To start off a new year, the United States House of Representatives made history, not in a good way, though. While indecision hardly sounds rare for Congress, it was the normally quick act of picking a new Speaker of the House that took up much of its time. Usually, the majority party unites behind one leader to become Speaker of the House for that two-year Congressional session. But this year, twenty Republicans had other ideas.
Since the first election for Speaker in 1789, the process of picking a Speaker has been, for the most part, a formality. The last time a Speaker election took more than one ballot was in 1923, which lasted for only nine ballots. In fact, thirteen out of the fourteen Speaker elections that did take more than one ballot occurred prior to the Civil War. This year's election took fifteen ballots. While fifteen is high compared to the usual number, one, it is still quite far from the 1855 election, which took a whopping 133 ballots and two months before somebody was finally elected.
With no Speaker elected, Congress was not able to come into session and function properly at all. This was highly unusual to the American public and the world, who have become so accustomed to seeing a perfectly efficient Congress (note the sarcasm).
But the problems don’t end at appearances. Incoming members couldn’t access security clearances or set up services for constituents. The government of the District of Columbia was also unable to enact any laws during this time.
Nonprofit television network C-SPAN witnessed a jump in popularity as a result of their unrestricted broadcasting of the events, which focused on the reactions of the members of the House and captured interesting conversations between ideologically opposed Congresspeople. Since this coverage, representatives from both parties have expressed support for C-SPAN access limitations to be decreased.
In the pre-ballot stage, the House Republican Conference gave McCarthy an unconvincing 86% of their votes in support of his candidacy for Speaker, with Andy Biggs also receiving 14% of the vote. This caused early speculation about whether McCarthy would be able to secure the position of Speaker. In the first ballot, while Democrats rallied behind Hakeem Jeffries, Kevin McCarthy was unable to secure the support of a large chunk of his party, with over 8% of Republican ballots going to other contenders, including Lee Zeldin, who was no longer a Representative after his failed Gubernatorial bid. Even former President Donald Trump received two votes over the long process. For several days, McCarthy’s support still lagged, and a path to the position of Speaker did not seem to be within his sights.
Then, on day four, everything changed. Fourteen Republicans who had previously opposed him changed their votes, which marked the first time he won a plurality. By the 15th ballot, after several concessions from McCarthy, he was able to win by a slim margin of 216-212. Several high-profile Republicans did not end up voting for McCarthy at all, including Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, and Andy Biggs. The competition came from Floridian Byron Donalds, who repeatedly ended with more than a dozen votes, and from Jim Jordan, who “stole” many of the votes from McCarthy despite his public rejection of his own candidacy.
Tensions were high within the House while the Speaker election was undecided. One incident which garnered major media attention was an argument between Matt Gaetz and Mike Rogers. Rogers was frustrated after Gaetz continued to refuse to back McCarthy, who, at that point, was very close to securing the votes needed. As the argument carried on, Rogers appeared to walk towards Gaetz. Rogers was then physically restrained by fellow Representative Richard Hudson, who went so far as to put his hands on Rogers’ face. It summed up several days of high tensions and debate within the Republican Party on the House Floor.
As for future Speaker elections, the Democratic Party seems to have settled on Hakeem Jeffries to be the replacement for Nancy Pelosi, who recently decided to not seek election as Speaker. The future of the Republican Party looks uncertain as to who they will nominate the next time an election occurs.