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December 9, 2022 7:44 pm

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Biden Celebrates Beating the Odds, but He Faces a New Challenge


President Biden appeared to have the best midterms of any president in 20 years, avoiding the “shellacking” his predecessors endured. But even a narrow Republican majority could transform his presidency.

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President Biden, wearing a blue suit, holds a microphone while looking at a reporter asking a question into a microphone, which was held by a White House staffer.

President Biden scored the best midterm result of any president in 20 years, avoiding a predicted Republican surge.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Peter Baker
Nov. 9, 2022Updated 7:05 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — President Biden on Wednesday celebrated avoiding the “giant red wave” that many had anticipated in this week’s midterm elections and reaffirmed that he intends to run again in 2024, even as he vowed to work across the aisle with ascendant congressional Republicans.

While the president appeared to have beaten the historical odds by minimizing his party’s losses, he still faced the sobering prospect of a Republican-controlled House for the next two years even if Democrats hold the Senate, jeopardizing his ambitious legislative agenda and presaging a new era of grinding conflict with subpoena-powered opponents.

But at a post-election news conference at the White House, a cheerful Mr. Biden appeared energized by the better-than-expected results, calling it “a good day for democracy” while signaling no course correction and acknowledging no mistakes.

“I’m not going to change,” he said. While open to cooperation with Republicans, he defiantly said he would block any efforts by the opposition to unravel the accomplishments of his first two years. “I have a pen that can veto,” he said, making a signing motion with his hand.

The mixed results from the midterm elections will take days or weeks to unfold as counting continues in key states and a Senate runoff looms in Georgia. It may take even longer to determine definitively what those results will mean for the rest of the Biden presidency. By any measure, Mr. Biden scored the best midterm result of any president in 20 years, avoiding the Republican surge that many strategists in both parties predicted, even as it could leave him with a more hostile Congress and uncertain prospects for advancing his priorities for the remainder of his term.

The elections were not a clear mandate for Mr. Biden, but neither were they the repudiation that many of his predecessors endured during midterms. An aging president sometimes seen as frail and hobbled by the highest inflation in four decades, an overseas war roiling energy markets and anemic poll numbers somehow overcame expectations anyway — another chapter in Mr. Biden’s lifelong narrative of stubborn resilience in the face of adversity.

The results may encourage him to seek re-election and could for now quiet dissenting voices within his party that have been agitating for another standard-bearer in 2024 as he approaches his 80th birthday later this month. He has some breathing room to think it over without feeling rushed because former President Donald J. Trump may jump into the race as soon as next week. Mr. Biden indicated that he would talk it over with his family during the holidays and announce a decision “early next year.”

“Our intention is to run again,” he said. “That’s been our intention regardless of what the outcome of this election was.”

He added: “This is ultimately a family decision. I think everybody wants me to run, but we’re going to have discussions about it. And I don’t feel any hurry one way or another to make that judgment, today, tomorrow, whenever, no matter what my predecessor does.”

Asked if polling that shows most voters would rather he not run again would have any influence on his decision, he said crisply, “It doesn’t.” What would be his message to the doubters? “Watch me.”

Card 1 of 4

Much remains uncertain. For the second Election Day in a row, election night ended without a clear winner. Nate Cohn, The Times’s chief political analyst, takes a look at the state of the races for the House and Senate, and when we might know the outcome:

The House. The Needle suggests the House is leaning towards Republicans, but the G.O.P. is nowhere close to being called the winner in several key races, where late mail ballots have the potential to help Democrats. It will take days to count these ballots.

The Senate. The fight for the Senate will come down to four states: Wisconsin, Nevada, Georgia and Arizona. Outstanding ballots in Nevada and Arizona could take days to count, but control of the chamber may ultimately hinge on Georgia, which is headed for a Dec. 6 runoff.

How we got here. The political conditions seemed ripe for Republicans to make big midterm pickups, but voters had other ideas. While we wait for more results, read our five takeaways and analysis of why this “red wave” didn’t materialize for the G.O.P.

