US House Deadlocked in Election for Speaker for the 1st Time in 100 Years: Why This Matters, What Happens Next

Battle for House Speaker
It was a very long day Tuesday for would-be U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California.Getty

The U.S. House of Representatives spent a frustrating day trying to elect a Speaker on Tuesday. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican representative from California, has vowed to fight on despite a rebellion from far-fight members.

For the first time in 100 years, the U.S. House has failed to elect a speaker, which deadlocked the chamber on opening day of the nation's 118th Congress.

It was a historic, and frustrating, failure sparked by the unexpected defection of far-right Republicans who derailed what was expected to be election of favorite Kevin McCarthy from California. After three floor votes, McCarthy could not get a majority.

He vowed to fight on. 

“I’m staying until we win,” McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday. “I know the path.”

The path is full of political land mines and the journey begins anew on Wednesday.

When was the last time this happened?

The last time the House failed to elect a leader was in December 1923, when it took nine votes over three days to finally pick Republican Frederick Gillett of Massachusetts to a third term as Speaker. 

The longest battle ever for House Speaker occurred in 1856. That war lasted two months and took 133 votes before Republican Nathaniel Banks, a Union general from Massachusetts, was chosen Speaker.

So what happens next?

The House is scheduled to reconvene at noon Wednesday. The chamber can conduct no business without an elected speaker, including swearing in newly elected members.

And so it was a disappointing day Tuesday not only for the House, but for all the families and friends who journeyed to Washington, D.C., expecting to witness their loved one taking the oath of office. 

McCarthy told reporters Tuesday that he had spoken to former President Donald Trump, who supports him. Trump's advice is "he thinks it's better that all the Republicans get together and solve this," McCarthy said.

On Wednesday, Trump posted on social media, “Some really good conversations took place last night, and it’s now time for all of our GREAT Republican House Members to VOTE FOR KEVIN,” Trump wrote. He implored Republicans not to “TURN A GREAT TRIUMPH INTO A GIANT & EMBARRASSING DEFEAT.”

The House must continue to vote — again and again — until it elects a Speaker with a majority of 218 votes. That leaves scant room for Republican defections because the party has only 222 seats.

Those expressing opposition to McCarthy include 19 GOP members who defected Tuesday and voted for others including Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio. 

McCarthy failed in three separate votes Tuesday to gain more than 203 ballots. Despite having worked long into the night Tuesday to secure additional votes, it remained unclear if McCarthy had secured enough support.

Meanwhile, without a Speaker, the House cannot swear in its members or do any legislative work including appointing committees.

The breakdown also raises questions about how Republicans will govern in the House with its new, slim majority this term. 

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