Senators chose Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for another term leading Republicans and Chuck Schumer for Democrats in closed-door party elections Wednesday lacking the high drama underway on the House side in the midterm election fallout.
Both senators were chosen by acclamation, according to those familiar with the private caucus meetings. McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who expanded GOP ranks in last week’s midterm, faced no contest for the job. Democrats returned Schumer’s entire leadership team, despite the loss of several incumbents in last week’s election.
During a brief photo op in McConnell’s Capitol office ahead of voting, McConnell presented his newly elected senators who will take their seats in January.
Among them was Florida’s Rick Scott, the Republican governor whose race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson remains undecided.
In the House, the elections were unfolding differently, after Democrats won control of the chamber, putting Republicans in the minority.
The speaker’s gavel now out of reach, Republican Kevin McCarthy is poised to take over the shrunken House GOP caucus in closed-door elections that will determine party leadership and set the tone for the new Congress.
The race for minority leader is McCarthy’s to lose, but the Californian must fend off a challenge from conservative Rep. Jim Jordan, who has support from the right flank and outside groups as a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus.
“We’ve got a plan,” McCarthy told reporters as he ducked into a closed-door meeting of House Republicans late Tuesday.
President Donald Trump has stayed largely on the sidelines ahead of elections that will determine party leadership. Voting for the biggest race, Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s bid to return as the Democrats’ nominee for speaker, is later this month.
On Wednesday, Jordan told “Fox & Friends” the GOP lost its House majority because it didn’t deliver on promises to Americans to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, fund Trump’s wall and replace the Obama health care law.
“Some key things we told them we were going to do, we didn’t,” Jordan said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, McCarthy and Jordan encountered frustration, finger-pointing and questions as lawmakers sorted through an election defeat and began considering new leadership for the next congressional session.
Republicans complained about the unpopularity of the GOP tax law they blamed for losses in New York and other key states, some attendees told reporters after the meeting. Some in the meeting said Republicans should have tried harder to fulfill Trump’s priorities, like funding for the wall with Mexico. They also warned that they need a new fundraising mechanism to compete with the small-dollar online donors that powered Democrats to victory.
“There’s a little rawness still,” Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., who is running unopposed for a down-ballot position as vice chair of the GOP conference, told reporters outside the meeting room. “But there’s an opportunity for us to come together and get single-focused on the message.”
Jordan told reporters that he made a pitch to his colleagues at a sometimes-tense session in the Capitol basement focused on three questions: “Why’d we lose, how do we get it back and what we’re up against.” The former college wrestling champ said he told Republicans they need a fighter to confront Pelosi and her new majority.
“I think we’re entering a world we haven’t really seen,” Jordan said, rattling off the names of the Democratic chairmen who are poised to investigate Trump. “It’s going to take an attitude and an intensity about standing up for the truth and fighting.”
Most GOP lawmakers, though, prefer McCarthy’s more affable approach, and he remained favored to win Wednesday.
GOP Whip Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who was gravely wounded in last year’s congressional baseball practice shooting and is running unopposed for another term in leadership, said McCarthy “knows what he needs to do” to win over his colleagues — and win back the majority — and is well-positioned to do both.
“You always look in the mirror and see what you can do better,” Scalise said as he entered the room. Republicans, he said, “need to do a better job of letting people know what we stand for.”
Rounding out the GOP leadership team will be Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who wants to bring a more aggressive stance to the GOP’s communications and messaging strategy in the No. 3 spot.
The biggest leadership race is among House Democrats, where Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California is seeking another term as speaker, but that contest will not be held until after Thanksgiving.
A group of Democrats seeking to stop Pelosi’s rise claim they have the votes to block her. But Pelosi says she’s confident she’ll have enough support to win and challenged her opponents Wednesday to put forward an alternative candidate.
“Come on in, the water’s warm,” Pelosi said.
In the Senate, the most interesting race is down-ballot, where Republicans are poised to elect their first woman to leadership in almost a decade, as they try to smooth the optics of a GOP side that’s dominated by men. Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer has made a bid for vice chair of the conference “to help bring our party’s big tent together.” She faces GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa.
McCarthy has been here before, and he’s making the case that he’s best suited to lead his party back to power. He played a similar role a decade ago, helping to recruit candidates after Democrats won control in 2006, leading to the tea party election that swept Republicans to power in 2010.
Most of those Republicans he ushered to office eight years ago are long gone, and now the House GOP’s leader will shepherd a more conservative caucus aligned with Trump and eager to confront Pelosi and Democrats.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said he told McCarthy this week he would be voting for Jordan. “I think it would be irresponsible of us to put the same people in leadership that put us in the minority,” he said.
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman and Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.
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This story has been corrected to show Rep. Mark Walker is from North Carolina, not South Carolina.