HUNT VALLEY, Md. (TND) — The balance of power in Congress is still uncertain and unofficial, but Republicans are deciding who they want to sit in top posts for both chambers this week.
Democrats clinched control of the Senate, winning 50 seats over Republicans’ 49. There’s one runoff vote left in Georgia Dec. 6 between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican, Trump-endorsed Herschel Walker. Democrats will still control the chamber no matter what but gaining that seat could give them more procedural leverage. If Republicans win it, they’d be better positioned to control the chamber in 2024.
As of mid-day Tuesday, 13 House races remained uncalled, and Republicans had a lead of 217 to 205 over Democrats. They only need to gain one more seat for a majority, and if the current leads hold, Republicans will have a 221 to 215 majority. In that scenario, the GOP could only afford to lose three Republican votes if they want to pass any legislation through the chamber.
The thin majorities in both chambers of Congress could create headaches for whoever is elected to lead the parties. House Republicans held their closed-door vote Tuesday and nominated House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Senate Republicans planned to hold their vote Wednesday, while Democrats are waiting to elect their leaders until after Thanksgiving.
Dozens of Republicans and conservative groups, though, tried to delay the elections in both chambers until after the Georgia runoff vote in December, writing in an open letter, “The Republican Party needs leaders who will confidently and skillfully present a persuasive coherent vision of who we are, what we stand for and what we will do. Many current elections are still undecided. There should be no rushed leadership elections.”
Republican senators and members of the Freedom Caucus have pushed a delay too, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who said it’d be “disrespectful” to Walker, and, “All Republicans should be focused on winning in Georgia and trying to understand the midterm elections before Senate leadership elections or moving on to the 2024 presidential race.”
However, these efforts didn’t stop the current GOP leaders from holding their votes.
Tuesday, House Republicans nominated who they think should hold the speaker’s gavel, although the speaker is technically elected on the first day of the new Congress in January. McCarthy won the closed-door, secret-ballot vote 188-31, but it’s not an all-out victory for him.
McCarthy faced a symbolic loyalty test in the vote. He had the support of several leading conservatives, like Reps. Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Former President Donald Trump also expressed support for McCarthy’s speakership and is privately encouraging allies to support him, too. However, several members of the House Freedom Caucus voted for Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., instead.
McCarthy needs 218 Republican votes to win the gavel Jan. 3, so he has about seven weeks to try to win over the lawmakers who didn’t vote for him. Biggs and Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa., say they won’t vote for McCarthy in January unless he makes concessions on House rules. Specifically, they want to decrease the power of the next speaker and increase power of the rank-and-file members. This includes a “motion to vacate,” which McCarthy isn’t likely to agree to reinstate. He may be supportive of a measure allowing bill to go through committee before they reach the floor, so members have more time to read and evaluate before voting.
Biggs only confirmed his bid for the speaker’s gavel on Newsmax Monday night, saying, “It’s going to be tough. Kevin has raised a lot of money and done a lot of things, but this is not just about Kevin. I think it’s about an institutional direction and trajectory. And that’s where we’re going to see if we have enough people who agree we need to change the trajectory of this place.”
Biggs said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote, “Minority Leader McCarthy does not have the votes needed to become the next Speaker of the House and his speakership should not be a foregone conclusion.”
It’s largely far-right lawmakers in the party challenging McCarthy’s ability to win all the necessary votes. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said on his podcast last week, “I have spoken with many Republicans in Congress and many who will join our ranks soon. None are actually inspired by Kevin McCarthy.”
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said if the party can’t elect McCarthy or anyone else as speaker, he’d work with Democrats to pick a moderate Republican for the position. He said, “I will support Kevin McCarthy, but if we do get to that point, I do want the country to work and we need to govern. We can’t sit neutral; we can’t have total gridlock for two years.”
McCarthy himself told reporters before the vote, “We won the majority, wasn’t that our goal?” And when asked if he can get all 218 votes, he responded, “I couldn’t be speaker if I couldn’t.”
Meanwhile, across the hall, similar dynamics are playing out to potentially challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The efforts are coming from far-right lawmakers in the Senate as well. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. and chairman of the Senate GOP’s campaign committee reportedly announced in a meeting Tuesday he will challenge McConnell for the seat. The two lawmakers have been sparring for months over the direction of the party, and Trump plays a factor because he blames McConnell for the party’s shortcomings and Scott aligns himself with the Trump camp in the party.
McConnell said this week, “of course” he has the votes to win Senate Minority Leader as he’s spent 15 years holding the position. But he’s likely to see some “no” votes, certainly from Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who said, “I’m not going to vote for Senator McConnell. I’ve made that abundantly clear.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also predicted McConnell won’t get the full support he’s expecting, saying, “If leadership refuses to delay the election, if leadership tries to ram through an election tomorrow morning, I think it is extremely likely it will be a contested election, that you will see one or more senators run against Mitch McConnell.” He added he thinks it’d be “insane” for the party to reelect its current leadership team.
But, McConnell faces an easier path to reelection than his House counterpart, because he only needs a simple majority of the conference to vote for him.
It appears the race for leadership could be a standoff between old school and new school, but no matter who’s chosen by the party to lead each chamber, the disarray after midterm elections exposes fractures within the GOP. Not to mention, it’s all taking place with the backdrop of Trump’s expected announcement of a 2024 presidential run Tuesday night, which will likely put Republican lawmakers in the hot seat to state on the record if they’re supportive of the former president or ready to move on.