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ELECTION WRAPUP: Congress splits, pro-life measures fall short

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WASHINGTON (BP) – The next Congress will be a divided one.

The Associated Press (AP) declared a winner in a California election race Wednesday (Nov. 16) that, as a result, gave Republicans 218 seats and the majority in the next House of Representatives. The call more than a week after the Nov. 8 election means each political party will control a chamber when the 118th Congress convenes in January after Democrats owned majorities in both houses in the current session.

In each case, the party in control will have a slim majority. As of 1 p.m. CST Thursday (Nov. 17), AP’s results showed a 218-211 margin for the GOP in the House. Winners in six races have yet to be determined, according to AP.

Meanwhile, Democrats maintained control of the Senate by what may prove to be the narrowest of margins once again. The Democrats hold a 50-49 edge with the winner in Georgia yet to be determined. The race between Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker will be decided in a Dec. 6 runoff.

If Warnock loses, the Democrats will retain control in an evenly divided chamber. A 50-50 division, which has been true the last two years, will still give them the majority by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote as president of the Senate.

Little significant progress is to be expected from a divided Congress with slender majorities, but opportunities will exist for Southern Baptist public witness, Brent Leatherwood told Baptist Press.

“Many expected Republican gains in Congress, especially the House,” said Leatherwood, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “But almost no one predicted it would result in such a slim majority for GOP representatives. With Democrats retaining control of the U.S. Senate, we should expect one thing: Gridlock.

The current speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, announced Thursday from the House floor she would step down as the Democratic leader while remaining in Congress. Pelosi, 82, has served as her party’s House leader for two decades. Screen capture via TheHill.com.

“Because of that, my expectations are low for anything consequential in Congress being accomplished on the issues that are important for our convention of churches,” he said in written comments. “But, at the same time, it will likely mean a helpful check on some of the areas of disagreement we have with the agenda put forth by the Biden administration on matters related to abortion and SOGI [sexual orientation/gender identity] initiatives.

“But the bottom line for the next two years is that if either side wants to advance something meaningful, it will require bipartisan consensus building. And ‘bipartisanship’ is not a word many would use to describe Washington right now.”

Leatherwood added, “Still, even in an environment where little movement takes place, there’s an opportunity for our commission to continue speaking a convictional word from our churches to those in authority and ministering to all who work in the public square. That’s a vital service in this deeply polarized era of American political life.”

In contrast to the current Congress, Republican control of the House will make a considerable difference in at least which bills receive votes.

This new reality is likely to be especially true on the issue of abortion. The House has approved measures expanding abortion rights with Democrats in control the last two years – something a Republican majority is not expected to countenance. The Democratic-controlled Senate has failed to forward those bills to President Joe Biden, though he supported them. The Senate rule requiring 60 votes to cut off debate for action on legislation to take place has been helpful to pro-life advocates.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California and Sen. Mitch McConnell – the Republican leaders in the House and Senate, respectively – turned back challengers for their posts in GOP conference votes Wednesday. To become speaker of the House, however, McCarthy will have to win a majority of the full chamber when the new session begins in January.

The current speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, announced Thursday from the House floor she would step down as the Democratic leader while remaining in Congress. Pelosi, 82, has served as her party’s House leader for two decades.

The leadership developments in Congress came after former President Donald Trump announced Nov. 15 his intention to run again for president in 2024. Running as a Republican, Trump won the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton but lost in 2020 to Biden.

In state votes, the defeat of a pro-life measure in Montana handed abortion-rights advocates their sixth consecutive victory in ballot initiatives since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion in June. By reversing Roe, the high court returned abortion regulation to state governments.

The result for Montana’s Born-alive Infant Protection Act was not called until Nov. 10, two days after the election. The final results showed the proposal failed by about 22,500 votes or 53-47 percent. The measure would have required a health-care provider to “take all medically appropriate and reasonable actions to preserve the life and health” of a child born alive, including one who survives an abortion.

Barrett Duke, executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, told BP, “I am saddened for the children who will die because health-care workers will not be compelled by law to do all they can to save the life of an infant born alive under any circumstances.

“With the abortion battle moving to the states, this referendum would have been a perfect opportunity for pro-life Montanans to begin providing more protections for the most vulnerable members of our society,” Duke said by email. “Clearly, we have more work to do to help more of our fellow Montanans embrace the sanctity of every human life. I’m sure we’ll be voting on this again in the near future.”

In other ballot initiatives Nov. 8, Kentucky voters rejected an amendment that would have affirmed the state constitution does not protect the right to abortion or require public funding of abortion. Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont approved constitutional amendments that guaranteed abortion rights. In August, Kansas voters defeated an amendment similar to the one that failed in Kentucky.