When John James and Pat Ryan reconnected on the sidelines of an Army football game in 2019, they were two old West Point classmates with night-and-day political identities in a similar predicament: Both had just lost congressional bids.

Three years later, the former Cadet company buddies’ fates have shifted — both will be House members next year. And as the chamber starts a new Congress more closely divided than ever, both in head count and in spirit, James and Ryan’s relationship promises to forge a needed bipartisan bridge over toxic partisan divides.

Their respective ideologies suggest they’d be anything but fast friends. The conservative James was heavily recruited by national Republicans to seek an open Michigan House seat as a well-known name after two unsuccessful Senate bids. Ryan grabbed Democrats’ attention by winning a New York swing-district special election in August while touting progressive policies like paid family leave that he instituted as a business executive.

But their bond was sealed during three years in the same close-knit group of roughly 100 students at West Point, then further reinforced by the run-in at their 2019 reunion in New York. Incredibly, another graduate of their class will also be roaming the Capitol halls next year: Rep.-elect Wesley Hunt (R-Texas) will join James, whom he counts as a close friend, as the first two Black graduates of West Point to enter Congress.

“Even though we were running pretty different, quite different platforms and policies,” Ryan recalled of his football-season meeting with James, “there was still actually a lot to sort of commiserate on. Around just what running campaigns is like, and the toll on your family and so on.”

Next year’s House could use all the cross-aisle alliances it can get. With Republicans only taking a narrow majority — empowering potential rank-and-file rebellions from all sides — they could very well need Democratic votes to perform even basic components of governing. James’ and Ryan’s built-in friendship could be particularly helpful on military and veterans’ issues, as the House will continue debating Ukraine aid and the GOP prepares to probe the Biden administration’s botched pullout from Afghanistan.

“Frankly, on the Hill you know there are people you don’t have to worry about stabbing you in the back — they’ll stab you in the front. Working with somebody who you build that trust with, at West Point and at war, will be essential to move this nation forward,” James said of his classmates-turned-colleagues.

The trio has already had a brush with history: Their West Point class was the first to commit to serving in the Army in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And they’ll make more of it next year; Ryan will be the first West Point graduate to represent the congressional district where the military academy is located, and the James-Ryan-Hunt ascendancy marks a rare instance of three members of the same collegiate class serving simultaneously in the House.

That isn’t to say that they’ll be able to ignore politics completely. While Ryan the Democrat first won a special election in August, Hunt comes from a Freedom Caucus-aligned district and James won his purple district by half a percentage point.

But in a capital increasingly cleaved by tribal partisanship, Hunt said it won’t be surprising when the Capitol’s West Point Class of 2004 members reach out out to one another: “We go back 20 years. So it’s a different relationship.”

They’re not the only group in Congress bonded by time in the military.

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Rep.-elect Zach Nunn (R-Iowa) worked together twice in the Air Force, with the former quipping that the 43-year-old newbie — who credits Bacon with teaching him how to fly a jet — has already bestowed the nicknames “old man” and “boss.”

Reps. Jake Ellzey (R-Texas) and Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) also flew the F/A-18 Super Hornet combat aircraft together for a Navy Strike Fighter Squadron, first meeting in 2001. By 2003, they were providing air support as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“We were over Iraq flying missions together … literally wingmen for each other there,” Garcia said of their 10-month deployment.

Given that “there’s only 500 or 600 Navy strike fighter pilots at any given time,” Garcia added, he’s struck by “the sheer magnitude of just how weird the odds are on this one — that both have served in the same squadron at the same time to both winning in special elections.”

Though Ellzey was more senior than Garcia while in the air, Garcia is considered slightly more senior in Congress after winning a special election in May 2020. Ellzey, who won his seat in a special election 14 months later, said Garcia was one of the first calls he placed as he considered a second run for Congress (he’d lost a bid in 2018).

Garcia ultimately appealed, as Ellzey recalled, to his belief about the call to public service while persuading him to seek the seat after the late Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas) died last year.

There’s a special kinship among veterans in Congress, Ellzey and Garcia agreed, that easily extends across the aisle on issues related to veterans and military families. They pointed to Democratic lawmakers like Reps. Salud Carbajal of California and Texas’ Marc Veasey and Colin Allred, all of whom have helped on bipartisan legislation or launched talks about how to help military communities.

A non-partisan group of military veterans-turned-lawmakers, the For Country Caucus, was designed to unite members on policy.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a higher level of trust,” said Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas), a former Air Force command pilot, about military veterans working together on the Hill. “I would say it’s a more immediate level of trust.”

