Christopher M. Tuttle, senior fellow and director of the Renewing America initiative at CFR, leads the conversation on the U.S. midterm elections and beyond.
FASKIANOS: Thank you, and welcome, all, to today’s session of the Fall 2022 CFR Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR.
Today’s discussion is on the record. The video and transcript will be available on our website at CFR.org/academic, and as always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We’re delighted to have Christopher Tuttle with us today to talk about the U.S. midterm elections and beyond. Mr. Tuttle is senior fellow and director of the Renewing America initiative at CFR. He’s also a managing director of CFR’s Corporate Affairs Program and a senior adviser for the Council’s external affairs efforts in Washington. From 2015 to 2019, Mr. Tuttle served as policy director of the majority staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations under Chairman Bob Corker, and prior to that, he was director of CFR’s Washington Program and Independent Task Force Program.
So, Chris, thank you very much for being with us today. It would be great if you could talk a little bit about the Renewing America initiative, and also, talk a little bit about the midterm elections. We are about forty days and a few hours out from the elections on November 8, and we would love to hear from you your analysis of the lay of the land and what it portends for governance in the U.S., as well as how we will be viewed in the world.
TUTTLE: Absolutely. Thanks, Irina. It’s great to be here. Great to be speaking with you all today.
As Irina mentioned, I’m Chris Tuttle, and before digging in on today’s specific topic, I would like, as Irina mentioned, to begin with a plug for the program I run at CFR, the Renewing America initiative.
But you all know the Council on Foreign Relations is obviously a foreign policy organization, but we have a keen understanding of the reality that U.S. power, our place in the world, and our upward trajectory over the past century have been powered by our domestic strengths.
And right now, some of our most important national security threats come not from without, but from within. So we’re looking at nine specific domestic issues that underpin our strength and our power in the world—and really the future of the United States in the twenty-first century—and the future of how the world’s going to look in the twenty-first century with a strong U.S., hopefully, still leading the way.
So the nine issues are democracy and governance, education, energy and climate, the future of work, immigration, infrastructure, social justice and equity, and trade and finance. And I’d commend to you our website, please check it out. We’ve got a Twitter feed as well that just went up yesterday, actually, so please follow us on Twitter. And we’re going to post the website to the chat, or you can just google, CFR Renewing America.
So thanks, Irina, for indulging that pitch and now onto today’s topic, the midterm congressional elections and beyond.
I thought I’d start with the House of Representatives. Right now, the partisan balance in the House is 221 to 212—that’s 221 Democrats to 212 Republicans. That’s a very tight—very tight—very tight margin, and that’s not much of a majority, historically speaking, in terms of party breakdown.
What that means, though, for midterms is that Republicans need to gain only six seats to take control of the House, and Democrats are facing some pretty heavy headwinds, which I’m sure you’ve been reading about, as people have been covering, sort of, the horse race. The first headwind is structural. On average over the past seventy years or so, a sitting president’s party has lost an average of more than two dozen house seats during the midterms.
On top of that, inflation has been at forty-year highs. The economy has had two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth, and certainly related to this, President Biden’s job approval rating right now is at a pretty dismal 43 percent. Also, many Democrats are retiring leaving open seats that are always more difficult to defend than if an incumbent were still running.
But interestingly, it’s not just national issues as a factor coming into play this year. Many voters are also concerned about local issues. Crime, the way COVID and other issues have been handled in the school districts are a couple of examples, and those are also likely to weigh on the Democrats in a way similar to the dynamic that put Glenn Youngkin into office as governor of Virginia last year.
But for the Democrats, it’s not all bad news. Biden’s approval rating, though still pretty problematic, is actually up about six points from where it stood in July, and there are indications that abortion, in the wake of the Dobbs decision, may be a more significant factor than many prognosticators first guessed.
For the House, this all adds up to basically kind of the following: the red wave that everybody was talking about during the summer—saying that the Republicans were going to be swept into control of the House with a twenty-five- to thirty-five-seat pickup—may not, in fact, materialize. Regardless, however, the numbers are still not great for Nancy Pelosi’s hopes for her House team.
Right now, The Cook Political Report, which I commend to you—if you follow elections closely you may already be aware of it—but The Cook Political Report right now rates 192 seats as solidly, likely, or leaning Democratic. Conversely, it rates 212 seats as solidly, likely, or leaning Republican. That leaves 31 seats as toss-ups. Assuming those numbers hold, Republicans only need to get six of those seats to gain control, which is a pretty likely scenario.
Moving onto the Senate, it’s a little bit different story. As you all know, the Senate is split right now fifty-fifty. Senate races tend to be more candidate-based than House races, which are often more party or national dynamics-based.
