The Speaker vote fiasco

Republican leader of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy failed to get a majority of the members present and voting even after three attempts, so they adjourned until noon on Wednesday. In the interim, there is going to a lot of pleading, yelling, and arm twisting in an effort to get to the magic number of 218.

Frankly, I did not see this coming. I did think that the hardliners in the Republican caucus would defeat McCarthy on the first vote to show their displeasure but I expected the two sides to arrive at some face-saving compromise that would enable both sides to declare victory. But not only did that not happen, the vote against McCarthy increased by one on the third round.

There are 435 members in the body and the last election results split 222-213 in favor of Republicans. But one Democratic member from Virginia died soon after the election, which means that Democrats have only 212 votes and a special election to fill the seat will be held on February 21. It seems like a safe Democratic seat so the final result will be the same as before. But given the razor-thin margins and the rules for voting for the Speaker, this could be significant.

One odd feature of this process is that the election of the Speaker has to be the first order of business. It is only after that happens that the new members of Congress can be sworn in and the body proceed with business. This seems weird to me. Usually one has to be sworn in to be considered to have joined a body so until they are sworn in, they cannot vote any bills. An exception has been made for organizational business such as electing the Speaker so that is why we have 435 people who are not sworn in voting for the Speaker. The Speaker is the one who then swears in all the members en masse. It seems like it would make more sense for (say) a member of the Supreme Court to swear in all the members first.

I discussed in an earlier post what happened on previous occasions where there were multiple votes for Speaker, on one occasion going over 100. It appears that when calculating the majority, members who vote present or abstain are not counted in the total.

So what happened in the three votes? On all three rounds, Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries got all 212 votes in his caucus. In the first two rounds, McCarthy got just 203, losing 19 of his caucus, and in the third he got 202, losing one more. To add to the bizarre nature of the proceedings, on the third vote, 20 rebel Republicans voted for Jim Jordan for Speaker leaving McCarthy with just 202, even though Jordan nominated McCarthy and voted for him. Furthermore, the 20 rebels belong to the extreme wing of the GOP that parrots the Trump line. But even though Trump initially said that he supported McCarthy (who has been shamelessly groveling before him for the past six years), that did not seem to sway them.

Not surprisingly, things have become quite acrimonious.

In recent days, Republicans have resorted to name-calling and making threats against their fellow GOP colleagues. One McCarthy ally, Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., accused McCarthy foes of opposing him just to pad their campaign coffers.

“Who’s raising money off of standing up to power, while conveniently forgetting that Kevin McCarthy funded their campaigns, that he came to their districts and did events for them,” Cammack said. “And now they’re sending out emails saying, ‘Oh, give me $5 because I’m standing up to the establishment and draining the swamp.’”

“I don’t care if it’s the first ballot or the 97th ballot, Kevin McCarthy will be speaker of the House,” she said.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, was less diplomatic in expressing his frustration with the McCarthy opponents. 

“There’s a group of people who have deeply miscalculated,” Crenshaw said. “They’ve calculated that people will see them as these noble freedom fighters fighting for a cause. They can’t seem to say what the cause is. That makes them look pretty f—ing stupid. And they are pretty f—ing stupid.”

How will this end up? Beats me. Both sides seem to have dug in their heels but something has to give so that the the House of Representatives is not brought to a standstill. McCarthy has wanted to be Speaker from his earliest days in politics and ran for the position eight years ago but was thwarted by the right wing of his party. It may seem like deja vu but he is not going to give up his dream easily.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    something has to give so that the the House of Representatives is not brought to a standstill

    Why does it matter to the Republicans if the House is brought to a standstill? Serious question. There’s a Dem president -- it’s not like stuff THEY want is coming down the pike for approval, so who cares if the House just messes about for the next day/week/month/two years?

  2. Bruce says

    I think the theory is the House members are members once their election is certified by their state, and their term starts Jan. 3. So they can vote to organize themselves just fine once that happens.
    But they are not “sworn” members until they get sworn in.
    So they can vote for chair. But they can’t pass laws, or even vote to approve paying their own staff until then.
    So if the chair isn’t elected by Friday, staffers living in expensive DC will have to have their next paycheck delayed for two weeks! Plus other Congressional business.

  3. ardipithecus says


    They need a speaker eventually because without that they can’t make committees and can’t investigate Hunter Biden

  4. JM says

    McCarthy lost two more votes today and then the Senate closed shop for the day. The situation seems very static as the vote isn’t changing. McCarthy’s position is getting weaker if anything. McCarthy can only afford to lose 4 votes and is running 20 short.
    There is probably nothing else that McCarthy can offer at this point but McCarthy is likely to keep trying. He has nothing else to do, it’s either win or he is done.

  5. JM says

    The Senate is running a 6th round of voting today. Apparently they didn’t close for the day, just shut down for a couple of hours of private negotiations. Looks like McCarthy has failed this vote also. That they held this vote at all makes me think some of the Senators are telling him they will vote for him and then pulling their vote and have done this multiple time. Because the math on him winning is simple. After the first couple why is keep voting unless he thinks he is winning?

  6. Deepak Shetty says

    To me it looks like some libertarian billionaire(s) has bought the 20 dissidents and is different from the billionaires who have bought the establishment.
    See how badly Government functions -- See how they cant get anything done -- Do you really want this dysfunctional body to be in charge of your taxes ? medical ? regulations ?

