McCarthy’s exit may create even more headaches for the small GOP majority

Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s announcement that he will leave Congress came as no surprise to his closest colleagues, but his decision to do so a year before the end of his term presents a challenge to his party. That will cut the Republican majority in the House to a razor’s edge anyway, as they face a number of issues in the coming months that will require near-unanimous party support.

The departure of Mr. McCarthy, who has been his party’s top fundraiser in the House and spent two election cycles helping to build the Republican majority, could also reduce the GOP’s ability to raise campaign money, although he has said he wants to continue playing a role in politics.

Here is how the departure of Mr. McCarthy could influence the House and his party.

Republicans began the year acknowledging that one of their biggest challenges would be keeping the party united as their midterm victories left them with slim majorities. They had 222 members, while the Democrats had 213, leaving little room for defections and making it easier for a small number of disgruntled Republicans to influence policy and voting outcomes.

They could afford to lose no more than four votes on any bill if all the Democrats showed up and voted against it. Anything more than that would doom the GOP legislation.

After last week’s ouster of former New York Rep. George Santos, Republicans now have just 221 members, which means their four-vote margin has narrowed to three. Any more defections than that would result in a 217-217 tie or give the Democratic side more votes than the Republican side.

With the departure of Mr. McCarthy, the Republicans will enter the new year with 220 votes, leaving the same margin as they could still lose three votes and be ahead of the Democrats, 217 to 216.

A special election for Mr. Santos’ seat is scheduled for Feb. 13, with Democrats hoping to recapture a politically competitive district that President Biden won in 2020. That would further erode the Republican lead.

California Governor Gavin Newsom will have 14 days after the last day of Mr. McCarthy to call a special election, which must be held about four months later. The Bakersfield-anchored district is solidly Republican, meaning the GOP nominee is likely to win the race to serve out the rest of his term. But that won’t happen until mid-January, when lawmakers face the first of two government funding deadlines.

Speaker Mike Johnson, Republican of Louisiana, has struggled to push critical legislation through the House, and a smaller majority would likely empower the embattled hard-right wing of his party to double down on its policy demands ahead of deadlines, the second of which is in early February.

A smaller majority could also affect the fight over an emergency national security spending bill to fund the war in Ukraine, along with aid to Israel in its war against Hamas and funding for border security.

Republicans blocked the measure in the Senate on Wednesday. The legislation would face an uphill battle in the House of Representatives, where Republican support for Ukraine’s war effort is waning.

For years, Mr. McCarthy traveled to hundreds of counties across the country, bringing in millions of dollars in campaign cash for candidates and helping Republicans win control of the House in 2022. He said he plans to stay involved in Republican politics.

“I will continue to recruit the best and brightest in our country to run for elected office,” said Mr. McCarthy announcing his plans to leave the House in The Wall Street Journal. “The Republican Party is expanding every day, and I am committed to providing my experience to support the next generation of leaders.”

During his time as speaker, Mr. McCarthy brought in $78 million to re-elect his colleagues, more than 100 times the amount Mr. Johnson raised before he became speaker.

His support for new candidates will be aided by a campaign account with more than $10 million on hand. Even after leaving office, Mr. McCarthy may use campaign funds to establish political action committees or directly support other campaigns. He has signaled that he would like to play a significant role, and many lawmakers and aides believe he may intervene in the party’s primaries to target far-right Republicans who have led the push to oust him from the presidency.

More than three dozen incumbents from both parties in both chambers have said they will not seek re-election. If even a handful more House Republicans leave in the coming months, it could wipe out their majority before a single vote is cast in the 2024 election. Another Republican, Representative Bill Johnson of Ohio, has announced that he will leave Congress in a few months to become president of Youngstown State University, although he did not say exactly when.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia and one of the strongest allies of Mr. McCarthy, she expressed her frustration with the weakening of the majority in the post on social mediasaying, “Let’s hope no one dies.”

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