In the—if you want to do the math on this, Democrats are defending fourteen seats this year and two are rated as toss-ups—that’s Rafael Warnock in Georgia—and he’s currently leading well within the margin of error about 0.3 percent over Herschel Walker—and Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, where the Republican is leading just by 1.7 points.
Republicans are defending twenty-one seats in the Senate. One of those is rated as a toss-up—that’s Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, and he’s ahead just slightly 1.5 percent—that’s based on the RealClearPolitics polling average. And one of the Republican seats is rated to lean Democratic. So that’s the seat in Pennsylvania where Senator Pat Toomey retired. And right now, you’re probably seeing Dr. Oz and Fetterman going at it regularly. Right now, Fetterman is up by about 4.7 percent.
So you can game out all the possibilities alike based on that, but it’s going to be a dog fight for the Senate, and we could very well end up exactly where we are today at fifty-fifty when all is said and done.
So one note about the rest of this Congress, you know, it’s—time is growing short, and the Congress is about to go home to spend time with their constituents as the election approaches. But there is an order of business that may actually end up getting done that’s pretty important before the end of this year. It may—it, likely, will not be before the election. It will likely be in a lame duck session after the elections.
But I think that it’s worth mentioning— probably the most important couple of pieces of legislation, I think, that could move in this Congress are a couple that reform presidential elections and transitions. As I mentioned, they’re just about done for this two years, but they’ve got a couple of bills pending to change current statutes to prevent what happened in late 2020 and early 2021, where we came close to the invalidation of a presidential election, which would have created a full on constitutional crisis.
The House passed its version of this legislation last week, and the Senate has similar legislation that was—it was negotiated on a much more bipartisan basis in the House, but it’s very similar. The cosponsors in the Senate are wide ideological range. Chris Murphy of Connecticut sort of on the left to Lindsay Graham of South Carolina on the right, and this just—Mitch McConnell just signaled his support for this legislation, as did Chuck Schumer, yesterday. And it passed the Senate Rules and Administration Committee yesterday by a wide bipartisan margin.
So this will likely—the Senate version—also known as the Electoral Count Reform Act—will likely pass during the lame duck session that’ll be held probably sometime in November, early December, and then, it will mean—because the House has passed its version; the Senate will pass its version—they’ll have to get together in a conference committee to come up with a compromise version, but it’s actually something that can move.
And I’d be happy to go into further detail about that, but it’s a very important piece of legislation. You may have read—I wrote a piece on this. I think it was in the read ahead, but I encourage you to follow this because it really is an important piece of reform legislation that’s got bipartisan support, and it can actually move the ball forward. And it is potentially an existential issue for the country.
So moving onto the Congress yet, we’re just getting ready to conclude the 117th Congress. We’re going to be going into the 118th Congress in January. What’s in store?
I thought I’d start—because we’re the Council on Foreign Relations—with foreign and international policy. If you are a fan of bipartisanship, there is a lot to like about the incoming Congress and about this current Congress.
When you look at issues—when it comes to China, when it comes to Russia/Ukraine—there is wide bipartisan agreement on how to handle those issues. On trade, there’s wide bipartisan agreement. Now those of you who might be supportive of freer trade may not like what that bipartisan agreement is, but right now we’ve got both parties who are pretty—they have pretty skeptical views of trade, and that’s anomalous.
In the past you’ve had Democrats, who have been in Congress anyway, broadly pretty skeptical of trade. You’ve had Republicans who have been more supportive of free trade agreements. That all changed with the onset of sort of the new Republicans, Donald Trump, that kind of thing. So there’s widespread skepticism on trade, and I’d be happy to talk about that during the Q&A.
Bipartisanship, for better or for worse, is alive and well in foreign policy, and there are some notable exceptions. You can—we can roll through those if you would like. But really, on the great big issues that are confronting the United States, there’s widespread agreement.
So assuming we have a Republican House, legislatively there’s not much in the realm of what might get done. Republicans are likely going to pass Republican bills like those proposed in their newly released Commitment to America, which Kevin McCarthy introduced last week. It’s sort of their agenda for Republican control—their legislative agenda.
But they’re likely to pass Republican bills, bipartisan majorities, and they’ll die in the Senate. Even if Republicans do win the Senate, they won’t have sixty votes to overcome a legislative filibuster that would be by the Democrats. One can also expect with the Republican House takeover a multitude of congressional investigations into the COVID pandemic, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the FBI’s handling of recent matters, among many others.
Senate Democrats, should they keep their majority, will continue to face an uphill climb to get much of anything through. Not only will they not have the votes to overcome a Republican filibuster—or even if they are able to go nuclear and eliminate the legislative filibuster entirely, which is unlikely, most legislation they pass will not move in the House. Even using the budget reconciliation process, which requires only fifty votes in the Senate, Democratic moderates like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona may not be supportive.