Indeed, the proverbial six degrees of separation is closer to “one degree” of separation on the Hill, as Ellzey put it — noting that he also served in Iraq with Rep.-elect Morgan Luttrell (R-Texas) when he was supporting SEAL teams as a pilot. Not to mention, Ellzey said, he flew with the husband of Rep.-elect Jen Kiggans (R-Va.).

And Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) recalled calling in Ellzey and Garcia’s squadron for air support while he was serving in Afghanistan, while also serving alongside Rep.-elect Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.) as a Navy SEAL there.

Those connections may grow even further, with Congress’ number of veterans in office poised to climb next year after declining significantly over the past several decades. House Republicans alone will count more than a dozen veterans in their incoming class.

Waltz, the first retired Green Beret elected to Congress, is among those leading the effort to elect more veterans through his Frontline Patriots PAC, alongside other groups with parallel goals such as Rep. Jack Bergman’s (R-Mich.) Guardian Fund.

Advocates for recruiting veterans to run for office sought to get more organized this cycle, particularly as GOP lawmakers and veterans’ groups realized that they were “operating against each other” in different primary races, Waltz said in an interview.

“Elise Stefanik has done a lot for Republican women. She really kicked off in 2020. I wanted to do the same for Republican veterans,” said Waltz, citing a desire to reverse the recent decline of veterans in Congress.

Though Democrats have recruited their share of military veterans in recent cycles, the vast majority of them in Congress next year will be Republicans — with Waltz saying GOP candidates came out of the “woodwork” after the administration’s botched Afghanistan withdrawal.

“The Pentagon better buckle up,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is proposing a change to his leadership team’s structure next Congress that appears likely to promote Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Amy Klobuchar, according to two Democratic aides familiar with the matter and a copy of the proposal obtained by POLITICO on Wednesday.

With Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) planning to vacate the No. 3 leadership slot, the Senate majority leader is suggesting eliminating the position of assistant leader from the caucus’ hierarchy. He also is creating a new role titled deputy conference secretary, according to messages sent to Democratic staffers on Wednesday afternoon.

Schumer is not imposing radical changes to his team after a successful defense of his Senate majority, and he appears set to keep a structure that includes a wide ideological swath of members at the table. The New York Democrat often makes big decisions after consulting across the spectrum of his members, and he is continuing that strategy as Murray exits the formal leadership team.

After Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Schumer proposes that the next position is the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, currently helmed by Stabenow (D-Mich.), followed by the chair of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, a position currently held by Klobuchar (D-Minn.). It’s a return to where Schumer once stood before he became leader, as the DPCC chairman and No. 3 under former Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Meanwhile, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) continues to seek broader reforms in a top-tier leadership team that includes three committee chairs.

Whitehouse proposes that starting in 2025, the whip, DPCC chair and steering chair would not be able to also hold prime committee leadership roles. Durbin is currently Judiciary chair; Stabenow runs the Agriculture Committee, and Klobuchar heads the Rules Committee.

Schumer’s leadership team is sprawling, with several tiers and meetings on Monday evening and Tuesday mornings followed by a full caucus lunch. Still, there is some consternation among more junior members that it’s difficult to crack the top rungs. Senate Republicans have term limits on every top five leadership slot except for Republican leader.

The top Democratic and Republican leaders give weekly press conferences each week as well, making the top jobs more visible. Murray is leaving the top leadership as she prepares to chair the Appropriations Committee and become Senate pro tempore, which places her in the line of presidential succession.

In 2020, Whitehouse challenged Durbin as he sought to become Judiciary Committee while still maintaining the No. 2 leadership position. The caucus, however, voted to allow Durbin to keep both roles, provided he and other more senior leaders offer to give prime subcommittee gavels.

The Senate Democratic caucus is expected to discuss the new rules changes Tuesday, Nov. 29, with a vote slated for Dec. 1, one week before the caucus’ leadership elections. The ballots will be secret.

In addition to the top four leaders, Schumer’s broader leadership team proposal includes two vice chairs of the conference, positions currently held by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.); chair of outreach, currently held by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.); vice chairs of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, currently held by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.); conference secretary, currently held by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis); vice chair of outreach, currently held by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.); and the new deputy conference secretary position.

There’s no guarantee, however, that all of those senators will hold the same positions in the new Congress. And Schumer still needs to find someone to chair the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, currently run by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). Before the Thanksgiving recess, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) said he wasn’t ruling it out while Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) said he is not currently interested.

