Johnson Will Soon Have a Single-Vote Majority—What Does This Mean for Congress?

As the speaker faces an ouster threat, he also presides over a deeply divided Republican conference making him more reliant on Democrats to pass legislation.
Johnson Will Soon Have a Single-Vote Majority—What Does This Mean for Congress?
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) attends a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on April 16, 2024. (Julia Nikhinson/AFP via Getty Images)
Joseph Lord
Jackson Richman
Stacy Robinson
4/17/2024
Updated:
4/18/2024
0:00

WASHINGTON—After a string of retirements and an expulsion, House Republicans will soon hold the slimmest majority in modern history.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is leading a Republican conference that can spare only one defection in a party that has already dethroned its own speaker over internal divisions.

Such a thin advantage gives Republicans little in the way of leverage in a government that’s otherwise completely controlled by Democrats—particularly as infighting and the threat of a new motion to vacate against Mr. Johnson hangs over all that he does.

Republicans began the 118th Congress with a 222–213 majority.

Once Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) leaves on April 19, the new 217–213 balance means that a bill needs 216 votes to pass with all members present.

What does that one-vote buffer mean for the House for the rest of the year?

For many Republicans, it means little to no hope to pass GOP-centric bills for the rest of the 118th Congress.

However, some of the most high-stakes issues to be addressed this Congress have already been dealt with.

In 2023, then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican representing California, made a deal with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, known as the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

The deal, which left few Republicans happy, effectively closed out the need for further debt-ceiling negotiations for most of the remainder of the 118th Congress.

More recently, Mr. Johnson reached across the aisle to pass a $1.2 trillion government funding package—a package that some Republicans say has removed any remaining leverage that they had over Democrats.

“Sadly, there’s not a lot left of consequence,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) told The Epoch Times.

“We have very little leverage; it doesn’t matter if it’s [a] one-vote margin or a 10-vote margin. If the speaker is going to pass those predominantly with Democrat votes, it really doesn’t matter how much our margin is.”

Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) agreed, saying, “This Congress is over.” He recommends that Republicans focus on getting former President Donald Trump reelected.

“I don’t think much gets done this year ... it’s pretty much done,” Mr. Nehls told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Johnson has pleaded for understanding from his caucus, saying Republicans shouldn’t expect much with such a limited majority.

“We are not going to be able to do big transformational changes that we'd like, that we know are necessary. And for example, the budget and then spending, we’re not going to get all of our priorities,” he said.

“We will never get 100 percent of what we want and believe is necessary for the country because that’s the reality. It’s a matter of math, and in the Congress, the numbers, the votes that are available.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have said that Mr. Johnson should work more closely with them.

When asked about the one-vote majority, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) told The Epoch Times, “I hope it serves as a motivation to try and bring reasonable bills that are not just simple messaging bills ... bills that have bipartisan support.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) speaks to reporters outside the U.S. Capitol during a vote on legislation pertaining to TikTok, in Washington on March 13, 2024. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) speaks to reporters outside the U.S. Capitol during a vote on legislation pertaining to TikTok, in Washington on March 13, 2024. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Motion to Vacate and Ukraine

Although much of the must-pass legislation has been dealt with for the time being, Mr. Johnson does have more looming tests to his speakership: funding for Ukraine and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s motion to vacate against him.

His one-vote majority makes the issue of Ukraine aid, which has divided Republicans nearly since the war began in February 2022, an incredibly difficult one to navigate.

While many Republicans and all Democrats are in favor of continuing to provide financial assistance to Ukraine, about half of the Republican conference has grown increasingly skeptical as the war has dragged on.

Ms. Greene is one of the many Republicans who are entirely against any form of further assistance to Kyiv, and many speculate that bringing Ukraine aid to the floor could trigger Ms. Greene’s motion to vacate.

Until recently, Ms. Greene stood alone in her threat to bring a motion to vacate.

That changed on April 16, when Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) announced that he would co-sponsor Ms. Greene’s resolution, after Mr. Johnson announced a four-part foreign aid and geopolitical security package, including yet-unspecified additional funding for Ukraine.

With such a slim Republican majority, Mr. Massie’s position all but guarantees that Mr. Johnson will need the support of Democrats to keep his job should the motion to vacate be activated.

While Ms. Greene has refrained from identifying this issue as a certain trigger of her motion to vacate, she has said that such an action would “move the needle.”

It’s unclear if other Republicans will feel compelled to join Mr. Massie and Ms. Greene if she activates her motion to vacate over funding for Kyiv.

On the other hand, Mr. Johnson could get unexpected support from Democrats to keep the job.

During an April 11 news conference, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) suggested as much.

