Mid-term Congressional Elections Have Impact on Science


The November 8, 2022, Congressional elections did not turn out to be the major defeat for President Biden and Congressional Democrats that both history and political pundits had predicted. The “Red Wave” predicted by many was anything but a wave.

In the Senate, with the results from the Georgia race still to be determined, the Democrats remain in control and actually gained one seat. Democrat John Fetterman, the current Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, won the election to replace Republican Senator Pat Toomey. Depending on the outcome of the Georgia senate race between current Senator Raphael Warnock (D) and Herschel Walker, Democrats could end up with a two seat majority.

The most interesting news on election night, actually election week, was in the House of Representatives. Democrats currently have a thin four seat margin. In the next Congress, leadership in the House will switch to the Republicans. Unlike the 40 to 60 seat majority originally predicted, Republicans will have a narrow four or five seat majority, which will present difficulties for House Republicans leadership.

Regardless of the party in control, managing more than 200 politicians, each with individual agendas and constituent needs, can be difficult for their leadership.  A very thin majority for a party with significantly differing political and policy views will make it all but impossible for House Republican leaders to pass legislation with any degree or controversy. In the past, majority leaders have even relied on votes from the minority in order to pass some bills.

Who the leaders of the House will be is uncertain. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), currently Republican Leader, has been nominated by House Republicans as the next House Speaker. The full House of Representatives must still elect McCarthy on January 3, 2023, the first day of the next session of Congress. It remains to be seen whether McCarthy has the necessary votes within his own party to be elected as Speaker. Several Republicans, some conservative and some moderate Republicans, have indicated they will not vote for McCarthy.

A small and fractious majority party will make it challenging to pass significant legislation, which would never pass a Democratic Senate anyway. House Republicans will most certainly use their majority status on House Committees to conduct a plethora of investigations of the Biden Administration, policy issues like immigration and science, and possible impeachment proceedings against President Biden, Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, and possibly others.   

Republicans have already indicated an interest in investigating Tony Fauci. In particular, some believe Fauci was involved the intentional release of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that led to COVID-19. Many Republicans are also interested in knowing more about funding of Gain of Function research by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). There may be support in both the House and Senate to place legislatively imposed limits on this research.

While the investigations may produce more heat than light, they could still be damaging to support for science among the American public. Unfortunately, McCarthy may have to agree to some of the investigations to secure enough votes to be elected Speaker.

About the Author:

Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: kwilson@ascb.org