Democrats pick up seat in US House as Suozzi wins in New York

By Joseph Ax and Makini Brice

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Democratic former congressman Tom Suozzi won a special U.S. House of Representatives election in New York on Tuesday, narrowing an already razor-thin Republican majority that has struggled to pass legislation.

The seat became available after the House took the extraordinary step of expelling Republican George Santos, whose dizzying array of lies about his biography led to his indictment on fraud charges.

Suozzi, who had held the seat before stepping down to run for governor, defeated Mazi Pilip, an Ethiopian-born Republican county legislator who served in the Israeli military. The district includes a small corner of New York City and some of its eastern suburbs.

The win reduces House Speaker Mike Johnson’s majority to 219-213, making his job of managing an unruly caucus a bit more difficult. His challenges were on full display last week, when the chamber failed to pass a measure to impeach President Joe Biden’s top border official, Alejandro Mayorkas, in an embarrassing setback.

The House approved the measure in a second attempt on Tuesday, after No. 2 Republican Steve Scalise returned from cancer treatment to cast a decisive vote.

More challenges await as Johnson decides whether to take up a Ukraine aid bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday and Congress faces a deadline to avoid another government shutdown early next month.

The New York district, which supported Biden in 2020 before flipping to Republicans in the 2022 mid-term elections, has served as a testing ground for both parties’ messaging ahead of the November election, when the presidency and control of both chambers of Congress will be at stake.

A moderate Democrat, Suozzi had vowed to work with Republicans to solve difficult problems, including the migrant crisis at the southern U.S. border.

“The people of Queens and Long Island are sick and tired of political bickering,” he said during a victory speech. “They want us to come together and solve problems.”

He was briefly interrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters accusing him of supporting “genocide,” a reminder of how the Israel-Gaza conflict has divided Democrats.

Immigration was a central issue, as it has been elsewhere in the country ahead of an expected rematch between Biden and former President Donald Trump in November.

Pilip hammered Suozzi and the Democratic Party on immigration, accusing them of failing to control crossings at the border with Mexico. Pilip was endorsed by a labor union for Border Patrol officers.

Suozzi called Pilip’s attacks against him misleading and said she has been short of specifics on how she would address border security.

He agreed that stricter controls are needed and criticized Republicans for rejecting a border security deal negotiated in the Senate, which collapsed after Trump urged Republicans to spurn it.

He also attacked Pilip on abortion, an issue that Democrats have put front and center since the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated a nationwide right in 2022. Pilip said she is personally against abortion but did not support a federal ban.

Turnout, already expected to be light for a special election in February, was further depressed by a winter storm that blanketed the region on Tuesday morning with several inches of heavy snow, prompting both campaigns to offer free rides to polling places in the afternoon.

(Reporting by Makini Brice and Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis, Leslie Adler, Christian Schmollinger, Lincoln Feast and Kim Coghill)