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Republicans begin maneuvering for power as control of Congress remains unknown

The GOP has grown confident it will control the House, and members have begun jockeying for important roles.
House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Capitol Hill on Sept. 22. Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Im

While control of the next Congress still remains unknown, Republicans in Washington on Thursday began ramping up plans to take over the House of Representatives.

The GOP was denied being triumphantly swept into power on election night when the "red wave" that party leaders had forecast never materialized.

For the Senate, control will come down to three races. Officials continue to count ballots in Nevada and Arizona, where the early results show tight races. If Democrats are able to win both, they will keep control of the Senate.

But a Republican victory in either state will mean Senate control won't be settled until a Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia for the seat held by Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. Neither Warnock nor Republican challenger Herschel Walker met the required majority to win the race.

The Senate contest in Arizona between Sen. Mark Kelly and Republican challenger Blake Masters remained too early to call Thursday evening. Maricopa County, the fourth-largest county in the country and home to Phoenix and Tempe, faced widespread technical difficulties for hours on Election Day that led officials to use secure ballot boxes.

Image: Democratic Senate Candidate Mark Kelly Holds Election Night Event In Tucson
Sen. Mark Kelly on Tuesday in Tucson, Ariz.Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

Maricopa County election officials said at a news conference that Thursday's updated results of about 62,000 votes would not include a batch of 290,000 hand-delivered ballots that are likely to indicate trends in key Arizona races. About 650,000 votes in the state's Senate race have yet to be counted, according to NBC News.

A slew of races in Nevada — including contests for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state — still remained too early to call Thursday. The Nevada Senate race was too close to call Thursday night, according to NBC News.

Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is locked in a tight race against Republican challenger Adam Laxalt. Clark County election officials said Wednesday they are still days from completing ballot-counting in the state’s largest county.

Clark County Registrar Joe Gloria said officials were still sorting tens of thousands of ballots that came through the mail and were left in drop boxes. In Nevada, mail ballots postmarked by Nov. 8 can arrive through Saturday and still be counted.

Gloria told reporters Thursday afternoon that 50,000 ballots still must be counted in his county and that the majority of mail ballots should be counted by Saturday.

"We don't want to move too fast. We want to make sure that we're being accurate and validating the signatures and the identity of folks," he said when asked why the process is taking so long.

Voters in Nevada voted to increase the state's minimum wage to $12 an hour by July 1, 2024, NBC News projects. The ballot measure removes provisions that set different minimum wage rates for employees who are offered qualifying health insurance.

Former President Donald Trump baselessly accused Clark County of having a “corrupt voting system” in a post on his Truth Social account Thursday.

Gloria addressed the former president's assertion, saying: "Unfortunately, comments like the one that came out today from former President Trump gets certain people very fired up, and they're convinced that we are doing things that are inappropriate or against the law. And that's just not the case."

In a statement, the county also dismissed Trump’s “outrageous claims,” saying he is “obviously still misinformed about the law and our election processes that ensure the integrity of elections.”

“All of our election systems are certified by the state and federal governments for use in the State of Nevada, and there are several state required audits done before, during, and after each election, which further ensure the reliability and integrity of the election,” the county said, adding that it could not speed up the process.

House control

In Washington, House Republicans have already begun maneuvering to determine who from their ranks will become the speaker should they take control.

NBC News has not projected a winner for House control.

With no guarantee the GOP will win control, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., pre-emptively announced transition teams for the 118th Congress on Thursday "to ensure that a Republican Majority is ready to get to work for the American people on Day One." He named Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana to lead the implementation of GOP's "Commitment to America" agenda, Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and James Comer of Kentucky to oversee oversight and accountability, and Rep. Bryan Steil of Wisconsin to address "Restoring the People's House."

"These Transition Teams will ensure we hit the ground running on issues that Democrats have ignored or made worse for the American people under one-party rule, all while shutting out our fellow citizens from the People’s House," McCarthy said in a statement.

McCarthy has long been viewed as the favorite to be speaker should Republicans take charge. But now he will have to wrangle votes among his members, with little margin for error.

"I am determined to ensure that this majority reaches its full potential," McCarthy said in a letter to House Republicans on Wednesday. "I will be a listener every bit as much as a Speaker, striving to build consensus from the bottom-up rather than commanding the agenda from the top-down."

McCarthy may have a difficult time winning the votes he needs, especially if his party holds a very thin majority.

Speaking to reporters as he left a House Freedom Caucus meeting Thursday, Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., said McCarthy “has not done anything to earn my vote.”

“There’s many times where we have come to the leader, the minority leader, over the last two years and asked him to fight on various opportunities and various issues, and I have not seen the demonstrated fight that we’re looking for,” Good told reporters.

Good said he expects a challenger to McCarthy for speaker because he thinks there are “a number of members of the Republican conference who share the same concerns,” but he stopped short of specifying who that would be.

President Joe Biden said the message from voters is that they want bipartisanship.

“I also think the American people sent a message that they want us to work together,” Biden said at an event in Washington celebrating Democrats’ victories in the midterms. He added: “I’m prepared to work with Republicans. But the American people have made it clear they expect Republicans to work with me, as well.”

House Democrats are scheduled to hold their leadership elections Nov. 30, Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said in an email to colleagues.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., left for the U.N. climate conference in Egypt, but her future as the top Democrat in the chamber will be in question once she returns.

Jeffries said leadership and committee elections will take place by "secret ballot."