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How the House will elect a new speaker: What to know ahead of the vote

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How the House will elect a new speaker: What to know ahead of the vote

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House Republicans met privately Wednesday and picked Steve Scalise, R-La., over Jim Jordan, R-Ohio., as the GOP nominee to be the next speaker, more than a week after Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was ousted from the chamber’s top job.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., has been serving in an acting capacity as speaker pro tempore since the House voted to remove McCarthy.

Next, the full House will vote on who the next speaker will be.

Here is how this will go:

Republicans voted behind closed doors

According to GOP rules, the vote was done by secret ballot and the winning candidate needs to secure a majority of GOP votes, in this case 111 of 221 House Republicans. Scalise has won the Republican nomination to be speaker, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said as he left the room. The vote was 113-99, Issa said.

Reps. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., had proposed a rules change that would temporarily require a Republican candidate to receive 217 votes of the 221 GOP members to be considered the party’s nominee for speaker.

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., confirmed to reporters Wednesday that he offered a motion to table or kill the proposed rules change. The motion was successful, according to Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., and the proposed rules change was voted down.

Democrats renominated Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries

For their part, House Democrats unanimously renominated House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., in a closed door meeting Tuesday night. During the speaker election in January, Jeffries won every single Democratic vote on all 15 ballots. 

Next, the full House will vote

The earliest the full House could have a floor vote on the next speaker would be 3 p.m. That’s because the House adjourned on Tuesday until that time.

There is no required waiting period. Since Republicans have now emerged with a candidate, McHenry can bring the vote up on the floor. In the past when speakers died in office or resigned, the House usually moved directly to electing a new speaker.

There would first be nominating speeches for the speaker candidates, typically offered by their close allies.

The vote itself would be done “viva voce” — meaning members stand when their names are called by a reading clerk and verbally announce whom they are supporting for the position. Members can vote for anyone (even people who are not members of the House), vote present, or not vote at all.

The math to win the speaker’s gavel

To win the gavel, a candidate needs support from a majority of the House members present, meaning the eventual speaker will need 217 votes if every one of the current members votes and does so for a candidate by name. There are currently 433 members, with two vacancies, so a majority is 217.

If members are absent, or if some vote present instead of supporting a candidate, that decreases what the majority vote needs to be. The House is intended to have a total membership of 435 members, so a majority is usually 218.

Seven speaker candidates have won without 218 votes since 1913, when the size of the House increased to 435; those instances, which all came within a few votes of the magic number, include John Boehner in 2015, Nancy Pelosi in 2021 and McCarthy in January, according to the Congressional Research Service.

If no candidate can win a majority, the House will continue to hold votes until one does; that has happened only 15 times in the chamber’s history; 13 of these took place before the Civil War. The most recent example was McCarthy’s drawn out floor fight that went 15 ballots.

In 1855-56, it took 133 ballots over the course of two months to elect the new speaker. In 1923, it took nine ballots after a group of progressive Republicans refused to support the party’s nominee, Frederick Gillett, until certain rules changes were made.

On two occasions, the House voted to change the rules and elect the speaker by a plurality instead of a majority — in 1849 and 1856 — both times because members feared they would never be able to elect a speaker by a majority vote.

When an election has taken multiple ballots, the House has held only a few votes each day. If this happens again, the chamber could adjourn after three or four unsuccessful votes, which would give party leaders time to whip members outside the chamber and try to strike deals.

How often do speaker elections take place other than in January? 

While there is always a speaker election at the start of a new session of Congress in January, it is much more rare for there to be an election while a session is already underway. Since 1913, there have been five such instances because of the death or resignation of the speaker. 

The most recent example was in 2015 when Boehner resigned. 

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