Democrats are closely watching uncalled House races in Arizona, Nevada, Maine, Oregon, Washington and California, to determine whether they have the majority.
Even if they don’t, there is a recognition from both parties that Democratic votes will be critical in an unworkable narrow House GOP majority.
Days after the midterm elections, control of the U.S. House appears to be on a knife’s edge as vote tallying continues.
The GOP faces a small but real prospect that it may not reclaim the House majority despite high pre-election hopes based on the disapproval of President Biden, record inflation and traditional losses for the party that holds the White House.
A total of 64 House seats were considered competitive by the Cook Political Report ahead of Election Day. The House battleground seemed to be tilted toward Republicans: 19 of their seats were thought to be competitive, compared with 45 seats held by Democrats
Surprising resistance among Democrats marked a devastating result for Republicans, who believed they would cruise to a large governing majority after most states drew new congressional maps for the 2022 elections following the 2020 Census, so Republicans designed districts intended to give them unfair advantages.
Democrats moved one Senate seat closer to retaining their majority in the chamber as Sen. Mark Kelly won reelection in Arizona. Winning either in Nevada — which was still counting votes — or in Georgia, where a runoff is set for Dec. 6, would allow them to stay in power.
Outgoing Rep. Peter Meijer said he knew that the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol would give the GOP a difficult time proving to voters they should be in charge of the nation’s lawmaking body.
“By midnight on January 6, it was obvious that if we continued to sleepwalk down the path of crazy we’d face a rude awakening,” Meijer said.
“Instead of facing those facts, the GOP spent the last two years heading in the same direction and actively avoiding any internal reckoning,” Meijer said. “After Tuesday, we have no choice but to heed voters when they say that ‘the grass is green, the sky is blue, and by the way, you just got your ass handed to you.’ But waking up to that reality is going to be rough.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee, which initially had projected picking up as many as 30 seats, now hopes GOP candidates can win 220 seats.
The first hurdles for a slim House GOP majority are leadership elections and agreeing on conference rules, a showdown that is expected next week. The staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus is calling for a delay to those housekeeping efforts — especially if control of the House is not decided by then.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) told reporters Thursday that McCarthy was not his first choice to lead the conference, echoing calls by Freedom Caucus members to bring forth a challenge to him. In a tweet Friday, Gaetz cited several perceived deficiencies with McCarthy, including his telling other GOP leaders that President Donald Trump should resign in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
The Freedom Caucus has long had a list of demands to make of whoever leads the conference, but many members acknowledged earlier this year that their effort to push leaders for concessions would be determined by the margins of a majority. McCarthy had already heard them out on several requests, including returning more legislative power to committees, ending proxy voting, and considering adding a number of Freedom Caucus members to coveted committee assignments, including the influential Steering Committee.
There are other outstanding requests that may appease some, but not all, within the group. Those include putting more members in committee chair positions and having McCarthy publicly back Rep. Jim Banks (Ind.), a staunch Trump ally, as majority whip. But as the expected majority grows slimmer, such demands could irritate more-moderate members, who also hold sway.
McCarthy’s team is confident he will be able to maintain support, citing how he has worked to create relationships with many of his detractors, including members of the Freedom Caucus. McCarthy is seen as open to conversations with his detractors but there are demands he is unlikely to bargain away, including changing the rules to make it much easier to remove the speaker from his or her post.
McCarthy left the Capitol on Friday evening without addressing questions from reporters about his negotiations.
Even if McCarthy exhausts all his bargaining chips, some Republicans acknowledge that the most-fringe members may still vote against him on the floor in January.
Rep. Chip Roy (Tex.) has said “no one currently has 218” votes — the number needed to win the speakership in the full chamber. Moreover, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Rep. Ralph Norman (S.C.) have declined to say whether they would support McCarthy.
“There are people who swear upon firstborn children that they’ll never vote for McCarthy,” another aide to a senior Republican lawmaker said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to relay private conversations.
Jason Miller, a former Trump White House and campaign official, said Friday that if McCarthy “wants a chance of being speaker, he needs to be much more declarative of supporting President Trump.”
“It’s going to be a MAGA-centric caucus,” he said on Stephen K. Bannon’s “War Room” podcast. “We need leadership to match.”
But without an alternative, McCarthy’s allies believe he may be able to hold on. The most credible potential alternatives, such as Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Banks, remain supportive of McCarthy.
Moreover, past speakers have benefited from missed attendance and members voting “present” to lower the majority threshold of 218 to help them clinch the top spot.
A senior Republican Party official, who criticized McCarthy for overhyping election expectations, said that a House Republican majority was a win at the end of the day — no matter the margin of victory. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations, added that the party doesn’t need McCarthy to govern an unruly House GOP conference majority or pass any legislation, but needs him to simply unite the conference as a firewall against the Biden administration’s agenda to be a successful speaker.