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Week in politics: Republicans' House majority dwindles; Sen. Joe Lieberman dies

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Republican majority in the House of Representatives is dwindling. Wisconsin Congressman Mike Gallagher set to step down. And by mid-April, Republicans will only be able to afford to lose one vote on a straight party line to pass a bill when all members are present. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: What happens if a Republican representative gets stuck in the House subway?

ELVING: After April 19, that would mean speaker Mike Johnson had just one vote to spare. If two guys got stuck on the subway, you know, he wouldn't have a majority at all. Over on the Senate side, they're used to margins of just one or two seats, even 50/50 ties. The Senate is actually built on the idea of negotiations and accommodating the minority. But the House is strictly a majority body. The majority sets the agenda, sets the rules, calls the votes. But if you lose the majority, if in effect, there is no majority, well, these are uncharted waters, Scott.

We just haven't seen a majority party lose its majority in the middle of a House session. The House will also be returning in April to a pending motion to kick out Speaker Johnson. And while that may not come to a vote, the House's hardcore - what should we call them? - caucus is just spoiling for a fight with the guy they installed last fall. They say he's let them down by working with Democrats to pass spending bills and keep the government open.

SIMON: Ron, will this narrow margin may compromise more appealing than it seemed to be in recent months or years, or even more appealing within the Republican majority?

ELVING: It already has. And it's not just making it more appealing. It's making it absolutely necessary. Bipartisan action was how Johnson got the spending bills through this month. That's why his detractors want him out. But it's also why the government is still open.

SIMON: Michigan on Wednesday night, a state legislator there named Matt Maddock reported on social media he had photographic evidence of what he called illegal invaders at the Detroit Metro Airport. Who were they?

ELVING: Oh, well, it turns out the representative was watching basketball players coming to town for the NCAA Sweet 16 games this weekend in Detroit - so four busloads of very large college guys, but not quite the same as illegal invaders. An innocent error, perhaps, but also a symbol and a symptom of our times.

SIMON: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Has picked his running mate, Nicole Shanahan. What does she bring to their third-party candidacy?

ELVING: She is an attorney and a high-tech businesswoman well known in Silicon Valley. She's also an activist for health and environmental causes - similar to Kennedy's own. While she lacks conventional credentials for the presidency, she is the former wife of Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google. Her divorce settlement with him was undisclosed, but presumably substantial, as Brin is estimated to be worth more than $100 billion.

Shanahan had financed Kennedy's Super Bowl ad that a lot of people saw. And at this stage of the campaign, he needs money just for getting on the ballot in all 50 states. And so far, Kennedy is on the ballot in Utah.

SIMON: Former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman died this week. He once ran for vice president of the Democratic ticket. In recent years, he's been known for helping to found the No Labels movement. How will you remember him, Ron?

ELVING: As an old-school senator who stood for something in contemporary American politics and often stood alone. He was 82 and died after a fall at home. He had reached the pinnacle of big party politics, the No. 2 man on the national ticket in 2000. But he was always his own helmsman. And the course he set often took him away from his party.

In 2006, he lost his primary in Connecticut and had to get reelected as an independent. And in 2008, he endorsed not Barack Obama but John McCain, the nominee of the Republican Party with whom he was close friends. In fact, Lieberman was close to being McCain's choice to be his running mate that year.

Lately, as you noted, he was an important part of No Labels, trying to find and finance a centrist alternative to Biden and Trump. And through it all, he remained his own man, a serious man true to his conservative Jewish faith and his own sense of self.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.