Tom Suozzi Takes Back the Seat He Never Should Have Given Up

Tom Suozzi Takes Back the Seat He Never Should Have Given Up

Tom Suozzi Takes Back the Seat He Never Should Have Given Up

A bad candidate and a bumbling GOP hand the Democrats another House seat. The biggest loser? House Speaker Mike Johnson.


New York Democrats, including former representative Tom Suozzi, took a step toward redeeming themselves for their role in the party’s loss of House control in 2022 Tuesday night. State party leaders fumbled at least five House seats they should have held, including Suozzi’s, after the Long Island Democrat ran a feeble race to challenge Governor Kathy Hochul. That left the seat open for serial fabulist George Santos to lie his way into Congress.

But it turns out the GOP’s ineptitude in vetting Santos gave Democrats an early chance to get the seat back, after the House expelled Santos last December. And Tom Suozzi did it in a special election Tuesday night, beating a Nassau County Republican legislator, Mazi Pilip (technically a registered Democrat), who was almost as unvetted as Santos—and surely less entertaining.

Pilip tried to demagogue Suozzi on the issue of immigration, a big one in the district, but he was able to tie her to House Republicans’ craven rejection of a Senate immigration “compromise” passed last week—in fact it was a giveaway to the right—that fell apart largely because former president Donald Trump told his House minions not to give President Joe Biden a victory. (Pilip said she would have joined House hard-liners in rejecting the compromise, which made it hard for her to argue she was the candidate with solutions on the issue.)

Trump was an albatross for Pilip. For a while she seemed evasive about whether she had voted for him, or would in 2024. Then she stated that she had, and that she would again, and that didn’t help her either. She was likewise bizarrely squirrely on abortion, claiming in last week’s debate that she was “pro-choice” as well as “pro-life,” and resisting attempts to clarify what restrictions she would place on the former constitutional right.

There was another way Trump helped Suozzi and hurt Pilip: by discouraging early and absentee voting by Republicans over the years. Suozzi got 57 percent of the combined early and absentee ballots in Nassau County, which makes up the bulk of the district (there is a sliver of Queens, part of New York City, that went for Suozzi overwhemingly). That mattered, especially when the district was hit with the biggest snowstorm in at least two years on Tuesday morning, making a trek to the polls treacherous for some. The House Congressional Leadership PAC even hired private snow plows to clear roads in Republican districts, but it wasn’t enough.

The national media is insisting that Suozzi’s victory in this suburban district is a bellwether for November, and heralds Democrats’ retaking the House. I hope they’re right, but there is reason to be agnostic. There is traditionally a “scandal penalty” to the controlling party when a seat opens up as a result of a member’s misbehavior; Republicans certainly paid it in NY #03.

Plus, Pilip was a uniquely bad candidate. Though her background as an Ethiopian Israeli immigrant who served in the Israeli Defense Forces and is the mother of seven children could have made her compelling, she ran a terrible campaign, ducking the local press, attending relatively few public events and fumbling her answers to key policy questions. Besides, Suozzi would have held the seat easily in 2022 had he not made his vain run against Hochul that year.

Hochul might also have helped Suozzi, by forcing him to promise to campaign hard on the issue of abortion, on which he had traditionally been conservative, before she endorsed him. Suozzi ran fairly aggressively on the issue, but outside PACs also spent heavily to hit Pilip as anti-abortion.

Certainly, House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries looked to make the district a November bellwether, heralding a House flip that would make him the first Black speaker. He sponsored an all-star benefit for Suozzi even before he became the official candidate (he was chosen by unpopular state party and Nassau County leader Jay Jacobs). “Hakeem Jeffries is on the ballot,” Representative Gregory Meeks told Politico Monday afternoon. Jeffries was a big winner on Tuesday night.

The big losers, besides Pilip, were Trump and Trump toady Representative Elise Stefanik, who campaigned hard for Pilip in the closing days of the race. She’s hoping to become Trump’s running mate by all accounts, and she didn’t help her case by going in for a candidate who lost by more than eight points (recent polling showed the race much closer).

Maybe the biggest loser, though, is House Speaker Mike Johnson, who saw his already narrow margin of control shrink. With Suozzi’s win, Johnson can only lose two GOP votes if he wants to pass any legislation. The erstwhile speaker “celebrated” his loss by presiding over a meaningless one-vote move to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Had Suozzi been seated, the measure would have failed. (It will certainly fail in the Senate, where Republicans are already castigating Johnson for wasting his time this way.)

But what else is he going to waste his time on? Calling the shots on immigration and Ukraine funding, House Speaker Donald Trump is doing Johnson’s job, anyway.

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