Republicans made their House victory look like a loss by performing so poorly. But while they didn’t gain control by anywhere near the margin they’d hoped, they did win. And in the House, even the slimmest majority can get its way if it can stick together to produce 218 votes.
The main question going forward is whether Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, who was nominated Tuesday to lead the new Republican majority, can achieve the unity needed to do critical tasks like funding the government, or whether hard-line members of the far right will achieve the victory. the miserable life of the new speaker and the House an unmanageable mess.
The likely single-digit seat victory will allow Republicans to claim power, including subpoena power, set the agenda, run committees and try to put their feet on President Joe Biden’s fire with a series of promised investigations. .
Despite his disappointing performance, Republicans are unlikely to feel chastened to cooperate with Biden and will no doubt jump in aggressively once they get their hands on the sledgehammer. For many, that was the point of the choice. His agenda is investigative, not legislative.
“We must be relentless in our oversight of this administration,” Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican, wrote in a letter to his colleagues. “From the politicization of the Department of Justice to the job-crushing regulations coming from all agencies, we must shine a light on the actions and policy failures of this administration.”
For McCarthy, his party’s victory came in the worst possible way. The much thinner-than-expected majority means fewer swing-district Republicans who might be reluctant to stir up chaos, making you more reliant on fire-breathing far-right members who triumphed in safe, red districts on the promise of a political war against Biden. .
At the same time, he will need to protect less incendiary freshmen, such as newcomers from New York, who will be prime targets for departing Democrats almost immediately.
Margin and shuffling could combine to make the House virtually ungovernable.
“It’s going to be tough,” Rep. Fred Upton, a centrist Republican retiring from Michigan, said of the task ahead for the new leaders, who are already grappling with demands from the right to accept restrictions that would severely limit their can. . “It’s going to be very difficult, especially when it comes to producing results.”
The only outcomes that matter to many in the House majority are those that inflict political pain on Biden and congressional Democrats, as their MAGA constituents demand. In a closed-door meeting of Republicans Monday, right-wing lawmakers, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, won a promise that their leaders would investigate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Justice Department. for their treatment of defendants imprisoned in connection with the January 1 bombings. 6 attack on the Capitol.
But the new management can’t just do research. They have yet to find a few “yes” votes to pass spending bills and other laws that must be passed to keep the government running, when many of their members are all too used to voting “no” on almost everything.
Republicans have shut down the government over spending disputes and clashed with Democratic administrations over raising the federal debt limit since the rise and fall of Newt Gingrich in the House in the 1990s. relying on the most pro-government Republicans, like Upton, to step up and provide the votes needed to resolve a crisis. But the ranks of pragmatists have been severely thinned, replaced by lawmakers who would like nothing more than a game of fiscal chicken, no matter the risks to an already shaky economy.
House Republicans are already pushing the incoming team to agree to rule changes that could hamper the leadership’s ability to introduce bills, an approach that could threaten necessary legislation such as an increase in the debt limit. Republican leaders could, and likely would, seek Democratic votes, but too much concessions or cooperation in the hallway is likely to spark a rebellion from within.
Not to mention, House Democrats, who feel good about their own election performance, won’t be in much of a rush to bail out Republican leaders from their own troops without getting anything in return.
A Democratic majority in the Senate will only make life for the Speaker of the House more difficult. Democrats are heartened by the fact that they were able to maintain, and potentially increase, their majority in the Senate against historical trends. They want to flex those muscles by pushing through legislative initiatives like the ones they believe led them to victory. Democratic control of the Senate also means that House committees will not conduct parallel investigations into the administration as Republicans had hoped.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., who will remain as Majority Leader, has invited Republicans to try to work with Democrats on legislative initiatives, but it seems unlikely that House Republicans will want to take advantage of his offer. The division is too wide.
The gap between Republicans and Democrats has also widened somewhat in the Senate.
When the Senate meets in January, the GOP ranks will not include Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Roy Blunt of Missouri or Richard Burr of North Carolina, veteran mainstream Republicans in whom Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the leader of the minority, could be trusted to cast tough votes on bills that must pass. They will be succeeded by Senators-elect JD Vance of Ohio, Eric Schmitt of Missouri and Ted Budd of North Carolina, each of whom received enthusiastic support from former President Donald Trump.
Newcomers to the Senate will be joined by, among others, Sen.-elect Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, a congressman who belongs to the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, and potentially Herschel Walker of Georgia, another Trump acolyte, should he prevail in the election. of December 6. escape.
At the same time, McConnell is likely to be under constant attack from Trump, who has repeatedly called for his removal. He’s already faced a mini-rebellion within his own ranks, with a leadership challenge from Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who oversaw the Republican campaign arm in the Senate. Although McConnell prevailed, his actions will continue to come under great scrutiny as the Republican Party fights for his identity.
Election results are still being scrutinized by both parties to discern messages from voters, which could inform how party leaders proceed over the next two years with a presidential race on the horizon. But one thing is already clear: With a near-nonexistent majority in the House, the Republicans are in for a rocky ride, and it will be a challenge to do even the most basic job of Congress.