US midterms: First results hours away as Biden's presidency faces change regardless of results

The polls are beginning to close in the American midterm elections with, next, the all-important and nowadays rather sensitive process of the count. ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy reports

Joe Biden’s presidency is set for profound changes no matter what Tuesday’s midterm elections bring.

In public, Biden professed optimism to the end, telling Democratic state party officials on election eve that “we’re going to surprise the living devil out of people.”

In private, though, White House aides have been drawing up contingencies should Republicans take control of one, or both, chambers of Congress.

That's a scenario Biden said would make his life “more difficult.”

Regardless of the outcome, the votes will help reshape the balance of Biden’s term after an ambitious first two years in office.

In his first two years Biden had pushed through sweeping bills to address the Covid pandemic, rebuild national infrastructure, address climate change and boost the nation’s competitiveness with China - all while maintaining the slimmest of congressional majorities.

Now, aides and allies say his focus will turn to preserving those gains ahead of the next presidential election.

Should Republicans win control of Congress, Biden allies are gearing up for fights on keeping the government funded and its financial obligations met, sustaining support for Ukraine and protecting his signature legislative achievements from repeal efforts.

Republican wins could also usher in a host of candidates whom Biden has branded as threats to democracy - based on their refusal to acknowledge the results of the 2020 presidential race.

Joe Biden. Credit: AP

The Biden administration has been preparing for a flood of investigations should Republicans take over one or both chambers - devising strategies to address probes into the chaotic US military pull-out from Afghanistan and presidential son Hunter Biden’s business dealings.

If the Republicans take power, Princeton University Historian Julian Zelizer said, history shows it would be “very effective” for Biden to “focus on their extremism, and to turn their new power against them".

White House aides and allies have been closely monitoring the clamouring on the right to investigate or even impeach Biden.

Credit: AP

The potential shift comes as Biden, at 79, has repeated his intention to run for re-election.

He will need to make a final decision soon, perhaps teeing up a rematch against former President Donald Trump, who has teased his own expected announcement on November 15.

A bad midterm outcome doesn’t preclude a president’s re-election - historically incumbents are strongly favoured to win another term.

But Zelizer said that even presidents who manage to defy history and avoid major losses or hold their majorities are forced to change course for the balance of their terms.

When pressed by reporters on why Biden hadn’t done more to outline what he hopes to accomplish in his next two years, White House Press Secretary Jean-Pierre said: “Why not just tell the country what we have done. Why not just lay that out. Which we have.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.