The first day of the 118th Congress adjourned on Tuesday without the selection of a new House speaker. Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who was expected to win the speakership after Republicans regained the majority in November’s midterm elections, failed to secure enough votes to become speaker of the House on three ballots.
The House was unable to choose a speaker on the first vote for the first time in a century with voting expected to resume on Wednesday.
The chaotic day one of the Congress indicates there is no easy way ahead for McCarthy who promised to fight to the finish for the position despite opposition from the chamber’s most conservative members. McCarthy, who was required to get 218 votes in the full House managed 203 in two rounds. The number was less than Democrat Hakeem Jeffries in the GOP-controlled chamber and fared even worse with 202 in round three, reported news agency AP.
In absence of a speaker, the House cannot fully form impeding activities such as swearing in its members, naming its committee chairmen, engaging in floor proceedings and launching investigations of the Biden administration.
It was a chaotic start to the new Congress and pointed to a difficult road ahead with Republicans now in control of the House.
How many votes are needed to be chosen as Speaker?
A candidate is required to gain votes from a majority of lawmakers to get elected as the speaker. It means if all 435 members are present and voting, the number of votes needed is 218.
Also, note that lawmakers can decide to skip the vote, or vote ‘present,’ which further reduces the vote threshold needed to win the speakership. Speakers Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif and John Boehner, R-Ohio were chosen as speakers without reaching 218 votes, according to USA Today.
What happens if a candidate doesn’t get the majority of votes?
In a situation where the first ballot fails to provide a speaker, lawmakers will continue to vote until a candidate receives a majority. Members are allowed to vote for different candidates on each ballot.
Even though more than one ballot is not so common, it has happened. Interestingly, in 1923 there were multiple ballots up to nine to elect a speaker. On three occasions prior to the Civil War, a speaker was not elected on the first ballot, the US report added. In fact, in one instance, it took 133 ballots over a period of two months.
Lastly, lawmakers can adopt a resolution that would elect a speaker by a plurality or by rank-choice voting instead of a simple majority.
The report quoted Matt Glassman, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute as saying that McCarthy will need to secure at least 213 votes because the 212 House Democrats are expected to back their party leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Of the remaining nine GOP lawmakers who have expressed reservations about supporting McCarthy, the California Republican will need some combination of votes for him, “present” vote or no votes.
A two-month speakership election may not happen and the speaker vote could play out in a few ways.
“The important thing functionally is nothing else happens in the House until they have a speaker,” Glassman said, adding that the House won’t be able to adopt rules, assign committees or consider the legislation until the speaker is chosen.