Congress is in a familiar mode this holiday season: increasing worry about missing a government funding deadline.

With the Dec. 16 deadline rapidly approaching, leading lawmakers haven’t even made the critical first step to agree on overall spending levels — raising the chances of a stopgap patch needed to avoid a shutdown just before the holidays.

Democrats’ unexpectedly strong midterm performance, a Senate runoff in Georgia on Dec. 6, contentious GOP leadership elections and shifting dynamics for both parties have all delayed progress toward cementing even the beginnings of a broader funding deal for the current fiscal year.

Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, a top appropriator, laughed when asked about meeting the mid-December deadline: “I just don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said. “There’s just too much confusion going on.”

The muddle carries serious stakes for a multitude of government programs, not to mention the future of congressional spending debates. Lawmakers fear that any funding bill they can agree on before 2023 might be the last one Congress passes for at least the next two years due to a slew of factors, including a slim incoming House majority that’s already splintered over federal spending and a presidential election that looms in 2024.

In lieu of annual appropriations bills, Congress could pass continuing resolutions that allow federal agencies to operate on stagnant funding levels, often hamstringing programs and priorities in the process. How long such a funding patch would last is still unclear — possibly punting the problem closer to the holidays or the last week of December — though lawmakers are determined to pass a revamped spending deal before the next Congress.

House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said last week that she’s “laser-like” focused on meeting the mid-December date.

“I think people want to try to move forward,” she said. “That’s the impression that I have, to get the toplines done.”

DeLauro’s GOP counterpart, Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Texas, said negotiations “are starting to get together.”

“We haven’t come to conclusions but we are talking,” Granger said. On meeting the Dec. 16 deadline, she said: “Yes, we’ll do it.”

Retiring Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also indicated last week that congressional spending leaders are making progress toward an agreement on overarching funding levels for defense and nondefense programs, from which a deal on a dozen appropriations bills would flow. But he conceded that the Senate runoff in Georgia could delay talks, after negotiators had already postponed talks due to the midterm elections.

“I wish it wouldn’t. It’s possible. But the sooner we do it the better,” Leahy said.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior House appropriator, said lead negotiators Leahy, DeLauro, Granger and Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the Senate’s top GOP appropriator, “haven’t even gotten into serious negotiations yet … and that’s a problem.”

When asked if he’s making holiday plans in case the work drags on, Cole said, “Nope. Washington is beautiful when it snows.”

Congressional spending leaders have been hoping to nail down a fiscal 2023 funding accord before January, when the GOP regains a slim majority in the House and a whole new session of Congress begins — with a host of brand new members unfamiliar with the appropriations process.

Even Republicans admit that passing annual spending bills will be much harder in 2023 with such a narrow House majority, arguing that it makes more sense to wipe the slate clean before the start of the 119th Congress.

“As fractured as we are on a lot of other issues, there’s probably no better indicator of the fractures in our caucus than those on federal spending,” said Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, the top Republican on the Financial Services spending subcommittee. He noted that his colleagues are split over various parts of the appropriations process, including whether to keep earmarks, slash federal spending or crack down on the IRS.

“I’m loath to tell you this but I wouldn’t expect any clarity on [government funding] until the very week that we begin to lapse in appropriations, because that has become the new normal in Congress and that is regrettable,” Womack said. “We are unaware of any serious negotiations going on at all.”

Leahy and Shelby, two long-time dealmaking partners and appropriating powerhouses, are both retiring at the end of the year, ramping up the pressure for one last bipartisan deal. But even if appropriators hammer out an agreement in such a short time, there are complicated questions over what will get attached to the $1.5 trillion-plus government funding package, since it will likely represent one of lawmakers’ last chances this term to get priorities onto a must-pass package.

The Biden administration has already asked for nearly $38 billion in additional Ukraine aid and $10 billion in emergency health funding, of which $9 billion would go to address current and long-term Covid needs. The White House plans to ask for additional disaster relief to address hurricanes and wildfires this year, as well.

Republicans aren’t likely to support the administration’s call for more Covid-19 funding, rejecting a $22 billion request from the White House earlier this year. And a number of conservatives have argued that the U.S. needs to shut off the spigot of military assistance to Ukraine, calling for further evaluations into the cash Congress has already sent.

Congress has so far provided about $66 billion for Ukraine and other war-related needs. The administration argues that about three-quarters of that funding has either been spent or is committed to specific purposes.

