AP

McCarthy’s quest to be speaker collides with GOP failures

Nov 8, 2022, 12:26 PM | Updated: Nov 9, 2022, 5:16 pm

FILE - House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., heads to his office surrounded by reporters ...

FILE - House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., heads to his office surrounded by reporters after House investigators issued a subpoena to McCarthy and four other Republican lawmakers as part of their probe into the violent Jan. 6 insurrection, at the Capitol in Washington, May 12, 2022. With the promise of a red wave receding, Republicans are facing the stark reality that any return to power would mean presiding over a narrowly split Congress. Meanwhile, McCarthy was weakened by the party's dismal performance as he reaches for the speaker's gavel (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)


              FILE - House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., heads to his office surrounded by reporters after House investigators issued a subpoena to McCarthy and four other Republican lawmakers as part of their probe into the violent Jan. 6 insurrection, at the Capitol in Washington, May 12, 2022. With the promise of a red wave receding, Republicans are facing the stark reality that any return to power would mean presiding over a narrowly split Congress. Meanwhile, McCarthy was weakened by the party's dismal performance as he reaches for the speaker's gavel (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
            
              FILE - House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., appears on stage before former President Donald Trump speaks at an America First Policy Institute agenda summit in Washington, July 26, 2022. With the promise of a red wave receding, Republicans are facing the stark reality that any return to power would mean presiding over a narrowly split Congress. Meanwhile, McCarthy was weakened by the party's dismal performance as he reaches for the speaker's gavel(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
            
              FILE - House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of Calif., left, speaks during a news conference on the House Jan. 6 Committee, June 9, 2022, with Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., on Capitol Hill in Washington. With the promise of a red wave receding, Republicans are facing the stark reality that any return to power would mean presiding over a narrowly split Congress. Meanwhile, McCarthy was weakened by the party's dismal performance as he reaches for the speaker's gavel (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
            
              House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., greets supporters after speaking at an event early Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
            
              House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., greets supporters after speaking at an event early Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
            
              House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., greets supporters after speaking at an event early Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
            
              House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., greets supporters after speaking at an event early Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
            
              House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., greets supporters after speaking at an event early Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
            
              House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., greets supporters after speaking at an event early Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
            
              House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., greets supporters after speaking at an event early Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
            
              House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., greets supporters after speaking at an event early Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
            
              House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., greets supporters after speaking at an event early Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
            
              House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks at an election event, early Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
            
              House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., arrives to speak at an event early Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
            
              Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., participates in a debate against Republican challenger Joseph Pinion, hosted by Spectrum News 1, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, Pool)
            
              Supporters cheer as a video screen announces Sen. Chuck Schumer as the projected winner, during the election-night party for New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
            
              House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., waves as he arrives to speak at an election event, early Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
            
              House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks at an election event, early Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington, as Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, left, and Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., listen. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
            
              House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks at an election event, early Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
            
              The U.S Capitol is seen on Election Day in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
            
              With the U.S Capitol in the background, people walk down steps on Election Day in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
            
              The U.S Capitol is seen on Election Day in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
            
              Hues of red and blue color the dawn at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. Control of Congress and of President Joe Biden's agenda on Capitol Hill are at stake this Election Day. Energized Republicans are working to claw back power in the House and Senate and end the Democratic Party's hold on Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The promise of a red wave receding, Republicans on Wednesday faced the stark reality that any return to power would mean presiding over a narrowly split Congress, and the party’s dismal performance weakened House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy as he reaches for the speaker’s gavel.

If Republicans pick up the remaining seats needed to break the Democrats’ one-party hold on Washington, McCarthy could rise to the position he has long wanted, but he would almost certainly be diminished, like so many other GOP speakers before him who were forced out or chose early retirement.

“Look, we were told we were going to have an incredible, incredible wave,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, in an online streaming show.

“If that would have been the case,” with a 20-, 30- or 40-seat margin, “you would say, ‘Well, OK, Kevin is the presumptive Republican nominee for speaker. But I think we need to have a serious discussion.”

