What the House of Representatives means in US politics - and how it could change at the mid-terms

Rozina Sabur
The US House of Representatives - Bloomberg

The House of Representatives is the lower chamber of the US Congress and is made up of 435 seats. 

The number of seats each US state receives depends on its population size. California, the most populous state, has 53 representatives while seven states - Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming have just one representative.

The Republican Party currently controls the chamber with a 43-seat majority, but it is widely expected that the Democrats will gain control in the upcoming election. 

The current House has 236 Republicans and 193 Democrats, with six vacant seats. 

The Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to win a majority, which is no small accomplishment, but the president's low approval ratings have given the party reason to hope. 

How things could change

Historically, the president's party routinely loses House seats in midterm elections. Indeed the University of Virginia's Centre for Politics points out that the president's party has lost seats in all but three of the 29 midterms held since 1900.  

The US economy is booming, with low unemployment rates and rising wages. However some Republicans have been unnerved by Donald Trump's spending .

While Mr Trump's tax cuts for corporations was popular among business owners, the country's deficit has increased by 33 per cent in the past year to $895 billion.

Donald Trump has been intensively campaigning for Republican candidates across the country Credit: Reuters

Mr Trump's approval rating is around the 40 per cent mark - a figure which will not encourage Republicans standing for re-election.  Moreover, a liberal base hoping to derail Mr Trump's agenda has energised Democratic activists in key races, out-fundraising and out-polling a host of Republican incumbents.

Political website FiveThirtyEight, has given Democrats an 82 per cent chance of taking control of the House and gaining 38 seats.

What will it mean for Donald Trump?

If Democrats win the House, they get to decide which bills come to the floor - meaning President Donald Trump's domestic agenda will struggle to make its way into law. 

The party with a majority in the chamber also controls its committee chairmanships and has the power to issue subpoenas - so a Democrat-controlled House could enforce aggressive oversight of investigations of the president's administration, including alleged Russia collusion, Trump's business dealings and sexual assault allegations against him.

Pundits predict Democrats will launch controversial investigations into things like Mr Trump's tax returns and his previous business dealings. They may also seek public hearings with members of the Trump family, including his son Donald Jr who is a key figure in the Russia investigation. 

Rep. Elijah Cummings during a church service with Bill Clinton Credit: AP

Democrats on the House oversight committee, the chamber’s main investigative panel, have already suggested they are prepared to issue subpoenas if they gain control.

Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee, said: “If Democrats win the majority in November, we would finally do what Republicans have refused to do, and that is conduct independent, fact-based, and credible investigations of the Trump administration".

Mr Cummings said their investigations would "address issues like the security clearance process, conflicts of interest, the numerous attempts by Republicans to strip away healthcare from millions of Americans, postal service reforms, prescription drug pricing, and voting rights”.

But if Republicans hold on to the Senate, they will continue to approve Mr Trump's cabinet nominees and appoint conservative judges to US courtrooms. 

Seats to watch

West Virginia

Donald Trump won West Virginia's 3rd district by 30 points. But it is the Democratic candidate running in the district, which has a long history of coal mining, that is gaining national attention. Richard Ojeda says he voted for Donald Trump in 2016, opposes universal background checks for gun buyers, and is pro-coal.

Mr Ojeda is running against Republican Carol Miller in the open-seat race after the incumbent Republican Evan Jenkins vacated the seat to run for the Senate. 

Polling suggests it will be a tight race between the two candidates, but analysts are keeping a close watch to see if a populist Democrat in a pro-Trump area is a winning formula.

California

Republican Representative Mimi Walters is battling to keep hold of her seat against Democrat Katie Porter in the state's 45th district, Orange County. The number of registered Republicans in the county has consistently declined as its population becomes more diverse.

Ms Walters is one of seven Republicans representing districts in California which Hillary Clinton won in 2016. The Democrats need to take several of these in order to have a chance of regaining a majority in the House.

Pundits are viewing a win in this race as a sign they will do well across Southern California - picking up crucial Republican-held seats. Professor Larry Sabato from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics has changed his prediction from 'leaning Republican' to a 'toss-up'.

Minnesota

Minnesota's 8th district is considered one of the Democrats' most at-risk seats in November. It is a traditionally Democrat area - former president Barack Obama won the district twice but it swung heavily to Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

The seat is currently held by Democrat Rick Nolan but the 74-year-old is not seeking re-election. The party's candidate Joe Radinovich, a former state legislator, is facing a tough battle against Republican Pete Stauber, a county commissioner.

Texas

The race in Texas' 23rd district will largely focus on one of the Trump administration's main concerns - immigration. The district contains a third of the US-Mexico border and has the second highest population of 'Dreamers' - the term given to undocumented migrants who arrived in America as children and have been granted temporary protection.

The incumbent, Republican Will Hurd, is a former CIA agent who has chosen to distance himself from Mr Trump. His Democratic rival, Gina Ortiz Jones, is a Filipina-American, openly LGBTQ and an Iraq veteran. 

Mr Hurd, who became the first African-American elected to Congress from Texas when he was elected in 2015, is tipped to win by a narrow margin in the swing district. 

He has distanced himself from the national Republican party and even wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in July stating that the president had been manipulated by Russian intelligence.

Florida

Moderate Republicans will be looking to Florida's 26th district to see whether they can keep hold of a largely Hispanic area in the Trump era.

The incumbent, Carlos Curbelo, is well-liked but Republicans still fear his Democrat opponent, Latin immigrant Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, could sweep to a surprise victory. Hillary Clinton won the district by 16 points in 2015.