Republican infighting rattles Congress as midterm fallout continues

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Republicans in both houses of Congress issued challenges to their leaders on Tuesday as disappointment over their lackluster performance in the midterm elections manifested in infighting and instability on Capitol Hill.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) won his party’s nomination for president on Tuesday afternoon with 188 votes from the GOP caucus — well beyond the simple majority needed for the victoire. But 31 lawmakers voted for a challenger, presenting a tall hurdle for McCarthy in January, when he will need 218 votes to win the presidency when the 118th Congress is called.

And in the Senate, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) announced he would challenge Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) during an hours-long spread of grievances among frustrated party members by their inability to regain the chamber. McConnell admitted that the group’s leadership elections, scheduled for Wednesday morning, could be delayed if a majority of the caucus votes to postpone them.

“I want to repeat one more time – I have the votes, I will be elected,” McConnell told reporters after walking out of the party meeting. “The only question is whether we will do it sooner or later.”

The discord came just hours before Donald Trump was supposed to announce his candidacy for Florida’s presidential re-election, injecting another note of unrest on the Hill between those who remain staunch allies of the former president and others who are beginning to publicly question whether Trump contributed to the party’s astonishing failure to win more seats last week. Midterm elections typically favor the party that doesn’t hold the White House, and many Republicans predicted a “red wave” that failed to materialize in either chamber as battleground voters rejected many of the candidates most committed to Trump’s false claim that he won. the 2020 election.

House Republicans are expected to secure a wafer-thin majority after the remaining races in Congress of last week’s elections are decided. Senate Republicans lost a seat in Pennsylvania to Democrat John Fetterman, and they are battling to flip one in Georgia in a runoff next month to avoid seeing their numbers dwindle further.

“This new Republican leadership is ready to get to work,” McCarthy said confidently after the election. But he conceded that with such a small majority, even a few members wield a lot of power. “Either we will lead as a team or we will lose as individuals.”

“Away from 218”

McCarthy faced a challenge for the presidency from Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), a member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus who on Monday announced his intention to run.

“The American people want us to turn a page. They don’t want excuses or performance art, they want action and results,” Biggs said. wrote Monday on Twitter. “The promised red wave turned into a loss of the United States Senate, a very slim majority in the House of Representatives and upset losses of top political candidates.”

Biggs and other members of the House Freedom Caucus have long been critical of McCarthy, criticism that intensified after the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising on Capitol Hill, in which McCarthy was checked in blaming Trump for the attack and pledging to urge Trump to resign. McCarthy then pivoted to support Trump and voted against efforts to impeach him.

“To believe Kevin McCarthy is going to be a speaker, you have to believe he’s going to get votes in the next six weeks that he hasn’t been able to get in six years,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla. ). He said he did not believe McCarthy would become president and would not vote for him in January.

Another member of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) noted, “One hundred and eighty-eight is a long way from 218. I think that just opens up the opportunity for anyone interested to let us know their vision. ”

The two most recent speakers, Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), also faced some initial rebellion, but received 203 and 200 votes, respectively, in their offerings. speaker 2018 and 2015. . Those are significantly higher starting points than McCarthy’s in his 218-vote attempt. Biggs suggested he could no longer run against McCarthy in January, leaving the McCarthy opposition with no one to rally around. And some members of the Freedom Caucus, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), support McCarthy.

To win the presidency in January, McCarthy will likely be forced to make concessions to some of the more conservative Republicans in the House. But with his majority so slim, moderate MPs will also be able to make demands.

“He is going to have to make a deal with the devil, and if he does, he will also have to face the centrists and the growing number of moderates at the conference,” said a Republican lawmaker who spoke on condition of anonymity. . be frank. “We are usually the first to go to bed, but we won’t this time. It is too important for the future and the sustainability of our party.

Some members hope that the dysfunction is not looming.

“It’s fine to disagree, to debate … but deadlock doesn’t work, especially with a three- or four-seat majority,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a more moderate member . “We have to work together. And it’s not just for the party, it’s for the country. … We need to have two stable and predictable years.

