After an intense four days and fifteen rounds of voting, Kevin McCarthy became the 55th Speaker of the House. This was the first time in a century that a Speaker was not elected on the first round of voting. So what happened?
In order to become Speaker, a candidate needs 218 votes. For every two members who vote “present” or are absent (which indicates that they are not voting for a specific candidate) the threshold for this majority decreases by one. For example, if two members vote “present”, a candidate only needs 217 votes to achieve the majority necessary to become Speaker.
In last year’s general election, Republicans won 222 seats to Democrats’ 212 seats, obtaining a narrow majority. In any other year, this would mean that the Republican nominee would have been easily elected. However, there were around 20 members of the House Freedom Caucus—a recently emerged group of far-right conservatives—who were against McCarthy winning the position. Many claimed that he was too aligned with the status quo and unfit as their representative. This resulted in nineteen members of McCarthy’s own party not supporting him in the first round of voting. Most of them voted for other Republican members.
Without an elected Speaker, representatives cannot be sworn into office— making it impossible for the House to function. Consequently, during those four days, an entire branch of the government was shut down . If there were a national emergency, Congress would not have been able to respond immediately.
Throughout the next 11 rounds, there were one or two shifts in votes against or in favor of McCarthy, but never enough to put him on the Speaker throne. McCarthy wasn’t willing to give up, however, even if that meant he had to make a number of significant concessions to his stubborn opponents. This included appointing more Freedom Caucus members to key House Committees(such as the Rules Committee), holding votes in the house for major conservative bills, and making it easier to block tax increases. Perhaps the most detrimental to his power was a change in the House Rules that would allow any single representative to call a vote to remove him from the Speaker seat.
Despite the potential drawbacks these negotiations could cause later in his career, McCarthy continued with his plan and managed to flip 14 votes in the 12th round, giving him 213 votes. He had 214 votes in the 13th round while six votes went to Jim Jordan, the founding chairman of the Freedom Caucus (who supported McCarthy). The number rose to 216 in the 14th round, with four votes to other representatives and two “present” votes.
Finally, after an exhausting battle to reach his lifetime political goal, Kevin McCarthy became Speaker of the 118th Congress. The results were 216 votes with 6 “present” votes. Meanwhile, all Democrats had consistently voted for Hakeem Jeffries, giving him 212 votes in every round.
While it is unclear what the next two years will hold for McCarthy and the House under his leadership, it is clear that he has just pulled through one of the most dramatic Speaker elections in recent history.