House and Senate Republicans brace for a tense series of closed meetings this week as the GOP grapples with what went wrong midterm and decides the political fate of its current leaders, who are under fire after last week’s disappointing election results.
With the balance of the House yet to be determined, but a wafer-thin majority looking likely, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy is watching a serious uprising from his right flank that could derail his ambitions. of president. Dozens of hardliners are threatening to withhold their support for McCarthy unless he gives in to their demands.
And in the Senate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called on his colleagues over the past few days to bolster his support as his team plans to press ahead with a leadership election on Wednesday despite grumblings of a faction of dissidents trying to slam on the brakes after their midterm debacle. They plan to have a GOP air-clearing session on Tuesday.
McCarthy has also spent the past five days working on the phones to build support for his presidential bid, and he has spoken to former President Donald Trump on several occasions since last Tuesday, GOP sources say. The former president endorsed McCarthy as a speaker the day before the midterm elections – something his allies hope will sway the staunchest Trump supporters at his conference.
But Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, a former chairman of the pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus, plans to issue a long-running challenge to McCarthy in the internal House GOP leadership election on Tuesday, according to GOP sources familiar with the matter. . McCarthy’s team has been prepared for this eventuality.
While McCarthy isn’t worried about any challengers and only needs a simple majority in this vote to become the GOP president’s nominee – the real test would come in January when he would need 218 votes on the floor – Biggs’ likely challenge could reveal how McCarthy is currently short of 218 votes and opens up uncomfortable conversations about why an oft-promised “red wave” never materialized.
“We need to have a real discussion about whether he should be the speaker,” Biggs, who was in Washington, DC, told reporters last week for House Freedom Caucus meetings. “I think we should have a very frank discussion internally about where we’re going to go.”
After Democrats retained control of the Senate — with the possibility of securing an additional seat in Georgia’s runoff in December — McConnell faces far more anger in his ranks than in previous election cycles, though he still has enough support to get another term leading his conference.
A small but vocal group of GOP senators have called for delaying their leadership elections so they can have a “family discussion” about why the GOP has underperformed. And at least one Republican, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, has publicly vowed to oppose McConnell’s bid to lead the GOP.
McConnell and McCarthy are moving forward with their leadership elections scheduled for this week, and the Senate GOP will also meet for its weekly closed-door luncheon on Tuesday, where the internal blame game is sure to heat up.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee, is among those calling for a postponement of the Senate leadership election scheduled for Wednesday, saying it “makes no sense” to have them this week.
“What is our plan, what are we running on? What are we standing for?” Scott said on Fox News on Sunday. “The Republican Senate leadership says you can’t have a plan, we’re just going to run into the gravity of the Democrats. And in fact, they’re giving in to the Democrats. Now they want to rush an election. We haven’t even finished what happened in Georgia.
It’s a stunning reversal of fortune — and a potential moment of judgment — for the once-bullish GOP, as party leaders now scramble to quell brewing rebellions within their ranks and explain why the election didn’t go through. in their sense. And the disappointing results have also muddied other leadership races, with Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota – the House GOP’s campaign arm chief – now facing a tougher time to become the House GOP whip. a position that will only become available if Republicans do indeed capture a majority – still not a guarantee.
“They measured the drapes, they came up with an agenda. They haven’t won it yet,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN’s “State of the Union.” their own party, in our own parties, on how we move forward.”
Behind the scenes, the pointing finger has already begun, and those conversations are expected to pick up speed as the full House and Senate return to Washington this week for the first time since the midterm elections.
Trump and his allies have tried to scapegoat McConnell for the GOP’s lackluster midterm performance, accusing McConnell of spending recklessly in states where Republicans have faced significant headwinds at the expense of candidates in more competitive contests.
But other party members blamed Trump squarely, whose hand-picked candidates have failed in key Senate races that have determined Senate control. Moreover, McConnell’s super PAC has spent more than any other group on Senate races — while Trump’s group has spent a tiny fraction — a reality not lost on the Kentucky Republican’s allies.
“There’s a very strong correlation between MAGA candidates and big losses,” said retired Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey. “I think my party has to face the fact that if loyalty to Donald Trump is the main criteria for selecting candidates, we’re probably not going to do very well.”
McConnell and Scott were also publicly at odds throughout the election cycle on strategy, with McConnell sounding the alarm over the quality of candidates while Scott chose to take a hands-off approach in the primaries.
When asked if he would challenge McConnell for the top spot, Scott didn’t rule it out, even though he would be unlikely to succeed.
“A lot of people called me asking if I would run,” Scott said. “Here’s my goal is that we still have to win Georgia. I’m not going to take anything off the table.
Similar recriminations are taking place across the Capitol, where some House Republicans are questioning their leaders’ adherence to the MAGA wing, the lack of a consistent message on abortion, and decisions to spend precious resources in a deep blue territory in the late game.
Still, McCarthy’s allies remain confident he can secure the 218 votes to become president in January. He enlisted a team of trusted allies to help lock in the support, and several potential challengers — including GOP representatives Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise — lined up behind his offer.
Although McCarthy has been willing to hear his critics and potential denials, so far he is not giving in to any of their demands for more power and promises of investigations into the Biden administration.
GOP lawmakers believe McCarthy will wait to see how internal leadership elections go before he begins making deals with hardline conservatives. However, even that poses risks for McCarthy, who also cannot afford to lose any of the lawmakers in the middle.
“Basic political physics says you can’t appease moderates and HFC at the same time,” a senior Republican told CNN. “If you’re riding that fence, you better hope it’s not barbed wire.”
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