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Editor’s Note: Congress’ dwindling numbers — and returns

From week to week, the narrow margin changes in the House, while the Senate continues to scale down its legislative ambition

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., on Wednesday addressed the media about the Mayorkas  impeachment vote.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., on Wednesday addressed the media about the Mayorkas impeachment vote. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In a Congress with very narrow margins, it gets complicated if people keep quitting — and the ones who stay to do the work get ignored.

The House gaveled in the week of Feb. 5 with what has become a familiar refrain: Having one less member. 

“Under clause five-d of Rule 20, the chair announces to the House that, in light of the resignation of the gentleman from New York, Mr. Higgins, the whole number of the House is 431,” Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said on Monday, after Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., called it quits.

Two Mondays before, Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., opened things by announcing the resignation of Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, bringing the whole number of the House to 432.

On Jan. 2, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., announced the resignation of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the recently deposed speaker, setting the whole number of the House at 433. 

And who could forget Dec. 1, when Johnson announced “in light of the expulsion of the gentleman from New York, Mr. Santos, the whole number of the House is 434.”

That last day of the congressional career of George Santos, R-N.Y., also was the last day the House was at its full strength of 435.

The numbers are significant, and come amid a House Republican Conference that is the least unified on legislation as a bloc in more than four decades, as CQ Roll Call’s annual Vote Studies analysis of congressional data found.

Just look at Tuesday’s vote on whether to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, where three Republicans teamed up with all 212 Democrats to knot the tally at 215-215, dooming the GOP effort on Mayorkas. (Utah Republican Blake D. Moore changed his vote in a procedural move, making it 214-216, that allows leaders to reconsider the impeachment resolution.)

The scramble for votes included returns to the chamber of those recently hospitalized or recovering from harrowing accidents. 

Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., returned Tuesday to cast his vote to impeach, draped in a formidable neck brace stemming from a Jan. 13 car collision. Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, who underwent surgery on Feb. 2, left his hospital bed and came to the chamber in medical togs to vote against impeachment. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., in treatment for cancer, missed considerable time in Washington but is scheduled to return this coming week.

What may change the House calculus further is Tuesday’s election in New York’s 3rd District to replace Santos. Former Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., and Republican Mazi Melesa Pilip, a Nassau County legislator, are facing off in a swing district. Who knows if the results will be finalized and certified and the winner sworn in before their vote is needed to determine an outcome.

Those kind of narrow margins have defined life in the Senate the last few years. 

Maybe that was why leaders deputized serious, policy-focused senators to craft an immigration enforcement package to be coupled with security and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. 

Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., spent months putting in the work and were on the cusp of releasing it when former President Donald Trump and his loyalists in the House and Senate said, in effect, never mind. The speaker proclaimed it dead on arrival in the House before language was released.

“What the hell just happened?” Murphy thundered on the Senate floor on Tuesday. 

What happened was that people performed work on behalf of their colleagues and their colleagues turned their backs on them, and without offering any alternative. 

Meanwhile, the current continuing resolutions funding the government, for the fiscal year that started on Oct. 1, expire early next month. It is unclear the state of negotiations currently on finishing a “full-year” funding agreement, nor if such negotiations would be honored by their colleagues. 

Counting votes, crafting legislation, funding the government. If these are things members of Congress can’t figure out how to do, it’s unclear what they think the job entails. 

Maybe that has something to do with the steady procession of people leaving the institution.

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