As far as the political dynamics are concerned—so what is this sort of portend for our politics? I’m afraid they’re unlikely to improve any time soon. I’ve written about this. If you’d like, you can go to, again, Renewing America. I think they’re likely to get worse. I think that Republicans may take from these midterm elections the message that Trumpism remains their path to victory.
And some Democrats, in the wake of losses, may push for the party to live its values and go further left. Similar to the way that we saw on the Republican side, when Republicans who were losing elections—say after 2012 when Mitt Romney lost—a lot of Republicans said, well, we just didn’t run far enough to the right. We need to go further to the right in the future in order to win.
So you may see a similar dynamic emerging more and more. The nascent sort of harder left edge within the Democratic Party could actually take on more power, and that will probably be a pretty tough dynamic because you’ve got Trumpy Republicans and a further left Democratic Party. So the clashes will continue and are likely to get worse.
So if you combine this with what likely will be actions by the president to try and do by executive fiat what he probably won’t be able to do legislatively, and the reality that the presidential campaign will begin de-facto the day after the midterms conclude—and we have a recipe for a pretty tough time ahead, I’m afraid.
So with that, I’d be happy to talk about any of these issues and beyond, and would also be pleased to provide advice on Washington careers, political work, anything else you’d like to discuss.
So thank you.
FASKIANOS: Great. And I do think we should take you up on that at the end of this, but we will first go to questions.
Thank you, Chris, for that overview—I think, a little depressing—just the conflict will continue, but good news that there’s bipartisanship on foreign policy issues, for sure.
So, to all of you now, if you can click the raised hand icon on your screen to ask a question on your iPad, or you click the more button to access the raised hand feature. So when you’re called upon, accept the unmute prompt, and please state your name and affiliation followed by your question. You can also write your question in the Q&A box. If you do that, please include your affiliations so it gives us context as to where you are in the world.
OK, so I’m going to go first to a written question from David Caputo, who is the president emeritus of Pace University.
Please comment on the apparent under polling of uneducated white males and what it means for the races you’ve cited.
TUTTLE: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think that there is a dynamic within certain parts of the polling public, where they just don’t want to talk to pollsters, you know.
They watch cable news. They think, boy, these people do not understand me, and I don’t want—there’s a certain social stigma attached to some of what they may think about certain issues.
So I think that that is a potentially real issue out there. Polling has become enormously more complicated than it used to be. It’s tough to reach people. The proliferation of cell phones and getting rid of landlines, it has become harder and harder to poll, and I do think that that is potentially a real issue—where you could see some surprises based on that under polling of those populations, where, actually, the numbers that I read off earlier in some of the close races and some of the others could actually turn out being some surprises—probably more likely for the Democrats. The Democrats would probably be more likely to be surprised. Republicans are talking about this as a potential factor—that there is under polling of certain populations that tend to vote more Republican.
So that would be my comment on that.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Let’s go to Babak Salimitari, who has a raised hand.
Q: Hello, can you hear me?
TUTTLE: Hi, Babak.
FASKIANOS: We can, Babak. Please state your affiliation.
Q: Hi. My name is Babak. I’m from UCI. I’m a master’s student there now.
My question is pertaining to immigration and the situation at the border right now, and what affect that would have on congressional races in the border states like Arizona and Texas? Right now, there’s, like, 8,000 illegals crossing the border every day, and the Democratic Party has been pretty mum about this situation until, say, like, Ron DeSantis buses them over to Martha’s Vineyard, and then that’s when the headlines come out on MSNBC and whatnot over the situation at the border.
Why isn’t the party taking a stronger stance on confronting this situation and preventing people from crossing the border illegally?
TUTTLE: Let’s see. As far as why the party isn’t taking a stronger stand, they’re in a tough spot. They’ve got, I think, broad swaths of Democratic base voters who think that the Republicans are overdoing the illegal immigration thing and are generally supportive of immigrant communities that make up a sizeable chunk of not necessarily their voters, but a sizeable constituency for their—for Democratic base voters. So in other words, Democratic base voters, the people who are going to turn out during midterm elections, tend to be more concentrated, and they tend to be more to the left. And they have pretty much been reluctant to take actions that they view as unfair to various people who are coming to the United States to seek asylum, that kind of thing.
It’s a big motivator for Republican voters, particularly in voter states—or in border states. They see—they see illegal immigration as a real problem. You could see that during the Trump era. That was a big issue for Republican voters. But I think that the Democrats are in a tough spot when they’ve got a lot of their base voters and a lot of their members of Congress who think that U.S. immigration controls have been too stringent, I think, in the past, and sympathize with a lot of the folks who are crossing the border illegally. That’s sort of my take on it.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Amalia Frommelt, who is a graduate student at NYU—New York University.
