House Speaker vote requires record-breaking fifteen ballots

The United States House of Representatives met in early January 2023 in the capitol building to elect a new Speaker of The House. The position of Speaker is critical to the business of the legislative body, wielding the power to kill or advance key legislation. 

Historically, the first day of congress has been chiefly a procedural day for new members of the House. For the last century, the House Speaker has been elected by the majority party on the first ballot, with members being sworn in and pictures being taken with the newly elected Speaker and the members’ families shortly after the Speakership election. But the start of the 2023 legislative session was anything but procedural, with a fierce battle over who should occupy the office of the Speaker occupying the House for its first several days in session.

The Republicans, the majority party, selected Congressman Kevin McCarthy to become the next Speaker. However, 20 members of the Republican Caucus continued to oppose McCarthy’s ascension to the Speakership, demanding that he step aside or make concessions designed to weaken the office of the Speaker. Historically, the majority party has always had a large enough majority to work around dissent amongst their members, but with a razor-thin four-seat majority, McCarthy could not afford to lose any support.

Throughout 15 ballots, McCarthy was unable to gain a majority of votes to win the Speakership, marking the longest Speaker battle in over a century. Right-wing members of the Republican caucus like Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz led the effort against McCarthy, leading to fist fights and even former President Donald Trump receiving votes to become Speaker of the House. Eventually, McCarthy negotiated the votes necessary to gain a majority, promising a highly decentralized speakership that would allow every member of the House to challenge the Speaker’s authority on crucial legislative and budgetary issues.

While the length of the Speakership battle was historic, other milestones were reached during the 15 ballots. For the first time in history, black members of Congress received a majority of total votes on a ballot, with Democratic members voting for Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries and Republican defectors voting for Republican Congressman Byron Donalds. After the election of Speaker McCarthy, Jeffries will now act as the minority leader in the US House, leading the Democrats in their opposition against the Republican majority in the House.

Many battles lay ahead for this Congress, with the national debt reaching the debt ceiling and the federal government facing a deficit worth billions of dollars. It is unclear how the battle over the Speakership will affect Republican negotiations with Democratic President Joe Biden, but many in the media speculate that congressional deadlock is soon to come.