Republicans are projected to win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, gaining control of Congress’s lower chamber after four years of Democratic rule.
The Associated Press called the 218th seat for Republicans — projecting Rep. Mike Garcia (Calif.) to win reelection — around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, more than a week after Election Day.
The GOP had long anticipated winning control of the House in the 2022 elections. Midterms have historically benefited the party not in control of the White House, and after Republicans unexpectedly gained House seats and chipped away at the Democratic majority in 2020, they needed a net gain of just five seats to win control.
But losses in key districts that came into focus on election night put a damper on GOP spirits. The red wave Republicans had been teasing for months looked like it would be more like a ripple.
The unusually stretched-out period of uncertainty about House control punctuated Republican disappointment over election results.
GOP leaders from the day after the election onward, though, argued that a win is a win.
“Two years ago when I became leader, Republicans had less than 200 seats in the house. That cycle we picked up 14 seats when every single person said that would be impossible,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said at his election night party in Washington just before 2 a.m., emerging an hour after the event was originally scheduled to end.
Despite coming up short in top targets like Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s district in Virginia and others in Pennsylvania, Republicans notched victories through blue state New York – including defeating the head of the party’s House campaign arm, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.).
“No one ever said this thing was going to be easy. I always said that all I could guarantee was that we’re going to win the majority,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer (Minn.) told reporters last week. “How wide and how deep the majority was going to be was totally up to the voters.”
Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) addresses reporters following the House Republican Leadership Election for the 118th session of Congress on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. (Greg Nash)
Emmer was rewarded for his efforts leading the chamber’s GOP campaign arm by being elected majority whip in House Republican Conference elections on Tuesday, emerging victorious from a tight, three-way race for the post.
Lagging approval ratings for President Biden and voter concerns about inflation and the economy created an environment thought to be favorable for Republican candidates, but the Supreme Court’s overturning of abortion rights protections in Roe v. Wade led to a bump for Democrats in the summer.
But Republican members and staffers pointed the finger more at the quality of GOP candidates who lost, as well as statewide candidates, than at the Supreme Court abortion decision for putting a breaker on the promised red wave.
“Really, the top of the ticket in a lot of these states and a lot of the races really hurt us,” said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.).
The final breakdown of House control likely will not be known for weeks as vote-counters tally ballots in several more close races.
McCarthy clinched his party’s nomination for Speaker in a secret ballot vote on Tuesday, but some members of the right flank are asserting that he does not have the 218 votes needed to win the Speakership on the House floor on Jan. 3. Former President Trump, with whom McCarthy maintained a good relationship despite saying that he bore responsibility for the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, endorsed McCarthy for the post last week.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a former chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, mounted a protest challenge to McCarthy for Speaker less than 24 hours before the internal conference elections. McCarthy handedly won the nomination 188 to 31, but the number of defectors far outnumber the House GOP’s cushion for the majority, suggesting McCarthy has work to do to secure a majority the Jan. 3 vote.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) addresses reporters following the House Republican Leadership Election for the 118th session of Congress on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. (Greg Nash)
McCarthy has risen through the ranks of GOP leadership since he was elected to the House in 2006, and has given members of the right flank a seat at the table rather than sparring with them like previous GOP leaders. Confrontations from the Freedom Caucus preceded former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) resigning from the House in 2015.
Conservatives were previously more hostile to McCarthy, and he has worked to mend fences. The group banded together to support a challenger when he first ran for Speaker in 2015, pushing him out of the race. Firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) suggested as recently as last year that McCarthy did not have the votes to be Speaker, but now — in a break with Freedom Caucus colleague Biggs and others — is strongly supporting McCarthy for Speaker, fearing that a handful of moderate Republicans could flip to support a compromise candidate with Democrats.
A narrower majority will test McCarthy’s management of the various factions of his conference, from the hard-line right-wingers to the pragmatic deal-making moderates.
With the Democrats projected to keep control of the Senate, GOP control of the House will be critical to the party’s attempts to thwart the Biden administration.
House Republicans have an expansive agenda, which they outlined in a “Commitment to America” policy and messaging platform released in September. But with the White House still under Democratic control and unlikely to enact many GOP policy priorities, a large focus will be put on oversight and investigations into the Biden administration.
Republicans have long been preparing investigations into the origins of COVID-19, migration policies at the U.S.-Mexico border, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and alleged politicization in the Department of Justice. They also plan to create a select committee on China policy.
Structural factors like redistricting, a wave of retirements of Democratic incumbents, a focus on candidate recruitment efforts and a barrage of spending from Republican groups contributed to GOP House gains in Tuesday’s elections.
New congressional lines, which are drawn by state legislatures every 10 years after each Census, made 17 previously “swing” competitive districts more comfortably Republican versus seven seats for Democrats, according to a Cook Political Report analysis. The number of swing seats was slashed by about a third.
More than 30 Democrats declined to seek reelection, marking a three-decade high for Democratic retirements and a sign of low confidence in retaining control of the chamber. In 2018 when the Democrats took control of the chamber, 34 Republicans made for the exits.
Republicans fielded the most racially diverse slate of candidates in history, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee, with 73 candidates identifying as Black, Latino, Asian, Native American or a combination of those. The House GOP campaign arm also counted 80 Republican women on November ballots.
Recruiting a diverse slate of candidates was a crucial part of the GOP strategy to make gains in 2022. All of the seats that the party flipped in 2020 were won by women, minority candidates or veterans.
In addition to inflation and the economy, Republicans heavily focused on crime and border policies in midterm messaging.
The GOP wins in the House raise questions about the political future for Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (Calif.), a two-time Speaker and longtime leader of House Democrats, and first woman to hold the post. She has indicated that a recent attack on her husband may impact her forthcoming plans. Pelosi said she would make a decision about whether to run for leadership before Democrats hold their own internal elections on Nov. 30.
Mike Lillis contributed.