WASHINGTON – The first order of business when the 118th Congress convenes Tuesday is to elect the new Speaker of the House.
In the past, the vote has been a party-line formality — but not this year.
Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has the declared support of most of his conference, but that number doesn’t add up to the absolute majority of 218 he’s likely to need.
Here, The Post gives a comprehensive guide to what to expect on Tuesday afternoon:
When does the vote begin?
Each new Congress assembles every two years at 12 p.m. on January 3 to begin the legislative year, according to the Constitution.
If everyone shows up, there will be 434 members — 222 Republicans and 212 Democrats (One Democrat, Donald McEachin of Virginia, died in late November, shortly after winning a fourth term).
Once a quorum is established, McCarthy and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York will be nominated for speaker by their respective conference chairs, Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.). Someone else will nominate Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who plans to challenge McCarthy on at least the first ballot, and other nominations may be put forward.
The clerk will then call on individual members, who will announce their choice to the whole chamber.
Until the vote for speaker is settled, the House cannot conduct any other business — including the swearing-in of members.
How many votes are needed to become speaker?
If all 434 members of Congress attend the vote and announce their support of a specific individual, the magic number is 218 (50% of the attending members plus one). However, if members are absent or vote “present,” the threshold is reduced accordingly.
Therefore, the actual requirement won’t be known until after the first ballot.
With 222 members and all Democrats expected to vote against him, McCarthy can only afford four defectors to Biggs in order to win the speakership on the first try, assuming no absences or abstentions.
However, a band of five hardline conservatives known as the “Never Kevin Caucus” – led by Biggs and Rep. Matt Gaez (R-Fla.) – have pledged since November not to vote for McCarthy.
The other members of the group include Bob Good (R-Va.), Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), and Ralph Norman (R-SC) — and nine others indicated late Sunday that McCarthy had to do more to win their support.
What if no one reaches 218?
The House must continue voting until a speaker is elected, though it can take breaks for behind-the-scenes negotiations and deal-making. This is known as a “floor fight” – when representatives must take multiple votes to secure a speaker.
The last speaker election to go beyond the first ballot was in 1923, when members took nine tries to name Frederick Gillett (R-Mass.) to the position. The all-time record for duration of a speaker vote was in the mid-1850s — when lawmakers took almost two months and 133 ballots before picking Nathaniel Banks, also of Massachusetts.
If the voting drags on for days, House members can change the election rules by passing a resolution allowing whoever gets a simple majority of votes to become speaker — regardless of absences or “present” votes. (This is how Banks finally wound up getting the gig in February 1856.)
However, Republicans may be reluctant to take such a step, since a majority vote would increase the odds of Jeffries winning the post and shocking everyone.
If not McCarthy, then who?
Congress can technically elect anyone speaker of the House, since there is no requirement that the position must be held by a member.
The anti-McCarthy faction has pinned their hopes on a compromise candidate to emerge on later ballots and unite the conference — though there’s been a notable lack of specificity about who that could be.
“I think you’ll see on the second ballot an increasing number of members vote for a true candidate who can represent the conservative center of the conference, can motivate the base,” Good told Fox News Monday, adding: “You’ll see that name tomorrow on the second ballot.”
Gaetz, another member of the “Never Kevin” conference, has suggested he will nominate both former President Donald Trump and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for Speaker — though Trump appeared to rule himself out by endorsing McCarthy last month.
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