In the context of the most recent attempt to overturn the presidential election and also recognizing America’s historical disenfranchisement of voters that are not white men, what is the greatest threat to the future of free and fair American elections? And have these historical and contemporary events influenced these threats?
TUTTLE: Yeah, I think they have influenced these threats. My concern—my biggest concern is that we’ve got not just sizeable, but a majority of Republicans who still think that the election was invalid. But we also have, on the flip side—and you saw this in 2016—significant parts of the Democratic Party in 2016 said that Donald Trump was not a legitimate reelected president. And I do have concerns that this fall may see the same with—the Democrats have been very, very concerned and very public about some of the different laws that have been passed in different states when it comes to voting, and ballot access, and that type of thing.
I am not convinced that that will have a major—that those will play a major role in the midterm elections, but that won’t, I don’t think, stop some within the Democratic Party claiming that the elections this fall are not legitimate. So the biggest threat I see is that you have potentially both major political parties claiming illegitimate elections, and once you start claiming illegitimate elections, people—it’s less surprising when people use undemocratic means to accomplish their ends. And that’s enormously problematic for the United States. There has been a lot of talk about potential civil war and that kind of thing. I don’t think we’re there, but I do think that these elections stand to continue not just sort of the political discord, but also for people to sort of step out of the margins of political discourse in a way that is potentially quite dangerous for the United States.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Michael Leong, a graduate student at the University of Arizona who has his hand up.
Q: Hi, there.
TUTTLE: (Inaudible)—your profile picture.
Q: Oh, sorry about that.
TUTTLE: No, it’s OK.
Q: All right, so hi there.
So I just have a question because, as you discussed, with the Republican Party taking that message that Trump is and remains their path to victory, and because of that, potentially Democrats moving further to the left, that means the polarization is going to become more severe. But is there going to be a path for both parties where basically American political—the political sphere to move back towards the center where it’s not so polarized?
TUTTLE: Yeah, so I’m hopeful on that front. I wouldn’t call myself optimistic, but I am hopeful. There are signs within the Republican Party that maybe the Trump era is just beginning to sunset. There are some indications of that. For example, if you look in New Hampshire, there was a sort of more moderate—I wouldn’t even say more moderate because I don’t think the Trump phenomenon is necessarily political so much as it is rhetorical and personality based. But you had a Republican who was not a Trump Republican; in fact, you had several in the primary, and what occurred was Trump—one of the candidates was very pro-Trump, and if you took the candidates who were not, you know, Trumpy candidates and you added up all their numbers, they actually—if it had been a single sort of non-Trump Republican, that person would have won.
The leading non-Trump Republican also received a lot of funds from various Democratic senatorial—or Democratic committees to—or excuse me—the leading non-Trump candidate was sort of torn down by an ad campaign by some of the Democratic committees, and that put the Trump person in the best place to win. So, in other words, those two bits of sort of—those two problems where you had several non-Trump candidates plus the Democratic Party acting to try and get—to knock down the leading non-Trump candidate in order to get—to be able to run against the Trump candidate. So I think there are signs. That’s kind of a long way of getting to I think there are signs within the Republican Party.
And you saw this in some other areas as well. You saw it in Maryland where the Democratic Party, the various Democratic entities were supportive of the—in one way or another, supportive of a Trump candidate getting the nomination because, you know, politics—you knew that person is easier to run against. I don’t think we’re there yet, though, on the Republican side.
On the Democratic side, I think it’s a little bit tougher. It is, I think, hard to see a Democratic Party that doesn’t continue moving leftward, and you—I think that Joe Biden, although he ran very much as sort of a moderate, uniting figure, that governance has not really been that way. And I think that he is having to cater to his left flank pretty often. So he has sort of become an outsider, I think, within the base of the Democratic Party, and I see that as continuing to be a rising force within the Democratic Party.
Younger voters, if you look at polling, tend to be more supportive of the issue set of sort of the hard left, and the sort of Democratic Party of prior administrations. If you look at sort of some of the economic policy, you look at some of the former Treasury secretaries, for example, in the Democratic Party; their style of sort of governance, their style of managing the economy, that kind of thing, are going away in favor of a more left-trending line.
So I think there are signs of hope on the Republican side—small signs—of getting sort of out of the Trump era. But I think the Democratic Party is probably, for the next several years, going to continue to trend leftward.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. A question from Todd Barry, who is an adjunct professor at Hudson County Community College in New Jersey.
What is the likelihood that Republicans, in control of Congress, would cut off funding for Ukraine, and that this would lead to a peace agreement?
