Narrow house

Narrow House majority could be a challenge for Kevin McCarthy

On his election night on Tuesday, Kevin McCarthy was announced as the next House speaker.

But on Wednesday, Republicans found little to celebrate as disappointing results rolled in from battleground districts across the country and the much-vaunted red wave failed to materialize.

McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) is still favored to become the next speaker — a long-coveted but elusive position that would make him the most powerful politician in the lower house and second only to the presidency.

Republicans have a much easier path to securing the 218 House seats needed to claim a majority. Wednesday morning, several races remained too close to be announced.

But it also seems increasingly likely that any GOP majority will be much thinner than McCarthy had hoped. And that could complicate McCarthy’s path to the presidency as well as his ability to govern once there.

“There are big storm clouds in early 2023 that he will have to navigate, and he will only have a small majority,” said retired Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich. ), highlighting expected clashes over government funding and raising the debt ceiling.

A narrow Republican majority would give significant leverage to even a handful of rebellious House GOP members, who could withhold their needed votes.

“Whether it’s moderates or members of the Freedom Caucus who refuse to give in, it could be very difficult. This will be a first test of his quality as president,” Upton said.

On McCarthy’s somewhat low-key election night Tuesday night in Washington, there was already speculation about whether his grip on the president’s gavel would be affected by the lackluster results.

“I think he eventually becomes a speaker,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said. But Tuesday’s results suggest “he may have to make more concessions”.

Addressing the crowd in the hotel ballroom early Wednesday morning, McCarthy said his efforts in the past two elections have strengthened the GOP.

“If you believe in freedom, hard work and the American dream, these results prove there is a place for you in the Republican Party,” he said. “Now, tonight, we’ve built on those gains from two years ago, and it’s clear we’re going to take the house back.”

McCarthy’s road to the presidency has been bumpy.

He joined the GOP leadership as deputy chief whip in 2009 during what was only his second term in the House. McCarthy continued to rise rapidly, becoming Majority Whip in 2011 and Majority Leader in 2014.

A high-profile gaffe, however, cost him a chance to become a speaker a year later when he was then a representative. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has resigned from his post.

As House Republicans searched for Boehner’s successor in 2015, McCarthy told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that the party’s Benghazi select committee was dragging down Democrat Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers, suggesting the goal of the panel was more focused on hurting Clinton’s White House prospects than investigating the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.

McCarthy withdrew from the presidential race, and House Republicans rallied around then-Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).

Ryan retired after the 2018 midterms, leaving McCarthy ahead of Republicans when Democrats took control of the House.

McCarthy has since led the opposition — and transformation — of the House Republican Conference, where firebrands like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) are treated privately, and the Trump critic Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) was kicked out of the leadership.

It remains to be seen whether McCarthy faces a backlash over the somewhat disappointing Republican results.

With President Biden’s low approval rating, persistent inflation, and the fact that the president’s party almost always suffers big losses in the medium term, expectations were high for Republicans.

McCarthy and his super PAC ally, the Congressional Leadership Fund, have raised more than a quarter of a billion dollars. The staggering sum was thought to have allowed House Republicans to capitalize on an already favorable political environment.

Instead, House Republicans are poised for only modest gains, though even a one-seat majority would give them committee hammers and subpoena power to investigate the Biden administration.

Some House Republicans expressed anger and disappointment Wednesday at the party’s underperformance.

“The RED WAVE didn’t happen,” tweeted Rep. Mayra Flores (R-Texas), who won a special election in her South Texas seat earlier this year but lost re-election to incumbent Democrat Vincente Gonzalez. “Republicans and Independents stayed home. DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT THE RESULTS IF YOU DIDN’T DO YOUR PART!

House Republicans are expected to hold their internal leadership elections when members return to Washington next week. The only contested leadership races — right now, at least — in the House GOP are for majority whip and chairman of the House Republicans’ campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee. The House floor vote for the speaker will take place when the next Congress convenes on January 3.

McCarthy and other House Republicans unveiled their policy platform, the Commitment to America, in September. It has four elements: a strong economy, a secure nation, a future based on freedom, and responsible government. House Republicans, if in control, are likely to pursue a wide range of probes into the Biden administration, including the president’s son, Hunter, next year.

McCarthy also signaled that the House Republican Conference would not write a “blank check” for Ukraine aid, and Republicans could use a standoff over raising the debt ceiling to try to get concessions from Democrats to cut rights programs such as Social Security. and health insurance.

“The American people are ready for a majority that will provide new direction, that will put America back on track,” McCarthy said. “The Republicans are ready to deliver it.”

But first, they still have to win a majority.