EDITORIAL: Show of strength on both sides

York Dispatch Editorial Board
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., gives a victory speech during his election night party in Scranton, Pa., on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (Jake Danna Stevens/The Times-Tribune via AP)

It may not have been a blue wave of tidal proportions, but congressional Democrats will be able to do more than shout from the sidelines following Tuesday’s midterm elections.

After picking up more than two dozen seats in the House of Representatives — including several in newly redrawn districts in Pennsylvania — Democrats will take control of the chamber come January.

While that precludes the party steering the legislative agenda — Republicans added to their Senate majority — it provides the first real check on a president and administration that has operated largely without meaningful oversight.

Republican allies like Rep. Devin Nunes of California — who currently chairs the House Intelligence Committee — have used their positions and access to sensitive information to alert and abet the administration, rather than hold it to account.

Democratic leadership of House committees — and the subpoena power they will now wield — stands to provide a more serious check on the administration’s activities in areas such immigration and Russian elections meddling, and on the president’s personal and business dealings.

Of course, that’s assuming President Donald Trump accepts the role of congressional oversight by the opposition party. A preemptive Twitter-delivered shot across the bow Wednesday morning warning Democrats against congressional investigations indicated that isn’t likely.

That’s hardly surprising, considering the president has yet to experience serious congressional pushback and his disrespect for the norms of politics are a hallmark. Aggressive Democratic efforts to, for example, pry loose the president’s tax returns could well open the door to a prolonged and deeply partisan political chapter.

Republicans, meanwhile, are celebrating their increased strength in the Senate. Though their majority in the upper chamber was never seriously in doubt, the GOP awoke Wednesday with at least a four-seat majority. Additional gains are possible following resolution of undecided races in Montana and Arizona, and a run-off in Mississippi.

That leaves Democratic Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, who easily turned back a challenge by Rep. Lou Barletta, as part of the vocal minority.

It also means the parade of right-leaning federal judges orchestrated by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and happily signed off on by Trump will continue unabated.

Closer to home, Pennsylvania’s state and federal representation now looks more like the voters represented.

New, more fairly drawn political districts erased Republicans’ laughably one-sided 13-5 congressional majority, resulting in a more representative 9-9 split. Among those nine Democrats are four women — Madeleine Dean, Chrissy Houlahan, Mary Gay Scanlon and Susan Wild. That’s four more women then are currently representing Pennsylvania in Washington — a welcome correction.

Among House GOP incumbents retaining their seats was third-term Rep. Scott Perry, who edged out a victory thanks in large part to an 11,000-vote advantage in York County.

At the state level, Gov. Tom Wolf, who cruised to a second-term win over challenger Scott Wagner, will find a few more allies in Harrisburg next term. While Republicans retained control of both state houses, preliminary results indicate their majorities will be just a seat or two in the Senate and fewer than 20 in the House — far more modest advantages than previous majorities.

The comfortable statewide wins by Wolf and Casey, coupled with Democratic gains in congressional and state-level representation, can be seen as a correction of sorts among the Pennsylvania electorate, which famously reversed a generation of Democratic presidential preference in 2016 to help propel Trump to the White House.

But the success of Republicans in retaining control of the statehouse and among congressional candidates like Perry, Mike Kelly and Brian Fitzpatrick in fending off Democratic challenges shows Republican blood continues to pump strong through many of the state’s political arteries.

All of which is likely to position Pennsylvania in its traditional role as battleground state when candidates for the White House once again fight for the hearts of voters just two short years from now.