TUTTLE: Great question. I actually think—and this speaks to my bipartisanship question in terms of Russia-Ukraine. You are seeing signs among some of the sort of harder right members of Congress to pull funding from Ukraine and not support—not continue to support Ukraine. They are not within sort of the mainstream foreign policy leaders within the—with the Republican Party. I don’t think they are going to get much in the way of traction.
If you look at those who are really sort of foreign policy leaders within the party and have influence on sort of the party—the party leadership in the House and in the Senate, I don’t see that happening any time soon. Mitch McConnell, I think, is committed to continuing funding for Ukraine. Jim Risch—there was just a hearing this morning where he’s the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—is all in favor of continuing to support Ukraine. And like I said, foreign policy leaders in the House—folks like Mike Gallagher—very much are supportive of continued funding for Ukraine.
So I think there are signs of that, but I think it’s premature to think that there is going to be any massive erosion of Republican support for Ukraine and continuing to stick it to Russia. That’s an excellent question.
FASKIANOS: Great. Next question, I’m going to go Isaac Alston-Voyticky, who is a graduate student at CUNY School of Law.
So I already—I already had my introduction. My question is how do you feel the delegitimization of election results immediately prior to and during the election process will have an effect on election turnout for the two major political parties in the upcoming midterms as well as the current tertiary parties?
TUTTLE: So give me a little bit more on that.
Q: So a good example was the—in California, probably the most prominent one. He called it like twenty-four hours that he was—that he—because he knew he was going to lose, so he said, oh, the election result, it was fake, right? Obviously, this is, you know, like a fraudulent election, and the—the tempo out there is that when that happens on a consistent basis, it effects the electoral—kind of election results because like in turnout it says, well, if it’s already fraud, why am I going?
TUTTLE: Yeah, yeah. So I think it remains to be seen, Isaac. I don’t know that there’s a—and we’ll need some empirical data, I think, to really be able to judge that. I will say that there is a lot more absentee, and a lot more early voting than there has been in the past. That certainly weighs in favor of it having a lesser effect. But without empirical data, it’s hard to know. Those are individual decisions that people are going to—to be making, and I would hesitate to sort of weigh in on that without a closer look at—a closer specific look at that dynamic.
FASKIANOS: Great. So we have a written question from Mike Nelson who is an affiliate adjunct professor at Georgetown University who is noting that digital technologies have transformed our elections over the past fifteen years. Obama beat Hillary by using MeetUp to organize at the grassroots. Trump weaponized Twitter. Biden used Zoom from his basement. (Laughs.) I like that characterization. And what’s new this year, do you think? What will it be? Will it be disinformation? TV—will TV be a critical factor? Are you hearing anything on that front?
TUTTLE: I’m not—not specifically. I mean, TV is always a critical factor in elections. I think that you can look at—I remember looking at polling numbers for various members of Congress I’ve worked for, and you can actually see, if we do a line, of when they went up on TV and the numbers go way up. So I think TV continues to be powerful.
And I think social media—that’s probably, I’m guessing—the trend of the line is downward for TV; more for various social media—type stuff that you mentioned. I don’t know that there is anything particularly new for the midterms, but social media is always evolving. It’s always seemingly gaining more and more influence, but it’s also becoming more diffuse. So the platform of yesterday is no longer the platform of today because it has been—you know, there are two or three more platforms.
So I’m not aware of anything particularly new. You may be, and I’d be happy to talk about that. But I don’t have any sense of what sort of the new thing is, the thing that we’re going to refer to as sort of the big thing in 2022—what was able to move a particular election. And I think 2024, it remains to be seen. It’s possible that there is a social media platform out there that I haven’t heard of that may actually be the next big thing. And right now, it’s not much, but two years from now it might be the next big thing.
FASKIANOS: Right. Is there concern about interference from Russia, China in the midterms?
TUTTLE: There’s always concern about that. We have, I think, done a reasonably good job with our intelligence agencies, with different efforts that have been undertaken to protect our elections. It’s still tough, though, because you have elections that are administered not just at the state level, but at the local level. Now that makes it tough for us to sort of harden our targets because they are so diffuse. But it also makes it harder for the other side because the targets are so diffuse. But I think that’s always a concern. It will continue to be a concern, and it’s not just Russia and China; it’s the Iranians, the North Koreans. There are any number of state threats out there, and if you put a state threat up against a county clerk in Wausau County, Wisconsin, that is—or Marathon County, Wisconsin—excuse me—that’s pretty asymmetric. The question is whether or not they can do that wholesale, and the question also is how much are we digitalized, and how much do we rely on internet for our elections. And that is why paper ballots are still important because they are really hard to—they are really hard to mess with if you are a state actor.
So I think those are critical questions and one that our intelligence agencies and FBI, and others, and state officials in particular are—and state and county officials are looking at very carefully and working hard to harden themselves against potential attacks.