Even as the elections lifted Mr. Biden’s spirits, they undercut Mr. Trump, who watched with frustration as key allies went down to defeat and his own strongest rival for the next Republican nomination, Gov. Ron DeSantis, scored an impressive landslide victory in Florida. Exit polls showed that even a not-popular Mr. Biden retains more public support than his predecessor.

The president conceded that Mr. Trump’s supporters retain enormous influence and will be a challenge for him. “I don’t think that we’re going to break the fever for the super-mega MAGA Republicans,” he said. But he expressed hope that he can find common ground with the rest of the Republicans, whom he called “decent, honorable people.”

“As I have throughout my career, I’m going to continue to work across the aisle to deliver for the American people,” he said. “And it is not always easy, but we did it in the first term.” To those Republicans planning to investigate his administration and even his family, he said, “Good luck in your senior year, as my coach used to say.”

Mr. Biden acknowledged that the midterm elections were not a sign of satisfaction by the public. “The voters were also clear that they are still frustrated,” he said. “I get it. I understand it has been a really tough few years in this country for so many people.”

Mr. Biden spoke a day before he is scheduled to leave town for an overseas trip that will allow him to emphasize his role as a world leader floating above domestic troubles. He is set to head to a series of meetings with international leaders in Egypt, Cambodia and Indonesia with more wind at his back than anticipated, allowing him to avoid the perception of a president in trouble back home.

In his news conference, Mr. Biden repeatedly returned to two themes: that Tuesday’s elections showed a renewed level of civility in the political process, and that they should reassure American allies and adversaries that the democratic process is alive in the United States.

He recalled his first Group of 7 summit in 2021, held in a British coastal resort, and remembered telling the assembled world leaders “that America is back. And one of them turned to me and said, for how long? For how long?”

But Mr. Biden may return from his overseas trip to a reality that is less heady than the Democratic exuberance now rippling through the party. If Republicans pick up the handful of seats needed to secure the House, as currently projected, not only would they be able to block Mr. Biden’s top legislative initiatives, but they would also be empowered to try to force the president to make concessions in some policy areas through the power of the purse.

While Mr. Biden remains armed with his veto pen, as he said, the road to keeping government doors open and avoiding default on the national debt could run through Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader aiming to become speaker. Just as ominous for the White House, Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the hard-charging firebrand Trump ally set to take over the House Judiciary Committee, would have subpoena power to investigate the Biden administration.

The road to keeping government doors open and avoiding default on the national debt could run through Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader aiming to become speaker.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Democrats are in a better position to hold onto the Senate, but it will come down to a few outstanding races and possibly could wait until a Dec. 6 runoff election in Georgia. The loss of the Senate would not only further complicate Mr. Biden’s legislative aspirations but also hinder his efforts to confirm officials to his administration and judges to the federal bench, even possibly a Supreme Court justice, should a vacancy emerge.

The historical headwinds Mr. Biden faced as he went into Tuesday night were powerful. Only three times since the first congressional elections after World War II has inflation been as high as it is today heading into a national vote — in 1974, 1978 and 1980 — and in all three cases, the party of the incumbent president lost between 15 and 48 seats in the House.

How we get live election results. We report vote totals provided by The Associated Press, which collects results from states, counties and townships through a network of websites and more than 4,000 on-the-ground correspondents. To estimate how many votes remain to be counted, our team of data journalists and software engineers gathers vote tallies directly from the websites of election officials and compares these with our turnout expectations.

Given that history and Mr. Biden’s weak approval ratings, the possibility that the Republican pickups in the House this year could be held to about a dozen seats looked like a victory, especially compared with the losses of recent presidents. Bill Clinton’s Democrats lost 54 House seats in 1994, George W. Bush’s Republicans lost 31 seats in 2006 (a “thumping,” he called it), Barack Obama’s party lost 64 seats in 2010 (a “shellacking”) and Mr. Trump’s Republicans lost 42 seats in 2018.

“The political graveyards are full of those who underestimated him,” Paul Begala, who was a top adviser to Mr. Clinton, said of Mr. Biden. “How many times in 2020 did they count him out?” Or, he added, dismiss his chances of pushing through legislation that he eventually passed? “Politics is an uncertain business. But one constant remains: Joe Biden will be underestimated.”

