A new Congress won’t be sworn in until January and control of the House has not yet been determined, but Republicans appear on track to recapture the chamber and the race to determine who will serve as the next speaker is underway.
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has officially declared his bid for the speakership, but is already facing headwinds from members of the hardline, pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus who are threatening to withhold their support as they hope to extract concessions.
On the Democratic side, Nancy Pelosi, the current House speaker, has not yet made clear what her next move will be. Speculation has intensified in Washington over her political future and whether she will run again for the top leadership spot for House Democrats or if she will instead decide to step aside as a new generation of potential leaders waits in the wings.
Timing for internal GOP leadership elections – and the speaker vote
The vote to elect the next speaker will take place in January at the start of the new Congress, but House Republicans will hold their internal leadership elections to pick a Speaker nominee this week.
Republicans are scheduled to hold a candidate forum on Monday evening, followed by leadership elections on Tuesday, November 15, according to a copy of the schedule shared with CNN.
The elections are conducted behind closed doors and are done via secret ballot. In the GOP’s internal leadership elections, McCarthy only needs a simple majority to win his party’s nomination for speaker. That is expected to happen, but McCarthy could still fall short of 218 votes – the magic number needed to win the speaker’s gavel in January.
During that speaker vote, McCarthy will have a higher hurdle to clear. The full House holds a vote on the floor for Speaker and to win, a candidate needs to win a majority of all members, which amounts to 218 votes if no member skips the vote or votes “present.”
When will Democrats hold their election?
House Democrats will hold their internal leadership elections later – the week after Thanksgiving.
House Democratic leadership elections have been announced for Wednesday, November 30. Voting will take place behind closed doors via secret ballot using an app.
To be elected to any position in Democratic leadership, a candidate needs to win a majority among those present and voting. If more than two candidates run and no one wins a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes after the first round of voting will be eliminated and voting will proceed to a second round. That process continues until one candidate wins a majority.
Whoever is elected for the top leadership spot in the House Democratic caucus would serve as their party’s Speaker nominee. But if Republicans have a majority, that nominee would be expected to fall short in the vote by the full House in the Speaker’s election in January and would be poised to become House Minority Leader instead.
The first election on November 30 will be for the next House Democratic Caucus Chair and whoever is elected to that role will administer the rest of the leadership elections.
Who to watch in GOP leadership elections
McCarthy has been working the phones locking down support from across the conference and has received former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. But even if he becomes his party’s speaker nominee, as is expected, he could still face a rocky road to securing the gavel.
Members of the pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus are threatening to withhold support for McCarthy’s speakership bid and have begun to lay out their list of demands, putting the California Republican’s path to securing 218 votes in peril if the party ultimately takes the House with a slim majority. Members of the caucus are emboldened by the likelihood of a narrow House GOP majority – which would make the margins for McCarthy’s vote math tight.
McCarthy and his team are confident he will ultimately get the votes to be speaker. And two would-be challengers, Reps. Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise, the current House GOP whip, have lined up behind his speakership bid.
But if enough members of the Freedom Caucus withhold their support, it could imperil his speaker bid or force him to make deals to weaken the speakership, something he has long resisted.
CNN reported Sunday that Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, a former chairman of the pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus, is considering mounting a long-shot challenge to McCarthy, according to GOP sources familiar with the matter. McCarthy’s team has been prepared for this possibility.
If a challenger does emerge, it would be more of a protest candidate than a serious one. But the House Freedom Caucus is hoping to show McCarthy during the internal GOP leadership elections that he doesn’t have the floor votes for speaker, in hopes of forcing him to the negotiating table.
Republican races besides leader of the party
Aside from the speaker’s race, Republicans’ underwhelming performance in the midterms has scrambled other leadership races.
The race for House GOP whip – a position that will only open up if Republicans win the majority – was already competitive, though Rep. Tom Emmer, who chairs the House GOP’s campaign arm, was seen as having the edge since he was likely to be rewarded if they had a strong night.
Now, Republicans say it could be tougher for Emmer to pull out a win.
Emmer told reporters Tuesday he still plans to run and that he doesn’t know if a smaller majority impacts his bid. But his pitch to members is similar to McCarthy’s, saying: “we delivered.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, a Trump ally and the head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, also officially declared his candidacy for the whip’s position. And Rep. Drew Ferguson of Georgia, the current deputy whip, is also vying for the post, arguing that his experience on the whip’s team will be even more valuable in a slimmer majority, where the chief vote counting job will be crucial for governing.
Who to watch: Nancy Pelosi
What happens in Democratic leadership elections revolves around the key question of what Pelosi decides to do.
Pelosi was asked by CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” on Sunday whether she would make a decision on running for leadership before the party’s leadership elections.
“Of course. Well, you know that I’m not asking anybody – people are campaigning, and that’s a beautiful thing,” the California Democrat told Bash. “And I’m not asking anyone for anything. My members are asking me to consider doing that. But, again, let’s just get through the election.”
If Pelosi decides to run again for the top leadership spot for House Democrats, it will make clear that she is not yet ready to relinquish her role atop the House Democratic caucus. Pelosi, a towering figure in Democratic politics, commands widespread support among her members and is viewed as an effective leader within her party.
But if she runs again for leadership, such a move would also likely surprise, and even frustrate, many in Washington, including members of her own party, who have been anticipating that she might step aside for a new generation of leadership to take the reins.
If Pelosi does not run for the top leadership post, it would set the stage for a major shakeup in House Democratic leadership and mark the end of an era for Washington. The move would kick off a fight for her successor that could expose divisions within the party as other prominent members of the party look to move up the leadership ladder.
Pelosi’s future freezes much of the Democratic races
Until Pelosi makes her announcement, much of the rest of the field is expected to remain essentially frozen in place.
Currently, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer serves as the No. 2 House Democrat, in the role of House majority leader, and South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn serves in the role of House majority whip. Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark serves in the role of assistant Speaker and New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries serves as House Democratic caucus chair.
As potential candidates for the higher rungs of House Democratic leadership wait to see what Pelosi does before publicly making moves, some Democrats vying for other positions in their party’s leadership have already announced their candidacy.
Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado, who currently serves as the co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, has announced his run for caucus chair to replace Jeffries who is term limited.
The race to lead the party’s campaign arm, DCCC chair, is starting to take shape up after the current chair Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York lost his reelection.
Democratic Rep. Tony Cardenas of California announced his race for the spot on Friday but others are being floated as well including Reps. Ami Bera and Sara Jacobs of California.
CNN’s Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.