In other leadership elections, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was elected Majority Leader on a voice vote. And Rep. Elise Stefanik (RN.Y.), a former centrist who has become a vocal Trump ally, was reelected as Republican conference speaker, the No. 3 position in the House GOP leadership.

In the Senate, Republicans spent hours on Tuesday afternoon locked in intense closed-door conversation about why the party failed to win a single seat in last week’s election. Several members again called for Wednesday’s leadership election to be postponed, and Scott announced he would officially challenge McConnell for the top spot.

Scott’s challenge marks the first contested race for Senate leadership for either party since 1996, and one looming to focus on who deserves blame for midterms.

Scott, who chaired the Republican National Senate Committee, has received widespread criticism for the way he has raised and allocated funds this cycle, while McConnell, who is associated with a political action committee that has spent more than $230 million to support the Republicans, has been criticized by Trump. and its allies for not doing more to help unsuccessful GOP Senate candidates in Arizona and New Hampshire.

McConnell is known for his sway over the caucus, and so far only a few Republicans have spoken out in their criticisms of him. Since leaving office, Trump has launched multiple attacks on McConnell and his wife, contributing to some of the rifts within the party.

During the hours-long meeting that became what one senator predicted the day before would be a “grievance broadcast,” about 20 senators spoke, and some of them grew heated, according to Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who supports Scott and called the reunion a “serious discussion” about where the party goes from here.

“Senator Scott disagrees with the approach Mitch has taken in this election and over the past two years, and he has made that clear,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo .), who opposes McConnell for the leader. “And Senator McConnell criticized Senator Scott’s handling of the NRSC.”

McConnell mostly listened during the meeting, according to a senator in attendance, and only stepped in a few times when the discussion got “off topic.”

The conversation sounded like a blame fest.

“The leader was pointed,” said the senator, who spoke on condition of anonymity to candidly discuss the meeting. “The NRSC was singled out. Trump was singled out. The finger was pointed at the candidates who had gone too far to the right and had refused the elections in the primaries. There was a lot of finger pointing.

In his closing remarks, McConnell told the group that he doesn’t mind not being liked as long as he makes sure Republican senators are successful.

In a lengthy letter to GOP colleagues, Scott said there was “no one accountable for our party’s performance across the country.” He criticized the leadership for not publishing a Republican agenda.

Some Republicans expressed skepticism that Scott was the right person to challenge McConnell.

“If you’re going to do this to assess blame for losing an election, I don’t know how the NRSC chairman gets away with it,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (RN.D.), who supports McConnell.

Others pointed to Scott’s decision to release a Republican platform that included reauthorization votes for Social Security and Medicare and tax increases for low-income earners provided a powerful line of attack. for Democrats this cycle.

“If you liked Republicans losing Senate campaigns, while heaping the party with tax hikes and health insurance cuts, then you’ll love Rick Scott’s campaign for leadership,” he said. McConnell adviser Josh Holmes said in a statement. “He has a constituency but unfortunately for him, it’s entirely within Democratic conference boundaries.”

Many frustrated Senate and House Republicans previously called for delaying leadership elections in both bedrooms. On Monday, dozens of Conservative leaders sent a open letter to Republican members of Congress urging them to postpone their leadership elections until after the December 6 runoff in Georgia’s Senate elections.

“The Republican Party needs leaders who will confidently and competently present a cohesive and compelling vision of who we are, what we stand for, and what we will do,” the letter said. “We urge both houses of Congress to postpone formal leadership elections until after the Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia and that all election results be fully decided.”

The letter was signed by 72 conservative leaders, including Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a lawyer and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Matt Schlapp, President of the Conservative Political Action Coalition; and Mark Meadows, who was Trump’s White House chief of staff.

Republicans are expected to vote on a postponement Wednesday morning. If the vote fails, McConnell is expected to remain at the top, which would allow him to become the longest-serving leader of either party in the Senate.

Mariana Alfaro, Jacqueline Alemany, Camila DeChalus, Josh Dawsey and Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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