Could GOP resignations flip the House to Democrats before the election?

The GOP majority is quite small, but a Democratic takeover pre-election still seems extremely unlikely.

Mike Johnson, a middle-aged white man in a blue suit and red tie wearing glasses, looks downward with a serious expression.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) is working with a very slim majority of House Republicans. Kent Nishimura/Getty Images Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

The GOP’s majority in the House of Representatives was already very narrow — and it’s getting even narrower.

But could it get narrow enough that Democrats actually take control this year — before the election?

Some political commentators have been contemplating that possibility in the wake of the surprising news that Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) is stepping down early, amid reports that other Republicans are contemplating doing the same given frustration with the chaotic chamber and the temptations of private sector paydays.

A closer look at the House math, though, suggests a full flip to Democrats is an extremely far-fetched scenario. Here’s why.

Once Gallagher resigns on April 19, the House will be composed of 217 Republicans and 213 Democrats, with five vacant seats.

On April 30, there is a special election to fill a vacancy in New York’s 26th District, which Democrats are expected to win. If so, once the result is certified and the winner is sworn in, the House will have 217 Republicans and 214 Democrats (and four vacancies).

A 217-214 majority is extremely narrow, making it very challenging to pass partisan measures without total party unity. A mere two Republican defections could sink a bill, if no Democrats support it.

But fully flipping control is more difficult. It would require four more unexpected Republican resignations (or deaths). That’s because a new vacancy in a Republican seat puts the GOP down one seat, but it doesn’t add a seat to the Democratic column.

So three new Republican resignations would just mean a 214-214 House (which would be pretty wild). But the majority needed to elect a Democratic speaker wouldn’t yet be there. Another GOP resignation would put the House at 214 Democrats and 213 Republicans.

There would clearly be immense pressure on Republicans eyeing the exits to not be the one person whose resignation would give Democrats the House, so that number of resignations seems unlikely.

A flip looks even more far-fetched once you realize that there’s a short time window for this to happen, because Republicans’ majority is going to get bigger very soon.

The special election to fill Kevin McCarthy’s seat in California’s 20th District is on May 21, and the only two candidates on the ballot are Republicans (they won California’s “top-two” primary in this heavily Republican district). So a Republican is guaranteed to win there, and once he’s sworn in, the House would have 218 Republicans and 214 Democrats — raising the number of resignations necessary to flip it by one more.

In June, there will be two more special elections to fill vacancies in safely Republican districts — the seats of former Reps. Bill Johnson (R-OH) and Ken Buck (R-CO), so barring shocking results there, the House would be composed of 220 Republicans and 214 Democrats after that.

So I’d put the chances of a surprise Democratic majority in the “extremely, extremely, extremely unlikely” range. The best shot for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries to become speaker is the normal one — winning in November.


No votes yet.
Please wait...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *