By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday chose Kevin McCarthy as their party’s leader for the new Congress that will convene in January, denying the top post to conservative Jim Jordan.
Representative McCarthy, whom President Donald Trump sometimes calls “my Kevin,” will lead party colleagues against an incoming Democratic House majority. Voters ended the Republicans’ hold on the House in the Nov. 6 elections and handed it to the Democrats.
Despite heavy Republican losses in last week’s elections, McCarthy touted his party’s legislative accomplishments and slammed Democrats. “We know that Democrats have a plan. They want to disrupt. They want to try to impeach” and overturn Republican achievements.
McCarthy, however, acknowledged that Republicans have to work hard to recapture the support of suburban voters who switched over to support Democratic candidates.
In the contest for party leadership, California’s McCarthy easily defeated Ohio’s Jordan in a 159-43 vote. Jordan arranged television commercials and other advertising to support his campaign for House leader, an unusual step.
McCarthy had been House majority leader, while Jordan is a former chairman of the Freedom Caucus, a break-away conservative faction.
Holding a majority of the 435 seats in the House or the 100 seats in the Senate brings more money and staff than the minority party gets, as well as control of each chamber’s legislative agenda.
At the helm of the House, Democrats are expected to launch numerous investigations of Trump, his business interests and his family, while also challenging his agenda.
The Senate remains under Republican control. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer were re-elected to their respective top jobs in that chamber for 2019-2020, as expected.
The most closely watched leadership race in Congress is Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s bid to reclaim the job of House speaker, a role she had from 2007 to 2011, when she was the first woman in that post.
So far, she has no announced opponent, but some Democrats are dissatisfied with Pelosi. Their struggle over selecting a new speaker still has weeks to play out.
House Democrats will choose a party leader on Nov. 28 in a closed-door vote. A separate election for speaker will follow in early January with all House members – Democrats and Republicans – casting votes; the winner needs a majority to be speaker.
Among Democrats, a small but vocal group argues Pelosi, 78, who has led the party for 16 years, should step aside. Pelosi critics are circulating a letter that says signatories will not back Pelosi during the House floor vote for Speaker; so far 17 people have signed, a Democratic aide said.
Separately, nine centrist House Democrats have told Pelosi their votes for speaker are conditional on whether she embraces House rule changes that would encourage more consideration of bipartisan legislation. They asked her to commit to the changes by Friday.
The nine are members of the bipartisan “Problem Solvers Caucus.” Caucus Co-chairman Representative Josh Gottheimer told Reuters the group was talking with Pelosi. He said she seemed eager for reform, but the group was asking for a public commitment from her because “the specifics matter.”
Wednesday afternoon, Pelosi released a statement saying she would continue to work with the group to “develop changes to the rules that will break the gridlock in Washington.”
(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell and Amanda Becker; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and James Dalgleish)