“I believe there are a reasonable number of Democrats who would not want to see the speaker fall as a result of doing the right thing,” he said.

Additionally, several Republicans, even those who voted to oust Mr. McCarthy, have indicated that Mr. Johnson is safe—for the time being.
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) hold a news conference at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., on April 12, 2024. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) hold a news conference at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., on April 12, 2024. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Trump Factor

Adding to Mr. Johnson’s difficulties, he and President Trump haven’t always seen eye to eye on key issues.

President Trump’s influence in Congress is most pronounced in the lower chamber, where he has a broad array of dedicated allies such as Ms. Greene, Mr. Nehls, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and others.

With Mr. Johnson’s paper-thin majority, disagreements on key policy issues can easily derail his legislative agenda.

The former president’s influence has already shifted policy outcomes on several occasions.

The most prominent of these occurred recently, when President Trump spoke in opposition to the reauthorization of the controversial Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

“KILL FISA, IT WAS ILLEGALLY USED AGAINST ME, AND MANY OTHERS. THEY SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN!!!” President Trump wrote in a post on Truth Social.
On the same day, 19 House Republicans did just that, joining all Democrats to kill a rule allowing for consideration of a FISA extension.

Later, Mr. Johnson successfully managed to navigate a modified version of the same bill, which extended FISA for two years rather than five, through a vote of the House on April 12.

Despite his calls to “kill FISA,” President Trump didn’t seem upset with the speaker, although he maintained his opposition to the program.

President Trump has also proposed that all future foreign aid be structured in the form of a loan—a strategy that many expect Mr. Johnson to pursue if he takes up new Ukraine aid.

The influence of President Trump is likely to continue affecting outcomes in the thinly Republican lower chamber.

Fortunately for Mr. Johnson, he has the former president’s backing.

The two appeared together at an April 12 news conference in which President Trump praised Mr. Johnson for “doing a really good job under tough circumstances.”

“I stand with the speaker,” the former president said.

President Trump’s backing is important for Mr. Johnson, as it sends a tacit message to his Republican critics to stand down—and it particularly sends a message that the former president isn’t likely to support efforts to remove the speaker.

President Trump signaled his opposition to the ongoing threat to remove Mr. Johnson.

“It’s not an easy situation for any speaker,” President Trump said when asked about Ms. Greene’s motion to vacate. “I think he’s doing a very good job. He’s doing about as good as you’re going to do.

“I’m sure that Marjorie understands that he is a very good friend of mine, and I know she has a lot of respect for the speaker.”

A ‘Suspension Speaker’?

Some Republicans say the most likely outcome of Mr. Johnson’s one-vote buffer is that he’ll become “a suspension speaker.”

In the House, most legislation that comes to the floor is first voted on as a rule, which manages the terms of debate and voting.

While these are usually party-line votes, Mr. Johnson has already overseen several rule votes that have crashed because of rebellion within his own caucus.

Democrats are unlikely to help him on rule votes because of their party-line nature.

Because of that, Republicans say, Mr. Johnson may pursue the option to suspend the rules vote, which can be passed without procedural hurdles by a two-thirds majority.

Mr. Massie has suggested that Mr. Johnson may simply start to govern by suspension of the rules, which allows him to pass legislation that much of his conference disagrees with.

In the wake of three failed rule votes since he took office, Mr. Massie said, Mr. Johnson may decide that the job is “impossible” and simply become “a suspension speaker” who works with Democrats.

Mr. Nehls concurred with the prediction. “They’ll do everything through suspension,” he said.

Republicans and Mr. Johnson will have a few more opportunities to use leverage against Democrats later this year, however.

Following Iran’s April 13 attack on Israel, Mr. Johnson has said that he’ll bring new legislation to the floor to fund Israel—a package that could be opposed by some members of his caucus who oppose all foreign aid.

It’s unclear whether Mr. Johnson will seek a suspension of the rules to pass the legislation.

In the near future, lawmakers will begin to work on fiscal year 2025 legislation. The deadline to submit this funding is Sept. 30, and it could give Mr. Johnson the opportunity to obtain concessions from Democrats.

However, that can happen without Democrat support only if Mr. Johnson manages the herculean task of putting together 12 funding bills that all Republicans can agree on.

By that time, the speaker will likely be able to spare one more defection because of expected Republican seat gains in special elections.

Still, forcing concessions from Democrats as he reigns over a deeply divided Republican conference will be a significant challenge—one that Mr. Johnson could respond to with another suspension funding bill, kicking the challenge into 2025.

Republicans will have one more opportunity to gain concessions when they spar with the White House and Senate over the debt ceiling, which will expire on Jan. 1, 2025, if not extended.

Joseph Lord is a congressional reporter for The Epoch Times.
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