Meanwhile in the evenly divided Senate, the battle for control remained in flux in close races in Arizona and Nevada, and the Georgia race headed to a Dec. 6 runoff.

Republicans ran into stiff competition in their march across the country, dashing hopes for the sweeping gains they had promised. Instead they inched toward what could be another Congress in which the two parties are separated by just a few seats.

If Republicans prevail, such an outcome in the House would pose a great challenge for the GOP and particularly for McCarthy.

He would need to lasso a new generation of Republicans, many of them outsiders and newcomers inspired by former President Donald Trump and eager to confront President Joe Biden with investigations.

McCarthy would have little room to maneuver in a narrow House where each member can leverage their vote to advance personal priorities.

Routine votes to fund the government or raise the nation’s debt limit would then have the potential to trigger crises and gridlock across federal operations, as has happened in the past.

McCarthy has been here before. He sought the speaker’s gavel in 2015, only to see it slip from his grasp in a backlash from the party’s conservative flank.

“Earning the majority is only the beginning,” McCarthy wrote Wednesday in a letter to colleagues asking for their support to become speaker ahead of an internal party vote scheduled for next week.

“Now we will be measured by what we do with our majority,” McCarthy said. “Now the real work begins.”

While no rivals emerged publicly Wednesday to challenge him, stirrings of the difficulty ahead for McCarthy were clear as far-right members threatened his ambitions.

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida renewed his support for Rep. Jim Jordan, a founder of the Freedom Caucus and a previous challenger to McCarthy for the gavel. Jordan has signaled that he would back McCarthy.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s future also remained uncertain. A narrowly held House could prompt her and other Democratic leaders to stay in office rather than retire, as many expected would happen if Democrats suffered a wipeout.

On a midday call with the House Democrats’ campaign team, Pelosi briefed lawmakers on the party’s “remarkable achievement,” according to a person familiar with the call who spoke on condition of anonymity. Lawmakers were told there was still a narrow path for Democrats to hold control.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Biden said he was “hopeful” that he and McCarthy could “work out a modus vivendi,” or an agreement to coexist.

Later in the day, Biden spoke with McCarthy by phone, the White House said.

With only a slim majority, Republicans could still bring a new intensity to Capitol Hill and threaten to end Biden’s most ambitious plans.

But the mood among Republicans was tense as Democrats delivered a surprising run of the map in places Republicans expected to claim as their own.

“The RED WAVE did not happen,” defeated Republican Rep. Mayra Flores of Texas said in a tweet.

McCarthy tried to remain upbeat as he addressed a crowd of supporters early Wednesday in Washington.

Republicans were slowly amassing some of the five seats needed to reach a 218-seat House majority.

But it was a grinding battle. Republicans picked up wins in some states but lost others. It was far from the massive gains the GOP had predicted when the party was confident that Biden’s lagging approval rating and high inflation would turn voters away from Democrats.

Blame was swift and brutal Wednesday, falling less on McCarthy — who raised millions for his party’s effort — but on his top campaign chief, Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., whose strategy was seen as lacking.

McCarthy had recruited the most racially diverse class of House GOP candidates, with more women than ever. But it also included a new cadre of Trump loyalists, including election skeptics and deniers, some of whom were around the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Trump endorsed hundreds of candidates nationwide in this election cycle, though they were not always the first choices of McCarthy and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. In an interview posted on election night, the former president said he backed McCarthy for speaker, and he derided his old foe McConnell as a “lousy leader,” according to Fox News.

McCarthy had been eager to celebrate the defeat of the House Democrats’ campaign chairman, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, in New York. He was the first Democratic campaign chief to be ousted in decades.

But Maloney’s high-profile loss became a rallying point as he used his concession as a sign of the health of America’s democracy.

“I don’t think the American people have given up on democracy,” Maloney said at Democratic campaign headquarters. “With all of the headwinds, and all of the damage from the pandemic and the Trump years, there’s still a beating heart to American democracy.”

___

Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

___

Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. And learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections.

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McCarthy’s quest to be speaker collides with GOP failures