FASKIANOS: Thanks. I’m going to go next to Fordham University. I don’t know who has the raised hand, so please announce yourself.
Q: Yes, good afternoon. My name is Javier Mendez. I’m from Fordham University. I’m a first-year undergraduate studying business administration.
And my question would be regarding the impact that the natural disasters had on the Caribbean Basin, for example Hurricane Fiona’s devastation in Puerto Rico—and the subsequent congressional debates regarding an amendment to the Jones Act, and the near future of—twelve hours—Hurricane Ian’s impact on the west coast of Florida, and the subsequent government reaction to that devastation. How would that affect the results of the upcoming midterms, specifically in these states and regions where the Hispanic population is so great and they tend to—(inaudible)?
TUTTLE: Right. So the question is how will the—the more specific question or the more current question is what effect might the natural disaster that’s heading toward Florida right now have on the midterms?
Q: Yes, and—between that and the debate regarding an amendment to the Jones Act stemming from Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico.
TUTTLE: OK. So on the hurricane that’s heading toward Florida right now, I think that, obviously, the response is going to be critical. We saw the reaction during the hurricane that hit New Orleans back in 2005 that that provoked a lot of sort of—that provoked people to take action politically—basically saying the Bush administration had mishandled it.
The story was a lot more complicated than that; I mean, any federal disaster is going to be the responsibility of the federal government, but primarily the state and local governments. But I think that if it is perceived as being mishandled, and there is sort of a blame game on what happens there, it could potentially have some marginal impact on the midterm elections.
I’m not as familiar with the Puerto Rico case, so I’m a little reluctant to weigh in on that and the Jones Act. But I’d be happy to look into it if you wanted to send me a note. My email is on the CFR website. I’d be happy to look into it further. But I’m sorry that I don’t have a great answer for you at the moment.
FASKIANOS: But I would note that we are seeing cooperation between—at the federal and obviously the state and local level with President Biden and Governor DeSantis. I think that they are working together on this issue.
TUTTLE: Yeah, it appears—it appears that way, so, that will—but if things really go south, sometimes the blame game commences, and you could see some potential political conflict come from that.
FASKIANOS: Yes. So the next written question from Hannah-Grace Henson, who is an undergrad student at Drexel.
If the Supreme Court rules that election results can be overturned by state electors, what do you see happening during the next presidential election in 2024?
TUTTLE: Good question. (Pause.) I think it is—it’s an—it’s an open question. The answer is I don’t know. I think that over the past—even during the Trump period when it came down to it, there weren’t state officials who were willing to bite the bullet and send forward electors who were not reflective of the popular vote. I think that is likely to hold with maybe an anomaly or two, but I don’t—from my vantage point, I don’t see state officials who will be willing to do that.
Trump—the Trump in 2020 worked mightily on state officials to do so, and they did not. And when they didn’t, Trump and his supporters tried to put forth slates of alternate electors. That’s one of the things that is addressed in the Electoral Count Reform Act and the legislation that’s moving through the House.
But I actually am not as worried about that as some.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Arjun Chawla. Please pronounce your name for us since I did not do so correctly.
Q: So are you able to hear me?
Q: Thank you both for the time. My name is Arjun Chawla. I’m a graduate student at Georgetown University.
My question is I’d love to get your thoughts on—and if you look back at 2016, there was potential for an interference in the United States presidential election, and then ahead to the 2020 presidential election, there was potential news coming out about Hunter Biden, and that was not announced until after the election if—whatever those investigation findings were.
Now coming up to the midterms—still this is not a presidential election—there is the lawsuit against—well, New York against Trump as well as the January 6 hearing going on. I’m curious. I know this is not a presidential election but in regards to the midterm, what effects do you think both of these events would have on the midterms?
TUTTLE: Yeah, so on the Hunter Biden stuff and—wait, what was the second you mentioned?
Q: The Trump lawsuit from New York—
TUTTLE: You’re talking about the lawsuits as well as the January 6.
Q: And the—sorry, and the—
FASKIANOS: Right, the New York State—
Q: Correct, in relation—
TUTTLE: The Letitia James, right, yeah.
Q: Exactly. Ahead of the midterms.
TUTTLE: So, yeah. So I think that it may have some marginal impact, but I don’t think—I think a lot of the people who are voting in midterm elections have already sort of—are already part of a camp, OK? So if you are part of the Republican camp, you are seeing this Hunter Biden stuff, and it may intensify your feelings about how this wasn’t reported, and you are concerned about what’s on the laptop. If you are part of the Democratic camp, you see the January 6 stuff, and you see the January 6 committee hearings as well as the Letitia James actions up in New York, and you are already in that Democratic camp, and it may harden—it may intensify your feelings. How much effect that actually has on the independent voters that vote in midterms, and they’re typically—it’s typically a smaller number than would vote in a presidential election, I think it’s hard to say.
