Post 2020 Election Analysis: What Happened, What’s Still in Doubt, and How Does It Impact Computing Research?

November 3rd has passed, but the 2020 Presidential Election is ongoing. While there are quite a lot of unknowns, not least of which is who was elected President, there are some things that we know right now. Additionally, we can point to some key races that are still undecided. What does this mean for federally supported research here in Washington? Let’s get into the details.

The Democratic Party will retain control of the House of Representatives, though likely with a reduced majority. There are a few members of the House Science Committee that we are watching (results are as of publication):

Kendra Horn – D – OK 5th – Science Committee Space and Aeronautics sub-committee chair; Stephanie Bice (R) elected
Dan Lipinski – D – IL 3rd – Third most senior Democrat on Science Committee; defeated in May primary

Too Close to Call:
Haley Stevens – D – MI 11th – Science Committee Research and Technology sub-committee chair
Mike Garcia – R – CA 25th – Science Committee member
Conor Lamb – D – PA 17th – Science Committee member

The leadership of the House Science Committee is likely to not change; Chairwoman Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Lucas (R-OK) are likely to keep their positions. As well, the key members of the committee should be returning (though one, Haley Stevens (D-MI), is a surprising open question). However, it’s worth keeping in mind that the rank and file membership of the committee is expected to be different. This is due to the relatively low profile of the Science Committee; i.e., once junior members attain more seniority, they tend to move on to higher profile committee assignments, while newly elected freshman members will take their place. The good news is any new members are potentially new research champions.

We did know going into this general election that we were losing one key Science Committee member, Dan Lipinski (D-IL), who lost his primary in May (Marie Newman (D), who beat Lipinski, won her election). Rep. Lipinski – one of only 17 PhDs in the House — has been a long-time champion for research on the committee and his leadership will be missed.

Turning to the Senate, it’s still unclear at publication time if control of the chamber has changed. There is a chance we won’t know who controls the chamber until the outcome of the Presidential election (i.e.: who is the tie-breaking VP?) is certain. In either case, we don’t anticipate significant differences in how the Senate will approach most research policy issues (though there is at least one piece of legislation that could get a big boost if Chuck Schumer (D-NY) becomes the Senate Majority Leader).

Getting into specific Senate races, we do know that a major GOP science champion was defeated: Cory Gardner (R) was beaten by John Hickenlooper (D) in Colorado. Senator Gardner made research investments a key issue during his time in office, even when many in his party were opposed to new spending. While Senator-elect Hickenlooper is likely to support research too, given the importance federally supported research is to his state, there is no guarantee he will be a leader to the same extent as Gardner. However, in a specific CS angle, while governor of Colorado, Hickenlooper was a big champion for computer science education.

Additionally, we are still waiting for the result of Gary Peters’ (D) election in Michigan. Senator Peters teamed up with Senator Gardner on multiple occasions to support and promote, on a bipartisan basis, federal science research. At publication time, Senator Peters contest with John James (R) is too close to call.

We did lose a Senate champion to retirement: Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee. A very long-time champion of Department of Energy research, as well as a promotor of STEM education, his leadership on the right side of the aisle will be hard to replace. Bill Hagerty (R) won the election for this seat; he’s likely to still support DOE research, given its importance to his state, but we’ll have to see if he takes on the research champion mantle left by Senator Alexander.

Finally, there’s the Presidential election. It is what it is. Should President Trump prevail, we can expect more of the same budget requests and continuing immigration policy fights. Should Vice President Biden win, we can expect a little bit of confusion due to the transition but, hopefully, a more hospitable environment for U.S. research and higher-ed institutions.

Regardless of outcome, CRA is poised to help whomever is driving the ship of state understand the importance of investments in research and the myriad opportunities for computing research to help address areas of national need. As part of that effort, we’ve been rolling out our 2020 Quadrennial Papers. These white papers, produced through CRA’s subcommittees, explore areas and issues around computing research that have the potential to address national priorities over the next four years. As well, there’s still the Fiscal Year 2021 budget to settle, hopefully, in December. Progress on the budget will likely hinge on how the election unfolds. As always, there’s still more to keep track of, so please check back for more updates!

UPDATE 11/14/20: A number of the races that we identified as too close to call, have now been called. Haley Stevens (D-MI), Conor Lamb (D-PA), and Senator Peters (D-MI) were all reelected. However, it seems Mike Carcia (R-CA) is still too close to call. Of course, the Presidential election was called for now President-Elect Biden (D).

Post 2020 Election Analysis: What Happened, What’s Still in Doubt, and How Does It Impact Computing Research?