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Democrats win the Senate and Republicans close in on winning the House

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A week after Election Day, we now finally have a clearer picture of what the next Congress will look like. Republicans at this hour are one seat short of picking up a majority in the House. They are on track to do so, but their majority would be very slim. And Democrats will again control the Senate. So to look at where things stand, we bring in NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hey there.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hello, Mary Louise.

KELLY: This means, among other things, divided government come January again. Tell me what you're watching for.

MONTANARO: Well, it's going to be really hard for anyone to get a lot done. I mean, Republicans are only probably going to have a three- or four-seat majority, and that's going to mean a giant headache for Kevin McCarthy or whoever winds up being speaker of the House. You know, Democrats holding the Senate, on the other hand - important to them, they can block any conservative piece of legislation. They can continue to appoint federal judges. And, you know, importantly, if a Supreme Court nomination comes open, they'll be able to fill that vacancy that we saw - really important with the court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in the spotlight, of course, this year. And they can stop any potential Biden administration impeachments if any come their way.

But there's - you know, that's not a whole heck of a lot. You know, Democrats won't be able to get much done on their own, certainly. The filibuster is still there, and anything they pass isn't going to get through the Republican-controlled House. And we know compromise for a lot of Republicans in the House is a dirty word.

KELLY: So that's the state of play. With the election now a week behind us, what are the major lessons, big takeaways you have identified from these midterms?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, I think a really big one is - you know, the key message was that people don't want extremes. You know, undoubtedly abortion rights was also a major factor. It can't be overlooked. It was a key motivator for a lot of voters. And I think those two things are related. You know, big majorities said the Supreme Court had gone too far with their overturning of Roe v. Wade. And there were lots of Trump-backed candidates up and down the ballot who bought into Trump's lies about the 2020 election and lost in competitive places. A lot of them, though, did something Trump still hasn't done. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

DOUG MASTRIANO: Josh Shapiro will be our next governor, and I ask everyone to give him the opportunity and to pray that he makes the decisions that are beneficial for the state and not necessarily for his party.

DON BOLDUC: Maggie Hassan has won. I was told the protocol was to call her first. But I'm not one for protocol.

MONTANARO: So first there you heard Doug Mastriano, the Republican Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate who lost, and a reluctant concession there from Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, who ran for that Senate seat on the Republican side, but a concession nonetheless.

KELLY: Yeah.

MONTANARO: And the fact is, if you were to hear that exit polls would show inflation to be the top issue, Republicans would be more trusted to handle that and that 73% of the electorate would be white, you wouldn't be blamed if you thought that this was going to be a Republican wave here. Without a doubt, though, it was these Trump candidates or candidates viewed as too extreme in competitive districts who cost Republicans in the House and the Senate.

KELLY: I mean, stay with the Trump candidates because Trump did lean in on a bunch of races. He made big endorsements, especially in battleground states. It did not turn out as he might have thought it would.

MONTANARO: No. And he endorsed people up and down the ballot, from governors to senators to even Staten Island borough president, you know? And that helped many of these candidates get through GOP primaries, even boosted them. But in general, elections in purple states and swing districts - so many of them lost. It's just a different ballgame. In those decisive Senate races, his candidates in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada all lost. His candidate in Georgia was trailing the Democrat and is now headed for a runoff next month. And in the House, looking at the numbers, his candidates faired pretty terribly in competitive races.

Our intern, Katherine Schwartz, put together a list of races that the Cook Political Report rated lean or toss-up. There were 64 of them Trump endorsed. In 21 of those, only seven won. It was even worse if you zoom in and look at the most competitive races. In just the toss-ups, only one of Trump's candidates has won. The numbers really just speak for themselves. And yet tonight Trump appears to be ready to launch another presidential run despite the evidence that his brand and style of politics continues just not to be very popular in purple states.

KELLY: So what do you make, Domenico, of the timing? Why is he making this announcement now?

MONTANARO: It really is coming from a place of weakness. You know, he wants to try and clear the field and force Republican elected officials to get off the sidelines and endorse him. He doesn't want to give any more oxygen, by the way, to someone like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who a lot of Republicans are looking at as the future, a sort of cultural Trump candidate without all the chaos and drama - no doubt there's a reckoning coming here.

KELLY: Domenico Montanaro, thank you.

MONTANARO: You got it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.