Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner has a muscular new GOP majority he can use to take aim at the Democratic agenda, but his prospects for success are hampered not just by a Democratic Senate and President Obama, but also outsized expectations from a tea party he has all but begged to hold the GOP accountable.
“The American people have sent an unmistakable message to him tonight, and that message is ‘change course!” Boehner said of Obama, in an emotional victory speech to GOP faithful gathered at a hotel in Washington.
As he broke near to tears, the crowd responded by chanting “USA! USA! USA!”
Boehner said Obama should “make no mistake about it,” promising the American people will find their voice for changing how Washington operates in the new House GOP majority.
Much of the Republican wave was fueled by the tea party, and an early sign of how important that base came before Boehner spoke to the Washington faithful. In a Skype call to tea party activists in his district, Boehner promised, “I’ll never let you down.”
Whether Boehner can achieve that remains to be seen, but he is certainly setting the bar high. The Senate will be more Republican but still Democratic, and Obama will retain his veto pen. And Democrats will surely be on watch to trumpet anything the GOP does that will look like an overreach.
Still, the scope of the Republican victories was sweeping.
Heading into the midterm election, Republicans needed a net pick-up of 39 seats to take back the majority control they lost four years ago in the 435-seat House.
House Democrats lost several old bulls on election night, as decades of historical memory will disappear with the losses of Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina, Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri, and Reps. Chet Edwards of Texas and Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania.
“The outcome of the election does not diminish the work we have done for the American people. We must all strive to find common ground to support the middle class, create jobs, reduce the deficit and move our nation forward,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.
Republicans easily exceeded the 52 seats they picked up on election night in 1994, scoring the highest single-election gain for either party since 1948, when Democrats gained 75 seats. The all-time House record for most pick-ups by one party in an election was 130 seats by Republicans in 1894.
“We will repeal the trillion-dollar health care bill that threatens to bankrupt this commonwealth and this country,” House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., who is likely to become majority leader, said in Richmond.
Certainly, they can try. On CBS, Cantor said "I hope that we're able to put a repeal bill on the floor," Cantor said, referring to the new health care law.
The early statements from Cantor and Boehner hammer home the point: The GOP knows the tea party provided much-needed enthusiasm for a party that was left for dead after the 2006 and 2008 elections.