Updated Jan 3, 2023 - Politics & Policy

How the House speaker vote will work

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) answers questions during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on July 29, 2022

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) answers questions during a press conference on July 29. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

As lawmakers poured into the House chamber Tuesday for the first time this year to kick off a new Congress, members held a dramatic vote to elect their next speaker, culminating in an intense battle for the gavel between California Rep. Kevin McCarthy and some of his Republican colleagues.

The big picture: In a historic moment, McCarthy failed to secure enough votes on the initial ballot — marking the first time since 1923 that the House has had to hold multiple ballots to elect its next speaker.

  • If no candidate secures the majority on the first ballot, the process repeats until a speaker is elected.
  • Here's an overview of how the vote works.

Catch up quick: The 118th Congress convened at noon Tuesday, after which the House clerk led a call to order. A chaplain then led a prayer and the clerk led the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a quorum call.

  • Then, candidates for speaker were nominated from the floor. New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, a member of House GOP leadership, nominated McCarthy, while Rep. Paul Gosar nominated fellow Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan was also nominated.
  • Nominations were followed immediately by a "viva voce" roll-call vote, or a vote where members-elect respond orally to the calling of their names.
  • McCarthy needed 218 votes — or a majority of the House — to secure the speaker's gavel, but failed to do so, with 19 Republicans voting for other candidates.
  • The House on Tuesday afternoon held a second ballot, which McCarthy also lost, with 19 Republicans all voting for Jordan instead.

What's happening: A speaker can win with fewer than 218 votes if not every member shows up, or if some vote present.

  • "Under the modern practice, the Speaker is elected by a majority of members-elect voting by surname," per House rules.

Context: House Republicans greatly underperformed in November's midterm elections, leaving them with a razor-thin majority.

  • That small majority meant McCarthy could only afford to lose a handful of votes within his party to secure the gavel.
  • McCarthy has spent weeks courting those in his conference who oppose him, making a series of major concessions — but those efforts have yet to pay off.

Zoom out: The last time a House speaker election took multiple ballots was in 1923, when Frederick Gillett (R-Mass.) was re-elected on the ninth ballot.

  • Of the 14 multiple ballot-elections for House speaker, 13 occurred before the Civil War.
  • And the longest speaker election in House history was in 1856 — when it took 133 votes and two months, per the Washington Post.

Go deeper: McCarthy's math problem

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional developments.

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