Republicans clinched the House of Representatives on Wednesday, more than a week after Election Day, after outlets projected that they’d won their 218th seat.
That means we’re once again headed for a divided government, with Democrats holding the Senate and the White House, and Republicans in control of the House. And while Republican gains were much slimmer than they’d hoped, they’ll still have the ability to throw an enormous wrench into the Democrats’ plans for the next two years.
House Minority Leader and likely future House Speaker Kevin McCarthy bragged last year that Republicans could flip as many as 60 seats. With six races yet to be called, however, it’s likely they’ll only net somewhere around a dozen, in what turned out to be the best midterm election for the sitting president’s party in 20 years. Democrats also flipped three governorships (while losing one, in Nevada) and could expand their Senate majority with a victory in the Georgia runoff next month.
As of Friday, we’re still waiting on calls on races in California, Alaska, and—unexpectedly—far-right Rep. Lauren Boebert’s seat in Colorado, which is going to a recount. But Republicans seized the majority with the help of gerrymandering, as well as strong performances in Florida and New York.
McCarthy easily won re-election as House Republican leader this week, despite a challenge from former House Freedom Caucus chair Andy Biggs, and is widely expected to become Speaker of the House.
McCarthy was poised to assume this role in 2015, but abruptly dropped out for still-mysterious reasons, unlocking a chain of events that resulted in Paul Ryan becoming Speaker. Back then, the House Freedom Caucus had forced out John Boehner and rallied behind a conservative opponent to McCarthy, which drove the then-Majority Leader McCarthy to admit that he wasn’t the unifying figure the caucus needed. He dropped out.
This time around, McCarthy has solidified his position after years spent kowtowing to former President Donald Trump and the far-right faction of his caucus. McCarthy voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, supported dumping Liz Cheney from Republican leadership, and defended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene when Democrats booted her from committee assignments in early 2021 because of her racist and antisemitic conspiracy theories and posts appearing to support violence against prominent Democrats.
Greene has repaid the favor by already announcing she’ll back McCarthy and encouraging her fellow right-wingers to do the same, for fear of moderate Republicans working with the Democrats to elect a more centrist House Speaker. It’s not just paranoia—Biggs and GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz have already said they won’t back McCarthy for Speaker, and Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, who narrowly won re-election, said he would be open to working with Democrats to elect a more moderate House Speaker if the Republican caucus can’t figure it out on their own.
“I will support Kevin McCarthy, but if we do get to that point, I do want the country to work and we need to govern,” Bacon told NBC News. “We can’t sit neutral. We can’t have total gridlock for two years.”
Faced with a majority of just a few seats, whoever becomes House Speaker will likely have to patch together a caucus of far-right true believers and skeptical moderate Republicans who blame Trump and his acolytes for the party’s poor midterms performance.
But if McCarthy’s own statements and recent history are any indication, we’re in for two years of seriously dysfunctional government—including investigations of the Biden administration, retaliation against House Democrats for the January 6 committee and for booting far-right Republicans off their committee assignments last year. There’s also a fight brewing on the debt ceiling that has the potential to crush the U.S. economy.
Here’s what’s coming.
Investigations and impeachments galore
Kentucky Republican Rep. James Comer, who’s expected to chair the House Oversight Committee in the next Congress, has made it clear the committee will proceed full-tilt into investigating the Biden administration and people close to the President himself, including his son, Hunter Biden.
“There’s mounting evidence that Hunter Biden was peddling access to our adversaries all over the world. The reason we are investigating Hunter Biden is because we believe he is a national security threat. But we are also concerned that Hunter’s shady business dealings have compromised Joe Biden,” Comer claimed on Fox News last month.
House Republicans spent much of Thursday pledging to investigate the “Biden Crime Family.”
The House Oversight Committee has long been one of the most partisan in Congress, and that doesn’t appear likely to change in the new session. McCarthy is considering giving Greene a spot on the committee and Comer has also expressed an openness to her joining, though he has maintained he doesn’t want it to become a “dog and pony show.”
Comer has also called for investigations of the origins of COVID-19, pandemic relief spending, and perhaps the most visible public health official in the country, Dr. Anthony Fauci. “Retirement can’t shield Dr. Fauci from congressional oversight,” Comer said in a statement after Fauci announced he would step down from the federal government this summer.
Other committees aren’t going to let the Oversight Committee monopolize the spotlight, though.
Incoming House Judiciary Committee Chairman and Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, a close Trump ally, has sent letters to both the the Justice Department and the FBI demanding that they preserve documents. It’s a clear sign that he’ll be gunning for both parts of the administration in retaliation for the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property to recover unsecured classified documents, which the DOJ authorized.
McCarthy is on board with this having accused the DOJ of “weaponized politicization” and promised to “leave no stone unturned” in investigating it once the GOP won back House control following the Mar-a-Lago search.
House Republicans have also threatened to impeach Attorney General Merrick Garland. Thirty-three House Republicans already moved to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over what they claim is negligence at controlling immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border. Some Republicans including Greene even want to impeach Biden, though having such a narrow majority could complicate those efforts.
Some of these investigations are more legitimate than others, but Republicans have made it clear they’re far more interested in hurting Biden than in holding the government accountable. There’s precedent for that: They used the House Select Committee on Benghazi investigation to weaken Hillary Clinton ahead of her 2016 run.
Jordan played a key role in that investigation, and in 2015, McCarthy predicted—correctly—that it would help keep her from winning the White House.
Biden’s agenda hits a roadblock
Over the past two years, despite razor-thin majorities in the House and the Senate, the Democrats were able to pass major spending bills through the reconciliation process, including the American Rescue Plan stimulus package in early 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act, which included some climate and healthcare provisions of Biden’s proposed Build Back Better agenda.
But when Republicans take control of the House in January, most if not all of what’s on the Democrats’ wishlist will be dead on arrival.
Considering Comer has pledged to investigate what’s already been spent on the COVID-19 response—not to mention Biden’s bewildering declaration that the pandemic was “over” in September—it’s likely that Biden’s request this week for $10 billion to further fund efforts to combat COVID-19 will go ignored as well, even as we face the prospect of another long pandemic winter. Democrats have played a role in that as well, as the current Congress has repeatedly punted on passing new funding for COVID vaccines, testing, and treatment.
The Senate additionally voted this week to end the emergency COVID-19 declaration, with support from every Republican and a dozen Democrats including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Biden has pledged to veto this bill. But if some version of it passes next year, it could hamstring Biden’s ability to extend the student loan pause, which he’s reportedly considering doing while the administration fights legal challenges to the student debt forgiveness plan it announced in August.
Republicans taking the House also has potential ramifications for the United States’ continuing funding of the Ukrainian war effort and humanitarian efforts to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. McCarthy said in October that Ukraine wouldn’t be given a “blank check” if Republicans took back the majority.
McCarthy later worked behind the scenes to reassure leading members of his caucus he wasn’t in favor of cutting off funding altogether, according to CNN. But on Thursday, Greene and other House Republicans held a press conference in which they called for an audit of U.S. spending on Ukraine.
“We voted ‘no’ to send money over there, but we’re also going to audit what’s happening in Ukraine,” Greene said.
Another debt ceiling limit looms
Republicans love to spend huge sums of government money on tax cuts and funding what’s already the most expensive military of the world when they’re in power, only to demand that Congress slash social programs when Democrats are in the White House. And it appears the GOP’s new majority is already preparing to once again force deep cuts when the debt ceiling limit is exhausted, which will likely happen next summer.
McCarthy has made it clear that given a chance, he’ll hold a debt ceiling increase hostage to try to force deep cuts to federal spending. That could include cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and green energy programs.
“A debt ceiling is you hit a limit on your credit card. So if you’re going to give a person a higher limit wouldn’t you first say ‘you should change your behavior’ so you just don’t keep raising it all the time?” he told CNN prior to the election. “Washington has so much wasteful spending.”
An actual default, however, could tank the U.S. economy, boosting interest rates on everyday bills like mortgages and credit cards and badly damaging investors’ faith that America will pay its bills. And while McCarthy has indicated he won’t actually cause a default, House Republicans are clearly planning to use the threat of it as leverage, as they have for the past decade.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Democrats are pushing to resolve the debt ceiling before Republicans take control of the House in January. But they’d need at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate to do so, and several prominent GOP senators have already poured cold water on the idea.
Subpoenas as retaliation
After Democrats removed Greene from her committees, and when they booted Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar from his committees for embracing white supremacists and sharing violent memes, McCarthy and other Republicans warned they’d take revenge when took back the House.
McCarthy specifically said that he might look to bar Reps. Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and Ilhan Omar from sitting on committees.
“The Democrats have created a new thing where they’re picking and choosing who could be on committee. Never in the history have you had the majority tell the minority who could be on committee,” McCarthy told Breitbart News in January.
Top House Republicans have also indicated that they plan to subpoena the records of the House Jan. 6 Committee, and issue retaliatory subpoenas to top House Democrats as payback for the subpoenas the committee sent to some House Republicans who were involved in the efforts to overturn Trump’s 2020 loss—including McCarthy.
“The base is out for blood on subpoenas,” a House Republican aide told Axios this summer. “A lot of it will just depend on how far McCarthy wants to go.”
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