Divided Government

CLP Current Event: January 22, 2019

Is divided government also limited government? What were the Framers thinking when they counted on the separation of powers?

Brought to teachers by Susie Marcus, CLP consultant, with CLP staff.

News Sources

Shutdown update: some moderate Republican senators are starting to signal a break with Trump, by Li Zhou, Vox, January 16, 2019
“A bipartisan group of the most moderate senators are now attempting to appeal directly to President Trump to reopen the government for three weeks while negotiations continue over funding for border security. The group so far, Politico reports, includes Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Rob Portman (R-OH), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Chris Coons (D-DE).”

The astonishing effects of the shutdown, in 8 charts, by Javier Zarracina and Li Zhou, Vox, January 14, 2019
“The current shutdown is only a partial one, as Congress has already funded 75 percent of the federal government until September. Right now, there are still seven outstanding spending bills that have yet to be passed, which affect nine federal departments including Agriculture, Transportation, and the Interior.
Because of the way funding is doled out across agencies, certain services are affected even though they may technically fall under departments that have already been covered. The FDA, for example, is under the Department of Health and Human Services, but receives funding from USDA as well, a gap in funds that’s led to a pause in some food safety operations.”

Pelosi’s next challenge is governing liberals in an era of divided government, by Paul Kane, The Washington Post, December 15, 2018
“More than 60 percent of the 235 Democrats taking the oath on Jan. 3 have no experience from Pelosi’s first run as speaker. The number of Democrats under the age of 50 doubled — about one in four members of the caucus are young enough to be the children of Pelosi, 78, or her two top lieutenants, Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, 79, of Maryland, and James E. Clyburn, 78, of South Carolina.”

Everything you need to know about House Democrats’ leadership elections, by Ella Nilsen, Vox, November 28, 2018
“All signs point to Pelosi, currently the minority leader in the House, clinching that nomination. After serving as speaker from 2007 to 2011, Pelosi is running unopposed for the job again. She just needs a simple majority of Democrats to be the nominee. In January, she needs 218 votes to win; she can afford to lose 16 votes from her party, which could rise to 17 if California Democrat T.J. Cox wins his extremely tight race against Republican Rep. David Valadao.”

Sen.-elect Mitt Romney says a divided Congress may force people to work together, by Thomas Burr, The Salt Lake Tribune, November 16, 2018
“The newly elected Utah Republican says with Democrats leading the House and Republicans holding the Senate, the only way Washington doesn’t get mired in pure gridlock is if the two sides come together and compromise.”

Unifying issues for a divided Congress? Try American infrastructure and energy, by Mike Sommers and Sean McGarvey, The Hill, November 13, 2018
“Our public infrastructure and energy policies should know no party and bring out the maverick in politicians on both sides of the aisle. Infrastructure and energy affect every single American every single day — they are simply too important to fall victim to the same partisan calculations as with other issues.”
CLP: Opinion

Divided US Congress to Test Bipartisanship – Again, by Michael Bowman, VOA, November 9, 2018
“Despite numerous areas of potential conflict, a politically divided and ideologically polarized U.S. Congress may find limited areas of cooperation between the two chambers and President Donald Trump beginning in January, according to political observers.”

Americans want a new consensus on immigration. Divided government could deliver it., by Ali Noorani, USA Today, November 8, 2018
“Left with nowhere to go are two-thirds of the American public — or, as More in Common’s research identified them, the “Exhausted Majority.” Their views on different issues range across the spectrum but they share certain characteristics: they are turned off by polarization, disregarded in the public discourse, and quite flexible in their views.”
CLP: Opinion

Questions to Consider

  • What is divided government?
  • How do checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches work?
  • What checks and balances exist between the two branches of Congress? What power accrues to Committee chairpersons?
  • Why are these checks a vital part of our system?
  • What connections between the branches need to work for the government to function well? Can either branch work independently of the other?
  • How did the Founders view the branches? What were the most significant powers of the House and the Senate?
  • What opportunities does divided government offer? What obstacles might divided government bring?
  • What positive outcomes might be achieved by a divided government? Might legislative action in a divided government address the problems of infrastructure, health care, and security? Why or why not?
  • Is the Democratic party also divided between new and more seasoned representatives What might be the effect of differences within the party?
  • What is the significance of the diversity of members who were elected to the House of Representatives in November 2018? Minorities, women, veterans, younger candidates
    What is the meaning of the large number of voters in the November 2018 mid term election?
  • What are the policy priorities of the new majority party in the House of Representatives?
  • What are the leadership challenges for the Democratic majority? How might the choice for Speaker of the House indicate the direction of the new divided government?

Background and More

A Case for Divided Government, by William A. Niskanen, CATO Institute, May 7, 2003

US Government: House of Representatives, Ducksters Education Site

US Government: The Senate, Ducksters Education Site

Lesson Plans

The Nature and Function of Congress, Lumen Learning
CLP: High School

Teaching and Learning About Governmental Checks and Balances and the Trump Administration, by Michael Gonchar, The New York Times, February 16, 2017
CLP: Middle School; short video on checks and balances

Constitutional and Legal Connections

44 former US senators urge current Senate to defend democracy in op-ed, by Kate Sullivan, CNN, December 10, 2018

What constitutional powers do the Democrats get by winning the House?, by Scott Bomboy, Constitution Daily, November 7, 2018

Is divided government good or bad for the country?, by Dr. Steven Frank, Constitution Daily, November 30, 2010

Oregon Connections

Dominant Election Gives Oregon Democrats Clearer Path On Policies, by Dirk VanderHart, OPB, November 8, 2018

2018 election analysis: State government trifectas, Ballotpedia, November 16, 2018

Oregon State Social Science Standards

8.8 Evaluate information from a variety of sources and perspectives.
8.21 Analyze important political and ethical values such as freedom, democracy, equality and justice embodied in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
8.26 Examine a controversial event, issue, or problem from more than one perspective.
HS.18 Analyze the impact of human migration on physical and human systems (e.g., urbanization, immigration, urban to rural).
HS.28 Evaluate how governments interact at the local, state, tribal, national, and global levels.
HS.31 Describe United States foreign policy and evaluate its impact on the United States and other countries.
HS.33 Explain the role of government in various current events.
HS.35 Examine the pluralistic realities of society (e.g., race, poverty, gender and age), recognizing issues of equity, and evaluating need for change.
HS.59 Demonstrate the skills and dispositions needed to be a critical consumer of information.
HS.60. Analyze an event, issue, problem, or phenomenon from varied or opposing perspectives or points of view.

We the People Lesson Connections

Middle School, Level 2

  • Unit 6, Lesson 28: What is the relationship of the United States to other nations in the world?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 30: How might citizens participate in civic affairs?

High School, Level 3

  • Unit 6, Lesson 34: What is the importance of civic engagement to American constitutional democracy?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 37: What key challenges does the United States face in the future?