The election of the Speaker of the House of Representatives on the floor of the Chamber is usually a largely ceremonial exercise with no surprises.
But if Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, is unable to quell a rebellion among a group of far-right lawmakers before Tuesday’s vote, the result could be a vortex of chaos that has raged in the House for a century no longer gave .
Mr McCarthy has pledged to fight to the end for the House speaker, even if lawmakers have to vote more than once.
Every speaker since 1923 has been able to clutch the gavel after just one vote, but there is a precedent in the House’s long history of tumultuous elections. In 1855, for example, it took two months and 133 ballots to elect a Speaker to make Massachusetts Representative Nathaniel P. Banks the victor, a reflection of a House divided by prewar factions.
Here’s what you need to know about the election.
How does the election of a new speaker work?
On the first day of the new House session, choosing a new speaker is the first matter for lawmakers to address. It happens before newly elected officials are sworn in and must be resolved before other business can resume.
Lawmakers will gather on the floor of the House of Representatives, and the leaders of each party will nominate a candidate for speaker. In that case, Republicans will nominate Mr. McCarthy, and Democrats will nominate Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the minority leader.
The House Clerk will then proceed to an alphabetical roll-call vote. To vote, lawmakers must respond with a name. That could be Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Jeffries – or, if you want to cast a kind of protest vote, any name of your choice.
A new US Congress is taking shape
After the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats retained control of the Senate while Republicans flipped the House of Representatives.
Capitol Hill residents often use shorthand and say the threshold to become Speaker is 218 votes or a simple majority. But it’s not that simple: House precedents dictate that electing a speaker requires a majority of the votes cast by members “for a named person.”
That means Mr McCarthy could still win the speakership even if he doesn’t get to 218 votes, by convincing lawmakers who don’t want to vote for him to instead vote “present” or miss the vote altogether.
That’s not uncommon. In 2015, John Boehner was elected speaker with 216 votes, as was Nancy Pelosi in 2021.
If Mr McCarthy is unable to garner the votes needed to become Speaker, lawmakers would move to a second ballot – meaning it would have to hold another roll-call vote. The last time this happened was in 1923, when the Speaker was elected after nine ballots and feverish behind-the-scenes rounds.
What happens if McCarthy falls short?
Because it is so rare that more than one vote is required for a speaker election, there is little modern precedent to sort out the resulting chaos. However, some clear options are available to the legislator.
If Mr. McCarthy failed to win the Speaker’s gavel on the first ballot, he and his allies would most likely start horse-trading with rebellious lawmakers on the floor or in the dressing room to try to win their support. Some Republicans have privately noted that it could become apparent more quickly than usual if Mr. McCarthy came up short on the first ballot, as a number of lawmakers who have promised to oppose him are called out early in the alphabetical vote .
At the same time, other lawmakers could throw their hats in the ring as potential consensus candidates. Or Republican grassroots members could try to nominate one of their peers for the nomination if it seemed flattery would not get Mr. McCarthy the votes he needed.
A legislature could offer a solution to the electoral process, e.g. B. Lowering the voting threshold required to become Speaker and confirming a majority winner.
Lawmakers could also seek a break in voting and a motion for an adjournment. This would require the approval of a majority in the House of Representatives: 218 votes.
Unless they adjourn, lawmakers must vote until a speaker is elected.
A standstill can lead to many more rounds of voting.
Of the more than 120 times the House of Representatives has elected a new Speaker since 1789, there have only been 14 cases where the process required multiple votes, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The lengthy elevation of Mr Banks to Speaker – a process that began in 1855 and ended in 1856 – has been likened by the House Historian’s office to a “recurring nightmare”.
The first vote began on a Monday in December 1855, with the legislature holding four votes that day. According to the bureau, there were “five more on Tuesday, six more on Wednesday, another six on Thursday, six more on Friday and six more on Saturday.”
Mr. Banks was not elected until early February 1856, a time when no other Congressional business was being conducted. The track included a three-hour question-and-answer session for speaker candidates on the spread of slavery in the western territories.
The speaker race ended only after lawmakers, no doubt exhausted from their marathon voting sessions, passed a resolution creating a majority winner. Mr. Banks won by just 103 votes.
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