Republicans gave Democrats an amazing Christmas present going into the new year. Thanks to Republican incompetence, it is possible that Democrats may end 2024 with Speaker of the House Hakeem Jefferies (D-N.Y.), as a direct result of bad Republican strategy and policy.
House Republicans have done much this year to send some Christmas cheer across the aisle by exiling one member and letting their former leader quit in the middle of his term.
Republicans have a slim majority and should have thought long and hard before giving away multiple seats. That political blunder might end up giving away the House Republican majority before the end of 2024.
Republicans’ first present to Democrats this Christmas season was to give one seat of their slim majority for no good reason. Most think that Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) was on borrowed time as a member of the House of Representatives and was not going to be re-elected for another term anyway. Yet the party decided to toss away a seat early that likely will end up in Democrat hands as early as February. President Joe Biden won Santos’s district by eight points in 2020, so we can say with a degree of certainty that expelling Santos handed a seat over to the Democrats.
The House has set a dangerous precedent by exiling Santos, making him only the sixth House member to ever be expelled and the first since the Civil War without a criminal conviction. On policy grounds, this will make politicized expulsions far easier in the future. Expelling members also imposes voter disenfranchisement by the House. The voters of a district ended up losing their duly elected member and will be represented by no one for months. On policy and political grounds, expelling Santos was a lump of coal for Republicans.
Soon after Santos was booted, former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) gave Democrats a second holiday gift. He announced that he is quitting Congress for greener pastures with a future full of sugar plum consulting jobs and corporate boards full of expensive presents. Politico pointed out recently that “with George Santos (R-N.Y.) gone, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) planning to resign at the end of the year and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) exiting soon after that, Speaker Mike Johnson will have little room to maneuver if he hopes to pass partisan bills once lawmakers come back in January.” Rep. Bill Johnson is retiring to take a position as a university president in Ohio, making it possible that Republicans end up with a one-seat majority at some point next year.
There is one Democrat who is likely to leave Congress, but he would be smart to hang around to see if a few other Republicans decide to bail on Congress or decide to switch parties.
“The way I add the numbers up, we could easily be down to a majority of one,” Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) told the New York Post. He worried that Democrats “are dangerous” right now. With a House majority, Democrats would have control over the White House, House of Representatives and U.S. Senate for long enough to make Congress cease oversight of the Biden administration, fully fund their woke agenda and push policies to keep Biden in power.
Democrats get the joke. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) bragged that “slowly but surely, House Republicans are catastrophically mismanaging their own majority out of existence.” The consensus was that the 2024 fall election was going to be a tough one for House Republicans to defend. But Republicans seem to be engaging in pre-emptive surrender by putting their current majority at risk.
All Democrats have to do is wait until a handful of Republicans fail to make it to a session of Congress because of illness or other reasons, then pull the trigger on a Motion to Vacate when Republicans are missing the votes to defend their majority. That could elevate Jefferies into the Speaker’s office, and the temporary Democratic majority could then change the rules, making it harder to vacate the chair.
That may seem far-fetched, but who would have thought Republicans would give away three seats when they only have a four-seat majority?
Hopefully this becomes an academic discussion, and Republicans don’t end up becoming the Grinch that gave away their voters’ House majority. The party has made some good decisions by allowing the House Freedom Caucus to put pressure on leadership on spending. But now they need to do a better job of safeguarding their majority.
Brian Darling is former counsel to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
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