The 2023 U.S. House Speaker Vote began on January 3. It ended on January 7 after 15 rounds of roll call voting, a format where each member’s name is called and their nomination for the Speaker recorded. The recent vote for the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was the latest episode of political division and dysfunction in the legislative branch of the United States.
To offer some context about the significance of this event, the last time the Speaker vote took more than a single ballot was exactly 100 years ago in 1923. Before the Speaker of the House is elected, House members cannot be sworn in, which means that the House cannot perform any of its duties.
The drama had been brewing even before the vote, when an unspecified number of Republican representatives tried to negotiate with Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) into agreeing to a package of rule changes, including a change that would allow a single lawmaker to initiate a snap vote to replace the House Speaker, in exchange for their votes. For years, McCarthy has been viewed as the GOP’s top choice for Speaker. This group of representatives from the Freedom Caucus of the Republican Party caused a threat to this possibility.
And that turned out to be the case. In the first ballot, 19 Republicans voted for a Speaker choice other than McCarthy. This meant that the razor-thin Republican majority was not able to elect McCarthy to be the Speaker of the House. The Democratic nominee, Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), led the first ballot. However, he was not elected either, because the vote required an absolute majority for the winner, which Jeffries did not reach. The Democratic party’s lack of majority made it impossible for them to elect Jeffries as the speaker.
Similar things happened for the next three days. There were 11 more votes for Speaker, and the vote counts barely budged. However, things changed dramatically on the fourth day. In the 12th vote and the 13th vote, more than half of the Republican defectors started voting for McCarthy. The House then went into an adjournment, and planned to come back at 10 p.m. for another round of voting. The Republican leaders were confident that McCarthy would be elected in the 14th round. However, things did not go as smoothly as they imagined. In the 14th round, McCarthy received 216 votes, with the other 216 representatives voting for another candidate. McCarthy, again, did not reach the majority that he needed. Noticeably, congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) waited until the very end to cast his “present” vote. McCarthy would have won the speakership had Gaetz voted for him in that dramatic moment. Thus, Republicans proposed to adjourn until noon of Monday, January 9. However, as the vote to adjourn was proceeding, McCarthy and his allies suddenly rushed to the front of the House, and changed their vote in favor of adjournment: they had gained the vote they needed to elect McCarthy as the Speaker. All of the staunch McCarthy opposers voted “present,” which gave McCarthy the majority. He was finally elected the Speaker of the US House of Representatives on midnight of January 7.
The 15th ballot ended days of paralysis on the House floor. By and large, the Concord Academy community felt quite disappointed by the dysfunction of the U.S. government that this predicament represented. “The American political machine is very dysfunctional, and it reflects badly on the internal affairs of the Republican Party,” said John Oh ’23. Lawmakers were sworn in soon after McCarthy was elected Speaker. However, this chaotic vote is likely to be a precursor of the political dysfunction in the two years to come in the House.