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Republicans win House majority on strength of gerrymandered districts and rebuke to Biden

A number of House races remain undecided but Republicans will control at least 218 seats when the 118th Congress convenes in January

Andrew Feinberg
Washington DC
Thursday 17 November 2022 01:35 GMT
Midterms: What would a GOP House mean for Biden?

When the 118th Congress convenes on 3 January, Republicans will control the House of Representatives for the first time in four years after meeting the required 218 seats necessary to form a majority in last week’s midterm elections.

The GOP needed to gain just five seats held by Democrats to wrest control of the House from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her caucus, and while a significant number of races remain uncalled, they have now won a majority of seats in the lower chamber, with many of the gains coming from gerrymandered districts drawn by Republican-controlled state legislatures.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the man most likely to garner the required 219 votes to be Speaker of the House in the next Congress, celebrated the GOP win on Twitter on Wednesday night, proclaiming, “Americans are ready for a new direction, and House Republicans are ready to deliver.”

“I’m proud to announce the era of one-party Democrat rule in Washington is over,” Mr McCarthy said the day before, after he was nominated to be the next Speaker.

In a statement, President Biden congratulated the Republicans on their victory and emphasised that the midterms were a repudiation of election deniers repeating Donald Trump’s false claims.

“Last week’s elections demonstrated the strength and resilience of American democracy. There was a strong rejection of election deniers, political violence, and intimidation,” Mr Biden said. “There was an emphatic statement that, in America, the will of the people prevails.”

The president added he was “ready to work with House Republicans to deliver results for working families.”

Several of the newly Republican seats that will give the GOP control of the House are in Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis personally intervened in the Sunshine State’s redistricting process to ensure that the map would be extremely favourable to his party.

Republicans also gained numerous seats in places where a majority of voters elected President Joe Biden just two years ago, with races in Democratic strongholds such as New York falling into the GOP column for the first time in many years after courts rejected a congressional map that would have favoured the Democratic Party by a large margin.

Republican candidates in the Empire State massively outperformed expectations in a state where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans two to one. On Long Island alone, Republicans gained four House seats.

New York congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, lost his re-election to a Republican after moving into a newly drawn district after the state’s redistricting process.

Still, it was far from the “red wave” anticipated by Republicans, with embattled Democrats in critical races managing to protect their seats as voters – particularly young people and women – rejected far-right campaigns on abortion rights, Mr Trump’s looming precense and the GOP’s worryingly antidemocratic agenda.

Democratic candidates also maintained control of the US Senate by flipping a Pennsylvania seat and scoring victories in critical battleground states, with a runoff election in Georgia between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker set for 6 December.

The change in party control of the House also means a change in leadership.

Mr McCarthy is expected to gain the speaker’s gavel with support from the most extreme members of Congress, including far-right congressmembers Paul Gosar of Arizona and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. Both were removed from committees by the Democratic majority in the last Congress, but the two extremist members have said they expect Mr McCarthy to reward them with assignments on plum committees such as the House Judiciary and Oversight panels.

The Republican takeover of the House could mean that President Biden and some of his cabinet will be ensnared in impeachment proceedings over the next two years, as many of Mr McCarthy’s members have expressed a desire to gain a measure of revenge for the two impeachment trials of former president Donald Trump by impeaching the Democratic president and others.

Many of the new Republican members-elect are staunch Trump loyalists who gained his favour by repeating his widely discredited lies about the 2020 presidential election.

Ms Greene has suggested that the GOP will aggressively wield the subpoena power, putting favourite Republican targets like Joe Biden and his son Hunter in the crosshairs.

“We have to have the gavel,” the Georgia rep said on Tuesday. “That is extremely important, because the gavel means subpoena power. And Republicans need subpoena power going over the next two years.”

Other far-right Republicans have suggested using the impending need to raise the US government’s debt ceiling to extract spending cuts and limit the scope of the Biden agenda.

"It’s critical that we’re prepared to use the leverage we have," House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry told Reuters in September.

Mr Trump began taking credit for the House Republican victory before a single vote was counted on Tuesday. His political action committee distributed a memorandum to reporters touting his “unprecedented success” in elevating the more than 300 candidates he endorsed over the last two years and driving out of office most of the Republican House members who voted to impeach him after the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021, mounted by his supporters.

And with Mr Trump having this week officially himself a candidate in the 2024 general election, the new pro-Trump House majority is likely to devote significant efforts to delegitimising and attacking Mr Biden using the legislative branch’s investigative authorities.

Republicans have also promised a host of inquiries into Mr Biden, his family, and his administration’s policies, as well as other backward-looking probes into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic and a revenge-oriented investigation of the House committee investiation the Capitol attack, which will expire when the current Congress adjourns.

Representative Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, predicted that the Republicans will usher chaos into Congress.

“If Kevin McCarthy somehow holds on to become Speaker, he’s no Nancy Pelosi who can lead a narrow majority,” he told Vanity Fair.

“A MAGA House majority will also operate as the largest law firm in Washington, DC, but serving just one client and his endless grievances,” he continued. “Functionally, without a Democratic votes it will spectacularly fail to execute its core functions: keep the government open, pay America’s bills, and fund the fight for freedom in Ukraine.”

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