Trump will have to deal with at least one branch of government being against him now (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: What happens now after US midterms?

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. This morning, it’s a US midterm elections special edition. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of NZ news and features if you scroll down the page. 

It wasn’t quite a blue wave, but the Democratic Party has restored some semblance of balance to American politics. The numbers aren’t yet final, but they retook control of the House of Representatives, breaking the Republican party’s grip on all three branches of government. It will allow the Democrats to slow Donald Trump’s agenda down significantly through a deadlocked Congress. That makes moderate Democrat House leader Nancy Pelosi pretty powerful again, and as Politico reports, it should help them lay the groundwork for 2020. It also gives Democrats the power to start impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump, something CNN reports their voters say they want. But that would likely go nowhere, as the Republicans still control the Senate.

What does it mean for Trump and the Republicans? The New York Times have put out some early analysis that this was basically a case of suburban voters looking to put a check on the Trump Presidency. His party will still get to control Supreme Court nominations (through the Presidency) and confirmations (through the Senate) considered to be one of the major reasons why evangelical Christians turn out to vote for such a vulgar dude.

The new Senate also won’t really include Republican critics of Trump – it’s firmly his party now – except for the new senator for Utah Mitt Romney, a former Presidential candidate who has decidedly mixed feelings about Trump. Mr Trump has been giving a speech this morning (live stream here) saying there could be a chance for bi-partisanship, but he’s also trashed a lot of Republican losers, saying they lost because they didn’t embrace him. He also lied a lot during the speech (eg, “right now we’ve got some of the cleanest air and the cleanest water we’ve ever had”) so it’s likely very little will change on that front.

And for the Democrats? Some of their star candidates didn’t win. Beto O’Rourke came close to unseating Ted Cruz in Texas – despite that, people are already calling for him to run for President in 2020. Andrew Gillum also lost the race for governor of Florida, and Stacey Abrams lost the governor race in Georgia, but is refusing to concede – more on that below. Overall it wasn’t a bad night for the party, and as this piece in the New Statesman, they’ve laid the ground for a new generation of political leadership.

It was a much better night for statewide races for the Democrats, who picked up the keys to at least seven governor’s mansions, reports USA Today. And the data is seriously incomplete, but it seems like it was a good night for them in areas like State Senates and Attorney General races. That is sort of to be expected though, given they won the popular vote in House races (as close as this election comes to a nationwide poll) by about 7 percentage points according to 538.

But of course, the people have spoken. Or rather, some people have spoken. While turnout was way up on previous non-Presidential election years, the democratic deficit in parts of the USA has been on full display. The state of Georgia was one example of this, outlined in this Boston Globe piece. Brian Kemp, the Republican winner, was Secretary of State heading into the race, meaning he got to set a lot of the rules. And at best you could say he played dirty – at worst, you’d say he stole the election through widespread voter suppression. Given how many of the issues disproportionately affected black voters, it’s not a long way away from the bad old Jim Crow days.

There were a wide range of issues in other states too, reports the Washington Post (paywalled) from broken voting machines, to insufficient numbers of ballot papers, to hours-long lines to vote. Mostly they happened in predominantly ethnic minority areas. Could it have had an effect in close races? It’s hard to prove conclusively, but it should be considered as a factor in any analysis. There was a bright spot here – Florida voted to restore voting rights to felons, which the Miami Herald reports will affect around 1.5 million people in the state.

Then there’s the questions around whether votes are fairly weighted in the USA. Arguably, no, they aren’t. That’s especially true for the Senate, where each state (from Wyoming with 600,000 people, to California with 40 million) has two representatives. There are reasons for that – it ensures that even small states will have a voice. But at the same time, it must really rankle those from the big states to know how weak their voting power is. And then there’s the gerrymandering, a process by which House district boundaries are drawn so that they screw the scrum in favour of the party in power – here’s a CNN story outlining the most ridiculous examples. There’s probably a lot of lessons for other countries in how the USA conducts their elections – ie, whatever the Americans do, try doing the opposite instead.

Right, that’s that for the midterm wrap. If you want more, relive the experience with our live blog yesterday. Now it’s time to get back to the regular format of The Bulletin, which is New Zealand news, and a lot of that happened too over the last 24 hours.


The government has quietly reversed a Kiwibuild provision against house-flipping, reports Newshub. Previously Kiwibuild owners who sold up within five years of buying would have had to give up all their capital gains, but now they’ll get to keep 70% of those capital gains if they sell within three years. And given Kiwibuild houses are priced somewhat under the market, there could be some very tasty capital gains to be made.