For Mr. Biden, there could be an advantage in having Republican control on Capitol Hill, enabling him to use the opposition as a foil much as Mr. Clinton and Mr. Obama did after their midterm defeats. Both of those presidents employed a mix of confrontation and compromise to rebound from those losses and go on to win re-election two years later.

Aides to Mr. Biden insist there are potential areas of cooperation even with today’s Trump-dominated Republicans, focusing on issues that are at the top of both parties’ priority lists, like combating the opioid crisis, imposing new regulations on major technology companies and fighting crime.

And some Republicans signaled on Tuesday night that they would like to find discreet areas of common ground. “If it’s a divided government, maybe something good can come of it,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and one of Mr. Trump’s closest allies, told NBC News.

But the historical pattern of bipartisan deal making may be less relevant in an age of extremes. Although Mr. Biden has a history of working across the aisle, the next House Republican conference will be even more dominated by allies of Mr. Trump. And if Mr. Trump campaigns for the White House, he seems likely to goad those members to resist the sitting president at every turn.

“Before, one could read such a midterm as a sign that the country wanted cooperation among both parties rather than rule by one,” said Russell Riley, a presidential scholar at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “That hardly seems plausible now — either in theory or in practice. The result of a divided government now is more akin to putting armed gladiators in the arena.”

Watching election news coverage at a bar in Washington on Tuesday. Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

And Mr. Biden would face pushback from some in his own party if he concedes too much in their view in the interest of bipartisanship. “Voters sent a clear message that working people are hurting and demanding more action not less,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington state and head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on Wednesday. “That is the big takeaway from last night, whether or not we keep the House.”

As it stands, Mr. Biden already has a lot of work to be done, without Congress, just putting into effect the legislation he passed in his first two years, including trillions of dollars in spending on infrastructure, climate change, health care, manufacturing and other areas. As aides envision it, Mr. Biden could spend much of the next two years crisscrossing the country for ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

But the confrontation part of the Clinton-Obama strategy may yet be the formula he turns to. “In terms of Biden’s hopes of getting re-elected, he knows from experience that losing a midterm election positions the president to become a counterpuncher — as Obama did in 2011-2012 and Clinton did in 1995-1996,” said Michael Nelson, a political science professor at Rhodes College and author of several books on modern presidents. “It would help if the Republicans overplayed their hand as they did in those two prior cases.”

David E. Sanger contributed reporting.

Selected Articles

Senate control still a toss-up as key midterm races remain uncalled


Control of the US Senate was still up in the air on Wednesday as several hotly contested seats remained uncalled and the fierce race between Georgia’s Democratic incumbent senator Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker moved to a runoff.

Warnock is narrowly leading Walker, but neither candidate will be able to clear the 50% threshold needed to win outright after the polls closed on Tuesday and avoid a 6 December runoff, said Georgia’s top elections official, Brad Raffensperger.

The Associated Press has not yet called the Georgia race, though several major broadcast networks had projected a runoff before Raffensperger.

The Democrats entered the midterms with the slimmest of advantages in the Senate, which was evenly divided 50-50, though Vice-President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote in effect gives them control of the chamber.

Warnock won his current partial term over then Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler during a runoff in 2020 which helped decide the upper congressional chamber’s balance of power. Like Loeffler was, his opponent this time is backed by Donald Trump, though the ex-president’s former adviser Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday questioned whether he should campaign alongside Walker after other candidates that he endorsed underperformed or lost on Tuesday.

Warnock – a senior minister at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist church – unsuccessfully sought to win outright by portraying Walker as unfit for office, alluding to allegations that the Republican candidate was violent against his ex-wife and paid for two past sexual partners to terminate pregnancies despite publicly claiming to oppose abortion rights.

“I’ll work with anybody to get things done for the people of Georgia,” Warnock said as the prospect of a runoff with Walker came into focus.

Walker, for his part, aimed to cast Warnock as a rubber-stamp vote for the Joe Biden White House. Warnock, the former football star contended, has “forgotten about the people of Georgia”.

