Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy to lead Republicans in Congress
House and Senate Republicans elected their leaders for the next Congress on Wednesday, largely sticking with the same team that led them to disappointing results in last week’s midterm elections.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California will lead Republicans in the minority in the House after his party ceded dozens of seats, and Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky won another term as majority leader in the Senate, where Republicans appear to have picked up a seat or two.
Mr. McCarthy, who trounced conservative challenger Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio in the House leader’s election, promised cooperation with Democrats up to a point.
“We will work with anybody across that aisle if they are there to work to move America forward, but let me very clear: If their agenda is simply investigations, impeachment and not focused on the hardworking American public, we will be there to defend the American public,” Mr. McCarthy said.
Senate Democrats also maintained their basic leadership, with Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York winning another term after limiting his party’s losses last week.
The biggest action is among House Democrats, who won the majority after eight years. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California is trying to win the speaker’s post and stifle a rebellion among liberals and younger lawmakers fed up with the calcified leadership.
House Democrats will hold their election after Thanksgiving.
“I’m going to be speaker,” Mrs. Pelosi said Wednesday.
Leadership posts within a party can be filled with a majority of caucus members, but the entire House elects the speaker. That means Mrs. Pelosi must have nearly unanimous support of her caucus to secure the post.
Rep. Tim Ryan, Ohio Democrat and leading Pelosi antagonist, estimated that more than 20 House Democrats won’t support Mrs. Pelosi. That would be enough to sink her bid in the Jan. 3 floor vote.
“The establishment is trying to hold on, and the American people and Democrats voted for change,” Mr. Ryan said. “They voted for candidates who said they were going to come down here and vote against Nancy Pelosi.”
But Mrs. Pelosi has plenty of supporters who say Democrats owe much of their success to her.
“So one of the first things we do, after doing all of that, is we thank that architect who happens to be the one and only woman speaker in the history of this body?” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Virginia Democrat. “And we don’t even give her a gold watch. Just ‘Thank you for your service; now get the heck out.’ That’s an odd thing to do for a grateful caucus.”
Other Pelosi allies played down the threat.
“There’s overwhelming support for leader Pelosi to be speaker of the House,” Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, a New Mexico Democrat who led midterm campaign efforts. “Everything I’ve seen, she has the votes.”
Nobody has stepped up to challenge Mrs. Pelosi nor her top lieutenant, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who is in line to become majority leader.
They have been the top two House Democrats since 2002. More than 70 percent of House Democrats have never served under a different team which is part of the reason for the agitation.
“This is not an age thing, this is not a gender thing. It’s not a where-you-come-from geographic thing. It’s not a racial thing,” said Rep. Kathleen M. Rice, New York Democrat. “It is [that] this leadership team needs to turn the reins over to the next generation of Democrats. The American people demand it. That’s what they want, that’s how they voted, and we need to listen to them.”
Rebel Democrats say the fight is just getting started, so alternatives could emerge if it becomes clear that Mrs. Pelosi cannot corral the votes during their Nov. 28 meeting.
On the Republican side in the Senate, lawmakers made incremental changes. They added Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa as vice chairman of the Republican Conference to what had been an all-male team.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota took over as Republican whip from Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who was term-limited under conference rules.
In the House, Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin is retiring, so Mr. McCarthy will ascend to the top Republican spot as minority leader.
He topped Mr. Jordan, a founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, on a 159-43 vote.
Mr. Jordan had said Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Ryan should bear the blame for election losses last week because voters felt that Republicans didn’t live up to their promises.
Most Republicans, though, said the losses don’t reflect on Mr. McCarthy.
Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas said Republicans exceeded expectations by limiting their losses.
He said House Republicans will cooperate with Democrats as long as the new majority shows it is serious about governing.
“I think we are certainly open to finding common ground,” said Mr. Brady, citing infrastructure as a possible point of agreement. “But if they are just interested in increasing taxes and attacking the president, I think they will overreach and hand us back the majority.”
But Rep. Gary J. Palmer of Alabama, who was elected chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, said Republicans will serve in their role as the opposition.
“Unless it is a miracle, we are going to vote against them,” Mr. Palmer said. “That is just part of what the minority does is opposition, but I don’t think that’s the way you regain the majority. I think you have to advance ideas that are better than theirs, and some of the ideas I’ve heard out of them, that is a low bar.”
In other votes, House Republicans returned Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana as their whip, the No. 2 spot. They installed Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming as House Republican Conference chairman, as her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, sporting a cowboy hat, looked on.
⦁ Gabriella Muoz contributed to this report.