Speaker of the House elected: McCarthy Promoted After the 15 Ballot Race

Megan Pitt '23, Editor in Chief


Photo courtesy of TIME


In the early hours of Saturday, January 7th, Kevin McCarthy was elected speaker of the house after a strenuous, multi-day election. Perhaps one of the most significant government positions, and definitively the most powerful within the House of Representatives, McCarthy’s victory–in the 15th ballot–is incredibly notable.

The speaker of the house is second in line for the presidency, following the vice president, but there is more to the job than meets the eye. They have three major roles. Firstly, they are an authoritative public presence for their peers in the House. According to PBS, “speakers articulate an agenda and explain legislative action to other Washington officials as well as the public.” Additionally, the speaker leads the House in conversation, “structuring debate in a way that will advantage their legislative priorities.” (PBS). Finally, they oversee many procedures in the House, including accounting. Minor duties of the speaker include declaring an emergency recess of the House and appointment of members to various committees (GovInfo). 

The speaker of the house is most commonly selected from the sitting membership, although it is not constitutionally required. Each party caucus presents a nominee and thereafter, all members must vote. With an entirely present House, one must secure 218 of 435 votes to be elected. In the past one hundred years, not a single vote has succeeded one ballot. Kevin McCarthy proved to break the pattern, winning the election on the fifteenth ballot.

McCarthy’s political career became significant in 2002 when he was elected to the California Assembly. He quickly became their Republican minority leader and from there, was elected to the House of Representatives in 2006. He was continuously re-elected. Following the January 6th (2021) insurrection on the United States Capitol building, McCarthy blamed incumbent president Donald Trump. Brittanica noted that, from the House floor, he said, “‘the president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters.’” Only a few weeks later, though, McCarthy was seen visiting Trump in pursuit of a peace agreement. As the 2022 midterms approached, Republicans grew confident that Congress would be overcome by a “red wave”. Although they won a majority in the House of Representatives, it was slim—222-213. Republicans then voted McCarthy as their leader, 188-31. From there, McCarthy struggled to gain the necessary votes for the speaker election.

McCarthy was confident going into the election; he was sure he would win. According to an article by The Guardian, “the California Republican moved his belongings into the ornate speaker’s office over the weekend, even as it was clear he had not yet secured the votes to stave off a floor fight. Congressman Matt Gaetz, a McCarthy foe, accused the would-be speaker of illegally occupying the suite, which still has no nameplate above the door.” And prove to be a floor fight, it did. It was unlikely for the majority of the House to be in such disarray in regard to electing a leader. By the third ballot, a solid twenty Republicans continued to vote for Republicans other than McCarthy. Jim Jordan occupied their votes on Tuesday. When asked why he was so strictly against McCarthy, Matt Gaetz of Florida claimed corruption: “‘Maybe the right person for the speaker of the House isn’t someone who has sold shares in himself for more than a decade to get it.’” (CNN). Scott Perry of Pennsylvania added that the Republicans in question, “‘have said we are not going to any more of Washington being broken’” (CNN). Some members of the Republican caucus even began to vote by saying “present”–in effect skipping their vote. Indisputably, these Republicans felt that McCarthy’s election would cause chaos in Washington and the abolition of a proper government. On the other hand, Democrats remained united throughout the multi-day election. They stood behind minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries. 

Hakeem Jeffries has served six terms in Congress, representing New York. In January 2020, Jeffries served as a House Impeachment Manager in the trial of Donald Trump. In March 2021, he helped to pass the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” which criminalized dangerous tactics by the police in order to gain custody of a person. As the minority leader, it was never assumed that Jeffries would win the race for speaker. Although he won more votes than McCarthy in the first ballot, 212-203, the chance that the withstanding Republicans would vote for a Democrat over a Republican instead of McCarthy was very slim. However, Jeffries still made great social strides in the election. According to NPR, he was “the first Black lawmaker nominated for Speaker of the House.”

Still, it was questioned whether Republicans might attempt to acquire the votes of the most conservative Democratic member-elects. When asked if he would consider voting Republican to allow the election to proceed, Democrat Henry Cuellar of Texas–a very conservative man–said no: “‘They’ve got the majority…they need to figure out their speaker’” (The Hill).

  Meanwhile, member-elects were growing frustrated with the extensive election. According to The Guardian, third-ranking House Democrat Pete Aguilar said, “‘we’re representatives-elect waiting to take an oath.’” Lauren Gambino, a writer for The Guardian, built on that idea: “Instead of posing for a photo with the new speaker, hand pressed to a Bible, wide-eyed spouses and well-dressed children can be spotted instead passing the time in the basement cafeteria, waiting for something to happen.” The families of member-elects had traveled to Washington to celebrate their loved ones but were met with days on end of political argument with no resolution in sight. Aguilar added, blaming the Republican caucus, “‘this is a crisis of the Congress and it’s a crisis at the hands of the Republican’s dysfunction.” (The Guardian).