Many lawmakers worry that passing the massive package could prove impossible next year. Rep. David Price of North Carolina, the retiring top Democrat on the Transportation-HUD spending subpanel, said it all needs to come together soon because appropriating next year “will be very, very hard.”

“I think appropriations needs to function with at least minimal bipartisanship,” he said. “It’s all the more reason to get fiscal 2023 enacted.”

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — Congressional Republican leaders are on track to steamroll the growing number of conservative lawmakers who want to stop funding Ukraine’s war effort, a move that’s sure to intensify the GOP divide over U.S. support for Kyiv.

Interviews with lawmakers who traveled here for the Halifax International Security Forum, an annual pro-democracy conference, revealed that Congress is likely to allocate well more than the $38 billion the Biden administration requested for Ukraine’s military and economic needs as part of a year-end governing funding bill. And that extra infusion is set to advance with the help of senior Republicans, even as influential conservative groups urge a pause.

If Congress approves the White House’s request or super-sizes it, the U.S. commitment to Kyiv since Russia’s invasion began in February could top $100 billion by the end of the year — a massive sum that would throw a sharp elbow at Donald Trump-aligned Republicans who want to reevaluate U.S. policy toward Ukraine. But as questions swirl over the staying power of the Western coalition, lawmakers’ message here in Halifax was clear: Now is not the time to scale back the flow of weapons, equipment and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who co-led the congressional delegation to the conference, downplayed the impact of neo-isolationists within his party and noted that the Hill’s most powerful GOP lawmakers firmly support additional aid.

“There are some very loud voices over there,” Idaho Sen. Jim Risch said in an interview, referring to conservatives who oppose more assistance for Kyiv. “It doesn’t worry me as much as you wish it wasn’t there … If we were on the other side of this, they’d be pounding the table saying, ‘Send more money to Ukraine.’”

The unified display of support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Halifax came as GOP leaders — especially in the House, where the party is about to take the majority — feel heightened pressure from their right flank to cut off additional funding for Ukraine. While support for the allied country’s defense against Moscow remains overwhelmingly bipartisan on Capitol Hill, recent polling data has highlighted some GOP voters shifting toward a more Trump-centric direction, voicing resistance to further aid.

Many of Trump’s biggest congressional allies are echoing that shift while keeping a close eye on how the former president views the latest Biden White House’s request, given his previous opposition to Ukraine aid packages.

“Is Ukraine now the 51st state of the United States of America? And what position does Zelenskyy have in our government?” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) asked sarcastically at a news conference the day before the Halifax conference began.

Far-right Republicans like Greene aren’t the only rank-and-file members causing headaches for GOP leaders. Others are pushing for expanded oversight of the U.S. funding as a way to straddle both sides of the Ukraine-aid debate, while some want to cut the non-military portions of U.S. aid for Ukraine. And with Republicans expected to hold only a single-digit majority in the lower chamber come January, those voices within the party could soon have real leverage despite the supermajorities in both chambers that remain supportive of military and economic aid.

Given the uncertainty over how a House GOP majority would handle future funding, many Democrats and Republicans want to significantly boost the Biden administration’s $38 billion request, hoping to approve it before the new Congress is sworn in.

“[Ukraine has] the opportunity during the winter to continue to make progress, to not let Russia re-supply, re-equip and re-arm and prepare for a spring offensive. They can only do that with military support from the West,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said in an interview here. “I think we should provide as robust a supplemental package as we possibly can, to remove doubt about whether that will happen in the next Congress.”

The Ukrainian government was already expecting a larger sum — as much as $60 billion, according to two people familiar with the matter. Democrats, who control both chambers of Congress until Jan. 3, will specifically look to hike the White House’s request for $500 million in humanitarian assistance, which Coons described as “gravely insufficient.”

In the meantime, retiring Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has committed to including a large Ukraine aid package in a year-end spending bill. Republican leaders have pointed to Ukraine’s recent victories on the battlefield as a reason to double down on assistance packages, not pull back.

“I know a lot of people say, ‘Well, we’re getting tired of helping the Ukrainians.’ They’re fighting for freedom. I want to help them,” Shelby said in an interview before the Senate’s Thanksgiving recess, emphasizing that appropriators had yet to clinch an agreement on exact spending figures.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior Foreign Relations Committee member, said he was concerned that Republicans might not back an increase to the package’s economic and humanitarian aid.

“We’ve seen this movie before,” Cardin said.

For now, Republican leaders in both chambers are trying to keep the Trump-aligned bloc at bay by promising extra scrutiny of U.S. taxpayer dollars heading overseas, as well as looking to convince other NATO members to step up with additional support for Ukraine.

Many of those oversight and accountability mechanisms already exist within congressional committees, though, and GOP leaders have yet to lay out a specific plan. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who attended the conference, said he has seen the Biden administration’s delivery of weapons to Ukraine become “more timely,” though extra “due diligence” is necessary.

The Halifax forum featured an array of legislative and military leaders who sought to leave those domestic political challenges at the water’s edge. In a well-received address, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made the case that pushing back against Russia’s expansionism is about much more than just defending Ukraine’s territory, as other adversaries like China contemplate similar moves to upend the international order. After meeting with Austin, the nine-member congressional delegation here had the same message.

“Make no mistake,” added Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who co-led the delegation. “Everyone is watching the outcome.”

Paul McLeary contributed to this report.

Democrats eager to find a legislative solution before 2023 for young undocumented immigrants are getting a wake-up call: They need votes from Republicans who don’t want to do it.

As the GOP prepares to take the House, top Senate Democrats are desperately proclaiming that the post-election session is the best — and perhaps only — chance for Congress to act in the near term on deportation protections for the immigrants known as “Dreamers.” And with good reason: After the Senate passed a comprehensive bill in 2013, the Republican-controlled House never took it up.

That recent history has Majority Leader Chuck Schumer proclaiming that “we want to get [it] done” and Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) saying that “the time to act is now.” But even those on the GOP side who once supported a fix for the deportation-protection program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, are now against it.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Democrats are “crazy” to try pushing for a deal now: “I think they’re just trying to do it, probably, to please some activist groups.” And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rubio’s only remaining GOP partner on the 2013 bill brokered by the so-called “Gang of Eight,” claims “there’s no way you’re going to get anybody on our side to do an immigration bill with a broken border.”

It’s the latest setback on the subject for immigration reform advocates, who are on track to end two years of unified Democratic power in Washington with no significant progress. Senate Democrats have yet to put an immigration bill on the floor, and the two narrower immigration bills the House passed this Congress never advanced across the Capitol.

There’s been some talk of efforts in the upper chamber, led by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), to move the bipartisan House-passed immigration bill focused on easing visas for agricultural workers before 2023, but that could prove a heavy lift. And even that small step won’t dispel the gloomy post-midterms atmosphere for advocates who see a closing window for Congress to offer legal status to undocumented immigrants.

It’s “a long shot, but we’re still going to try,” Durbin said of the lame duck. Another option for Democrats: Putting an immigration bill on the floor and forcing Republicans to take a vote.

Yet any roll call this December may be a replay from the last time the House flipped from Democratic to Republican control. In 2010, most GOP senators and a handful of Democrats blocked a bill that would have granted Dreamers a path to legal status, eventually leading then-President Barack Obama to take executive action.

Now Democrats and immigration advocates argue there’s added urgency after an appeals court ruling in October left uncertain the fate of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. The court deemed the DACA program illegal, but indicated that current recipients of deportation protections wouldn’t be affected amid the litigation. Advocates predict the case will end up before the Supreme Court.

“It’s not like we have five years,” said Raha Wala, vice president of strategic partnerships and advocacy at the National Immigration Law Center. “The current DACA recipients are in this state of legal limbo really in fear of the fact that the Supreme Court is going to make a final determination that: ‘Yep, this thing is unlawful and y’all are out of luck.’”

Those dire conditions aren’t moving Republicans to produce the 10 votes the Senate needs to pass anything. In fact, the politics of immigration compromise have become more fraught for the GOP ever since the Senate passed the “Gang of Eight” bill with 14 Republican votes.

Former President Donald Trump, who crushed the last real attempt at a bipartisan immigration bill in 2018, is a major factor in that. And now Senate Republicans are coming off a recent intraparty leadership fight after making the surge in border crossings a central part of their 2022 campaign message.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said there would be an “unimaginable” backlash against Republicans if they cut a deal now with Democrats. And some Republicans, like Graham, suggested they wanted to wait until the new GOP-controlled House sent over a border security bill before proceeding.

Even so, Democrats say that behind the scenes Republicans are showing interest — even if they don’t admit it publicly.

“I’ve talked to my Republican colleagues about this a lot. A lot of them, like me, feel that Dreamers should at least have a pathway to citizenship,” said Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.).

