Congress and the White House

AP is reporting this morning that, “Republicans were on the cusp of retaking control of the House late Monday, just one victory shy of the 218 seats the party needs to secure a majority, narrowing the path for Democrats to keep the chamber and raising the prospect of a divided government in Washington.”  Senate Democrats have secured their majority regardless of the outcome of the Georgia Senate runoff on December 6th between Sen. Ralph Warnock and Hershel Walker.

House Republicans will hold their leadership elections today at 1:00 pm.  GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will not run unopposed for the Speaker nomination.  Former Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) will challenge Leader McCarthy.  Rep. Bigg’s challenge is symbolic – he has no chance of winning the nomination.  The challenge is designed to show that on November 15th, Leader McCarthy does not have 218 votes to become Speaker.  Leader McCarthy will need 218 votes on January 3rd on the House floor.  With a narrow Republican majority – expected to be around 2 to 4 votes, Leader McCarthy cannot lose many Republicans.  Today’s vote will give some insight and direction to how much work he has to do to get to 218 over the next six weeks.  Current Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) is running unopposed for Majority Leader.  Scalise has been in leadership since 2014 and a promotion unopposed in the tumultuous House Republican conference is a significant achievement.  The race to succeed Scalise as the Republican Whip is very competitive. 

The Whip is the number three position in House Leadership.  The Whip’s job is to count the votes – and to round up the votes to pass legislation.  It takes operational competence – knowing what the vote count actually is at any given moment and the temperament to persuade at high-intensity moments in the legislative process.  With a very slim majority, three candidates running for Whip are seeking a very difficult job.  Current Chief Deputy Whip Drew Ferguson (R-GA) is running on his experience counting votes in the Whip operation for the past 4 years.  He is also from the South – a large percentage of the Republican conference is from the South - and a Member of the Powerful Ways and Means Committee.  Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) is currently the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) – the campaign arm for House Republicans.  He is hoping that his role in delivering the Republicans the House majority and winning seats in two consecutive cycles will help build support.  He is also a Member of the House Financial Services Committee and a leading voice in Congress on Crypto policy.  Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) is currently the head of the Republican Study Committee – the largest caucus in the Republican conference.  He is considered the most conservative member in the race and the Member closest to former President Trump.  To win, a candidate needs the support of the majority of the conference – and in a competitive three-person race it is quite possible no candidate gets a majority on the first ballot.  In that case, there will be a second ballot with the candidate coming in third being eliminated.  So all three candidates are working on a second ballot strategy – hoping to secure votes from supporters of the candidate who comes in third on the first ballot.  Given that the job of Whip is to count and round up the votes – the first test of a good whip is whether he or she can count and round up the votes for their own election.

The race for House Republican Conference Chair is between current chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Bryon Donalds (R-FL).  Rep. Stefanik is expected to win this race.  Rep. Richard Hudson will become the new Executive Director of the NRCC after Rep. LaHood announced last night he decided not to enter the race. 

After today’s leadership elections, House Republicans still have a very busy week ahead.  Tomorrow they will vote on a Rules package for the 118th Congress.  The House Freedom Caucus is pressing for a series of changes that would weaken Leadership and give more power back to rank-and-file Members.  House Republicans are also certain to end proxy voting – meaning Members of Congress in the 118th Congress will need to be on the House floor to cast vote for legislation.  On Friday, Republicans will vote to create the “Steering Committee” – the group of Members who decide who serves on what committees and who chairs those committees.

House Democrats will also meet today for the first time since the better-than-expected midterm elections.  They will not hold leadership elections until after Thanksgiving – but Members are awaiting a decision by Speaker Pelosi on her future.  It could come as early as this morning.


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