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House Republican Suffers Smallest Majority in History

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There are only a few unforgettable moments in the 118th House of Representatives. Republicans have had a narrow majority through it all. But they will have one of the smallest House majorities in the coming days.

House Republicans have lost three members since December. There was the expulsion of Representative George Santos, the resignation of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and Representative Bill Johnson’s exit last month to start a new job as the president of Youngstown State University. 

Republicans now hold 219 seats to Democrats’ 213. This means new Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has very little margin for error to pass legislation. And with Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., out until February for treatments, that majority reduces even further.

The House had 435 members as of 1913. Since then, some narrow majorities have struggled to pass bills, while others enjoyed legislative success. Here’s what history has to say about such a closely divided House.

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In 1917, a coalition was formed. The election in the U.S. in 1916 happened without a clear indication of whether President Woodrow Wilson would get re-elected or which party would rule the lower chamber of Congress. The media rumored a tie, but by the end of the week, Wilson emerged victorious. 

Despite the revelation of the results, the House was still in a mess. While Republicans had 215 seats to 214 for Democrats, neither party had a majority because minor parties held a few seats. These minor party members-elect controlled the balance of power.

On the opening day of the 65th Congress on April 2, 1917, Congressman Thomas Schall of Minnesota, a self-described progressive Republican, nominated Democrat Champ Clark and argued that Wilson deserved a Democratic-controlled House as World War I continued in Europe. 

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With help from a few progressives and a socialist, Democrats gave Wilson just that, a coalition majority of 217 in the House. Clark became speaker, and hours later, Wilson asked Congress in a joint session address for a declaration of war against Germany. 

1931 saw a change in power dynamics caused by death. After the 1930 election, it appeared that Republicans held a narrow majority with 218 seats to 216 for Democrats and one held by a member of the Farmer-Labor party, Representative Paul Kvale of Minnesota.

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By the opening day of the 72nd Congress in December 1931, 14 members-elect had died. Incumbent Speaker Nicholas Longworth, an Ohio Republican, was one of those members, having passed away from pneumonia. 

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Special elections for those seats saw the Republicans lose their narrow majority. Democrats now had 219 seats to 213 for Republicans, and Kvale retained his seat for Farmer-Labor. There was now a flip in the balance of power, and Democrat John Nance Garner became speaker. 

In 1953, a narrow Republican majority kept shrinking. Republicans won control of the White House, the Senate, and the House in the 1952 elections. But, the margins were narrow in both chambers of Congress.

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With a breakdown of 221 Republicans to 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.

More deaths in the House shrunk the majority for Republicans down to 218 to 213 by the end of the second session. After the conclusion of the 83rd Congress, Republicans lost control of the House until 1994. 

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