The sudden exit of former Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has created additional headaches for Republican Party leaders who were already looking at a dogfight to hold on to the House in 2024.
The GOP’s razor-thin majority of four seats was reduced by one when Rep. George Santos was expelled. With McCarthy’s exit and the early retirement of Ohio Rep. Bill Johnson, who will take the job of president at Youngstown State University, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is really going to be up against it.
A special election will be held on February 13 for the Santos seat. His New York district is very competitive, and you can bet that Democrats will pull out all the stops to elect one of their own.
The special election in McCarthy’s California district has yet to be announced. Similarly, no date has been set for the special election in Ohio. Bill Johnson’s seat is probably safe after Johnson won 67% of the vote in 2022. McCarthy’s California district is solidly Republican meaning that seat will probably also stay GOP.
No matter what the eventual partisan split in the House will be, Speaker Johnson’s headaches in trying to keep the government running past the first government funding deadline in January are getting more serious.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California will have 14 days after Mr. McCarthy’s final day to call a special election, which must take place about four months later. The Bakersfield-anchored district is solidly Republican, meaning that a G.O.P. candidate is likely to win the race to serve out the remainder of his term. But that won’t happen before mid-January, when lawmakers face the first of two deadlines for funding the government.
Speaker Mike Johnson, Republican of Louisiana, has struggled to push critical legislation through the House, and a slimmer majority would probably empower the rebellious hard-right wing of his party to double down on its policy demands ahead of the deadlines, the second of which is in early February.
Once again, Johnson is going to have to go hat in hand to the Democrats and beg for votes to keep the government running. It could mean his early departure from the speaker’s chair, but he’s not going to have any choice.
Where the GOP House members are really going to miss McCarthy is in his titanic fundraising ability.
During his time as speaker, Mr. McCarthy brought in $78 million for his colleagues’ re-election efforts, more than 100 times the amount of money Mr. Johnson had collected before becoming speaker.
His support of new candidates will be aided by a campaign account with more than $10 million at his disposal. Even after leaving office, Mr. McCarthy can use the campaign funds to establish a political action committee or directly support other campaigns. He has signaled that he would like to play a substantial role, and many lawmakers and aides believe he may intervene in party primaries to target the far-right Republicans who led the push to oust him from the speakership.
McCarthy’s exit will only make things harder for the Republicans to hang on to the House after the 2024 elections.