More than a week after the midterm elections, Republicans took control of a majority of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. A call by the AP in the 27th district in California for Rep. Mike Garcia put the GOP at the 218-seat threshold needed to declare victory.
Republicans are leading in three of the remaining seven races. If they win those seats, the House will end up with a 221-214 split, giving the GOP what will likely be the slimmest majority of the 21st century.
This would represent a net gain of less than 10 seats for Republicans, falling short of expectations that the GOP would gain anywhere from 20 to 30 seats in the midterm elections.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy easily won his party’s nomination for House Speaker, 188 to 31, in Tuesday’s leadership vote. But McCarthy faced an opposing bid from House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, which could complicate things for McCarthy down the road. He will need his caucus to unite behind him in order to receive the 218 votes needed to secure the position of House Speaker when it is brought before the whole legislative body.
If McCarthy fails to receive a majority of support in the House, some Republican members have voiced an interest in working with Democratic representatives to elect a more moderate Republican to be House Speaker.
McCarthy would likely not be facing such an uncertain path to party leadership had the GOP won the commanding majority he predicted. But the midterms’ much-talked-about red wave did not materialize.
McCarthy has served as House minority leader since 2019 and was House majority leader under speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan from 2014 to 2019. He has long eyed the position of House Speaker.
“The era of one-party, Democrat rule in Washington is over,” McCarthy said in a statement Wednesday.
Since the end of World War II, the political party that doesn’t hold the White House has gained an average of 26 House seats in midterm elections, including 63 seats for Republicans in 2010 during the Barack Obama presidency and 40 seats for Democrats in 2018 under former President Donald Trump.
With the party breakdown of the House shifting only slightly from 213 Republicans and 222 Democrats (including two who resigned) in the 117th congress, to 221 Republicans and 214 Democrats in the 118th, this midterm election could become the worst for the president’s opposing party since 2002, which was an outlier because of increased support for the Bush administration following 9/11.
Though Republicans flipped some blue districts in Florida, Virginia and New York, including the seat currently held by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrats saw wins in key indicator races, like the 7th and 10th districts in northern Virginia and the 13th District in central North Carolina. Democrats even flipped a solidly red district in Ohio, where Republicans had previously won by more than 20 percentage points.
Democrats also took over Michigan’s 3rd District, where they spent half a million dollars to boost the Trump-endorsed primary opponent of Republican Rep. Peter Meijer, one of the few Republican members of Congress to vote to impeach former Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Districts where Republican candidates had appeared to lead in the polls, such as the Latino-majority 28th and 34th districts of southern Texas, and the 1st and 3rd districts in Nevada, showed Democratic candidates with leads as of Wednesday.
Many Republican and Democratic political observers had expected concerns over inflation and rising crime to flip Democratic seats and fuel a red wave in the House. This year’s midterms seemed primed for a “presidential penalty,” with Biden’s approval hovering around 40% and satisfaction with the direction of the country at a 40-year low for an off-year election.
But Democratic candidate’s focus on the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade earlier in the summer seems to have played a major role in Democrats holding on to seats in key races.
With only the narrowest of majorities, Republican leadership may struggle to hold its caucus together on key votes.
McCarthy released a plan in September, titled “Commitment to America,” outlining the priorities of a Republican-led House, which includes cutting back on wasteful government spending, increasing funding for border enforcement and police officers, and initiating committee investigations into the Biden administration for “its incompetence at home and abroad.”
Democrats warn these investigations may include the attempted impeachment of key government officials, including Biden and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. Several Republican members of the House have stated their clear intention to impeach the current president, though McCarthy resisted the idea that impeachment would be used for political purposes in a recent interview.
The most obvious result of a Republican-led House is gridlock. A Republican majority would likely signify the end of Biden’s agenda and could mean a battle over entitlement reform.