The GOP focus on the border is only likely to increase after a judge last week blocked the use of “Title 42,” a Trump-era pandemic border restriction that the Biden administration continued to enforce, sparking Democratic divisions.

“It would be very difficult. We have a very short period,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.). “There’s an openness to discussions. The question is: Is there an openness to action?”

Democrats attempted to pursue immigration reform, including a pathway to legal status, along party lines last year. But that ran afoul of the chamber’s budget strictures, prompting the Senate rules referee to reject their multiple attempts. And while a bipartisan group of senators has been meeting on immigration, they are nowhere close to a deal.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who is participating in those bipartisan discussions, said it won’t get any easier next year.

‘“If we don’t come to an agreement, I don’t think that we’ll be addressing it for another two to four years,” he said. “It could be challenging in a divided Congress.”

Even if there’s no floor vote on a standalone immigration bill, it’s possible that a smaller-scale proposal could get tucked into an end-of-the-year spending package. That deadline is approaching fast on Dec. 16, however, and any proposal would need buy-in from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as well as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

It would also require 10 Senate Republican votes.

Conservatives have made their demands known to Kevin McCarthy as he rounds up votes for speaker. Now centrists are next in line.

The unexpectedly small majority McCarthy will be working with next year as he seeks the top gavel has undoubtedly bolstered the leverage of his right flank. But the House Freedom Caucus’ vocal criticism is drowning out clear signals from some members of his more moderate wing: They say McCarthy should know that any deal with rebellious conservatives could face resistance from centrists who see themselves as the GOP’s “majority makers.”

“Kevin’s not stupid,” said Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), who leads the centrist Republican Governance Group. “He’s trying to add to his numbers, not destroy his base. And so I count on his political acumen to know what’s acceptable to the rank and file inside the conference.”

Whether centrists are willing to withhold their speakership votes from McCarthy on Jan. 3, as some conservatives have indicated, remains to be seen. But it’s not just the more moderate Joyce-led group eyeing ways to have extra influence next year. Even as Washington’s attention after the midterm turns to the Freedom Caucus, members of the Main Street Caucus and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus are talking among themselves about it.

Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), the Problem Solvers’ co-chiefs, met for dinner last week and talked about possible rules changes to help ensure their roughly 50 members next year are more unified, and therefore more powerful, on the floor next year. Among them: guidelines to endorse only bills that are bipartisan when introduced.

“We just want to make the group more accountable … I mean, the whole point of our group is to stick together on the floor when we endorse bills,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that their ability to coalesce could be “important” given the tight margin.

Other factions in the House are already looking to form alliances with the centrist group. Fitzpatrick said he’s been hearing from Freedom Caucus members who want to find common ground with the moderate wing next year, as well as from Democratic senators who are looking for GOP allies in the lower chamber as they weigh their legislative priorities.

Republicans in the Main Street Caucus met last week as they grow their own ranks ahead of next year. Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who co-leads the group, said they were nearing 90 members, adding that after years of the Freedom Caucus throwing its weight around: “It’s time we flex our muscles.”

The first real test of the power of the House GOP’s different wings — and McCarthy’s support from them — will be the chamber-wide vote for speaker on Jan. 3. Virtually every Republican group is already looking to exhibit its leverage in a threadbare majority that gives McCarthy a cushion expected to be no larger than five votes. And in some cases, the GOP factions’ priorities will clash.

McCarthy’s speakership bid looked on shaky ground last week after 31 GOP members voted for his hardline conservative challenger in a closed-door conference election and five more put down write-in names. Not all of those Republicans are expected to oppose him come January, but it served as a warning to the GOP leader.

To many rank-and-file members, it was also an opportunity.

Since that secret ballot race, a trickle of lawmakers have publicly announced their plans to vote against the California Republican. Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a long-time “no” vote, and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) have stated emphatically they won’t support McCarthy for speaker; first-term Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Bob Good (R-Va.) have strongly signaled that they are likely to oppose him.

“The stages of grief include denial, so there will be some denial, and then there will be the stage of bargaining. And that’s where we’ll probably be next,” said Biggs, who challenged McCarthy for the nomination.

While several House races remain uncalled, McCarthy likely couldn’t afford to lose all four of those votes on the floor — which means he either has to twist arms, make concessions or both to line up the support he needs come January.

And there’s a big question mark when it comes to how far he’ll go to attain his dreams of the speakership. Some say McCarthy would stand his ground and refuse any hard-line bargains, but there’s rampant speculation that his desperation to win the floor vote could drive him to acquiesce to deals that would be difficult for future GOP leaders to pull back.

