parties Tuesday night, as Democrats sought to break Republican strongholds in districts across the nation. Democrat Jennifer Wexton unseated two-term Republican Barbara Comstock in Northern Virginia's 10th District. In Kentucky, Republican Representative Andy Barr edged out Democratic challenger and former Marine Amy McGrath. Democrat Donna Shalala was elected to a seat in Florida long held by the GOP and is expected to be an outspoken voice on higher education issues with her experience as the former president of the University of Miami. 

In the Senate, the status quo largely persisted. Republicans maintained control but expanded their majority. The night spelled trouble for incumbent red-state Democrats: North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp, Indiana's Joe Donnelly, and Missouri's Claire McCaskill all lost their races, and Florida's Bill Nelson looks poised to lose as well. In Texas, Republican Senator Ted Cruz fended off a strong challenge from Democratic Representative Beto O'Rourke.

Even though the president's party typically loses seats in both chambers in midterms, the Senate map was highly favorable to Republicans this year. Of the 35 seats up for reelection, the Democrats had to defend 26 — 10 of which are in states that Trump won in 2016. In 2020, this advantage will flip, and Senate Democrats will have the more favorable re-election map. 

Look for both the House and Senate to release their 2019 legislative calendars by the end of the year.

She's back?

House and Senate leadership races are already well underway inside the Republican and Democratic conferences. The GOP leadership elections will take place in just one week, on November 14. House Democrats will vote for their leaders on December 5, and their counterparts in the Senate have not yet announced when they will vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is all but guaranteed to serve another term in leadership, as is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-WI) retirement has paved the way for a leadership contest among top Republicans. But because they will be switching from the majority to the minority, neither current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) nor Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) will be Speaker next year. Both could transition over to the same roles in the minority; McCarthy has already announced his intention to run for the top GOP spot.

But McCarthy and Scalise will also face an insurgence from the right. Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), a leader of the House Freedom Caucus, announced Wednesday that he will challenge McCarthy for Minority Leader. It is possible, too, that Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Deputy Chief Whip, may look for an opportunity to move up the GOP House leadership ladder.

Current House Minority Leader (and former Speaker) Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has long animated conservatives and has even taken heat from her own party, with some newly-elected members saying that they will not vote for her for Speaker. But without a viable alternative in addition to her uncanny ability to herd an unwieldy caucus, she is most certainly the frontrunner to lead the House Democrats, although she has indicated that she may only hold the position for a short time.

What to expect when you're authorizing

With a Democratic House majority, current House EdWorkforce Committee Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) will take the gavel from Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC). Coincidentally, House Democrats will once again rename the committee the "Committee on Education and Labor."

No returning Democrat on the Committee had a competitive race, but four Republicans are retiring and three lost their re-elections. Of particular note were races in suburban Richmond and Atlanta where Republicans serving on the Committee lost. Virginia Republican Representative Dave Brat, who unexpectedly unseated former GOP House Majority Leader Cantor in 2014, faced Democrat Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operative. Spanberger pulled off the win on Tuesday night. In suburban Atlanta, Georgia Democrats scored a win with the election of Democrat Lucy McBath over Republican Representative Karen Handel.

Early next year when committee assignments shake out, expect a good deal of change on what will be the Education and Labor Committee. Democrats who were freshmen in the 115th Congress will now have seniority above the few dozen newly-elected Democrats, and some will likely use that leverage to pursue other committee assignments. For example, Representative Lisa Blunt-Rochester (D-DE) will have to choose whether to take a big leap forward in seniority on Education and Labor or whether to pursue a more powerful committee, like Energy and Commerce. And there will be some committee GOP changes because of retirements and defeats. As a consequence of the party moving to the minority, the GOP will have fewer seats on the Committee to fill.

Neither Senate HELP Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) nor Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) were up for reelection in 2018 and will thus continue serving in their respective roles. The Democrats were hoping to win Arizona with the election of Representative Kyrsten Sinema, who had expressed an interest in joining the HELP Committee. At the moment, Sinema is slightly trailing Republican Representative McSally in the polls, though the race has not yet been called and may not be for several days to come with hundreds of thousands of ballots left to be counted. 

The Higher Education Act is the next major piece of legislation in the queue for the education committees, and we can expect the HEA bill that emerges from the House to be largely partisan. The House Democrats' proposal would likely mirror the Aim Higher Act, which would introduce free two-year community colleges and reform oversight for federal financial aid and student loans. Incoming Chair Scott indicated immediately after the election on Wednesday his intention to move forward with HEA next year, hopefully with bipartisan support.

On the Senate side, the HELP Committee will play its own game and write a bipartisan bill. Eventually the two bills would have to be merged, so the final bill could be slightly more left-leaning under Democratic control in the House — but probably not by much.

What is sure to change significantly, however, is the extent of oversight of the U.S. Department of Education by incoming Education and Labor Chair Scott, a former civil rights lawyer. He is likely to clash with Secretary DeVos over her attempts to cut the budget for the Office of Civil Rights, change sexual assault investigation procedures, rescind protections for transgender students, and much more. Also expect other aspects of the Administration's higher education agenda, like borrower defense to repayment and gainful employment, to come under increasing scrutiny as well.

DeVos has long been a focus of Democrats on Capitol Hill, and they now have an opportunity to put teeth into their airing of grievances.

We know drama

Current House Committee on Appropriations Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY) will become chair of the House Committee on Appropriations next year, and current Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will take over the gavel for the Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee. With a vacancy atop the full Committee for Republicans, current Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee Chair Tom Cole (R-OK) may be in the mix to take over as full Committee ranking member or he could stay atop the Subcommittee. Complicating matters, Cole also has seniority on the Rules Committee and could seek to lead Republicans over there.

On the Senate side, neither Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) nor Ranking Member Murray were up for reelection and will thus continue in their respective roles.   

Though we should brace for a certain level of drama as spending priorities shift in the House, particularly because non-defense discretionary spending in the Labor-HHS-Education bill is so important to Democrats, the overall appropriations picture should stay somewhat consistent. Blunt, Murray, DeLauro, and Cole have all worked well together in recent years. And keep an eye out for earmarks possibly returning in some form in the new Congress. 


Though the 116th Congress is still nearly two months away, we now know enough to expect considerable changes in leadership, committee assignments, and legislative priorities. With Congress on the precipice of a newly-divided chapter of an already divisive era in American politics, we will closely monitor how the higher education community comes into play. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions