No GOP ‘wave,’ but Republicans could still gain control of US House

WASHINGTON — Republicans fell short of their greatest ambitions for major gains in the U.S. House, with control of the chamber still in doubt early Wednesday.

Republicans are still likely to narrowly win control of the U.S. House, based on expert projections. But of 20 races rated by elections forecaster Inside Elections as true toss-ups, Democrats had won seven and none had been called for Republicans as of about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. Republicans only needed to win two toss-ups to likely have a majority in the House.

In Idaho, U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher and U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, both Republicans, easily won their congressional races to seek their third and 13th terms, respectively.

If projections stand and Republicans take over, they would end two years of unified control of Washington by Democrats. The divided government would be unlikely to pursue the ambitious bills on climate, taxes, health care and other issues that Democrats passed in the first two years of President Joe Biden’s administration, and may see fights over usually noncontroversial bills like those to raise the country’s debt limit or keep the government open.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said around 2 a.m. from a ballroom in a Washington, D.C., hotel that he was confident the GOP would control the U.S. House during the next Congress.

“Now let me tell you, you’re out late, but when you wake up tomorrow, we will be in the majority and Nancy Pelosi will be in the minority,” McCarthy said during the three-and-a-half minute speech.

McCarthy said a Republican U.S. House majority would “offer a new direction” though he added that “Republicans will work with anyone who’s willing to join us to deliver this new direction that Americans have demanded.”

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Early results are in line with historical trends for midterm elections, when the party opposite the president typically gains seats. This election was not likely to be one of the exceptions, with Biden carrying low approval ratings.

Still, Democrats outperformed expectations. Republicans did not inspire a wave election that would have given them a more comfortable margin in the House.

Of three vulnerable House Democrats in Virginia, for example, Republicans defeated only one, Elaine Luria. Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton held on in districts considered slightly more favorable to Democrats.

In another sign of how far Republicans were from the decisive takeover they sought, Colorado U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a far-right member expected to cruise to reelection, had a surprisingly close race and actually trailed Democratic challenger Adam Frisch by 3 percentage points with almost 80% counted at about 11 p.m. Mountain time.

Democrats are projected to hang onto competitive seats, including in:

Virginia’s 7th District (incumbent Spanberger won reelection).Kansas’ 3rd District (incumbent Sharice Davids won reelection).New Hampshire’s 1st District (incumbent Democrat Chris Pappas won reelection).North Carolina’s 13th District (state Sen. Wiley Nickel defeated Bo Hines, a former North Carolina State University football player who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump.)Ohio’s 9th District, a redrawn district that put 40-year incumbent Marcy Kaptur’s reelection in serious jeopardy. Kaptur turned back Trump-aligned GOP challenger J.R. Majewski.

Races still too early or close to call early Wednesday included:

Nevada’s 1st District (incumbent Democrat Dina Titus led by about 11 points with 50% of the vote counted).Pennsylvania’s 17th District (Democrat Chris Deluzio led by 4.6 percentage points with more than 90% of votes counted).Iowa’s 3rd District (incumbent Democrat Cindy Axne trailed by less than a percentage point with more than 95% counted).

Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist and co-founder and partner of the bipartisan public policy firm Rokk Solutions, said around 10:30 Eastern Time on Tuesday that Democratic losses appeared “manageable.”

Facing headwinds as the party in power during a midterm election, Democrats wanted to keep their losses to a minimum.

“We were in a position where it was going to be damn near impossible for us to keep the House, and it was just a matter of how many it was going to be by,” he said. “Losing the House is bad. Losing the House by 30 is horrible.”

Key races like Spanberger’s and Seth Magaziner’s in Rhode Island that were potential Republican pickups showed there was “reason to be optimistic that this is not a wave,” he added.

Election officials still counting midterm votes

The exact size of the Republican majority won’t be known until more races are called.

Some results may not be known for days. Others may see legal challenges, especially from Republican candidates who have repeated — without evidence — Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was illegitimate.

In a closely watched Iowa race, Republican challenger Zach Nunn declared victory in his race against Cindy Axne.

“This race changes the course of America,” Nunn said in a speech Tuesday night.

As of midnight Central Time, Nunn led with 50.3% of the vote to Axne’s 49.7%, with 94% of precincts reporting. The Associated Press had not called the race. The state senator declared victory alongside fellow Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and U.S. Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Randy Feenstra.

Axne had not conceded.

As of midway through the last day of voting, Tuesday, the election had generally gone smoothly. Administrators across the country reported only minor issues, typical of any Election Day.

Republicans in Maricopa County, the most populous in Arizona, where several key races were contested, asked a judge to extend voting hours. Problems with tabulating machines caused delays in about one-third of the county’s voting centers.

An elections worker scans mail-in ballots at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center on Nov. 7, 2022, in Phoenix, Arizona. Arizona voters are casting ballots in very close midterm elections for both senator and governor. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The margin of victory will be important for the prospects of the likely incoming GOP speaker, McCarthy, in succeeding with his agenda.

No matter how many House seats Republicans pick up, though, much of the GOP framework will still be unlikely to become law. Control of the U.S. Senate was unclear early Wednesday and could remain in Democratic hands, and Republicans will certainly be short of the 60-vote threshold needed to pass most measures in the chamber.

Even if both chambers flip to Republicans, Biden will have veto power.

President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings

Polls for months have shown more voters disapprove of Biden’s performance than approve. An NBC News survey early this month showed a majority, 53%, disapproved of Biden, with 44% approving.

With his poll numbers dragging, the president kept a relatively low profile in swing states over the campaign’s final weeks. He stumped for Democrats in his native Pennsylvania, a key battleground for the U.S. Senate, but otherwise generally stuck to blue areas.

In times of economic hardship, voters generally blame the party in power, and Democrats — despite passing laws to provide COVID-19 relief, spend $1.2 billion on infrastructure improvement, boost microchips manufacturing and curb climate change and lower prescription drug prices — couldn’t escape that this year, Mollineau said.

“It’s really hard to tell people about how well things are coming through and all the things that you’ve done when they honestly feel that things aren’t going well,” Mollineau said. “Right now, what people are thinking about is high energy prices and high food prices.”

Biden held no public events Tuesday, but spoke by phone with Democratic political leaders. U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, who leads Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, the chairman of the Democratic governors’ campaign group, and Democratic National Committee senior adviser Cedric Richmond, a former House member from Louisiana, were among those who talked to Biden.

First Gen Z member elected to U.S. Congress

In Florida, voters sent the first Gen Z candidate to Congress, 25-year-old Democrat Maxwell Alejandro Frost, who won with about 59% of the vote. The minimum age requirement to serve in the House of Representatives is 25.

“History was made tonight,” he wrote on Twitter Tuesday night. “We made history for Floridians, for Gen Z, and for everyone who believes we deserve a better future.”

Frost ran in Florida’s 10th Congressional District — a solid Democratic seat — after Rep. Val Demings left her district to run as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rubio won his reelection Tuesday night with about 56% of Florida votes, along with Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won about 58% of Florida votes.

Another Gen Z candidate, Karoline Leavitt, a Republican, did not win her race against Democratic incumbent Rep. Chris Pappas for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District. Pappas kept his seat with 54% of the votes.

Leavitt, who is a former Trump press staffer, challenged Pappas in a toss up race.

Virginia battles during midterm

In the several closely watched Virginia elections, Democrats kept six out of seven seats up for reelection, losing only one. Republicans held on to four of their seats and picked up a seat.

Spanberger, who flipped Virginia’s 7th Congressional District in 2018, kept her seat in a tight reelection campaign against GOP candidate Yesli Vega. With 95% of the vote counted around midnight Eastern, Spanberger had received nearly 52%.

In Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, Wexton kept her seat against GOP challenger Hung Cao, a retired Navy captain. She won 53% of the vote.

Kiggans defeated Luria with about 52% of the vote.

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Luria, a member of the House Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, Attack on the U.S. Capitol, made a point of clearly conceding the race early in the night.

After she told supporters during her concession speech that she’d called Kiggans to offer a concession and supporters booed, Luria chastised them.

“Please don’t boo,” she said. “Because the success of this district depends on her success. And this was a hard-fought race. She won this election.”

Luria said she called Kiggans to congratulate her on her win and that her office would help her with the transition process.

The district was made more Republican during redistricting following the 2020 census.

Republican plans for U.S. House in 2023

What exactly Republicans will do with the U.S. House under their control remain murky, though they did release a one-page outline of their goals in September.

While it’s unclear what, if any, measures would get the bipartisan backing needed to clear the U.S. Senate and garner Biden’s signature, the plan was seen as House leaders’ promise to GOP voters.

The first item on the plan says Republicans want to reduce government spending.

House leaders, including McCarthy, have indicated the party may be willing to shut down the federal government or possibly push the country into a first ever default on its debt to win concessions from Democrats and the Biden administration.

Other goals include addressing gun rights, overhauling Social Security and Medicare, and increasing funding on border security.

Lawmakers would also have to pass the farm bill next year, which every five years sets policy and funding for agriculture. Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee signaled their opposition to making climate change and conservation programs a priority for farmers and ranchers.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan during the proposal’s rollout at an HVAC factory in Monongahela, Pennsylvania said a GOP House would hold hearings on the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the origins of COVID-19 and various actions by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We are committed to doing the investigations that need to be done,” Jordan said at the time. “After all, that is part of our constitutional duty, to do the oversight and make sure you, the country, we, the people, have the facts and the truth.”

House Republicans have also threatened to impeach U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas over the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: info@idahocapitalsun.com. Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

Four things to watch for at Thursday's Jan. 6 hearing

The U.S. House committee investigating a pro-Trump mob’s attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, is back. It will hold its first hearing in nearly three months Thursday—and potentially its last.

In a break from most of the panel’s previous eight hearings in June and July, Thursday’s meeting will not drill down into one specific aspect of the attack. Lawmakers will instead provide an overview of the “multipart plan” by former President Donald Trump and his allies to subvert the 2020 election results, committee aides told reporters Wednesday.

The committee will present new evidence, but will also synthesize findings presented at earlier hearings. No live witnesses will appear Thursday. Taped interviews will be shown.

In another change to the format the committee has employed for most of its public hearings, all of the committee’s nine members are expected to participate Thursday.

Members include Democrats Stephanie Murphy of Florida, who is retiring at the end of this term; Jamie Raskin of Maryland; and Elaine Luria of Virginia, who is in a competitive reelection race.

The panel’s two Republicans, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, are both leaving Congress at the end of their terms. Cheney lost reelection in her August primary and Kinzinger is retiring after his district lines were reset.

The hearing, which will be livestreamed, is likely the final public meeting for the panel ahead of next month’s mid-term elections.

Here are four things to watch for, starting at 1 p.m. Eastern:

Many Secret Service texts

The committee will present new documentary evidence, including from information gleaned from hundreds of thousands of pages the U.S. Secret Service provided to the panel under a July subpoena, committee aides said Wednesday.

In mid-July, the panel demanded text messages and other Secret Service records related to the attack and a Jan. 5 pro-Trump rally.

The subpoena closely followed perhaps the most staggering of the committee’s first eight hearings, in which Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, told the panel that Secret Service agents witnessed Trump outbursts.

One episode included Trump grabbing for the steering wheel in a rage when agents began taking him back to the White House instead of the Capitol.

What did Trump know?

Thursday’s hearing will also focus on “the former president’s state of mind,” a committee aide said Wednesday.

The panel will reveal new evidence and will use findings it has previously shown to document how central Trump was to the planning and execution of the attack.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the Secret Service records would show Trump was aware of the threats his supporters posed and still moved to rile them up.

Previous hearings have explored Trump’s hold over his supporters and his foreknowledge of potential plans to incite violence.

Ongoing threats to democracy

Among the panel’s roles under the House resolution that created it was to provide recommendations to prevent future attacks and block other threats to U.S. elections.

Members on Thursday will lay out “ongoing threats to democracy that persist to this day,” a committee aide said.

The aide did not provide more specifics.

Many Republicans running in races across the country this fall have repeated the false claim—raised by Trump and used as the pretext for the Capitol attack—that the 2020 election was stolen and that Trump would have rightly won. There is no evidence to back that claim.

A closing argument?

Thursday’s hearing could be the committee’s last.

Although committee aides told reporters Wednesday that the panel would publish a report before it adjourns at the end of the year, the committee has not scheduled another hearing.

Thursday’s has some trappings of a closing presentation, with all members likely to speak and a more generalized narrative than a particular focus.

That includes the expectation that lawmakers will present a broader view of the “multipart plan to overturn the 2020 presidential election” rather than any particular piece of it, committee aides said.

That mirrors the panel’s opening prime time hearing, when committee members laid out an overview of what they would present over the coming weeks.

Joe Manchin's permitting plan roils Democrats: report

The energy permitting proposal centrist Democrat U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III made a condition of his support for a major Senate Democratic measure would impose timelines on federal agencies responsible for approving energy projects, according to text of the measure released late Wednesday.

Congressional Democrats are deeply divided over the Manchin permitting bill, with some on the left worried it would remove tools for communities to oppose projects with major environmental impacts. The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, blasted the Manchin plan on Wednesday night and said, “My colleagues and I don’t want this.”

