Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is fighting to secure the 218 votes he needs to be elected House speaker in January.
With voters this month giving the GOP a slim majority, only a small bloc of conservative rebels could deny the California Republican the speaker’s gavel at the start of the new Congress. Several McCarthy enemies have already declared that they will not vote for him under any circumstances.
“He doesn’t have the votes,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus. «Some of the stages of grief include denial, so there will be some denial, and then there’s the bargaining stage where people are trying to figure out…is there going to be some kind of consensus candidate emerging?»
It has put McCarthy in a precarious position: He won his party’s nomination for speaker while fighting for his political life.
In this game of chicken, if the conservatives don’t blink and McCarthy refuses to back down, it could result in a chaotic fight with House members picking up multiple votes for president, something that hasn’t happened in a century.
Here are other examples throughout history where the speaker’s deck didn’t come easy.
1855-56: Longest orator election in history
December 3, 1855 began like any other opening day for a new Congress. The House was called to order at noon and the House moved on to the first order of business: elect the speaker.
But there was no favorite for the job. Twenty-one candidates received votes for president on the first ballot, and none obtained the necessary majority. “There was no other choice”, the Congressional Globe printed that day. The House held three more unsuccessful votes for president that day before adjourning shortly after 2 p.m.
In the weeks that followed, the House was gridlocked as no candidate was able to get the necessary votes. It wasn’t until the 133rd ballot that Rep. Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts was elected Speaker of the House, defeating Rep. William Aiken of South Carolina by one vote from 103 to 100.
the date was February 2, 1856two months after the vote of the first speaker.
The Chamber unanimously concluded its activities that day adoption of a resolution thanking the secretary for presiding «during the long and arduous contest for the position of Spokesperson.»
1923: The last time the speaker’s vote was on multiple ballots
When the House met on December 4, 1923, frederick gillett he sought re-election as speaker. The Massachusetts Republican had held office since 1919 and his party had maintained control of the chamber.
But after the first ballot, Gillett did not have the necessary votes. Three more ballots were held, and each time enough Progressive Republicans supported other candidates, preventing Gillett from reclaiming the gavel.
«Mr. Secretary, it seems utterly self-evident that no good purpose can be served by having another vote tonight,» Republican Leader Nicholas Longworth. said on the floor before the camera was up that night.
At issue were the rule changes that progressive Republicans wanted. For two days, the group refused to budge, and on some ballots, the Democratic nominee even led the pack.
longworth eventually come to an agreement with the Progressives and on the ninth ballot, Gillett was reappointed as speaker.
there has only been 14 instances in congressional history, where it took more than two votes for a candidate to win a majority. The first 13 occurred before the Civil War.
“The Civil War established this norm … where the parties agreed to air their dirty laundry in the caucus, but then rally around the leader of the party, whoever got the majority in the caucus,” said the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor. , Charles Stewart, co-author of the book «The Fight for the Presidency: The House and the Rise of Party Government.»
2013: Conservatives plot a coup against Boehner
In 2013, the Tea Party movement that had propelled Ohio Republican John Boehner to the speaker’s office turned on Boehner himself.
A gang of 20 conservative rebels, furious that Boehner had kicked some of them out of committees and struck a tax deal that raised taxes on the wealthy, huddled in a Capitol Hill apartment the night before the speaker’s vote and he planned a coup against his own leader. according to author Tim Alberta’s book, “American Carnage”.
Among those in the room were Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, and Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, Alberta writes. The Republicans had won 234 seats in the 2012 election; if 17 Republicans opposed Boehner, they argued, conservatives could prevent him from getting the 218 votes he needed to remain president.
But some suspected Boehner spies were in the room, and conservatives began pointing fingers at each other, according to Alberta. Labrador said they actually needed to secure 30 dissenters because Boehner could surely swing some of those down votes, telling the group, «We need 30 to get to 17 because half the people in this room are going to cave tomorrow.»
Farmer was right. When their names were called on the House floor the next day, some involved in the plot chickened out and did not vote, vote present or cast their ballots for Boehner. In the end, only 12 Republicans refused to support Boehner.
Two years later, Boehner suffered 25 defections from the Republican Party on the speaker’s ballot, the most defections in 100 years, but he would easily win the speaker’s deck with 216 votes due to several members failing to vote; Democrats had attended the funeral of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and several other lawmakers were unable to make it to Washington due to bad weather.
In September 2015, Boehner announced his resignation, after a conservative troublemaker, Rep. Mark Meadows, filed a «motion to vacate the chair» that would have forced another plenary vote on the unpopular speaker.
2018: How Pelosi Put Down a Rebellion
Usually, when a party regains a majority, the minority leader will have a clear path to the presidency. But in 2018, after 16 years in power, Nancy Pelosi faced a rebellion from a new generation of Democrats who wanted her to step aside.
The week of Thanksgiving that year, 16 rebels from Pelosi’s Democratic Caucus signed a letter announcing their opposition to her being president. Other Democrats who did not sign contemplated challenging Pelosi for the job.
“As we head into the 116th Congress and reclaim our Democratic majority, we believe more strongly than ever that the time has come for new leadership in our caucus,” wrote the 16 Democrats, including Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Kathleen Rice, DN.Y., and Seth Moulton, D-Mass.
If her enemies held the line, they would have enough votes to block her on the House floor. But Pelosi, who calls herself a «teacher» legislator and vote-counter, was just getting started.
The first female Speaker of the House began to eliminate her opponents one by one. Pelosi huddled in her office with a potential challenger, Rep. Marcia Fudge. The Ohio Democrat later support pelosi and be appointed chair of a subcommittee that oversees the elections. pelosi too livestock Rep. Brian Higgins, DN.Y., by promising to prioritize his Medicare proposal and work with him on infrastructure.
And she won the support of a handful of holdouts, including Rep. Ryan, who defied her in 2016, agreeing to a deal with term limits for the top leaders of the party.
In the end, 15 Democrats broke with Pelosi: a dozen voted for other people and three voted present. But it wasn’t enough to stop her from serving for a second time as Speaker of the House.
“Every two years, we gather in this chamber for a sacred ritual,” he said, accepting the mallet. «Under the dome of this temple of democracy, the United States Capitol, we renew the great American experiment.»