• Washington Post

Congressional GOP panic as they watch majorities slip from their grasp

WASHINGTON – The majority of Congress continues to hang in the balance an unprecedented three days after the midterm elections, turning Republicans on each other as Democrats cautiously weigh the possibility of keeping both chambers.

The surprising outcome has stunned lawmakers, freezing most in place as they await knowing who won the majority and the margins that will dictate which ideological faction has more power. But the major upset for Republicans who thought they would cruise to major victories in the House and eagerly anticipated flipping the Senate,

A group of Senate Republicans on Friday called for a delay in GOP leadership elections after the party’s abysmal showing in midterm elections, a move that poses a direct challenge to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Four senators – Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mike Lee of Utah – have called for delaying the vote, scheduled for Wednesday, in which McConnell was expected to be reelected in a secret ballot. Hawley suggested waiting until after the Dec. 6 Senate runoff in Georgia, a delay of weeks.

“Holding leadership elections without hearing from the candidates as to how they will perform their leadership duties and before we know whether we will be in the majority or even who all our members are violates the most basic principles of a democratic process,” Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Lee wrote in a letter they circulated to their GOP colleagues, according to Politico.

Rubio wrote on Twitter on Friday that the caucus needs someone “genuinely committed” to “fighting for the priorities & values of the working Americans (of every background) who gave us big wins in states like #Florida.”

Hawley quickly endorsed the idea, writing on Twitter, “I don’t know why Senate GOP would hold a leadership vote for the next Congress before this election is finished.” Ballots are still being counted in Arizona and Nevada in addition to the Georgia runoff.

Spokesmen for McConnell and Scott declined to comment. Email and telephone messages for Lee were not immediately returned.

The rebellion represents the most serious challenge to McConnell’s lengthy leadership tenure and comes after Republicans spent millions of dollars on losing Senate races in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, along with saving GOP candidates in Republican-leaning states like Ohio.

The Senate Leadership Fund PAC, closely associated with McConnell, spent more than $230 million this cycle backing Republicans in races across the country.

Yet the GOP faces the distinct prospect that it may not reclaim the majority despite pre-election high hopes based on disapproval of President Biden, record inflation and traditional losses for the party in power. As of Friday, Democrats were increasingly optimistic about holding on to their seats in Arizona and Nevada – two states still counting votes – which would give them the majority.

The fallout over the GOP’s dismal performance extended to the House, where Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who hopes to claim the speakership if the GOP wins the chamber, faced growing opposition.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) tweeted Friday that McCarthy is “not a Speaker for these times.”

The tweet is a signal of Gaetz’s hardening opposition to McCarthy as it becomes clear that if Republicans take control of the House it will be by a narrow margin. That means McCarthy cannot afford to lose many votes from his colleagues.

Gaetz, a staunch ally of former president Donald Trump, previously told reporters McCarthy was not his first choice.

Among other troubling signals for McCarthy, Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) has said McCarthy “has done nothing to earn” the speakership, and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) has said “no one currently has 218” votes – the number needed to win the speakership in the full chamber.

Moreover, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) have declined to say whether they would support McCarthy. The Washington Post’s election model shows Republicans winning 220 seats, far fewer gains than the dozens some in the GOP expected.

In his tweet, Gaetz cited several perceived deficiencies with McCarthy, including his telling other GOP leaders that Trump should resign in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

“Kevin is FLIGHT over FIGHT when the chips are down,” Gaetz said.

In the Senate, McConnell faced criticism from some Republicans in August when he played down the party’s chances of winning control, citing “candidate quality.”

Trump also has repeatedly mocked and criticized McConnell, while pressing Republicans to oust the GOP leader. McConnell recognized Biden’s win in December 2020, angering Trump, and then blamed the former president for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Leadership elections had been set for Wednesday and, so far, no senator has formally announced they would run against McConnell.

The Republican Senate leadership votes are done behind closed doors and by secret ballot. McConnell would need only a simple majority to win and he has said he has the votes he needs. If he does win, McConnell will surpass Mike Mansfield’s record for longest stint as party leader in the Senate.

A Rubio adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the internal dynamics of the caucus, said Republicans are “frustrated” by their lackluster midterms performance, after they hoped to decisively win back the majority on Tuesday. Rubio, who won his race in Florida by a large margin, wants Senate Republicans to figure out “what in the world happened” before they elect their next leaders, the person said.

The Rubio adviser did not rule out that Rubio himself would seek a leadership spot, but said the senator’s focus was on getting Republicans to focus on their policy priorities before deciding who should lead them.

In their letter, Scott and Lee also wrote, “We are all disappointed that a Red Wave failed to materialize, and there are multiple reasons it did not,” according to Politico. “We need to have serious discussions within our conference as to why and what we can do to improve our chances in 2024.”

In an interview published Friday, Hawley told RealClearPolitics, “I’m not going to support the current leadership in the party,” citing gun control and climate change legislation. “We surrendered when we should’ve fought.”