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WASHINGTON — Though control of the House remained undetermined Sunday, Democrats were celebrating retaining their majority in the Senate after Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., was projected to win re-election. Her victory secured the 50th Senate seat for Democrats and quashed Republicans’ hopes of taking control of both chambers of Congress, as many had predicted in the weeks leading up to Election Day.
“When far-right Republicans said they knew better, I knew we would prove them wrong,” Cortez Masto said in a victory speech Sunday. “This election, Nevadans rejected the far-right politicians working to divide us. We rejected their conspiracies, their attacks on our workers and their efforts to restrict our freedoms.”
With the Senate runoff in Georgia next month between Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, and Republican Herschel Walker, Democrats have a chance to pick up a 51st seat, a surprising feat in a midterm election year that typically does not favor the party in power.
Democratic control of the Senate ensures a smoother process for President Joe Biden’s Cabinet appointments and judicial picks, including those for potential Supreme Court openings. The party also will keep control over committees and will be able to reject legislation sent over by the House if the GOP wins that chamber.
For Iowa, that means Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who was reelected Tuesday, will not reprise his role as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversees confirmation of the president’s judicial or Supreme Court nominees.
The developments have prompted some frustrated Republicans to call on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to clearly lay out a Republican agenda and to delay their leadership elections that are scheduled for Wednesday.
If Democrats win a 51st Senate seat, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., would be able to bypass a power-sharing resolution with Republicans, in place because of the 50-50 Senate, and more easily confirm President Biden’s judicial nominees.
On Sunday, Schumer called on Republican lawmakers to work with Democrats but declined to get into specifics about what they would try to accomplish in the future. He said Democrats would try to have “as productive a lame-duck session as possible.”
“Maybe the Republican Party, which has been so negative on so many different issues, will realize that the election was a clarion call by the American people: Stop all this negativity, stop flirting with autocracy, stop spending your time denying the election, and work to get something done,” Schumer said.
Some Senate Republicans, including Rick Scott of Florida, chair of the chamber’s Republican campaign arm, criticized McConnell for allowing Republicans to cross the aisle and help Democrats pass some key pieces of legislation with their slim majority over the past two years, including an infrastructure bill and investment in manufacturing of microchips.
“Republican leadership caved in on the debt ceiling, caved in on the gun deal, caved in on a fake infrastructure deal,” Scott said Sunday on Fox’s “Sunday Morning Futures,” while criticizing McConnell for not releasing his own Republican agenda ahead of the midterms.
Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who narrowly won re-election, echoed much of Scott’s criticism on Fox News and also called for a delay in the leadership elections. But other Republican senators, including Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., defended McConnell publicly on Sunday and said they supported his leadership bid.
No senator has yet announced a challenge to McConnell, who will become the longest-serving leader of either party in the Senate in the next Congress if he is reelected. A representative for McConnell declined to comment on Sunday.
Others cast the blame squarely on former President Donald Trump, who backed several GOP candidates in battleground states who lost, including Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz and Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters.
“It’s basically the third election in a row that Donald Trump has cost us the race. And it’s like, three strikes you’re out,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican and a longtime Trump critic, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result,” he said. “I’m tired of losing. That’s all he’s done.”
It could be weeks before control of House is decided
Control of the House remained in the balance Sunday, with neither party yet securing the 218 seats required to take the majority. Most of the uncalled congressional races are in California, where ballots are valid as long as they are postmarked by Election Day and where final election tallies could take weeks to determine.
As of Sunday, Republicans have won 211 House seats, while Democrats have won 203. Democrats have a slim chance of retaining control of the House, though Republicans are still favored to take a narrow majority.
Despite that, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., struck an optimistic and celebratory tone in interviews on Sunday.
Pelosi waved off any questions about whether she would run for House speaker again, if Democrats hung on to the majority in the chamber, saying she only wanted to focus on race results. She added that she was “disappointed” in what happened in New York.
That was where Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney lost his race. “But we haven’t given up,” Pelosi said. “We have the White House, we have the Senate, and we’re going to have a big strong vote in the House, a very different outcome than some would have predicted.”