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By Leigh Ann Caldwell and Alex Moe
WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress are set to elect a new slate of leaders on Wednesday as the party braces for the new reality of divided government.
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.”
Most of the House leadership is expected to look the same, with the major exception of current Speaker Paul Ryan, who is leaving Congress after not seeking re-election.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, who has served as the party’s majority leader under Ryan, is expected to beat back a challenge from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, in the race for the now-top spot of minority leader.
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.
Whoever wins, however, 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. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, who is conference chair, decided to bow out of the race after Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, announced she was running for the post.
“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.”
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 will be a shake-up as all the other leadership spots are subject to term limits.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas is stepping down as whip, the No. 2 spot, allowing those below to move up a rung on the ladder, including Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who is expected to replace Cornyn.
The fifth-highest spot in the caucus, vice chair, is the only contested position so far, with Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Joni Ernst of Iowa running against each other. Whatever the outcome, a woman will serve in the GOP leadership for the first time since Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska quit the post in 2010.