Still, other Republicans shrugged off the maneuvering as a necessary exercise, saying they’d continue helping him reach 218. Even if McCarthy does make an unpopular concession, rank-and-file Republicans could still vote it down on the floor, these allies argue.

“We’re not going to be voting for any crazy policies, so he can make all the commitments he wants,” said one House Republican, granted anonymity to speak candidly.

McCarthy’s already avoided one landmine, squashing talk from the Freedom Caucus about making it easier to depose a speaker. Instead, he got the conference to agree that a motion to vacate the chair — how conservatives pushed out then-Speaker John Boehner — would require the support of a majority of House Republicans.

But January’s high-stakes vote will be tougher, with McCarthy needing a majority of votes among all House members, not just his own conference. With just a few votes to spare, he’ll likely have to borrow tactics from previous leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Convincing his defectors to vote “present” or not show up at all.

Even some Democrats are plotting how to get in on the action.

A group of centrist Democrats has been privately discussing ways to play in the speaker race if it can mean winning concessions of their own, including potential leeway on rule changes and committee structures, according to a half-dozen people familiar with the conversations.

One Democrat familiar with the conversations described the idea as more of a “back-up” plan in case McCarthy can’t reach the votes on his own, rather than an active push to interfere with the race. Still, some Democrats have discussed what they could get in exchange for cooperating with the GOP leader — or even floating their own moderate speaker candidate if McCarthy loses too much ground.

Furthermore, they’ve discussed working with their Republican centrist counterparts.

The pro-McCarthy Bacon told POLITICO that Democrats had reached out to him after NBC reported that he was open to working with them if Republicans couldn’t unite behind a candidate. (Bacon said the report mischaracterized his remarks and predicted McCarthy will get to 218 votes.)

Bacon declined to describe his response to the outreach, while acknowledging that “we’re talking,” but the “ball is in the other guy’s court.”

The idea of Democrats working with centrist Republicans to try to elect a speaker has sparked warnings from the GOP conference’s right flank, including those backing McCarthy.

“We have a very slim majority, and so this is why it’s so important for us to stay unified … because we cannot open the door to the Democrats peeling off several of our Republicans and working together to choose a speaker,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who’s become a key Freedom Caucus ally for the GOP leader.

McCarthy has also privately and publicly dismissed that he would solicit Democratic votes for speaker.

“We’re the majority as Republicans and we’ll get there as Republicans,” McCarthy told reporters after the Tuesday leadership elections.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y), widely expected to lead his caucus in the next Congress, said Sunday it was an honor to follow the previous generation of top Democrats.

“It’s an honor to stand on the shoulders of such an extraordinary group of leaders: Jim Clyburn, Steny Hoyer and, of course, Nancy Pelosi,” Jeffries said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” referring to the outgoing House majority whip, House majority leader and speaker of the House, respectively.

The trio of octogenarians announced last week they plan to leave the top positions, paving the way for a generational change in party leadership. Jeffries announced his plans to run for House Democratic leader on Friday, and was running unopposed as of Sunday.

Jeffries said that while outsiders have “to create this frame of Democrats in disarray,” his party was able to come together on crucial policy decisions.

And he had no shortage of praise for Pelosi, who has had two stints as speaker and was the first woman to serve in the role.

“An historic speaker, a legendary leader, someone who has left an incredible footprint for good,” he said of the outgoing speaker.

It’s not every day that a senator quotes a famous mob movie to describe the state of his political party after a week of infighting.

“You’ve gotta have a war every five or 10 years to get rid of the bad blood,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said, paraphrasing a line from “The Godfather” to paint a picture of Senate Republicans. “And then you start over.”

Tension built within the Senate GOP for nearly two years, from former President Donald Trump’s post-insurrection impeachment through a host of bipartisan Biden-era deals that many Republicans opposed. And after the party’s midterm election losses, those cracks turned into a chasm.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) mounted a challenge to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that embodied the conservative griping about the Kentuckian’s leadership style. As GOP senators spent roughly 10 hours in private meetings this week that at times grew highly contentious, the conference cleaved over a same-sex marriage bill that most of them opposed.

When McConnell defeated Scott, 37-10 (a tally that some Republican senators still won’t talk about) the intraparty whispers and rumors of opposition to the tight-gripped leader finally got quantified on paper. The GOP now hopes that its factions — or warring families, as Mario Puzo would put it — are at peace.