  7. jenorafeuer says

    So, basically it looks like we’re seeing an argument between the current version of the ‘Establishment’ (we want a fascist autocracy, but we understand we actually need to have the government running long enough to do that) and the hardliners of the ‘Freedom Caucus’ (we’re just going to act like screaming toddlers until we get what we want).

    Basically between the fascists who understand that they need to do the work, and the ones who seem to think that if they scream loud enough they’ll just get what they want because it has sadly worked out well enough for them in the past that they don’t see any need to do any sort of compromise or change now.

  8. Erk1/2 says

    I’d think that in a more sane time, this situation would result in McCarthy making promises of giving the chair of certain committees to the Dems for votes, or the GOP offering up a “centrist” speaker candidate in order to not be ruled by their wingnut faction. Has such a thing happened in last 100 years? I don’t know much of US political minutiae.
    I don’t think either case could work in the current political atmosphere, because I think a lot more of the GOP would defect in either case.

  9. jenorafeuer says

    I don’t know about the U.S. either; I do know that in Canada, the Speaker of the House has a few times been a member of the opposition party rather than the party in power. Despite the Speaker’s ability to set the tone and pace of things, the fact that the Speaker can’t vote except to break ties (and must always vote to uphold the status quo, which means they can’t ever vote to bring down the government) if the winning party has a very very slim margin of seats, it is often in their best interests to have the Speaker be from the Loyal Opposition and thus deprive the Opposition of a vote.

    According to this has happened three times, the last time quite recently. It generally only happens if the party in power only has a plurality of seats rather than a majority, because minority governments are always potentially one important vote away from dissolution.

  10. JM says

    @12 Erl1/2: The current dispute is essentially unique in the past century. When there have been disputes it’s been between 2 leaders of the majority party trying to secure the job. This all happens behind the scenes and when the time for the vote comes up everybody lines up to vote for the party nominee.
    There may be a couple of renegade votes but this only happens when the majority party has a big enough margin that victory is assured.
    For the same reason voting across party lines is unknown. The majority has already lined up enough votes to win before the voting. Voting across party lines could only anger your own party.
    In theory a deal could be done to secure Democratic party votes but it’s hard to see how. Anything of value to the Democrats would cost Republican votes. Even just structuring the deal would be hard because McCarthy or any other potential speaker would be under great pressure to double cross the Democrats.

  11. John Morales says

    If this were, say, the UK or Australia (yes, not the same system, but still) then the Republicans would be seen to be not very competent at governing themselves, and would be ceding to the opposition.
    A party that can’t govern itself is not a good look.

    (Wasn’t their obstinate unity one of their strengths over recent cycles?)

  12. Erk1/2 says

    Interesting, despite being Canadian and reasonably interested in our politics, I didn’t know about the strategy of electing an opposition member to be speaker in order to deny them a vote.

    Interesting that power-sharing seems to have never happened in recent history.

  13. jenorafeuer says

    It’s only happened three times in Canadian history, all during minority governments, so aside from the fact that there was discussion about it when Harper did it in 2006, I probably wouldn’t have known about it either. And it has to be accepted by the other party as well (someone can obviously just refuse to stand for the office) so this only happens when there’s a certain amount of deal-making done. People have refused before; Diefenbaker tried to offer it to the opposition and failed. And since the Speaker has power to control who gets to speak when (within certain limits) it’s sometimes worth giving up the vote for.

    Though it’s noted on the Wikipedia page that all three times this has actually happened, it has been the Conservative (or Progressive Conservative) party forming the government, and a Liberal taking the job of Speaker.

  14. Deepak Shetty says

    @John Morales

    If this were, say, the UK or Australia (yes, not the same system, but still) then the Republicans would be seen to be not very competent at governing themselves, and would be ceding to the opposition

    Are you saying that about the UK with a straight face ? After Liz Truss , the Tories did not “cede” to the opposition

  15. John Morales says

    Well, Deepak — they hastily got rid of her ASAP, lest they do so.
    Her position had, as the quaint terminology has it, become untenable.

    Mind you, they burned through a shitload of political capital in the process.

    Anyway, that’s not what’s happening to the Republicans, is it? Their loonies are fucking everything up, and nothing is being done to reform the party.

  16. Deepak Shetty says

    @John Morales
    Ok. But thats not the same as ceding to the opposition. And I doubt even the Australians do that.

    Their loonies are fucking everything up,

    So people say , and yet McCarthy will offer to move more to the right and the 200 odd not so extreme republicans will still vote Aye. And the southern states and others will still vote Republican and will send Gaetz and Boebert next time or if not them someone as bad. In what world is it “fucking everything up?”.
    When your platform is Government is bad -- This doesnt hurt as much as people think.

  17. John Morales says


    Ok. But thats not the same as ceding to the opposition. And I doubt even the Australians do that.


    Which is why I employed the subjunctive mood and a conditional: if it were thus in those milieus, then it would be. But, since it’s not in those milieus, it isn’t.

    (Mind you, we in Oz have our moments)

    In what world is it “fucking everything up?”.

    So… everything is fine, and getting better. Right?
    Things are going just as they should.

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