Rep. Kevin McCarthy elected after 15 rounds of voting
History has repeated itself. For the first time in over 100 years, the role of Speaker of the House required more than 14 rounds of voting. Last month, the House went through 15 rounds before deciding that the next Speaker would be Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. The most rounds of votes the United States has ever had for speaker was in 1855 when it went to 133 ballots. Before this year, it had gone to more than one vote only 14 times, 13 of those being before the Civil War.
A majority of the time, voting for the Speaker is more of a formality, and the proposed candidate has served on several committees and been a part of Congress for a number of years, making their nomination perceived as obvious. This year, there were five candidates, although the only two with enough votes to be in the running were McCarthy and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
“This was a new session of Congress,” upper school government teacher Lindy Grosvenor said. “And the majority in the House changed from Democrats to Republicans, so therefore, they have to reelect a Speaker of the House.”
While this is normally a process that doesn’t receive much attention or news, the unusually tight battle and several rounds of voting had the American people more invested.
“In a nutshell, they hold the power, they decide which bills can come to the floor,” Grosvenor said. “They decide which bills can be voted on, who gets to go on what committee, which is extremely important, and they run [the House] on a day to day basis.”
Members of Congress are primed for this position throughout their careers by taking appointments and making their voice heard for their party.
“The Speaker [of the House]mposition is not unlike a traditional corporate situation where there are positions up the ladder, and the way that you work your way up the ladder is you put yourself forward and in small ways when you don’t have a title,” upper school history teacher Claire Mrozek said. “I think there’s a lot of the same sort of politicking that they have to do when they get voters to vote for them. They’re trying to get their colleagues to say, ‘I would be a good person in this position.’”
Being seated on certain committees can help with the candidate’s credibility. For example, McCarthy, who has been in Congress since 2007, was placed on the House Republican Steering Committee and then went on to become the House Majority Whip from 2011-2015, Minority leader from 2019-2023 and eventually Speaker of the House.
“It’s interesting that there’s no there are no rules in the constitution for this process,” Mrozek said. “That’s why [Donald] Trump could get a vote. It doesn’t even have to be somebody who is a member. But if you look at the way the Constitution was written, they had so many things to worry about, and there were so many disagreements that you can see them saying, ‘let’s let them figure it out.’”
Votes this cycle were widespread because there wasn’t a clear winner from the beginning and Republicans weren’t all in on McCarthy. Votes were swaying each of the 13 rounds of voting. The power changing in the House after midterms was likely because of the Executive Branch being Democrat and the people hoping to keep a balanced government.
“Most of America does not want any one party to have too much power,” Mrozek said. “They almost intentionally say, at this point, the Democrats have the Executive Branch, so let’s make sure that the Republican Party can keep an eye on them in the legislative branches.”
Another reason why it took so long this year was because a faction of radical Republicans in the House didn’t think McCarthy was far enough right. Some big stances were one policy bills, less government spending and less power for the speaker.
“I think that this is democracy in action,” senior and conservative Student Union President Blake Scheinberg said. “One big thing that the radicals wanted is one policy bill. So that when a bill is put into action, it’s only one thing passed. They know that other people will tack on their own stuff for the main Bill to pass.”
Because both sides needed the 20 or so people that were swing voters, those people had extreme power. They were able to make deals with the people running in order to win their votes, and they really took advantage of the situation.
“There was a small faction who wanted to institute changes in the rules of the house,” Grosevnor said. “They thought that McCarthy was too well established. They wanted someone who was more anti-establishment who was willing to take risks and make changes.”
Even looking back at how this process has been executed in the past or how it’s been controlled in the Senate and within the Democratic Party in the House, there are some obvious discrepancies with the Republicans in the House.
“Mitch McConnell was able to maintain discipline with his group [in the Senate],” Mrozek said. “The Democrats were able to maintain discipline with their group. That’s why 212 voted for Jeffries again and again. You need to have leadership from both parties. You need to have leadership from the president pro tempore in the Senate, you need to have leadership from the speaker of the House, regardless of what party, and this does not look like leadership to me.”