Former president, Donald Trump attempted to generate support for McCarthy through a statement on his social media platform, Truth Social. He declared, “‘Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB.” (The Hill). The assertion fell flat though, as one of Trump’s biggest congressional supporters, member-elect Lauren Boebert urged McCarthy to withdraw from the race. She said, according to CNN, “the president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that, sir, you do not have the votes and it’s time to withdraw.” She noted that although Trump was her preferred president, she could not support him in voting for McCarthy.

In response to his losing streak, McCarthy conceded on several points he had planned to execute in the House rules package. According to CNN, he decided “to give lawmakers 72 hours to read a bill before it goes to the floor for a vote. He also agreed to allow just five Republicans to force a vote to remove the speaker instead of the current requirement that a majority of Republicans join the call.” Later, he instituted the notion that the argument of only one House member is necessary to begin the battle to remove a speaker. He also “agreed to vote separately on the 12 different appropriation bills–from agriculture to defense spending to transportation–rather than allow them to be bundled together into an end-of-year omnibus spending bill” (Forbes). He emphasized implementing a cap on discretionary spending for domestic and defense spending. Furthermore, he promised to institute the Holman rule so government officials’ salaries may be reduced and he agreed “to appoint far-right House Freedom Caucus members to seats on the House Rules Committee” (Forbes). Republicans who had continuously voted for McCarthy on numerous ballots grew concerned. Chris Stewart of Utah said, in a statement to MSNBC, that he felt “very, very close” to giving up his vote. Don Bacon expressed his disapproval of a decreased number of members necessary for the removal of the speaker: “‘If one person can push a motion to vacate, we’ll do this again. How would you like to do this every week?’” (The Hill). He was referring to the strenuous speaker vote that lasted several days. Many House Republicans also expressed concern over the likelihood of government shutdowns as a result of failure to pass critical financial legislation. Overall, the concessions McCarthy made are stirring up trouble across the House. One of McCarthy’s previous mentors told the New York Daily News, “‘Kevin is basically whatever you want him to be. He’ll change the lie if necessary. How can anyone trust his word?’” 

Nevertheless, the concessions in question did help to acquire a few more votes for the steadfast Republican. Byron Donalds, a congressman devoted to Trump, was elected to the House in 2020. He proved to be the leader of the anti-McCarthy movement within the House’s Republican caucus. On Friday, January 6th–the fourth day of the speaker election–Donalds flipped his vote, though, in favor of McCarthy. After several conversations with the determined candidate, Donalds felt confident that the Republican party had made the concessions necessary for proper governing. He noted, in a statement posted by Olivia Beavers, a congressional reporter for Politico, to Twitter, “the Speaker’s Office must work for We The People, and I believe the concessions we’ve secured achieve this. Republicans are ready to govern and deliver results on behalf of our constituents and the nation.” Member-elects Josh Brecheen and Keith Self also turned their votes over to McCarthy. Brecheen credited his decision to McCarthy’s concessions, just as Donalds did, according to a statement uploaded to Twitter by Olivia Beavers of Politico: “I will vote for Mr. McCarthy as long as what we agreed to in negotiations remains in place.” Beavers also reported a statement from Self, in which he agreed with the other men noting that he believed McCarthy’s proposed Rules package would maintain the credibility of the House: “My vote today was to show support for significant Rule changes to transform the House from being dysfunctional to functional.” A few anti-McCarthy’s remained assured in their vote. Matt Gaetz, a Republican representing Florida in the House, uploaded by Beavers to Twitter, stated that Gaetz believes McCarthy “is owned by the lobbyists and has sold himself to the Swamp. He’s standing in the way of a true MAGA majority.”

  Nevertheless, Kevin McCarthy was officially elected speaker in the wee hours of Saturday morning–January 7th–on the 15th ballot. A Tweet by Jake Sherman, founder of Punchbowl News–a political news outlet–revealed the final vote count. McCarthy achieved 216 votes, Jeffries acquired 212, and 6 members voted “present”. The clerk declared McCarthy speaker. By voting present, member-elects lowered the threshold necessary to win the election to 215 votes. Thus, McCarthy’s 216 votes secured him the treasured congressional role. A while after he acquired the gavel, McCarthy noted one major takeaway from the 4-day election. “‘I never give up,’” he said, according to The Los Angeles Times

Hakeem Jeffries, before handing over the speaker’s gavel to McCarthy, criticized the Republican caucus for their struggle in electing a leader. As stated by USA Today, he noted that “a Republican-led House means a shift from ‘a year of accomplishment to a year of ambiguity.’” An article by Politico reached a similar conclusion: “House conservatives are soon to meet up with a harsh reality: Most legislation that passes their chamber is expected to be dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.” The next two years seem to be a dead-end for American legislation.