WASHINGTON — Americans were still waiting Friday to learn which party will control the House and Senate next year.
Three days after final ballots were cast in the 2022 midterm elections, more than two dozen House races have not yet been called, with a number of them in California and other areas in the western half of the country. In spite of that uncertainty, Republicans are already jockeying for power — while Democrats are enjoying the progress they’ve made so far in beating expectations and defying historical headwinds.
Republicans have a better chance of winning a majority in the House, though the Democrats still have a chance to retain control. As of Friday morning, Republicans have won 211 seats, Democrats have won 197 and 27 races remain uncalled. A party needs 218 seats to control the House.
The Senate also hangs in the balance, as results in key races in Arizona and Nevada have not been decided. On Thursday night, NBC News rated the Nevada contest between Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and her Republican challenger Adam Laxalt as too close to call. Arizona's Senate race between Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly and Republican Blake Masters was still too early to call.
Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria said at a press conference Friday that there are more than 50,000 ballots that still need to be counted. Gloria has signaled that it could take at least until Saturday to finish counting votes in his region.
The Senate contest in Georgia has advanced to a runoff election on Dec. 6. Neither Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, nor GOP opponent Herschel Walker cleared the threshold of 50% of the vote on Tuesday. Their matchup could ultimately determine who controls the Senate if neither party sweeps Arizona and Nevada.
As the Senate remains in limbo, a growing group of Republican Senators are calling for a delay in the conference’s leadership elections until there is more clarity. Some members are expressing reservations about the current leadership team and suggesting there may need to be changes at the top. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Rick Scott, R-Fla., pointed out in a letter obtained by NBC News Friday that they think they should postpone their leadership elections.
While Democrats may still lose control of the House, party lawmakers and strategists sounded a positive note about stopping a red wave and keeping the margin close.
"I believe it’s attributable to an electorate prioritizing freedom, competency, and civility over ideology," Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., who won his re-election bid, told NBC News.
Legislation advanced by the Democratic-led Congress, including the Inflation Reduction Act and pro-police measures, “had a huge role” in boosting the party’s candidates, said Chris Hayden, the communications director for the House campaign committee.
“Whether it’s Angie Craig talking about capping insulin for seniors, or Matt Cartwright talking about taking on price-gouging, or Abigail Spanberger talking about the work she did to secure police funding, our incumbents had accomplishments to run on,” Hayden said. “What Republicans said in their ads were: ‘Gas prices, they’re high!’ And that was the end of the ad. They never said what they’d do.”
White House spokesman Andrew Bates said Democratic agenda items like “lowering prescription drug costs and standing up for reproductive rights,” and driving that contrast with Republicans were “crucial to winning independents, turning out young people, and defying the odds in one of the hardest midterm environments on record.”
Former President Donald Trump, who has teased that he plans to launch a third White House bid on Tuesday night, has been railing against fellow Republicans on his Truth Social platform while claiming without any evidence that "very strange things" were happening as regular vote counting processes continued in Nevada and Arizona.
But even as Congress's future remains unclear, Republicans were already preparing to take over in the House for the first time since 2018. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has announced his run for speaker and has formed transition teams to oversee setting up a GOP majority that is not yet assured. Should the GOP take control of the chamber, it's likely to be by a slim number of seats, and keeping members in lockstep could be a challenge.
McCarthy released a letter Thursday calling for the full re-opening of the Capitol complex to the public in January, with what he said will be the "swearing-in of the new Republican majority."
Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., responded: "The Minority Leader’s incoherent letter is nothing more than a desperate attempt to distract from the unmitigated disaster that was his party’s performance in the midterm election — one that only looks worse as ballots continue to get counted."
Pelosi was in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, on Friday, leading a delegation of lawmakers to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27). President Joe Biden is also holding meetings during the conference to discuss efforts to combat climate change.
Before leaving Washington, Biden celebrated Democrats' success so far at an event in downtown D.C. on Thursday. He said the message voters sent in the midterm elections is that they want bipartisanship.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, wrote in an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal that, in the next Congress, both parties should work on bipartisan plans to improve the immigration system and entitlement programs.
In an interview Friday on MSNBC's "Way Too Early," Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said that regardless of which party controls Congress, the next two years will be challenging.
"It’s going to be a tough two years, period, for whoever is in power. But there are things we just have to get done these next few years," she said, adding that Democrats have to focus on understanding kitchen-table issues and doing a better job of delivering the message on jobs and crime.
Dingell said if the GOP wins the House, "The first test is going to be whether Kevin McCarthy can become speaker."
Some conservative House Freedom Caucus members are outright opposed to McCarthy, while others are demanding concessions from him that would greatly water down his power as speaker.
"You’re already seeing the Freedom Caucus being very loud and very vocal," Dingell said, "And I think Republicans are going to have a very hard time trying to get consensus on anything."
Meanwhile, it’s unclear if the top three Democratic House leaders — Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., all in their 80s — will try to stay in their leadership posts.
But a number of younger Democrats have already jumped into races for lower-tier jobs. On Friday, Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., informed colleagues he’s running to be the next chairman of the party’s campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), in the 2024 cycle.
Two years ago, he narrowly lost the race to lead the DCCC to Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who helped his party stave off a red wave on Tuesday but lost his own seat in New York. Cárdenas, who represents a deep blue district in Southern California, should have no risk of losing his seat as he seeks to protect vulnerable incumbents across the country.
As the former head of the Hispanic Caucus’ campaign arm, BOLD PAC, Cárdenas also has experience recruiting and helping to elect Hispanic candidates — a demographic where the GOP recently has made inroads in Texas and South Florida.
In a letter to colleagues, Cárdenas wrote that if he becomes DCCC chair, he will work “to fortify and expand our historically diverse Democratic Caucus for the people who are counting on us to give them hope and power.”