The threat to oppose Republican Congressman Kevin
McCarthy’s bid to become the new speaker of the U.S.
House on January 3, 2023 has created the unusual
possibility that the new members of the 118th Congress
will not be sworn in just after noon on that date — and
therefore no U.S. House of Representatives will exist
until that election is resolved.
The U.S. constitution states that the terms of the
members of the previous Congress automatically end
at noon on January 3. The clerk of the House at that
time convenes the new session, a prayer is said,
followed by the pledge of allegiance. The clerk then
conducts the election of the new speaker. When that
speaker is elected, he or she then swears in all the
Since 1924, the election of the new speaker has taken
only one ballot, and the technical circumstance of "no
existing" House of Representatives has only lasted a
In order to be elected speaker, a member must receive
a majority of those present. The U.S. House currently
has 435 members, so a majority is 218. One newly
elected Democratic member has passed away, but the
majority is still 218.
At least five Republicans have indicated they will not
honor the previously taken vote which selected Kevin
McCarthy as speaker-designate by a vote of 188 to 31.
The man who lost that vote, Andy Biggs, has decided to
run against McCarthy on January 3, and if the five (or
more) fellow Republicans vote for Biggs, McCarthy will
be one vote (or more) short of the required 218. (There
are 222 Republicans elected to the new House.)
The Democrats will nominate Hakeem Jeffers for
speaker, but he would only have 212 if his entire
caucus votes for him. The election will then go to a
second ballot, and if McCarthy fails to receive 218
votes on that ballot, there will be a third ballot, and
so on until someone (technically not necessarily
an elected member) does obtain a majority.
Only once in the past 150 years has there been more
than one ballot for speaker. In 1923, it took nine ballots
for Republican Frederick Gillett to win. But in 1855, it
took 133 ballots and two months to elect Nathaniel
Banks as speaker.
In addition to opposition to McCarthy based on his
record as minority leader, his opponents have called
for a change of House rules which McCarthy has so
far refuse to say he would do. McCarthy has received
praise for his recruitment of Republican members in
2022, and for the success of his campaign fundraising.
He has been endorsed by virtually all Republican
At this writing, neither side has budged. An agreement
could made before January 3, but unless that happens,
there will be a lot of suspense in the House chamber
on that date at the noon hour.
Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.