House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remains confident that she can pass major items through her chamber even though she leads the Democrats‘ most fragile majority in the House of Representatives since the 1940s.
“It’s not going to be a problem,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters a month ago when asked about advancing her party’s agenda through the House without the help of the minority Republicans.
But the task facing Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., isn’t getting any easier.
The death Tuesday of 84-year-old Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida further reduces the Democrats’ already perilous majority. What started out at the beginning of the year as a slim 222-213 margin is now temporarily down to 218-212. That means the Democrats can currently lose just two votes and still be able to pass legislation along party lines.
Even before the start of the 117th Congress, Hoyer expressed reservations, telling reporters in December, a month after the GOP took a bite out of the House Democrats’ majoirty in the 2020 elecions, that “I’m certainly concerned by the slimming of the majority.”
“We’re going to be a very unified caucus as we were this past Congress,” Hoyer noted at the time. “In many of our bills, as you probably know, we passed unanimously without any losing any Democratic votes. And, in others, we [lost] just a few. But I think members will be focused on how close the majority is now or in the future”
And that’s been the case so far.
The massive $1.9 trillion COVID relief package – which was President Biden’s top priority upon taking office – passed the House with just two Democrats defecting on the first vote, and just one on the revised bill that came back from the Senate.
The House passed two bills expanding background checks on gun sales with just one Democrat voting against one measure and two Democrats defecting on the other.
There were similarly just two House Democrats who voted against the party’s police reform bill – and just one defection on the Democrats’ sweeping election and campaign finance reform legislation.
Hoyer noted three weeks ago that “frankly we’re doing OK as Democrats as you look at this quarter.”
He emphasized that despite the fragile majority, the Democrats have not “had trouble getting the bills through that we think are important.”
Some reinforcements will soon be on the way – with Democrats favored in two of the three House special elections that will be held over the next two months.
A special runoff election in Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District will be held on April 24 – and the two candidates facing off in the solidly blue district are both Democrats. The race is to fill the seat of former Rep. Cedric Richmond, who stepped down to join President Biden’s administration as senior adviser and director of the Office of Public Liaison.
A week later, on May 1, there will be a special election in Texas’ 6th Congressional District – which leans Republican – to fill the seat of GOP Rep. Ronald Wright, who died of COVID-19 complications.
One month later, on June 1, a special election is scheduled in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District – which leans Democrat – to fill the seat of former Democratic Rep. Debra Haaland, who was confirmed as interior secretary.
But the special general election in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District – a deep blue seat – won’t be held until Nov. 2 to replace former Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge, who was confirmed as housing and urban development secretary.
The special election to fill Hastings’ vacant seat – in another very blue district – has yet to be scheduled, but likely won’t be held until July at the earliest.
Veteran Democratic strategist Meredith Kelly gives credit to Pelosi for keeping her conference unified at critical times.
“It’s never ideal to have a narrow majority, but if there’s one person who knows how to walk that tightrop effectively, it’s Speaker Pelosi. She gives vulnerable member leeway when they need it, and receives loyalty at key moments in return,” emphasized Kelly, who served as a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee communications director.