In our latest podcast, Brendan and I predicted that Kevin McCarthy would quit Congress and quit it soon. And, lookie here! The humiliated ex-Speaker has announced that he’s stepping down at the end of the year. As Brendan and I also discussed, this means things are getting incredibly tight in the House of Representatives.
Let’s do some math. There are 435 seats in the House, meaning that you need 218 to have a majority. But George Santos was just expelled, meaning that there are on 434 filled seats in the House. Now we know that Kevin McCarthy is going to create a vacancy at the beginning of January. That makes it 433 filled seats, and only 217 for a majority.
But wait! There’s more. Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio is set to become the president of Youngstown State University on March 15. In announcing his decision in late-November, Johnson said he would be staying in Congress for “several more months,” so it sounds like he plans to resign at the last possible moment. When he does retire, however, it will add a third vacancy.
Getting back to the math, now that Santos has been ejected, the Republicans enjoy a 221-213 advantage. To get a majority, Speaker Mike Johnson needs 217 votes, so he can only lose four if the Democrats are united against him. Once McCarthy leaves, it will be a 220-213 advantage, and he’ll still need 217, so Johnson will only be able to lose three votes.
Now, as best as I can surmise, the special election to fill Santos’s seat will probably occur in late-February. For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that the Democrats win that election. If so, then the tally in the House will be 220-214 and we’ll be back to needing 218 for a majority. So, that means Johnson will only be able to lose two votes.
And then assuming Bill Johnson steps down and creates a vacancy in early March, the roll call will be 219-214. Since the majority will drop back down to 217, it will still give Johnson a two-vote cushion.
It’s expected that the Republicans will eventually win the special elections to fill McCarthy and Johnson’s seats, and to be honest even the Santos seat is a toss-up, so don’t expect these tight numbers to hold forever.
But, for Johnson, he’s going to have to navigate the negotiations over the budget in late-January and early-February with a three vote margin, and it may go down to two votes for a time after that. And he has trolls like Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor-Greene and Matt Gaetz to contend with, not to mention a host of other Freedom Caucus fanatics.
The idea that he can govern without any buy-in from the Democratic Party just doesn’t look plausible. And, yet, using Democratic votes is what cost McCarthy the speakership. How can Johnson avoid a similar fate?