(AP) — Republicans' resounding victory gives them an opportunity to push legislation that's been bottled up in the Democratic Senate, from targeting elements of President Barack Obama's healthcare law to constructing the Keystone XL oil pipeline to rolling back environmental regulations. Democrats suffered an electoral drubbing in Tuesday's midterms, and Republicans regained control of the Senate and widely expanded their majority in the House. In command in both chambers in January, Republicans maintained that they have to show they can govern or else voters will show them the door.
Republicans are counting on a swift vote early next year on building the Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast now that Republicans clearly have the numbers in the Senate. The GOP could have as many as 54 Senate seats if Republican Dan Sullivan prevails in Alaska and the party wins a December 6 runoff in Louisiana. The House majority could reach historic levels of 250 out of 435 seats. "It's in our best interest to show we can function and that we can lead responsibly, and that would involve getting bills that have already passed the House with bipartisan support and get Democrats to join us in the Senate and get those to the president, even something like trade," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
It won't be easy. Many of the moderate Democrats who would be willing to compromise were defeated in Tuesday's elections, reducing the number of lawmakers in the middle. In the next Congress, independent Sen. Angus King of Maine and moderate Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana will hold considerable leverage.
On energy, Republicans are already exploring ways to derail Obama's plans to reduce the pollution blamed for global warming from coal-fired power plants, a maneuver that some Democrats from coal states are likely to support but that the president would likely veto. Pro-energy Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is expected to chair the Senate Energy Committee, and Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who rejects the scientific consensus that global warming is being caused by fossil fuels, will likely lead the environment panel.
On the Keystone Pipeline, White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated Thursday that the administration will wait on the Nebraska Supreme Court to rule on a dispute about the pipeline's route through the state before completing an evaluation of the pipeline. "Once some of those things are resolved, then the State Department can do their work evaluating whether or not this pipeline is in the national interest of Americans," he said on CNN.
The Senate turnover from Democrats to Republicans could also complicate efforts by the U.S. to broker a new international deal to curb global warming that is legally enforceable, because a Republican-controlled Senate would be unlikely to ratify it. "There is no way to dance around the issue that in too many races we lost good allies," said Michael Brune, head of the Sierra Club. "And we will see them replaced by people who oppose our values."