Republicans on Capitol Hill are set to press ahead with leadership elections this week, votes that will determine the political futures of both Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell and lay bare the party’s infighting after a disappointing performance in last week’s midterm elections.
While midterm votes are still being counted in several states, Republicans appear on course to eke out a narrow majority in the House of Representatives, reclaiming the lower chamber of Congress and ushering in a new era of divided government in Washington.
But any Republican majority would fall short of the expected “red wave” that would have strengthened the party’s legislative hand and made it a thorn in the side of Joe Biden’s White House.
The weaker-than-expected Republican results have raised fresh questions about the influence of former president Donald Trump, who endorsed hundreds of candidates up and down the ballot and became a high-profile presence on the campaign trail in the weeks before election day.
The results have also dented the political ambitions of McCarthy, the most senior House Republican who until recently had been seen as a near shoo-in to become Speaker of the House, taking the gavel from Nancy Pelosi.
But McCarthy is facing pressure from rightwing members of his own party, who want assurances that the California lawmaker will bend to their legislative priorities. Elections among lawmakers for House Republican leadership positions are scheduled for Tuesday, but members of the so-called “Freedom Caucus” want those elections delayed until after it is clear that Republicans have reclaimed the House.
At the same time, prominent supporters of Trump are insisting that McCarthy be more full-throated in his support of the former president, who is widely expected to formally announce on Tuesday that he will run for president again in 2024.
Meanwhile, Republican senators are scheduled to hold their own leadership elections on Wednesday, after they failed to win back control of the upper chamber of Congress in last week’s midterms. Democrats officially secured another majority in the Senate at the weekend, following victories in Arizona and Nevada for incumbent Democrats Mark Kelly and Catherine Cortez-Masto, respectively.
Whether the Democrats control an evenly divided chamber or have a 51-49 majority will be determined next month in a run-off election in Georgia between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker.
McConnell, the longtime Republican leader in the Senate, has so far been unchallenged to lead his party in the upper chamber. But several Republican senators have suggested delaying the leadership vote in the upper chamber until after the Georgia run-off, raising speculation that McConnell could face a challenge from a lawmaker such as Rick Scott, the Florida senator who led the Republicans’ midterm campaign efforts and has locked horns with McConnell in recent months.
Trump, who is looking to reclaim the political spotlight even after several of his high-profile handpicked candidates lost in last week’s midterms, has called for Scott to replace McConnell, who previously raised questions about the “quality” of Trump’s endorsements.
Posting on his Truth Social platform on Sunday, Trump said the midterm results were “Mitch McConnell’s fault”, adding: “He blew the midterms, and everyone despises him.”