The contest between Warnock and Walker is one of a handful of unresolved midterm Senate races that could determine control of the chamber. Eyes across the nation were also on Nevada and Arizona on Wednesday.

In Nevada as of midday on Wednesday, with about 77% of the votes counted, Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto was trailing her Republican rival Adam Laxalt, 47.2% to 49.9%.

Cortez Masto is the first Latina senator. Laxalt is a former state attorney general who aided Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Both candidates have urged patience as residents wait to hear the outcome of the race and several other close elections, which could take days.

Democratic Senator from Nevada Catherine Cortez Masto arrives at a campaign event.Democratic Senator from Nevada Catherine Cortez Masto arrives at a campaign event. Photograph: Caroline Brehman/EPA

“The votes are still being counted. We know this will take time and we won’t have more election results for several days,” Cortez Masto said at an election night gathering. “I am confident in the campaign that we have built to win.”

Laxalt said he was confident the results would favor him, telling supporters : “We are exactly where we want to be in this race.”

Meanwhile, Arizona’s Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly was ahead of his Republican challenger, Blake Masters, 51.4% to 46.4%, with 45% of the vote counted.

Kelly, a former astronaut and husband of ex-congressional representative Gabby Giffords, was elected to office in a 2020 special election that delivered both of Arizona’s Senate seats to Democrats for the first time in 70 years.

This year, he has a sizable edge among early votes cast in crucial Maricopa and Pima counties, but he is likely to see his lead tighten as more votes are tallied.

Masters, a venture capitalist endorsed by Trump, struggled throughout his campaign as he waffled between professing far-right ideologies and dialing back his most extreme views.

Once a Republican bastion, Arizona has recently become a closely watched swing state where close races can take weeks to tabulate. State law gives officials until 28 November to tally ballots.

Voters were expected to weigh economic concerns above most other issues. Phoenix, one of the fastest growing US cities, also has the highest inflation rate in the country. Kelly tried to distance himself from Joe Biden, whom six in 10 Arizona voters blame for inflation, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of more than 3,200 voters in the state.

The parties by Wednesday had split key races in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

John Fetterman speaks during his midterm elections night party in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.John Fetterman speaks during his midterm elections night party in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photograph: Quinn Glabicki/Reuters

Pennsylvania’s Democratic lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, won a Senate seat up for grabs in his state over the Trump-backed Republican television personality Dr Mehmet Oz. An outgoing Republican held the seat, representing a flip in the Democrats’ favor.

In the meantime, Republican incumbent Ron Johnson held off a challenge from his Democratic opponent, Mandela Barnes.

As for the US House, many races there were still too close to call on Wednesday.

Vulnerable Democratic incumbents such as Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger and Michigan’s Elissa Slotkin scored narrow wins, keeping the party’s hopes alive of either retaining control of the lower congressional chambers or limiting Republican gains significantly more than initially predicted.

Maanvi Singh and Dani Anguiano contributed reporting

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Biden says Elon Musk’s relationship with other countries ‘worthy of being looked at’


President Joe Biden said Twitter owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s relationship with other countries was “worthy of being looked at,” but declined to say how that could be done.

“I think that Elon Musk’s cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at, whether or not he is doing anything inappropriate,” Biden said, when asked if Musk was a threat to national security. “But that’s all I’ll say.”

When a reporter in the room asked, “How?” the President responded: “There’s a lot of ways.”

Just before Musk completed his $44-billion acquisition, Bloomberg reported that Biden administration officials were in early discussions about possibly subjecting some of Musk’s ventures to national security reviews, including the Twitter takeover. Asked by CNN at the time, the administration pushed back on the report, which cited people familiar with the matter.

“We do not know of any such conversations,” National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement. A Treasury spokesperson said the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States “does not publicly comment on transactions that it may or may not be reviewing” by law and practice.

Among the equity investors who committed to provide financing to help Musk fund the deal are several foreign entities, including the Qatar sovereign wealth fund and Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who was already one of Twitter’s largest investors prior to Musk’s proposed takeover.

– CNN’s Clare Duffy contributed to this report.

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