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Washington Watch: Republicans clinch slim majority in House, likely signaling gridlock ahead

Republicans will take over the U.S. House of Representatives two years into President Joe Biden’s term, though their narrow majority looks set to cause headaches for GOP leaders.

Republican hopes for a strong red wave have been dashed, but the Associated Press said Wednesday that the party won enough House seats — 218 — to control that chamber of Congress, as results from the midterm elections continue to be tabulated.

The battle for the U.S. Senate went to the Democrats late Saturday. Democrats will retain their hold on the Senate after winning a key race in Nevada, giving Biden’s party control of at least one chamber of Congress for the next two years.

While Republicans will control just one chamber of Congress, they now are expected to deliver a check on Biden’s policy priorities, such as by potentially using a debt-ceiling showdown to force spending cuts. 

Related: Democrats weigh end run around Republicans to raise debt limit

And see: Republican lawmakers likely to target ‘woke capitalism’ after the midterm elections, analysts say

The Republican House majority has yet to be finalized but could be the narrowest of the 21st century, even less than in 2001, when the GOP had a nine-seat majority with two independents.

Washington is likely to face new periods of gridlock, with Democrats also keeping their hold on the White House since Biden still has two years to serve before the 2024 presidential election. That’s after Democrats in the past two years used party-line votes to push through measures such as March 2021’s stimulus law and this past summer’s package targeting healthcare, climate change and taxes.

The House switching to red from blue fits the historical pattern in which a first-term president’s party tends to lose congressional ground in the midterms. The GOP highlighted raging inflation in its effort to win over American voters.

The House seats to flip to the GOP included one held by Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia, who lost to Republican challenger Jen Kiggans, as well as two seats in Florida. But Democrats also flipped House seats and won re-elections in bellwether races, with Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger and Indiana Rep. Frank Mrvan notching victories.

Read more: Here are the congressional seats that have flipped in the midterm elections

Democrats have had a grip on the House since the 2018 midterms. They’ve run the Senate for two years, controlling the 50-50 chamber only because Vice President Kamala Harris can cast tiebreaking votes.

Among the competitive Senate races, Democrats kept their hold on seats in Arizona, Colorado and New Hampshire, while scoring a pick-up in Pennsylvania. Republicans maintained their control of seats in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Georgia’s Senate contest is headed to a Dec. 6 runoff, but its outcome has become less significant.

Related: Ohio’s J.D. Vance tells MarketWatch he wants to end tax loopholes for tech companies and ban congressional stock trading

Betting markets since late on Election Day have been seeing Democrats staying in charge of the Senate and Republicans winning the House. Ahead of last Tuesday’s voting, betting markets had signaled confidence in GOP prospects for taking over both the Senate and House.

Analysts had said voters last month appeared increasingly focused on Republican issues such as high prices for gasoline

and other essentials, at the expense of Democrats’ agenda items such as climate change and abortion rights.

But exit polls suggested that Republicans performed worse than expected because many Democrats and independents voted partly to show their disapproval of former President Donald Trump — and those voters were energized by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that overturned Roe.

See: Anti-Trump vote and Dobbs abortion ruling boost Democrats in 2022 election

The former president announced his 2024 White House run late Tuesday. Earlier Tuesday, House Republicans chose Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the current minority leader, as their candidate for speaker. Thirty-one Republicans voted against McCarthy, signaling that he must shore up his support before the vote on the speakership takes place in January.  It’s an early sign of how Republicans’ narrow majority is creating turbulence for the House GOP leadership. 

Now read: What a Republican-controlled House might mean for tech: Plenty of hand-wringing over Section 230 liability shield

And see: DeSantis viewed as frontrunner for Republican 2024 presidential nomination after Trump’s candidates flop in midterm elections

Plus: Senate Republicans pick Mitch McConnell as their leader, as Rick Scott’s challenge flops

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