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House Republicans elect Kevin McCarthy as their new minority leader

House Republicans will go into the next session with a smaller, more conservative and less diverse caucus.
Image: Kevin McCarthy
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., at a news conference with Speaker Paul Ryan on Sept. 26 in Washington.Win McNamee / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress elected a new slate of leaders Wednesday as the party braces for the new reality of divided government.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California overcame a conservative challenge by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio to become the House minority leader while Senate Republicans re-elected Sen. Mitch McConnell as their leader.

Soon to be in the minority, House Republicans will head into the next congressional session with a smaller, more conservative and less diverse caucus. And they will find themselves with much less power, a new experience for House GOP members who have been in the majority since 2010.

"Let’s face it, when you are in the minority, your job is just to vote no on what goes on," said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who was re-elected last week despite facing federal charges of insider trading. "You don’t control the hearings, you don’t control the legislation. So it is going to be a different world for all of us."

With Speaker Paul Ryan leaving Congress after not seeking re-election, McCarthy, who is his deputy, will take the top spot against a Democratic majority intent on investigating the president and maintaining their grip on power beyond the 2020 elections. House Democrats will hold their leadership elections on November 28.

McCarthy beat Jordan with a vote of 159-43. Jordan is a founding member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, whose bid for leadership represents a show of conservative force. McCarthy has been the heir apparent, however, since Ryan announced his resignation last year.

McCarthy told reporters after a GOP conference meeting Tuesday night that his goal is to "continue to move America forward."

He said GOP members talked about the Democrats' agenda that he said centers on "trying to impeach the president" and investigating the administration. "I just think America is too great for such a small vision, so we will continue to work to make America move forward, and our second goal is to make sure we win the majority back," McCarthy said.

One demand from members of the new leader is to come up with an alternative to the Democrats' online fundraising platform, Act Blue, and to commit to raising more money than they did last cycle where Democrats vastly outraised them, even with a $30 million cash infusion from GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

McCarthy is set to lead a more conservative conference after many of their more moderate, suburban members lost their seats in the midterm elections.

And it will be a less racially and gender diverse conference. Fewer Republican women will serve in the next Congress despite record-breaking numbers of female Democrats who will serve. All but one of the 31 Republican freshman, whose races have been decided so far, are white men, resulting in a conference that is nearly 90 percent white and male. That is a stark comparison to House Democrats, where fewer than 40 percent of their House members are white men.

The GOP leadership ranks will still have one woman, however, after Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming was unanimously elected to become the GOP conference chair. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, who currently holds that position, did not see it again.

"I think it’s always good to have as many women as possible to have as much diversity as possible represented, but I think at the end of the day what really matters is our policies," Cheney said. "I’m really looking forward to having the chance of being able to talk about why those Republican policies are the right ones for both women and men."

Her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, attended the closed-door leadership election.

Senate Republicans, who retained their majority, are also holding leadership elections on Wednesday. The GOP caucus will see far fewer changes in leadership structure and will have at least one more seat as a result of the midterm elections, perhaps two depending on the final outcome in Florida.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky ran unopposed for majority leader and was re-elected Wednesday morning, extending his record-breaking rein as the longest-serving Senate Republican leader.

But there has been a shake-up down the ranks as all the other leadership spots are subject to term limits.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota was elected as party whip, the second-ranking leadership post. He replaces Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., was elected to Republican conference chair. And Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., will be chair of the Republican Policy Committee chair.

The fifth-highest spot in the caucus, vice chair, was the only contested position. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa beat out Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska Ernst is the first woman to serve in the GOP leadership since Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska left that post in 2010.

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., will be the new chair of the Senate's campaign committee, the NRSC.

Senate Democrats also held their leadership elections Wednesday with no changes. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will continue as leader with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., as whip. Assistant Democratic Leader Patty Murray of Washington remains in her position.

The Democrats maintained a large leadership group to encompass all voices, ranging from moderate West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.

One thing that could get complicated for Democrats, however, is as many as three members of leadership are considering running for president, which often pits senators running for re-election against those with presidential ambitions.

Here is the rest of the Democratic leadership:

  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.: Chair of Policy and Communications Committee
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass: Vice Chair of Conference
  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.: Vice Chair of Conference
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.: Chair of Steering Committee
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.: Chairman of Outreach
  • Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.: Vice Chairman of Policy and Communications Committee
  • Sen. Tammy Badwin, D-Wisc.: Secretary of Conference