I think that of those three, I think the January 6 committee, for those who are paying attention to it and to news surrounding it, is probably the most persuasive in terms of changing your opinion, one way or another. But it may have just changed your opinion on Trump. And part of the effectiveness of those hearings was you had a lot of people testifying who were long-term Republicans who had been staff for Donald Trump. And so it wasn’t necessarily—it was harder to make the case that this was entirely cooked up by the Democratic Party because you did have all these Republicans testify. So the question is, how much January 6—the January 6 committee and their actions might actually be able to steer independent voters? I think it remains to be seen. I think the numbers are probably fairly small.
Q: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
Mark Diamond, who’s a senior lecturer at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Do you see any shifts in voting patterns of faith-based communities such as Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews, Muslim-Americans, and others?
TUTTLE: What were the groups?
FASKIANOS: I think— Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews, Muslim-Americans, and others, so really just faith-based communities. I think those were examples.
TUTTLE: Yeah. I have not seen numbers on this. My guess is of those groups the one most likely in a midterm to shift a bit I think may be the Evangelicals. I think that there are some probably—like I said, I don’t have polling numbers on this, but anecdotally speaking, I think that Evangelicals in some cases have been increasingly skeptical of Trump and I think everybody on my side of the aisle—I was a longtime Republican staffer—were quite surprised when the Evangelical community turned out pretty strongly for Trump. So the question is, is that population moving? My guess is there are signs of that. And the other question is, does it affect their vote in midterm elections? I think probably in a lot of cases—Trump is not on the ballot and Evangelicals tend to vote pretty widely for Republicans, so they’re going to probably continue to vote for Republicans. So I don’t think it’s going to necessarily change their voting patterns during a midterm election, but I could see potentially some shifts when it comes to a general election and a primary in two years, for the Republican presidential primary.
FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to go to Derek Kubacki.
TUTTLE: Hey, Derek.
Q: Good afternoon, sir. How are you doing?
TUTTLE: I’m OK. How are you?
Q: All righty. Derek Kubacki, academic adviser at UTSA, coming back for another master’s as well, in global affairs this time around.
Question is—it goes back to—it’s not necessarily with the midterms themselves but it goes back to what you talked about with the Electoral Count Act that they’re looking at doing. The House side include provisions for up to one-third of both chambers. The Senate bill is one-fifth, or essentially twenty senators. When we look at the likelihood of any potential challenge to a future election, which could conceivably come from either side of the spectrum, are those numbers really worthwhile? Do they really mean a thing when you’re going to have some sort of majority that’s going to be able to hit that threshold—I believe it’s eighty-seven in the House and twenty in the Senate—or is this simply just a speed bump or—to potentially looking for an amendment to the Constitution to outright abolish the Electoral College?
TUTTLE: Yeah. So I think that changing the Electoral College, for a wide variety of reasons, is not in the cards, so I would set that aside. I will say that the House version does have that higher threshold of one-third; the Senate has a one-fifth threshold. I don’t have any inside information on this but they knew that they were going to have to go to a conference committee and it’s awfully convenient—(laughs)—that there’s one-fifth and there’s one-third; meeting in the middle might mean a quarter, OK? So I think that it’s going to be enormously challenging. I don’t think it’s a speed bump, but I think it’s going to be very challenging to get those kinds of numbers to object to the certification of a state’s results. There was only—basically there were two objections I think that were raised—I think it was Arizona and Georgia in 2021—and the pressure was huge. You saw it—you’ve seen different efforts both in the House and in the Senate to object, but they haven’t been able to find a partner, and that’s just with one to one. The last time I think was Barbara Boxer who objected to Ohio’s results and she had a variety of Democrats in the House who were willing to go along with that. But I think that’s a—it’s a pretty heavy threshold. I think it’s much more—even at a quarter, it’s a pretty high threshold, and I don’t think you get there. I think it makes it significantly more difficult to object.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I want to take another question from Todd Barry on—again, from Hudson County Community College. Will the Republicans craft a stimulus bill for the economy?
TUTTLE: Unlikely. It remains to be seen what’s going to happen with the economy generally, if we are going to tip further into a recession. Now I know there’s a question about whether or not we’re actually in a recession. Traditionally, the definition has been two consecutive quarters—the traditional shorthand definition has been two consecutive quarters with negative economic growth, but I think it remains to be seen how much the economy is going to slow down based on the Fed’s necessary actions to curb inflation. With inflation numbers being what they are, and with Republicans having stated over and over and over again that the COVID stimulus was—and not just Republicans; some Democrats too saying that COVID stimulus was actually enormously problematic in terms of the current inflation picture. I think it’s going to be pretty challenging for Republicans to say we need economic stimulus. Inflation is still, I believe, above 8 percent. It’s hard to see how Republicans who are big believers that additional government spending can be inflationary, it’s hard to see them being supportive of some sort of stimulus package.
