What if McCarthy can’t get the votes?
When the 118th Congress meets on January 3, one of its first actions will be to elect the Speaker of the House.
The speaker is a powerful role, in line behind the vice president to succeed the president in the event of the incapacity of the commander-in-chief. But the most important authority wielded by the president controls the agenda and assignments of the committees that shape legislation in the lower house of Congress.
With Republicans regaining a majority in November’s midterm elections, House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy is on course to win the presidency after GOP lawmakers chose to keep him for the month last at the head of the caucus.
But some Republicans have publicly said they won’t support Rep. California in his bid for president, jeopardizing his firing of the President’s hammer, since no Democrats are supposed to support him.
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The Speaker of the House is the only political office in the House elected by all of its members. Here’s how the election works and what could happen if McCarthy doesn’t reach the necessary voting threshold for the presidency.
What happens before the speakers vote?
Before the start of a new Congress, the two parties hold a private meeting where they elect the party leadership for the next Congress. This takes place before January 3, the official start of the new term when all members of the House vote for president.
A candidate only needs a majority of votes from their respective party to win the nomination at the private leadership meeting.
Even if a colleague votes against a candidate at the private caucus meeting, the party generally sticks together to back their House candidate in January, according to Matt Glassman, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute.
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However, when the whole House votes, only a few votes against a candidate from their own party could cost them the presidency.
“Which creates a scenario where people could be dissenting, a very small faction could prevent you from gaining ground in your own party,” Glassman said.
How does the speaker vote take place?
The House Clerk of the previous Congress hammers at the opening session and presides as speaker until one is elected.
The Clerk first calls for a quorum to establish that a sufficient number of members are present to transact business, then proceeds immediately to the election of the Chair – before the newly elected members are sworn in.
The clerk calls the legislators in alphabetical order of last name who then announces their choice of speaker by calling out the candidate’s last name. This differs from the usual electronic vote taken in the House on legislation.
Presidential candidates are nominated by members of their party. There is always a Democratic candidate and a Republican, but the president need not be a member of the majority party or even a member of Congress.
How many votes does it take to be elected President?
The magic number is 218 – sort of.
A candidate needs the votes of a majority of voting legislators to be elected president. This means that if all 435 members are present and voting, the number of votes required is 218.
But lawmakers can decide to skip the vote or vote “present,” which lowers the voting threshold needed to win the presidency. Speakers Nancy Pelosi, D-California and John Boehner, R-Ohio, both won the presidency without reaching 218 votes.
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At the next Congress, all 434 members (one less than 435 because Virginia Representative Donald McEachin recently passed away and a successor has not yet been chosen) will be able to vote. If the results, for example, are: 216 votes for McCarthy, 212 for a Democratic candidate and 6 representatives vote for someone else, the 216 votes would not be the majority of the 434 needed for the presidency. McCarthy would fail.
However, if these six representatives do not vote for someone else, they do not count towards the total votes required. That lowers the threshold to 428, meaning a vote of 216 could secure McCarthy’s presidency.
Glassman said this is often used as a tactic by presidential candidates who convince their colleagues to abstain, essentially as a compromise between voting for another candidate and supporting their candidacy.
“It’s definitely a viable strategy,” he said.
What happens if a candidate does not get a majority of votes?
If the first ballot does not provide a speaker, lawmakers will continue voting until a candidate receives a majority. Members can vote for different candidates on each ballot.
It is not common for there to be more than one ballot, but it has happened.
In 1923, it took several ballots – nine – in two months to elect a speaker. On three occasions before the Civil War, a speaker was not elected on the first ballot. In one case, it took 133 ballots over a two-month period.
As a last resort, legislators can pass a resolution that would elect a speaker by plurality or choice vote instead of a simple majority.
Glassman said McCarthy needed at least 213 votes because the 212 House Democrats were likely all going to back their party leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Of the nine remaining GOP lawmakers who have expressed reservations about supporting McCarthy, the California Republican will need a combination of votes for him, a “present” vote or no vote.
“The functionally important thing is that nothing else happens in the House until they have a chair,” Glassman said, adding that the House will not be able to pass rules, appoint committees or review laws until the president is chosen.
How do members generally vote?
Legislators traditionally vote for their party’s nominee, but some in recent years have chosen to vote “present” or not vote.
“It’s kind of a modern thing over the last 10 years,” Glassman said. “We had members of the majority party threatening not to vote for their party’s candidate on the floor.”
He cites one reason as the current media environment where outliers realize they can gain attention by opposing a speaker candidate and separating themselves from leadership to appeal to voters.
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“It’s a way to stand out,” he said.
Last to vote for the opposing political party was Democratic Rep. Jim Traficant of Ohio. He voted in 2001 for the Republican presidential nominee and faced serious consequences: Democrats stripped him of his committee assignments.
How will it go for McCarthy?
A two-month presidential election is not likely.
McCarthy won the leadership election behind closed doors, and by wide margins, after taking on Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, a member of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus.
But Biggs didn’t give up.
He tweeted earlier this month that he would run — again — to stop McCarthy from becoming president.
The Jan. 3 vote will include all members of the House, not just the Republican Party.
If McCarthy doesn’t win on the first ballot, which Glassman says is very likely, he thinks McCarthy will negotiate with his colleagues to get enough votes.
If his opponents are firm in their opposition, Glassman predicts that an alternative option for the speaker could be Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, McCarthy’s second-in-command.
“If none of that happens, you end up in real chaos, because then you have to try to find candidates somewhere in the party that weren’t even on the radar screen,” he said. -he declares.