Politics

The House GOP’s margin for error is on track to shrink to just one vote

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Hah oh man! House Speaker Mike Johnson’s epic struggles to count votes and keep his caucus in line are about to get a whole lot rougher.

One of Johnson’s least-favorite members, Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, just announced that he’s resigning next week. How least-favorite? Johnson says that Buck—who had already said back in November that he wouldn’t seek reelection—didn’t even inform him ahead of time, reports Politico’s Olivia Beavers.

But intra-party hostilities aside, what matters most is how Buck’s departure affects Johnson’s math. In short, it’s not good.

At the moment, there are 219 Republicans in the House and 213 Democrats. This means that on any given vote, the GOP can afford a maximum of two defections. If three Republicans switch sides to join with Democrats on a particular roll call, then whatever is up for a vote dies, because a 216-216 tie is the same as a loss.

When Buck leaves, that margin will slip to 218-213. But on April 30, Democrats are the heavy favorites to regain one seat in the special election for upstate New York’s vacant 26th District, a solidly blue seat in the Buffalo area. That would take the House to 218-214, and then things get really interesting.

That’s because it would take just two Republicans to tank any vote as long as Democrats stick together, which they have with remarkable consistency. Once again, a 216-all tie sinks any GOP bill, resolution, impeachment—what have you.

In other words, Johnson’s magic number would shrink to exactly one vote. That is to say, if more than one Republican representative has some kind of grievance with the speaker, or the legislation being proposed, or just woke up grumpy that morning, then boom, dead, done. To the extent Johnson has any agenda he might hope to advance, it would take only two dissenters to derail it.

Now, there’s a possible wrinkle: The vacant seat that once belonged to the hapless pol Johnson succeeded as speaker—Kevin McCarthy—will also see a special election next week. However, if no one wins a majority of the vote, then there would be a runoff in late May. And there’s very good reason to think that’s exactly what will happen, because, following last week’s regularly scheduled primary, the first-place candidate (funny enough, a McCarthy protégé) is sitting on just 38% of the vote.

Of course, Johnson will still pray that McCarthy’s seat gets filled as quickly as possible, however poor the odds. Because the only thing worse is the math he’ll face if it doesn’t.

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