Tuesday's Vote for House Speaker Could Be Historic

Vote hasn't gone to a second ballot in 100 years, but Kevin McCarthy's bid is looking shaky
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 2, 2023 1:52 PM CST
'Never Kevins' Could Still Derail McCarthy's Speaker Bid
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pauses during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

When the House reconvenes on Tuesday, the first vote will be on choosing a new speaker—and for the first time in a century, it could take more than one ballot. Kevin McCarthy is the Republican nominee, but a group of hardline conservatives nicknamed the "Never Kevins" is threatening to block his election, and since his party has a razor-thin 222-213 majority, he can only afford to lose four votes. More:

  • A big concession. With his political future at stake, McCarthy made a major concession Sunday, saying he would grant the longstanding conservative demand to make it easier for members to depose a speaker, Politico reports. Under the proposed change, it would take only five members of the House majority to trigger a vote of no confidence. In another move to win the support of hardliners, McCarthy proposed forming a select committee to investigate the "weaponization" of the FBI and the Department of Justice.

  • Rebels still aren't ready to support him. The Guardian reports that nine conservatives said Monday that they still aren't ready to support McCarthy as speaker. Holdouts include Reps. Andy Biggs, Matt Gaetz, and Bob Good, per Axios.
  • A "true" conservative candidate? Good predicted Monday that the Tuesday vote would go to a second ballot, when "an increasing number of members" would select a "true candidate who can represent the conservative center of the conference." He declined to name the candidate, saying, "If we were to put forth a name right now or over the last few weeks, that person would have suffered all the attacks and retaliation," the Hill reports.
  • McCarthy has been here before. McCarthy has a relatively low approval rating among Republicans and he was unable to get the caucus to rally around him when he sought to become speaker after John Boehner resigned in 2015, CNN notes. The gavel went to Paul Ryan instead.

  • How the vote works. The AP reports that the session will begin at noon Tuesday, before lawmakers are sworn into office, and the House will be unable to conduct other business until a speaker is in place. Lawmakers will call out their choice from the House floor—and if McCarthy isn't elected on the first ballot, the roll call will likely be repeated until he has a majority. He will need 218 votes if all members are present, though the number will go down if some members vote "present" instead of choosing a candidate.
  • A failed vote would be historic. "The House last failed to elect a speaker on the first ballot in 1923," which was the only time it's happened since the Civil War, Brendan Buck, a former aide to Boehner and Ryan, writes in a New York Times guest essay. If McCarthy comes up short, it could take hours or days to select a speaker, and "no matter who ultimately emerges as the top House Republican, the prolonged spectacle would leave the Republican majority hopelessly damaged from the start, along with the institution of the House itself," Buck writes.
(More Kevin McCarthy stories.)

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