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A GOP lawmaker is abruptly leaving Congress, making Mike Johnson's life even harder

Brent D. Griffiths   

A GOP lawmaker is abruptly leaving Congress, making Mike Johnson's life even harder
  • Rep. Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican, abruptly announced that he's leaving Congress next week.
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson will only be able to lose two votes.

Rep. Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican, announced on Tuesday that he will leave Congress next week, further weakening the GOP's already thin House majority.

"Everywhere I go in Colorado, Dana, I hear that people are not happy with Trump and they are not happy with Biden, and I think we need to change our electoral laws here," Buck told CNN just shortly after his office announced his decision. "And I have passion for that, and I'm going to leave, and I'm going to find the right organization to join, and I'm going to start working on that issue."

Republicans will hold just a 218-213 majority after Buck's departure, meaning the GOP will only be able to afford two defections on an entirely party-line vote.

House Speaker Mike Johnson's life will get even trickier next month as Democrats are expected to win a New York special election, leaving the House at 218-214, meaning the GOP could afford only one defection as a tied vote is a failed vote in the chamber.

Buck's decision comes at a critical time for Johnson. House Republicans must still reach a deal with Senate Democrats and the White House on a long-term spending deal. President Joe Biden and some Republicans are pushing the House to pass a bipartisan foreign defense bill that provides funding for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.

Unlike the US Senate, House seats cannot be filled by temporary replacements, meaning Buck's decision will likely result in his seat being left vacant through the early summer. By law, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is responsible for setting the special election date.

Fellow Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert also faces her own difficult decision. Boebert abandoned her current district late last year, opting to run to replace Buck. Boebert, who has been accused of carpetbagging, must now decide whether to seek to serve the remainder of Buck's term which would require her to resign her current seat. In short, this means there could be another special election.

The good news for Johnson is that Republicans should be able to pad their numbers back up starting in May with a special election to replace former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. But in the meantime, the GOP holds what Johnson himself has characterized as one of the slimmest majorities in history.

It can be challenging to get every member in the chamber at the same time. Logistically, GOP leadership must also grapple with hundreds of different personal and professional schedules.

Unexpected challenges, including health issues often arise too. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise missed a historic vote to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas due to health complications.

A member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, the Colorado Republican has shown an increasing ability to defy his party. Buck was one of just three Republicans to vote against impeaching Mayorkas. He has also repeatedly spoken out about how some in his party continue to question Biden's 2020 election win.

Buck likely doesn't care that he made Johnson's life more difficult. He sounds like he wishes he could have left sooner.

"It is the worst year of the nine years and three months that I've been in Congress, and having talked to former members it is the worst year in 40 or 50 years to be in Congress," Buck told CNN. "But I'm leaving because I think there's a job to do out there that I want to go do."