Rep. Kevin McCarthy Chosen as House Speaker in Dramatic Vote
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Rep. Kevin McCarthy Chosen as House Speaker in Dramatic Vote

It’s unusual for a vote over Speaker of the House to make headline news for days on end. In fact, a new Speaker is chosen every time a new session of Congress begins following an election. Republicans gained seats in the November 2022 midterm elections thereby giving them control of the House of Representatives in the new Congress. But choosing a Speaker turned out to be a far more complicated process for the new 118th Congress.  

What Happened? 

The Speaker’s job is to maintain order in the House and manage its proceedings. The Speaker recognizes members who want to speak, decides when to call a vote, and ensures that House procedures are followed. A nominee needs 218 votes to be elected Speaker of the House. The leading candidate for the job was California Rep. Kevin McCarthy. He previously served as House minority leader. But McCarthy faced significant opposition from conservatives in his own party. After fifteen rounds of voting over several days, McCarthy finally received enough votes to be elected Speaker on January 7, 2023. This was the longest contest for Speaker in 164 years. This is important because the House can’t start conducting business or even swear in new members until a Speaker is chosen. 

Negotiating a Successful Deal 

So how did McCarthy finally secure enough votes to win? McCarthy made several important concessions to his more conservative colleagues that were voting against him. This eventually convinced them to switch their votes in support of him. He had to agree to call for a vote on some key conservative legislation, such as border security and congressional term limits. He also had to agree to spending cuts, including cuts to domestic programs. He agreed to put more Freedom Caucus members on important committees. (Freedom Caucus refers to a group of the most conservative members of Congress.) Also, any single House member can now call for a motion to vacate the Speaker’s chair, which effectively weakens the Speaker’s position. 

The Democrats Choose Jeffries 

Democrats don’t have control of the House of Representatives anymore, but they still need to select their own leader. House Democrats unanimously selected New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries as the new minority leader back in November 2022, during a closed-door vote. Jeffries’ election makes history in several ways. He will be the first African American lawmaker to lead a party in Congress. At 52 years old, he is also the first leader of the House Democrats to be born after the end of World War II. 

Dig Deeper The longest contest for House Speaker in history was in 1859, when the vote lasted 44 rounds. Use Internet resources to learn more about why that vote was so difficult. Write a paragraph about what you find.