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A central result of last night's congressional elections was this — in a high turnout election for a midterm, a substantial majority of Americans voted for Democrats in the House. They defeated Republican leaders who aggressively defended President Trump, and they empowered a party whose leader, Nancy Pelosi, says she will be independent of the president.
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NANCY PELOSI: Today is more than about Democrats and Republicans. It's about restoring the Constitution's checks and balances to the Trump administration.
INSKEEP: Pelosi is now favored to be the next speaker of the House, after Democrats gained something in the neighborhood of 30 seats or a little more. Republicans added to their majority in the Senate, defeating three Democrats who held seats in more rural and conservative states. NPR's Mara Liasson and Scott Detrow are here to talk all this through. Good morning guys.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: So, Scott, how big a change in Washington is that House result?
DETROW: It's a major change. All the big pushes that President Trump and Republicans pushed for the last few years — repealing Obamacare, big tax cuts — that stops dead, and Democrats now have the leverage to try and get a permanent fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, among other Democratic priorities. They have a lot of leverage for spending. But the most important change is that Democrats now have oversight control. They have subpoena power. That means they can dig into the Trump White House, whether it's things related to Mueller's investigation or scandals in the EPA and other departments or — get this — President Trump's tax returns and the relationship between his personal business and government action.
INSKEEP: Yeah, I'm just thinking — the House Intelligence Committee. Devin Nunes was the chairman — avid defender of the president. Adam Schiff, presumably, will be the chairman now, assuming that things stay as they are. However, Mara Liasson, Republicans add to their majority in the Senate, which, among other things, is the body that confirms judges, isn't it?
LIASSON: That's right. And I think this is where Democrats really failed to limit their losses. That was their goal in the Senate. And this is where Trump traveled. This is where he put his energy. And this is where he mattered — in the red-state Senate races, so he gets to crow about that victory. As a practical matter, I think it's less significant than the Democrats taking over the House because even with just 50 votes and Mike Pence, they could have continued in the Senate to confirm Donald Trump's judges. It makes it a little bit easier, and it sets the Republicans up for what will be a much harder cycle for them in 2020.
INSKEEP: Let's listen to one of the winning Senate candidates from last night, Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, kept his seat despite a dramatic and much-followed challenge from Democrat Beto O'Rourke. Let's listen to Ted Cruz.
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TED CRUZ: All the money in the world was no match for the good people of Texas and the hard-working men and women across our state.
INSKEEP: OK, Scott Detrow, there was a lot of money in this election but also a lot of voters. Wow. More than 8 million people voted in a midterm in Texas.
DETROW: Yeah, this is — Democrats aren't looking for, you know, consolation prizes on a day like today on the Senate side. But yeah, Democratic turnout was pretty big. The gap between Cruz and O'Rourke was incredibly small, especially for Texas — same goes for the Georgia governor's race where Democrats, at the moment, are trailing in a very close contest. But Democrats were able to mobilize voters who hadn't turned out before and get Democrats a lot more excited in states where, typically, they don't compete on the statewide level.
INSKEEP: So guys, there was all this debate over whether it was going to be a blue wave, and President Trump was at rallies saying no, there's going to be a red wave. So let's just say one definite election result is that that was an utterly meaningless debate over a metaphor. And I'd like to know is there something that's a little more genuine that either of you feels you did learn from these results last night?
LIASSON: Well, America is deeply divided, and it's particularly divided between rural areas and metro-suburban areas. Right now, Democrats have the people, Republicans have the real estate. And that really matters because of the way Congress is set up. But we are even more divided, I think, today than we were before the election.
INSKEEP: Scott Detrow, you get the last word.
DETROW: Well, I was going to say exactly what Mara Liasson just said right now. And I think the biggest question that I have no answer to is what this means for 2020 because, you know, states like Florida and a lot of Republican states, pretty solid for President Trump. He seemed to not pay any sort of consequences for, you know, the very divisive rhetoric from the closing weeks of the race.
INSKEEP: Scott Detrow and Mara Liasson, thanks to you both.
DETROW: Thank you.
LIASSON: Thank you.