With his own political future perhaps in doubt, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan heaped praise on the GOP’s new undisputed leader Wednesday, saying Republicans owe their continued congressional majorities to president-elect Donald Trump.
After a rocky campaign that saw many of them shun the billionaire businessman as a false Republican, GOP lawmakers scrambled to climb aboard the Trump train, saying their political futures are now linked, and insisting they can work together to repeal Obamacare, cut government red tape and advance GOP priorities.
“This is the most incredible political feat I have seen in my lifetime,” Mr. Ryan said in a brief press conference in Wisconsin. “Donald Trump heard a voice out in this country that no one else heard. He connected in ways with people no one else did. He turned politics on its head.”
While Republicans shed seats in both chambers, the losses were less than most analysts had projected.
In the Senate, the GOP was projected to hold 52 seats, only a slight drop from the current 54-seat majority. In the House, Democrats netted just a handful of seats, and Republicans were likely to end up with more than 240 seats once all the races are called.
Mr. Trump and leaders traded phone calls and began to draw up plans for the rest of this year, but seemed to be still sounding each other out after a campaign where they never campaigned with one another, and indeed were often at odds.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there is now plenty to talk about.
“I think most of the things that he’s likely to advocate we’re going to be enthusiastically for. Where we have differences of opinion I expect to discuss them privately and not sort of hashing them out in public,” he said. “But the goal will be to try to get on the same page to try to turn the country in a different direction.”
That Mr. Trump was elected at all was a surprise to many of the lawmakers and insiders in Washington, who looked at the polling and discounted his chances.
Mr. Ryan credited the race Mr. Trump ran with helping vulnerable Republicans keep their seats.
“Donald Trump provided the kind of coattails that got a lot of people over the finish line so the we could maintain our strong House and Senate majorities,” he said.
Mr. McConnell, though, pointed out that most of his senators up for re-election ran ahead of Mr. Trump in their states.
“I think in a day when people were voting for change, they didn’t decide they wanted to change the Republican Senate, which I am proud of,” Mr. McConnell said.
The Kentucky Republican said moving forward, he’ll continue to look for bipartisanship, and he cautioned against overselling the GOP’s mandate. “We’ve been given a temporary lease on power, if you will. And I think we need to use it responsibly,” he said. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said she believes Democrats can work with Mr. Trump on rebuilding infrastructure, capitalizing on the Republican’s campaign pledge to spend $500 billion rebuilding roads, bridges and inner cities.
“Investing in infrastructure is an important priority of his. We can work together to quickly pass a robust infrastructure jobs bill,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Mrs. Pelosi also said she asked Mr. Trump to open up talks with female lawmakers to explore child care and family leave proposals that he laid out during the campaign.
Finding bipartisanship could be tough for Mr. Ryan, who while he enjoys a bigger majority in the House also faces a more rambunctious uprising from his right flank.
Indeed, the Trump election underscored the perilous political position he’s in. Even before the results, conservative pressure groups had urged House Republicans to think hard before returning Mr. Ryan to the top job.
Mr. Ryan during the campaign famously said he and Mr. Trump weren’t the same kind of conservatives, and at one point said his verbal attack on a federal judge of Mexican ancestry were the “textbook definition of a racist comment.”