By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans on Tuesday were closing in on majority control of the U.S. House of Representatives, a midterm victory tempered by the unexpectedly narrow margin they will hold over Democrats as they usher in two years of divided government.
Republicans so far have won 215 seats in the 435-member chamber, Edison Research projected, with 218 needed for a majority. Calls in tight races in states including California and Colorado later on Tuesday would likely allow Republicans to wrest control of the House from President Joe Biden’s Democrats, who trail with 204 seats.
The news could coincide with a speech at 9 p.m. ET (0200 GMT on Wednesday) by former President Donald Trump from his Florida home, where he is expected to announce his 2024 presidential bid even as his Republican Party is showing early signs of Trump fatigue.
The anticipated House victory for Republicans will be far short of the “red wave” they had predicted for the Nov. 8 midterm elections, and some in the party have blamed Trump for the disappointing showing.
Democrats retained control of the U.S. Senate after keeping seats in competitive races in the swing states of Arizona and Nevada, and could win outright majority control if Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock beats Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a Georgia runoff on Dec. 6.
The divided Congress next year will mean Biden has a far tougher time advancing his agenda – from expanding domestic social programs and raising taxes on the rich and corporations to helping Ukraine in its battle against Russia.
Without a resounding victory in the House, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy suddenly faces doubts about his bid for the chamber’s speakership, including a challenge by hardline conservative Representative Andy Biggs.
As House speaker, McCarthy would be second in line of succession for the presidency after the vice president when Congress convenes in January.
The speaker, elected by the entire House, sets the unwieldy chamber’s legislative agenda and the political tone of the party in power. If successful in his election bid for the speaker’s chair, McCarthy would succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi.
In retaliation for two impeachment efforts by Democrats against Trump, House conservatives already are gearing up to investigate Biden administration officials and the president’s son Hunter’s past business dealings with China and other countries – and even Biden himself.
They have publicly talked about seeking cost savings in the Social Security and Medicare safety-net programs, and making permanent 2017-enacted tax cuts that are due to expire.
But much of their agenda could be scuttled by the Senate, where Democrats kept their majority, as well as Biden’s veto power over legislation.
Ballots from the Nov. 8 midterms are still being counted in races across the country a week after the vote. Late on Monday, Democrat Katie Hobbs was projected as the winner of Arizona’s closely fought governor contest, prevailing over Kari Lake, one of the most high-profile Republican candidates to embrace Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in 2020.
Lake has yet to concede. After the race was called, she tweeted, “Arizonans know BS when they see it.”