This is significant, because critics of Kiwibuild have described it as a lottery, where those who win the ballot will end up with a huge leg-up. On the basis of this and other areas that have been softened, it’s pretty hard to argue with that. Housing minister Phil Twyford defended the change, saying it would have been “draconian” for the government to have expected to pocket all the capital windfall. Owners will also need to get a dispensation to sell within the three year window.


Unemployment is way down, to the lowest level since the global financial crisis in 2008, reports Stuff. It’s now 3.9%, down 0.5% on the last quarter, and that’s a big deal because at the time it looked like the unemployment rate might be about to start rising again. It will be really interesting to see how the Reserve Bank responds to this, and whether it will have an impact on interest rates. They’ll be making a statement this morning.


The economic value of drug law reform has been laid bare in a new report, covered by The Spinoff. The Drug Foundation propose decriminalising personal use of all drugs, with importing, manufacture and supply still illegal. Economist Shamubeel Eaqub, who wrote the report, said the economic benefits of that would be worth tens of millions of dollars each year. That’s not even taking into account the potential tax revenue of a legal and regulated marijuana market. In response to the speech, Green MP Chloe Swarbrick made a particularly fiery speech in Parliament.


Parliament has passed the oil and gas exploration ban, reports Radio NZ. It puts a cap on what has been one of the government’s big projects for the year. In response, the National Party vowed to reverse it. Interestingly, Canadian oil company Tag Oil also announced yesterday that they were going to sell their NZ rigs, to a company that specialises in wringing the last few drops out of oil wells, reports One News.


100 years ago yesterday, New Zealand administrators allowed a deadly influenza to break out in Samoa, killing thousands. The story is covered in great detail in this feature from RNZ Pacific, and it ranks as one of the great crimes of New Zealand’s colonial history. The ramifications are still being felt today too, and for an insight on that I’d suggest you watch this documentary from The Coconet.


Some big shout outs this morning to one past and one present Spinoff star, from the NZSA Business Journalism Awards. Former business editor Rebecca Stevenson won feature of the year for this piece on the rise and fall of CricHQ. And the young business journalist of the year award went to Madeleine Chapman, who broke the World misleading labelling story wide open, and is straight up one of the best writers in the country. A big congratulations also to Jenny Ruth from the NBR, who won both the news reporting award, and the Supreme Award for her work on Fletcher Building.


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A sheep that thinks it is a train. Photo: Getty

Right now on The Spinoff: Former National minister Wayne Mapp writes about Labour and trains – the party has a vision, but do they have a plan? Tani Khara writes about the hate that gets thrown at vegans, and wonders why it happens. And Scotty Stevenson writes about the weirdness of rugby refs never discussing decisions.


A clarification from yesterday, based on some feedback I got in the emails. Toni wasn’t happy with the way the midwives story was presented, and I completely accept her criticism on the details, even if the overall picture remains of a profession in crisis. In the spirit of that, here’s her letter to the editor:

“I support midwives, I really do, but your piece this morning is a little misleading. The midwives that are going on strike are those employed by DHBs, they are the ones who usually have set shifts at a hospital or birthing centre.

You described the job that best describes the job that LMC (lead maternity carers) do, and while they are both midwives, one has a larger roll with almost no base salary (LMCs as they are “self employed” and have to bill the DHB at a set rate), and the other has a base pay, that doesn’t fluctuate based on the number of pregnant people (or those who have just given birth) in their care, or at what point in pregnancy they pick up the patient, or the type of birth (elective c-section vs starting labour).”

So thank you Toni for sending that through, and I really encourage everyone who reckons I’ve got something wrong to do the same. This whole thing works way better when it’s two-way, and I’m well aware a lot of smart people read this.


In sport, spare a thought this morning for Central Districts bowler Willem Ludick, who got plundered for 43 runs off an over in the Ford Trophy yesterday. The NZ Herald has a compilation of the big hits, and in fairness, Ludick was bowling some filth, but maybe not 43 off an over level of filth. Weirdly for a domestic cricket match, an actual sports journo was there to cover it – read this twitter thread from Ian Anderson, it’s quite a ride.

And meanwhile over in the Black Caps game against Pakistan, Trent Boult took a hattrick this morning! The game is still ongoing, but the Black Caps are looking good – here’s a live scorecard.


From our partners, World Energy Day has put a spotlight on New Zealand’s sluggish progress towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Vector’s Beth Johnson explains why the time is right to accelerate.


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