Early Republican Resignations Leave House Vulnerable to a Democrat Takeover

By: Alex Trent | Published: Mar 29, 2024

GOP members continuing to resign from their positions in the United States House of Representatives has ignited fears of a possible Democrat takeover as the Republican majority dwindles.

A recent departure by Wisconsin representative Mike Gallagher has further shifted the balance between Republicans and Democrats, meaning GOP members can now only realistically lose one more vote and their majority will crumble.

Gallagher’s Resignation

Gallagher announced he would be resigning from his position in Congress effective April 19. The Republican was first elected in 2016, and many saw him as a rising GOP star at the time.

An official photo of House rep Mike Gallagher from the 115th congress.

Source: U.S. House of Representatives Office/Wikimedia

However, his personality soon clashed with GOP leader Donald Trump on a number of issues. His popularity suffered as Trump enjoyed his own immense popularity among Republican politicians and the voter base.


Abrupt Announcement

The announcement of Gallagher’s departure was seen as abrupt by many, including House Speaker Mike Johnson. 

Mike Gallagher asks questions during a House hearing.

Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Wikimedia

Just a week before, Speaker Johnson made comments signaling “I think, I hope and believe that’s the end of the exits for now” after Colorado representative Ken Buck announced he would be leaving on March 22.

House Republican Leadership

The Wisconsin representative’s departure will see him stepping down from his duties as a chair on committees, but Gallagher said he trusts Speaker Johnson to replace him.

Speaker Mike Johnson talking into a microphone behind a podium

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“I’ve worked closely with House Republican leadership on this timeline and look forward to seeing Speaker Johnson appoint a new chair to carry out the important mission of the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party,” Gallagher said.

Shifting Balance

With Gallagher leaving next month, the balance in the US House will move from 217 to 213. Republicans will control 217 seats and Democrats will control 213. 

Illustration of the donkey and elephant representing the Democratic and Republican party silhouetted in front of an American flag

Source: Shutterstock

This means that GOP members will need to have 216 votes on any given proposal to maintain a majority if every member of the House shows up for a vote.

Special Elections

Hope is not lost for Republicans who are watching their majority slip away. There will be special elections held to replace those who retired early in the upcoming months. 

Close-up of two hands, one holding an envelope-style ballot, about to insert it into a slot on a metal ballot box

Source: Arnaud Jaegers/Unsplash

If Republican House members can stand unified on issues for a while, they could get their numbers replenished in time to maintain a better majority.


Health Crisis Threat

According to Statista in 2023, the average age of a US House member is 57.9 years. Members of the US House are on average older than the US population they represent, meaning they are at a higher risk of developing a debilitating health issue. The average age of an American was 38.9 years old, according to Census data from 2023.

A medical professional puts on gloves meant to protect them from diseases and contamination.

Source: Clay Banks/Unsplash

As previously mentioned, if just one more vote is lost for Republicans, any bills or agendas they want to push through the House Chamber may be stymied by a unified Democrat front.


Operational Majority

As Republican morale in the house flags, GOP members have to make a choice between standing strong or leaving, with each one that leaves raising the stakes for others.

The logos of Republicans and Democrats against a black background.

Source: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

“With such a tiny majority, all it would take is a tiny number of Republicans to decide either they want to go and leave immediately, or they have some health crisis and they cannot serve, and then Democrats would at that point possibly have an operational majority,” said politics professor Matthew Green.


Chances are Low

Despite worries flaring among GOP members, political analysts like Green think the chances of Democrats actually taking over before an election are low. However, though chances are low, Republicans are still hobbled from actually doing anything in the House.

Mike Johnson speaks at a Republican Jewish Coalition in 2023.

Source: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia

“The more likely outcome is that the Republicans will just kind of limp through the rest of this Congress with a tiny, tiny majority and not do a whole lot of legislating,” Green said.


Why are House Members Retiring?

While it is difficult to speculate on the true reasons that so many GOP members have in their minds for retiring early, some are blaming the dysfunction of the Republican party.

The U.S. Capitol building is located in Washington D.C.

Source: Elijah Mears/Unsplash

Axios reported one lawmaker privately said “The vast majority of members came to make a difference. We understand the utility of posturing and politics for the goal of governing. That’s not what’s going on anymore though. The inmates are running the asylum.”


Time Away From Family

A House lawmaker’s schedule can be brutal because they have to spend extended periods of time away from their families. Some feel like the trade-off to make a difference in politics is becoming increasingly not worth it.

A happy family sat around a table playing a board game. There is a mum and dad with their son and daughter.

Source: National Cancer Institute/Unsplash

“We are sacrificing time away from family and making more money in the private sector for the vanity of a few people (on both sides) that want to raise money and their media profiles,” said one House Republican.


Johnson’s Reaction

A spokesperson for House Speaker Johnson said that he and his GOP members “are in close communication with members, retiring and not, emphasizing the critical importance of protecting and defending the House Republican majority this year and growing the majority in the 2024 elections.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson sits while talking to Prime Minister of Austrailia Anthony Albanese

Source: Office of Speaker of the House Mike Johnson/Wikimedia

Since Johnson has been caught off guard before, it remains to be seen how well the GOP can prevent any more critical resignations.