Democrats’ show of strength enabled them to hold onto the Senate and come up just short of a historic upset in the House, creating a split Congress that left Republicans in both chambers battling over who’s to blame and who should lead the party forward. Still, a coming shift in power — which in January will end two years of unified Democratic control in Washington — is sure to complicate the second half of Biden’s term, as Republicans gain the ability to launch investigations and block legislation.
Some House races had yet to be resolved by Wednesday, including a handful in California, and the final outcome in all of them may not be known for some time. But the likely result is a slim GOP House majority in which party leaders probably will need bipartisan support for some legislation as they try to wrangle differing GOP factions.
The president’s party almost always loses seats in a first midterm, and Republicans sought to make this year’s election a referendum on Biden and the economy as prices soared at their highest rate in 40 years. However, exit polling suggests that Democrats effectively tapped into anger over rollbacks of abortion access and that they managed to shift the focus to their opponents in key races.
The House is already narrowly divided, with the current Democratic majority holding 220 seats. Democrats were projected to have clinched 210 seats so far for the next Congress.
The slim GOP majority to come has forced many GOP members, aides, and strategists come to grips with the prospect that their agenda might never come to fruition. Internal fractures have made it difficult for Republican House speakers over the past decade to control the far-right wing of the party.
Some Republicans in the House are already voicing worries that the small size of their majority will embolden members on the right. Even a small group of GOP lawmakers could block measures while lobbying for their priorities.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday won his fellow Republicans’ nomination to serve as Speaker next year, besting far-right Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) in a 188-to-31 secret-ballot vote. But he will need least 218 votes to prevail in another vote in January, and could struggle to reach that number without making concessions to colleagues upset with the party’s direction.
Disappointing midterm results have set off finger-pointing in both chambers and intensified long-simmering feuds. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) — the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee challenged Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for minority leader in the chamber and argued party leadership has not done enough to lay out their plan for voters. McConnell prevailed in a Wednesday vote of Senate Republicans, and will retain the post of minority leader.
Republicans this term have said they will focus in the majority on investigating the Biden administration and they have signaled an intent to use their powers to block Biden’s agenda. Potential investigation targets include the Biden administration’s coronavirus response and border policies, the business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter Biden, and the FBI. Without proof, Republicans have accused the FBI of probing Trump’s handling of classified documents for political reasons.
Even as some Republicans have pointed to those goals, it’s possible that the loudest voices within the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus will push for immediate impeachments — a call leaders were hoping to quell with a larger governing majority that didn’t materialize.
The GOP clinched their slim majority well after party leaders hoped to be celebrating a bigger margin. Republican candidates benefited from redistricting and strong showings in New York, a blue stronghold where they put Democrats on the defensive in districts that Biden once carried easily and where they also made the race for governor competitive. They flipped several closely watched seats, even defeating the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D), in an area that Biden carried in 2020.
The GOP cemented its majority with another key win in New York and key victories in the West. The Washington Post reported projected victories on Monday and Tuesday for Republican Rep. David Schweikert in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District; Republican Juan Ciscomani in Arizona’s 6th Congressional District; Republican Brandon Williams in New York’s 22nd Congressional District; and Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District.
Other Republican pickups include Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria’s battleground district in Virginia, Rep. Tom Malinowski’s seat in New Jersey, Rep. Cindy Axne’s Iowa district and several seats in Florida, where redistricting also gave the party a boost and where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) performed strongly at the top of the ticket.
But Democratic candidates prevailed in many tight races and found success in key areas by elevating abortion as a campaign issue, after the Supreme Court this summer struck down Roe v. Wade. The ruling’s political fallout was especially stark in Michigan, where a near-total abortion ban from 1931 threatened to snap back into effect and where voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to guarantee abortion access in the state constitution.
Two vulnerable House Democrats — Rep. Elissa Slotkin and Rep. Daniel Kildee — won their races in Michigan, and Democrat Hillary Scholten flipped the seat held by Rep. Peter Meijer (R), where a far-right candidate who ousted him in the primary struggled to gain traction in the general election. Democrats also won a competitive governor’s race and took control of the state legislature for the first time in decades.
Democrats were able to win in districts where Republicans were expected to easily flip seats, with many Republicans privately acknowledging that candidate quality played an issue. One stark outcome came in Washington state, where far-right Republican candidate Joe Kent lost to Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez after Republicans ousted Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R) — who voted to impeach Trump — in the all-party primary.
While passing legislation will become a much more difficult endeavor for an ideologically fractious GOP Conference, House Republicans hope to immediately focus on some priorities that a majority of the conference agrees on early in their first term. Those plans include slashing funding allotted in the Inflation Reduction Act to hiring 87,000 Internal Revenue Service employees as part of efforts to both expand enforcement and account for retirements; approving a parental bill of rights; and putting out a proposal to achieve energy independence.
Leigh Ann Caldwell, Amy B Wang and Jacqueline Alemany contributed to this report.