WASHINGTON — The 118th House of Representatives was marked by history-making moments: the first popular vote election for speaker in 100 years, the first speaker to be impeached and the first member since the Civil War to be expelled without conviction.
Although Republicans hold a narrow majority of all of them, they enter another history-making moment this week: one of the smallest House majorities ever.
House Republicans have lost three members since December, with the ouster of Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., the resignation of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California and the resignation of Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, this week. Start a new job as president of Youngstown State University. Republicans hold 219 seats to Democrats’ 213, giving incoming Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., little margin for error in passing the legislation.
With Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., out by February for treatments related to a blood cancer diagnosis, that further shrinks the majority.
As 435 members of the House of Representatives were appointed in 1913, some narrow majorities struggled to pass bills, while others succeeded in legislation. Some have even noticed that the balance of power has shifted to the other side, even though they were never in the middle of the session. Here’s what history can teach us about a closely divided House.
1917: Coalition majority
In 1916, election day came and went with no clear indication of whether President Woodrow Wilson had been reelected or which party would control the lower house of Congress. “THE HOUSE CAN BE A BLOOD” Read the New York Times title the next day.
By the end of the week, Wilson had been elected to a second term, but the House was still a shambles. While the Republicans have 215 seats and the Democrats 214, no party had a majority because of the few places held by small parties. It turned out that it was under the control of members of this small party balance of power.
On the opening day of the 65th Congress on April 2, 1917, Congressman Thomas Schall of Minnesota, a self-proclaimed progressive Republican, stood up. “I’ve always been a Republican and I’m still a Lincoln Republican” Schall said. But then he did what he said would be his “political demise”: He nominated Democrat Champ Clark for speaker, arguing that Wilson deserved the Democratic-controlled House while World War I was raging in Europe.
With the help of several progressives and socialists, the Democrats were able to form a coalition for Wilson. majority of 217 at home. Clark was elected speaker, and a few hours later, Wilson arrived at the Capitol to petition Congress in joint session to declare war on Germany.
It took several days for the House of Representatives to debate the merits of war, but after 3 a.m. on April 6, the body passed only its fourth declaration of war. 373 to 50.
Even with its narrow majority, the 65th House was quite active in legislation. Congress passed the Selective Service Act in May 1917, which created the draft, sent the 18th Amendment to states prohibiting the sale of alcohol, and passed many bills authorizing war bonds.
1931: Deaths shift the balance of power
Similar to what had happened 14 years earlier, it was not clear which party had won control of the House until a few days after the 1930 election. By the weekend after Election Day, Republicans appeared to have a narrow majority 218 seats to 216 for Democrats and one held by Rep. Paul Quale of Minnesota, a member of the Farmer-Labor party.
Quale’s answer The Washington Star Shortly after the election, he appeared to be shrewd about how to vote for speaker. He said it would not make sense for him to comment at that time, given that the new session would not start for another 13 months and that he “knows that changes in the composition of the elected members will be inevitable”. (before 20th Amendment (Enacted in 1933, the term of the new Congress began in March, but the first session would normally begin the following December, 13 months after the election.)
By the opening day of the 72nd Congress in December 1931, 14 elected members had died. Incumbent Speaker Nicholas Longworth, an Ohio Republican, was one of the members who died after an incident. pneumonia. Special elections for these seats took away the slim majority of Republicans. Now there were Democrats 219 seats to 213 for Republicans and Kvale reserved his seat for Farmer-Labor.
The balance of power was upset, and Democrat John Nance Garner, “a former Texas cowboy,” as The New York Times called him, was elected speaker. But with President Herbert Hoover in the White House and a slim Republican majority in the Senate, legislation was not as stable as it was in the 65th Congress.
In the midst of the Great Depression, Congress passed the Reconstruction Finance Corporation Act to provide credit to banks. The House of Representatives also passed a bill to provide payments to World War I veterans, but The Senate rejected the bill even after the veterans marched on the Capitol grounds.
1953: The narrow Republican majority continued to shrink
With Dwight Eisenhower at the head of the ticket, the Republicans took control of the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives in the 1952 elections. But, “The New York Times” noted at the time, the margins in both houses of Congress were tight, and Eisenhower “would not have a comfortable majority in either house and would require all the gifts of persuasion to win approval for his policies on Capitol Hill.”
With a split 221 Republicans, 213 Democrats and one independent, Republican Joseph Martin of Massachusetts, was elected speaker. Congress created the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, as well as the Small Business Administration.
The death toll in the House of Representatives reduced the Republican majority to 218 to 213 by the end of the second session. CQ Almanac article Since 1954. After the 83rd Congress ended, Republicans would not regain control of the House of Representatives until 1994.