The new Congress will convene for the first time on Tuesday, but there is still uncertainty about who will take over as speaker of the House.
The House votes for a new speaker on the first day of the legislative session. House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY) will nominate Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-CA) will nominate Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).
Normally, representatives would then vote for the new speaker, and the session would move on as planned.
However, McCarthy faces potential opposition from more than a dozen other Republican representatives, including Rep. Chip Roy of Texas. For example, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) announced in December his plans to challenge McCarthy’s bid for speaker.
“I’m running for Speaker to break the establishment,” he wrote on Twitter. “Kevin McCarthy was created by, elevated by, and maintained by the establishment.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has also opposed McCarthy’s bid.
“Every single Republican in Congress knows that Kevin does not actually believe anything. He has no ideology,” Gaetz wrote in a December op-ed. “Some conservatives are using this fact to convince themselves that he is the right leader for the moment, as McCarthy is so weak he’ll promise anything to anyone.”
Meanwhile, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the planned opposition to McCarthy’s bid “the greatest danger of meltdown [of the Republican Party] … since 1964.”
“These guys can’t count straight, they can’t play tic-tac-toe, they can’t accept victory,” Gingrich said of McCarthy’s opponents. “To undermine [McCarthy] is to undermine conservatism, undermine the Republican Party and, frankly, undermine the country.”
In order to win the speakership, a candidate must receive an outright majority of the votes cast by members of the House. If all 434 members vote, then the threshold is 218. However, there may be absences or members who decline to vote. Those legislators will not count against the total.
If several Republicans vote for someone other than McCarthy, he may not obtain the outright majority he needs to be elected speaker. Furthermore, if there is no outright winner, the House must continue voting until it selects a speaker. The legislative body can do nothing else until a speaker is chosen.
In an effort to garner the votes of those who may be undecided, McCarthy is offering concessions to House Republicans.
In a Sunday letter, he wrote, “Just as the Speaker is elected by the whole body, we will restore the ability for any 5 members of the majority party to initiate a vote to remove the Speaker if so warranted.” Under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, only a member of House leadership from the majority party could initiate a vote to remove the speaker.
“Congress was never intended for Zoom, and no longer will members be able to phone it in while attending lavish international weddings or sailing on their boat,” he continued. “We will meet, gather, and debate in person — just as the founders envisioned.”
The longest the House ever took to elect a speaker was two months in late 1855 and early 1856. Nathaniel Banks (D-MA) was finally selected on the 163rd ballot.