That McConnell faced his first contested leadership race in nearly 16 years atop the conference marked a turning point in the GOP. He’s held the post longer than anyone else in his party, and soon enough will break the Senate’s overall record. Despite that rarefied air, it’s clear that he was pushing for every single vote he could lock in.

Take J.D. Vance, a first-time candidate endorsed by Trump. The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund super PAC showered battleground races with $240 million in ad buys, including more than $30 million for Vance. McConnell spoke to Vance multiple times this week in the run-up to leadership elections, lobbying for the Ohio Republican’s vote, according to people familiar with the conversation.

Spokespeople for McConnell and Vance declined to comment.

It’s still not clear how Vance voted in the leadership race; some senators believe he was a definite no, while others think he may have supported McConnell. The secret ballot process allows senators to keep their votes private if they want, but the majority of McConnell dissenters own their opposition — now and in the future.

“I’m not in favor of the current leadership. And I’m not going to be going forward,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who said he hoped GOP leaders had absorbed some of the criticism levied their way. “My worry here is that people don’t learn from failure.”

McConnell celebrated his overwhelming support this week with a thumbs-up and a triumphant press conference, striking a positive tone as his super PAC pours more into next month’s Georgia Senate runoff. But the same-sex marriage bill that moved forward this week with 12 GOP votes simultaneously drove a new wedge, similar to the split it caused earlier this year among the also-feuding House GOP conference.

The marriage protection bill made everything even more “rough — a lot of our members were adamantly against it,” said one Republican senator.

And a handful of ugly encounters this week will linger. After some senators asked for an accounting of the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s financial moves under Scott, the campaign arm chief fired back in a press release that under former chair Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), it had offered “unauthorized” bonuses to staffers at the end of 2020.

Young offered a chilly response on Thursday.

“I’ll answer any member’s questions as it relates to this. We operated the committee with great integrity, always above board and professional. So, that’s it,” Young said.

Senate Republicans’ period of introspection centers on a few critical questions. The most important one: Why did they fail to pick up a single Senate seat in a midterm election under an unpopular Democratic president?

“We still need to do an impartial review of where we could have done better. A clear factor is that we lost independent voters. Why was that? What do we need to do to regain their trust?” Collins asked.

Though Scott was the top cheerleader for the party’s Senate nominees, McConnell and his allies have derided the NRSC’s hands-off approach in contested primaries where other nominees might have proven stronger. That’s already a relevant debate for the 2024 cycle: A contested GOP primary in West Virginia’s Senate race is taking shape, with Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) announcing a run and state attorney general Patrick Morrisey likely to run again.

A similar dynamic may be shaping up in Montana and Ohio, two of the GOP’s other Senate pick-up opportunities in two years.

Already, incoming NRSC Chair Steve Daines (R-Mont.) says he’s going to do things a bit differently.

“We will look at every race in every state,” Daines said in an interview. “We want to see candidates that win a primary, that can win a general election.”

Without the majority, Republicans will be on defense for the next two years as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer still controls the floor. Schumer split Republicans on legislation like gun safety and infrastructure, earning McConnell’s vote along the way — although that dynamic will be muted now that Republicans have the House.

Then there’s the question of whether Senate Republicans’ lack of a unified agenda cost the party. McConnell preferred to make this fall’s Senate races a referendum on President Joe Biden, much to the chagrin of Republicans like Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and Rick Scott, who proposed his own list of conservative priorities that became Democratic attack-ad fodder.

Enter Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who said he and other senators are preparing a policy rollout for next year.

“We’ll be rolling out five or six major pieces of legislation in January, February, March, April, May,” the Louisiana Republican said. “What we’re going to be bringing forward are mature products that I think have the potential to make the average American’s life better … and by the way, I think that’s good politics too.”

Toward the end of Wednesday’s nearly four-hour-long conference meeting, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) made a rousing speech about the election. The former college football coach explained to his colleagues that even after bad losses that divided the locker room, his players would emerge as a team.

“Sometimes we air our laundry too much,” Tuberville explained in an interview. “A lot of that had to do with: ‘We just got our tail kicked. We’re 21-point favorites and we lost.’ So I think that brings on frustration. I’ll tell you, I’ve been there.”

His message was mostly well-received. But one senator reported an inauspicious follow-up to Tuberville’s speech: After leaving the supposedly unifying meeting, this Republican saw Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaking to reporters about GOP leaders’ tactical shortcomings.

The senator’s message was unmistakable: At the moment, a unified GOP may be more of an aspirational goal than reality.

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