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Without a clear majority, Republican leaders are facing concerns

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, what once appeared to be a smooth ride to becoming House speaker is now facing an uncertain path. Here's McCarthy still defending his plans on Fox News.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: Look. I'm not concerned. Think about this. Since I've been leader for the last four years, we've only gained seats. It's the goal of winning the majority. We won the majority. I think I accomplished the goal that we wanted to. People can have input. We want to have a very open input process. We're going to have a smaller majority. So we're going to find that we work together.

CHANG: Now, of course, we're still not clear if Republicans have won a majority in either chamber of Congress with votes still being counted. And in the meantime, Republicans have been left with plenty of time for finger-pointing and worry among their ranks. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales joins us now with more. Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: OK. So like we said, we still don't know where things will land in terms of control of Congress. But what are Republicans saying to each other right now?

GRISALES: Right. There's clearly anger. We can hear it in their public comments in terms of how far Republicans fell short from expectations of a red wave they expected to see this week. And so it's created an inflection point for the party. And many are pointing at former President Trump as being part of the setback that they saw take place. One of those is Virginia Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears. She spoke to CNBC about a need to move away from Trump.

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WINSOME SEARS: A true leader understands when they have become a liability. A true leader understands that it's time to step off the stage. And the voters have given us that very clear message.

GRISALES: And this is part of a running theme we're hearing from Republicans across several places, including one retiring Republican in the Senate, Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, who blamed Trump for the failures they saw this week. And we've seen this inflection point before. This happened after the January 6 attack on the Capitol. So this is another test of the tie between Trump and the GOP going forward. But he has seen the brunt of the blame so far.

CHANG: Well, given all this tension, Claudia, where does McCarthy's bid to be House speaker stand right now?

GRISALES: Right. That is very uncertain now because it was expected to be a slam dunk, especially if Republicans did see this red wave. And now there's even questions whether Democrats may have a narrow path to taking control of the House. Now, all signals point to Republicans perhaps taking control with a narrow margin. And if that happens, it's going to be tough for him to pull off because there's - even some members of the House Freedom Caucus were already saying they do not know if they want him to be the speaker. Now, members themselves for the Republican Party in the House will have their own vote or discussion on whether he should be speaker by the end of the month. But it has to go to the full House floor next year, and he'll need 218 votes to get there.

CHANG: Exactly. OK. Well, meanwhile, in the other chamber, we saw one Republican senator call for a delay to their leadership elections. Can you talk more about that?

GRISALES: Right. This was a surprising statement today from Florida Senator Marco Rubio. He just won reelection in that state. And he said that the leadership vote for that chamber for Senate Republicans should be postponed. He said, first, we need to make sure that those who want to lead us are genuinely committed to fighting for their priorities and values of the working Americans who brought them big wins in states like Florida. And so this was part of a tweet that he sent out today. So that's very uncertain. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell looked very certain to lead the Republicans in the Senate. But we'll see where that conversation goes, whether it picks up traction. And perhaps they will be seeing uncertainty as well with their elections.

CHANG: That is NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thank you much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.