A provision in the legislation to approve the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia and Manchin’s home state of West Virginia also alienated Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who said he was not consulted and raised strong objections.

Meanwhile, Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley is leading a letter from Senate progressives urging separate votes on a must-pass stopgap spending measure and the permitting legislation, according to a Politico report.

Adding to problems, the top Senate Republican on the chamber’s spending committee told States Newsroom Wednesday afternoon that the inclusion of the permitting measure and other provisions may make the stopgap bill unworkable.

But Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has continued to say the Manchin plan would be included in the stopgap spending bill to keep the government open when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

Details on Manchin plan

The Manchin bill would not remove any federal permitting requirements.

Instead, it would prescribe timelines for federal agencies to complete their reviews, including a two-year target for National Environmental Policy Act reviews on major projects. Such reviews can take up to 10 years, Manchin has said.

The bill includes a section requiring federal agencies to approve the Mountain Valley Pipeline that would send natural gas from southern Virginia to West Virginia, upsetting Kaine.

The bill would also set a five-month limit on court challenges and require federal agencies to act within six months when a court remands a decision to them.

Manchin’s proposal would also designate a lead federal agency to coordinate project reviews. The lead agency would monitor requirements and deadlines set at the state level.

Manchin and other supporters of the measure have said it would be needed to deliver energy from renewable sources like wind and solar.

“If you’re going to build a wind farm or a solar farm in the middle of the desert where there’s no people…you’ve got to have permitting reform to get it done,” Manchin said Tuesday. “You’re not going to be able to deliver the energy that people need.”

Progressive opposition

But members of Senate Democrats’ progressive wing have for weeks criticized the concept of permitting reforms, which they say would remove power from local communities seeking to challenge pipelines and other projects.

Merkley, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations panel on Interior and environmental agencies, and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, all reportedly signed on to the letter calling for separate votes on the permitting bill and the stopgap bill—which would allow senators to stake out a clear position on the Manchin plan.

A spokeswoman for Merkley confirmed the Politico report but declined to comment further or provide a copy of the letter Wednesday.

“We are making clear we would like a separate vote—a separate debate and a separate vote—on the permitting process,” Warren told reporters Wednesday.

More than 70 House Democrats sent a similar letter to leaders of their caucus earlier this month.

Grijalva, who spearheaded House Democrats’ letter, issued a strong statement in opposition to the Manchin proposal.

The measure shortens public comment periods, provides fewer ways for communities to oppose projects and weakens enforcement of foundational environmental and public health laws, the Arizona Democrat said.

“These dangerous permitting shortcuts have been on industry wish lists for years,” he said. “And now they’ve added the Mountain Valley Pipeline approval as the rotten cherry on top of the pile.

“The very fact that this fossil fuel brainchild is being force-fed into must-pass government funding speaks to its unpopularity.”

Kaine, a potential supporter of permitting reform more broadly, raised a major issue with the provision approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Kaine said he agreed “with the need to reform our broken process for permitting infrastructure,” but disagreed with the congressional approval of the pipeline—a provision he said he was not consulted on.

“Green-lighting the MVP is contrary to the spirit of permitting reform,” he said. “Such a deliberate action by Congress to put its thumb on the scale and simply approve this project while shutting down opportunities for full administrative or judicial review is at odds with the bipartisan desire to have a more transparent and workable permitting process.”

In a statement accompanying the bill announcement, Manchin repeated that Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House had all agreed to pass the legislation, which was part of a deal this summer to pass a huge package of climate, health and tax measures.

The Democrats opposed to the bill have not threatened to vote against the combined measure and risk a government shutdown.

Spending bill pitfalls

With annual government funding set to expire at the end of the month, Congress is expected to consider very soon a short-term bill to keep the government open for the coming months.

Alabama’s Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he and fellow GOP lawmakers may filibuster the short-term government funding bill—which would need Republican support to pass—if Democrats add too many additional provisions.

That means they would not supply the 10 Republican votes needed for any legislation to advance in the evenly divided Senate.

“What could be telling would be when Schumer puts the legislation on the floor and there’s a motion to proceed, subject to debate, subject to 60 votes —that vote will be indicative of maybe things to come if he’s loaded it up with extraneous things,” Shelby said. “It probably won’t carry that well.”

When asked about Manchin’s permitting reform bill, which at that point had not been made public, and Schumer’s commitment to add it to the must-pass government funding bill, Shelby said, “I think it’s going to be hard to carry that.”

“We haven’t seen the language of it,” he said. “But it’s a raw political deal.”