WASHINGTON — Republicans have won control of the House, NBC News projected Wednesday, handing President Joe Biden a divided Congress after Democrats kept control of the Senate in last week’s midterm elections.
Republicans finally cemented their takeover a week after polls closed on Election Day, fueled by Democrats’ surprising strength around the country. Republicans had hopes of sweeping into power with dozens of wins, but instead they will have only a thin majority, complicating their ability to function in the House chamber.
The results revealed an America still torn over former President Donald Trump, his repeated false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him and how the country and the GOP should move forward. In several close races, voters cited the economy and inflation as their top concerns, but they weren’t enough to power Republicans to a decisive sweep after Trump effectively made the elections a referendum on him, his past and his plans as the de facto leader of the party.
The results came down to a handful of tight races. It was a district in Los Angeles County, California, that finally put Republicans over the edge.
Even with a small majority, Republicans in Congress will still have a powerful check on Biden, who can expect a louder microphone for his critics and a rush of congressional investigations into his administration and his family, potentially culminating in a push by the most conservative members in the House to impeach him.
But he can count on allies in the Democratic Senate to confirm his judicial and administration appointments, even if his legislative agenda is effectively dead in the water thanks to the GOP House.
The prospect of a slim majority has triggered more challenges to the House Republicans’ leadership team. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the current Republican leader, has faced an uprising of opposition from within his ranks over the prospect of his ascent to speaker. On Tuesday, he secured the speaker’s nomination from his caucus, but he still must win over additional support ahead of the January vote.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sought Wednesday to settle discontent among his members. He won re-election to remain the top Republican in the Senate, a post he has held since 2007.
Biden will be forced to negotiate with whoever comes out on top in the Republican leadership fight, teeing up battles over aid to Ukraine and keeping the government funded as Republicans try to drag him down ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
“I congratulate Leader McCarthy on Republicans winning the House majority, and am ready to work with House Republicans to deliver results for working families,” the president said in a statement Wednesday evening.
But the modest size of the new Republican majority, which fell well short of bullish predictions, means party leaders will be hemmed in by the need to secure near-unanimous support from their caucus, unable to afford more than a few defections.
It’s a dynamic similar to the one that defined most of President Barack Obama’s time in the White House, when Biden was vice president. Like Biden, Obama entered the presidency with Democrats in full control of Congress, until Republicans won the House in his first midterms as Democrats held the Senate.