The start of the 118th Congress on January 3 was supposed to be a day of procedural votes and ceremonial swearing-ins, but instead, it was marked by uncertainty after Republicans failed to elect a speaker on Tuesday after multiple rounds of voting.
Following an hours-long series of votes on the first day of the new Congress, Rep. Kevin McCarthy could not overcome opposition from his party’s right flank.
A group of 20 lawmakers, including some of the chamber’s most conservative members, opposed McCarthy’s speakership, preventing the House from getting to work and delaying the ceremonial swearing-in of hundreds of members. Here’s what happened.
Why Is There No Speaker?
To be elected speaker, a candidate must receive a majority of votes cast on the House floor. If no member abstains or votes “present,” that totals 218 votes. House Republicans hold 222 seats in the new Congress, so McCarthy could only afford to lose four GOP votes to reach 218. McCarthy received 203 votes on the first and second ballots and only 202 on the third. The position is traditionally filled on the first day of a new Congress, followed by the swearing-in of new members, but with the floor fight spilling into Wednesday, members-elect have yet to take the oath of office.
What Does This Mean?
Without a speaker, the House cannot fully form since that person effectively serves as the chamber’s presiding officer and the institution’s administrative head.
Swearing in members, naming committee chairs, engaging in floor proceedings and launching oversight investigations will all be delayed until a speaker is elected and sworn into office.
On Tuesday, newly elected lawmakers arrived on the House floor with their families, expecting to officially be sworn in and begin their first day in office. Instead, they waited for hours as the speaker election went through multiple rounds of voting — the first time that has happened in 100 years.
Every new Congress must pass a new set of House rules, so without a speaker to oversee adoption of those rules, none will technically exist. Without an approved House Rules package by the end of business on January 13, committees won’t be able to pay staff, according to a letter sent last week by the committee in charge of administrative matters, reported by Politico.
The same memo warned that student loan payments for committee staff wouldn’t be disbursed if a rules package isn’t adopted by mid-January. It’s just one of the many ways a battle over the next speaker could paralyze the House and the Republican majority from operating efficiently in their opening days.
What Happens Next?
Republicans are expected to reconvene on Wednesday to try to elect a speaker once more, despite uncertainty about McCarthy’s ability to rebound after becoming the first House speaker nominee in 100 years to fail to win the gavel with his party in the majority.