House Speaker Nancy Pelosi already had her hands full dealing with a significantly reduced Democratic majority in her chamber wrought by voters who flipped nine net districts from blue to red in November (Republicans also flipped a Libertarian district). With one race (New York’s 22nd District rematch between Democratic incumbent Anthony Brindisi and his predecessor, Republican Claudia Tenney) still uncalled, Democrats currently hold 222 seats. They need 218 seats for the barest possible majority. Now President-elect Joe Biden has compounded Pelosi’s numbers problem by naming two House Democrats for administration positions: Cedric Richmond of Louisiana (Biden’s transition-team chief), who will head up the White House Office of Public Engagement, and Marcia Fudge of Ohio, who will be nominated to serve as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Both these members of Congress represent heavily Democratic districts, so Richmond and Fudge will be replaced by fellow Democrats. But first they have to resign (Richmond right after Biden takes office in January, Fudge if and when she is confirmed by the Senate), and the governors of their states will choose a date for a special election to fill the vacancies. In the meantime, Pelosi’s majority in the 117th Congress will be down to two or three (depending on what happens in New York). That will give any three or four House Democrats who are inclined to be rebellious some serious leverage over their caucus, and could potentially give House Republicans under Kevin McCarthy more influence than they’ve had since they lost their own majority in 2018.
Yes, House rules give the majority iron control over floor proceedings, and Pelosi has always been able to exert the right mix of carrots and sticks to keep her caucus in line. But it’s going to be too close for any real comfort, and if Republicans hang on to the Senate in those January runoffs in Georgia, House Democrats will be absolutely crucial to Biden’s legislative agenda. You can be sure that Pelosi has already let Biden and his people know that they should look elsewhere in filling any additional administration positions for the time being. Any House Democrats who have visions of a Cabinet gig or an ambassadorship any time soon are going to be out of luck, because Fudge and Richmond have pulled up the ladder behind them.