FASKIANOS: So we are almost out of time, Chris, and I just wanted to draw upon your time working in the Senate. You mentioned that it’s unlikely for much to get done with the filibuster in place. Can you talk a little bit, from your perspective having been there, how important it is to have that sixty-vote threshold, and just having worked there back in the teens and now we’re in the 2020s, just the comparison of where we are now—(laughs)—and life in Congress from a staffer perspective, and any advice you want to give to students about public service, given this partisan environment that we’re in. (Laughs.)
TUTTLE: Sure. Well, we have two minutes so I think on the filibuster, the filibuster is a long story, but if you want to take a short snippet of that long story: In 2005, it was Republicans who wanted to get rid of the filibuster in order to get federal judges through, and then in—and that was stopped; there was a bipartisan gang that stopped that effort. In 2013, Harry Reid, because Democratic judges weren’t getting through, actually did away with the filibuster for those judges, and then in 2017, Mitch McConnell, previously a strong supporter of the filibuster—Harry Reid had previously been a strong supporter of the filibuster—changed it for Supreme Court nominees. Mitch McConnell and the Republicans changed it for Supreme Court nominees. And now we’ve got—and during the Trump administration he was constantly calling up Mitch McConnell saying, why can’t you get rid of the legislative filibuster? I want to get things done. So the rogues’ gallery of people who had been supportive or opposed the filibuster over time has changed based largely on who happens to be in power.
I would say that I think the filibuster is an enormously important and positive thing for the country; a lot of people disagree with me. But I think that it is important to consider that we right now have a country that’s roughly split fifty-fifty and if you start passing legislation wholesale that 50 percent of the country disagrees with firmly and then it switches to a new Senate and that legislation is then repealed and different legislation is put in, we’re going to be whipsawed not just in terms of what laws are on the books but also you’ll have the other half of the country dissatisfied with something that’s being passed. So I think it’s an important moderating influence. I think that a lot of my Democratic friends would have preferred that the filibuster still be in place when Brett Kavanaugh was nominated. So I think that the filibuster—it’s a really important part of moderating the actions of government to have more consistency and more incremental change, which ultimately turns out to be more durable and easier to live under for the American people.
And I think we’re out of time but I’d be happy to talk a little bit about Washington careers.
FASKIANOS: Just give us a couple minutes on Washington careers.
TUTTLE: Sure. So I would say, in terms of Washington careers, they can be enormously helpful, enormously beneficial not just for you but for the United States. And I think one of the best places to start—and I’m, of course, biased—is in Congress because Congress forces you to work together with folks from the other side. And I don’t think there’s enough of that in our culture these days. There’s not enough—there are not enough Democrats with Republican friends, there are not enough Republicans with Democratic friends. You’re forced in Congress to know people and work with people from the other side.
The other thing is you’re also forced in Congress to deal with people from all over and—I mean your constituents. So if you work for a member of Congress in a good office, the single most important stakeholder, the single most important person is your customer, the constituent. And being in a congressional office and talking to people who are living their lives is really important for connecting our government to the American people. It doesn’t sound glamorous to be sitting on the phone listening to somebody tell you about how their Social Security check was $24 short last month and can you help them, but it gives you a really good perspective on why democratic governance is so important.
So I would encourage those of you—you have a small window to work on Capitol Hill. Nobody wants to be a thirty-year-old, thirty-five-year-old staff assistant answering phones and writing constituent mail. So you have a narrow window between sort of college graduation, maybe twenty-six, twenty-seven, to get your start on the Hill. So I’d encourage you to take a look at that as a career path.
FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Well, I’m sorry we went over a few minutes, but I wanted to close with that, give some people some career advice.
So, Chris Tuttle, thank you very much for this hour, and to all of you for your questions and comments. We put in the chat there the link to the landing page for Renewing America; it’s CFR.org/programs/renewing-america, and the Twitter is at @RenewingAmerica. So you should follow the work that Chris is doing there on the very important nine pillars of what we need to focus on here at home. And again, I hope you will join us for our next academic webinar on Wednesday, October 12, at 1:00 p.m. (EDT) with Mary Elise Sarotte, who is the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Distinguished Professor of Historical Studies at Johns Hopkins, on Russia’s global influence. You can also follow us @CFR_Academic. Visit CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com, and ThinkGlobalHealth.org for research and analysis on global issues. Again, Chris Tuttle, thank you very much for this conversation; we really appreciate it.
TUTTLE: Thanks, Irina. Always a pleasure. Good luck to everyone.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.