Skip to content

What If McCarthy Can’t Get the 218 votes to be Speaker of the House?

Leer en Español

The ideal scenario for Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is to unify the Republican Party congress members on January 3 and thus receive the majority of votes to become the new Speaker of the House of Representatives. However, this may not happen, which opens the door to the following question: what would happen if McCarthy does not get 218 votes?

The selection process begins with the nomination of names by the parties and then a vote takes place, in which the 435 members of the Lower House must vote. Under normal conditions, the magic number is 218.  

However, representatives are not required to vote for one of the nominees, so they can vote for another member of Congress or literally anyone they want. For example, Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams received one vote in 2019.

In turn, they may also choose not to vote and just give their name. In this case, the magic number drops to half plus one of the legislators who did choose a name. That is, if 20 legislators voted “present,” 208 votes in favor would be needed to be elected speakers. This happened in 1943, 1997, 2015, and 2021.

Kevin McCarthy has 5 representatives who have already strongly opposed him, which reduces his room for maneuvering on January 3 (EFE).

Again, this is the ideal scenario, where everything is resolved on a first ballot and without a hitch, as has been the case since 1923. Now, what if this doesn’t happen?

According to the Congressional Research Service, in the event that no person receives the aforementioned majority, the roll call vote will be repeated until someone emerges as the new Speaker.  

The procedure also states that “No restrictions are imposed on who may receive votes in the subsequent ballots. For instance, no candidate is eliminated based on receiving the fewest votes in the floor election, and a Member’s vote is not limited to individuals who received votes in previous ballots.”

This process has been tortuous more than once. In 1849, the Democratic Party had a very narrow majority and the party was bitterly divided. After 19 days and 59 votes, the House adopted plurality voting, which meant that the person with the most support on the next ballot would be the winner. At that time, Howell Cobb claimed the office with 103 representatives behind him.

The last time more than one ballot was required was in 1923 when nine were needed to elect a name, then Frederick Gillett (R).

Kevin McCarthy’s math for becoming a spokesman

The current minority leader has the backing of Donald Trump and the majority of Republican representatives to claim the gavel next January 3. However, this is still not enough.

Currently, Congressmen Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Matt Rosendale (R-MT), Ralph Norman (R-SC) and Bob Good (R-VA) have publicly expressed their refusal to vote for McCarthy, shaking his aspirations.

However, if the Californian can get these legislators on board (ideally) or at least vote “present,” he will have a clear path to succeed Nancy Pelosi and give the GOP back the gavel they lost in 2018.

Joaquín Núñez es licenciado en comunicación periodística por la Universidad Católica Argentina. Se especializa en el escenario internacional y en la política nacional norteamericana. Confeso hincha de Racing Club de Avellaneda. Contacto: [email protected] // Joaquín Núñez has a degree in journalistic communication from the Universidad Católica Argentina. He specializes in the international scene and national American politics. Confessed fan of Racing Club of Avellaneda. Contact: [email protected]