The balance of power in Washington will shift when Republicans officially take control of the House on 3 January.
Yet House Republicans begin the 118th Congress in a precarious position: their grip on power is fragile and their conference fractured.
After a historically weak performance by the minority party in a midterm election, House Republicans have struggled to unite. Uncertainty hangs over the speakership election, as Kevin McCarthy attempts to quell a conservative revolt that could derail his long-held hopes of claiming the speaker’s gavel.
Democrats meanwhile will begin the next Congress with a fresh slate of leaders, after the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and her deputies stepped aside to pave the way for a new generation. Now, in a historical first, the triumvirate of top House Democrats includes no white men.
Here’s a look at the highest-ranking members of the Republican and Democratic leadership for the 118th Congress.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy of California, Republican nominee for speaker of the House
McCarthy, 57, has been plotting his path to the speakership for the better part of a decade. Whether he will finally win the top job remains unclear.
Elected to Congress in 2006, McCarthy was part of a triumvirate of self-styled Republican “Young Guns” (along with Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, neither of whom is currently in Congress) who rode the Tea Party wave to power. Republicans’ romping success in the 2010 midterms catapulted McCarthy into one of the top leadership positions, House majority whip.
He was considered next in line for the speakership in 2015, but his bid imploded. McCarthy was eventually elected minority leader in 2018, after Democrats won the House.
Once considered a relative moderate, the California congressman has steadily moved to the right. He embraced Donald Trump early and remains one of his staunchest defenders on Capitol Hill. When Trump was defeated in 2020, McCarthy amplified his election lies. After the January 6 attack on the Capitol, McCarthy condemned Trump’s actions but quickly retreated and made amends.
Now McCarthy is in the fight of his political life as he again seeks the speakership. He won the party’s internal leadership elections, dispatching a challenge from the far right. But the real test will come on the House floor, where he will need the support of nearly every member of his caucus to become speaker.
Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana, majority leader
Scalise, 57, is a Louisiana native who was elected to the No 2 spot by voice vote, a sign of his broad support in the House Republican conference. Should McCarthy fall short in his quest to become speaker, Scalise has been mentioned as a potential alternative.
In 2017, Scalise was critically wounded when a gunman opened fire during a congressional baseball practice. He spent weeks in the hospital and required intensive rehabilitation. A staunch defender of the second amendment, Scalise said the experience only reinforced his support for gun rights.
A special election in 2008 brought Scalise to Washington, where he rose quickly through the Republican ranks. In 2012, he was elected chairman of the influential Republican study group, beating a candidate who had been handpicked by the group’s founders. After that surprise victory, Scalise told reporters on Capitol Hill that his goal was to pull Republican leadership “as far to the right” as possible.
Congressman Tom Emmer of Minnesota, majority whip
In 2020, as Democrats celebrated Joe Biden’s victory, Republicans made an unexpectedly strong showing in the House. Emmer, in his role as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was widely praised for his party’s performance.
Just two years later, Emmer, in the same role, faced blowback after Republicans only narrowly won the House, making far fewer gains than anticipated. In the wake of the disappointing results, he faced stiff competition in his bid to become the majority whip though he ultimately prevailed on the second ballot.
Emmer, 61, a former attorney and the father of seven, began his career in the Minnesota legislature. He narrowly lost a bid to become governor of Minnesota in one of the closest elections in state history. Four years later, he was first elected to Congress, winning the seat vacated by the conservative firebrand Michele Bachmann.
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York, Republican conference chair
Few politicians exemplify Trump’s grip on the Republican party better than the New York Republican.
Once a mainstream conservative from a moderate district, Stefanik transformed into one of Trump’s most loyal supporters, embracing his election lies, flirting with the QAnon conspiracy theory and amplifying ads that echoed themes of the racist “great replacement” theory.
Stefanik claimed the No 3 leadership post last year, after the conference ousted Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming over her vocal criticism of Trump in the wake of the Capitol attack. Despite speculation that Stefanik would run for majority whip if Republicans won the House in the 2022 midterms, she opted instead to keep her position, tasked with amplifying the party’s message.
When Trump announced his intention to run again for the White House in 2024, Stefanik was one of only a handful of prominent Republicans to endorse him, a move that rankled those in her party wary of his attempts at a political comeback.
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