The president can't do much without Congress' help – so it matters which party wins

Republicans control the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, but could that change?
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The U.S. House and U.S. Senate are important.

Whichever party (Democrats or Republicans) has a majority in the chambers has a higher chance of getting bills it likes passed. It also makes it easier to stop bills the party doesn't like.

Right now the Republicans control the House and Senate. Here's what might happen if they hold on to one, or both – or if Democrats take full control.

The House

The U.S. House of Representatives is currently in Republican hands – they've got 247 representatives to the Democrats’ 188. Republicans need to avoid losing 30 seats to stay in control – or Democrats need to win 30 seats to gain control (without losing any in the process).

That's a lot of seats, which is why many political pundits are pretty confident Republicans will maintain control of the House, no matter what happens in the presidential or U.S. Senate races.

There hasn't been enough evidence in the polls to show that Democrats will win the majority, The Associated Press reported over the weekend, but political strategists estimate the DFL will close the representation gap a little bit by picking up 10-15 seats in the House.

The Senate

Republicans control the U.S. Senate with a 54-46 majority (there are two independents, but they align themselves with Democrats).

There are 34 seats up for grabs on Tuesday (but not for Minnesota - ours aren't up this year). Of those, 24 are held by Republicans.

Democrats have a slightly better chance to gain control compared to the House – they only need a net gain of five seats to win the majority (and only four if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wins the White House, because her vice president breaks ties in a 50-50 Senate).

But the race remains tight, with FiveThirtyEight reporting Democrats have a 49.3 percent chance of taking control as of Monday morning. The Washington Post said Saturday 12 key races will determine things.

“It’s amazing how many of these races remain close,” Steve Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, told FOX News. “The slightest shift in the electorate [or] polling errors could move any of these races from one candidate to the other.”

What could all this mean?

A quick brush up on civics: The U.S. House and U.S. Senate write laws, then vote on them. If a law passes both, it goes to the president – who can sign it into law or veto it. So any time a presidential candidate says they want to do X or Y or Z, remember they can really only do it if Congress is on board as well.

If Clinton wins the White House, but Republicans maintain control over Congress:

That could make it harder for Clinton to get the things she wants done, done.

GOP lawmakers – like they have under Obama – can ignore any proposals she has, and block matching proposals from Democratic congressmen. So if Clinton wants to get something done, she'll likely have to compromise significantly to get the Republicans to vote for it.

If Trump wins, and the House and Senate stay under Republican control:

Things could get done with less turbulence, since they share some goals. That includes possibly overhauling the Affordable Care Act and immigration laws.

If Democrats gain control of the Senate:

It could be crucial if Clinton wins the White House, Bloomberg explained. Whichever party has the majority in the Senate sets the agenda, decides what issues to take up, and votes on executive branch and judicial appointments. Such as ...

The Supreme Court

The Senate is tasked with voting on a new U.S. Supreme Court justice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February.

Currently, there are four judges appointed by Democratic presidents and four appointed by Republicans, so this ninth judge is in many ways a tiebreaker. They will help chart the political and ideological future of the country's highest court for years to come.

But so far, the Republican-controlled Senate hasn't given a hearing to Obama's nomination – Judge Merrick Garland, a moderate – saying the next president should pick the new justice. Their hope is that a Republican will win the White House and then nominate another conservative to replace Scalia.

If the current Senate doesn't vote on Obama's nomination by the end of the year, the new president will get to nominate a justice, and the new Senate will confirm (or not confirm) the pick.

If Clinton wins the White House and Republicans maintain control of the Senate:

At least three GOP Senators have said they would continue to block the Democrat's Supreme Court nominee, and have the court continue with just eight justices, NPR reported.

If she wins and Democrats take control of the Senate:

They would most likely chance the filibuster rule, which would mean a nominee could be confirmed by a simple majority vote (not the 60 votes required to break a filibuster ... yes, this is all weirdly complicated).

If Donald Trump wins and the Senate remains in control of the GOP:

Whoever he picks would likely get confirmed.

If Democrats win the Senate with a Trump presidency:

They could adopt the GOP's tactic and boycott confirming a new justice until the next presidency.

Want more? FiveThirtyEight's election podcast on Sunday dove into a preview of the House and Senate ahead Election Day. Check out this interactive map to forecast what party will control the Senate, or this interactive map to play around with House projections.

To find news, commentary, and local events leading up to the 2016 election, head to Go Vote MN. Go Vote MN is hosting an Election Eve Party at Mill City Nights on Monday featuring Dilated Peoples and Allan Kingdom.

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