With the expectation of a red wave quickly vanishing, Republicans faced the reality that any claim to power would mean leadership would preside of a narrowly divided Congress. The party’s lackluster performance in the midterm election has weakened Kevin McCarthy, House GOP leader, as he aims to take the Speaker’s gavel.
If Republicans take the remaining still-undecided votes needed to break the Democrats’ hold on the House, McCarthy could rise to the speaker position, although his power may not be as strong.
“Look, we were told we were going to have an incredible, incredible wave,” said Republican Representative from Arizona Andy Biggs.
“If that would have been the case,” with a larger margin, “You would say, ‘Well, ok, Kevin is the presumptive Republican nominee for speaker.’ But, I think we need to have a serious discussion,” said Biggs.
In the meantime, in the evenly split Senate, the struggle for control continued to be in question, with close races in Nevada and Arizona yet to be decided and the Georgia race headed for a runoff on December 6.
Republicans faced intense competition in their bid to take control of both houses, putting the brakes on the wide-sweeping gains predicted. Instead, they crept toward another Congressional session where the balance of power is razor-thin. If the GOP prevails, the outcome may prove a big challenge for McCarthy.
McCarthy would be limited in his powers due to the slim margin dividing the parties. Votes to raise the national debt limit or raise the fund the government would have the possibility of triggering gridlock or crises across federal operations, which has happened in the past.
“Earning the majority is only the beginning,” wrote McCarthy in a letter to colleagues. He asked for support before an internal party vote scheduled in the next week. “Now we will be measured by what we do with our majority. Now the real work begins.”
Far-right members threaten McCarthy’s ambitions
Although no rivals have emerged publicly, rumblings of difficulties ahead for McCarthy were apparent as far-right-leaning members may threaten his ambitions.
Representative Jim Jordan, the founder of the Freedom Caucus and prior challenger to McCarthy, received support from Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida. However, Jordan has signaled he supports McCarthy.
Current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s future also remains uncertain. On a call with the Democrats of the House’s campaign team, Pelosi briefed fellow lawmakers on the party’s “remarkable achievement.” She also relayed to lawmakers that there is still a small chance of the Democrats holding control.
President Joe Biden, when speaking to reporters at the White House, said he was “hopeful” that he would be able to ‘work out a modus vivendi,’ with McCarthy, an agreement to coexist. The White House said that later McCarthy and Biden spoke by phone.
With only a small majority, the GOP could bring a significant shift to Capitol Hill and threaten to stop the president’s most ambitious plans.
Although Republicans were slowly gaining some of the five seats necessary to reach a 218-seat majority in the House, the mood among some members of the GOP remained tense as Democrats surprisingly won many seats they expected to win.
“The RED WAVE did not happen,” tweeted Republican Representative Mayra Flores of Texas.
While McCarthy lined up the most racially diverse class of Republican House candidates, including more women than ever, the candidates also included several Trump loyalists, including some who were election deniers or skeptics.
Former President Trump endorsed hundreds of candidates across the country. However, they were not necessarily the first choices of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell or McCarthy. In an election night interview, the former president said he supported McCarthy for Speaker but called McConnell a “lousy leader.”