The State of Play- 2018 Elections and the 116th Congress

To: NWRA supporters

From: Government Affairs Department


As of Wednesday morning, November 7, with many races still undecided, the leadership of the House will flip to the Democrats in the 116th Congress beginning January 3, 2019, but the Senate will remain controlled by the GOP. While the election shows how divided the country still is, the House will now have subpoena power over the Trump Administration and will be able to stop almost any proposed legislation from the President. In a word, near complete gridlock and two years of intense oversight of administrative actions.

The GOP hold of the Senate is a firewall to almost anything the House Democrats propose but they will also have the ability to push through judicial nominees – which they have been doing during the recess by holding hearings with no Democrats in attendance in order to have votes in the Lame Duck. Stand-alone legislation will be almost impossible so look for more omnibus bills and riders on must-pass legislation. The current Continuing Resolution keeping the government open expires on December 7th, and we are tracking what happens in the next four weeks with that bill.

President Trump’s border wall is all but done but look for him to use Executive Orders to push the limits of executive power. Even with gridlock, many big issues will still have to be considered such as the debt limit. If President Trump can work with Democrats on anything, it might be an infrastructure bill, which could be beneficial for public lands, including refuges.

From now until the new Congress is sworn in on January 3rd, it is anticipated that there will be many departures from the Administration – some voluntary, others not, likely beginning with Attorney General Sessions. For our issues, Hill insiders speculate that Secretary Zinke could leave before investigations heat up with the Department of Justice, to whom the DOI Inspector General has referred an investigation, and House inquiries. The House Natural Resource Democrats have been preparing issues to investigate for months and we anticipate them beginning immediately with oversight hearings as early as January.


As of this morning, the Republicans control 26 Governorships and the Democrats control 23, with Georgia too close to call, but both leaning towards the GOP. Likely results will be 27 held by the GOP and 23 held by Democrats. 36 of the 50 Governorships were on the ballot in 2018. The Democrats have picked up 7 governorships and flipped the power in Wisconsin, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Illinois, Nevada and New Mexico. 

Who controls the Governorship will have major implications for Democratic efforts to build a state-level firewall against some of Trump’s policies, including his effort to overturn the Affordable Care Act and gut environmental laws. In most states, governors and state legislatures will be drawing new congressional boundaries after the 2020 Census.

For our issues, the Governorship of Florida is particularly important as much of our work depends upon the support of the Governor and state legislature for conservation easements, funding from the state for invasive species at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, and our close work with the Florida Wildlife Commission and Department of Environmental Protection.

HOUSE: Democrat

230/209 (+/- 8 seats)

Overall, the composition of the new House will change dramatically. Currently, 85 women serve in the 115thCongress in the House (excluding delegates). The 116th House delegation will have possibly over 100 women, with 31 women newly elected. Nearly 3/4 of those women belong to the Democratic party. 

For our issues, we anticipate that Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) will become the new Chair of the House Interior Appropriations Committee. She is a strong supporter of the Refuge System. 

Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) is expected to be the new Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. As mentioned above, his staff has been working for the past couple of months to create an agenda and website for oversight of the Department of Interior in particular. We anticipate endangered species and the DOI re-org to be taken up very quickly. Mr. Grijalva is also a very strong supporter of the Refuge System as outlined in this 2015 opinion piece in The Hill.  


51/46 as of Wednesday morning, but could possibly be 54/46 

The Republicans have added to their majority in the Senate, leaving them with more wiggle room to lose certain Senators on key votes. We expect a series of judicial nominations to be their main focus, but leadership will likely try to pass bills that they know the House will not take up, to build a record to run off of in 2020. We expect Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to remain as Senate Majority Leader and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to remain as Senate Minority Leader.   

A handful of Democratic Senators lost their seats Tuesday night: Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and Joe Donnelly (IN), with Bill Nelson (FL) teetering on the edge of losing his seat. Dean Heller (NV) was toppled from his seat in Nevada by his Democratic opponent. Heitkamp, and Nelson were all supporters of refuge issues, so their losses will impact the Refuge System. 

Taking their places are Kevin Cramer (ND), who has introduced legislation to reverse conservation easements on refuges, Mike Braun (IN), who has an unknown record on conservation, and Rick Scott (FL), who has a mixed record on conservation issues. 

Other new Senators will be Mitt Romney (R-UT), Martha McSally (R-AZ) (likely), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV). Of these, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn has taken a keen interest in Tennessee refuge issues recently, as has Congresswoman Jacky Rosen and we look forward to retaining that valuable interest and dialogue.