I've now read that McCarthy has failed 6 times in his bid to be speaker, many in the past few days. Why is it only him that I'm reading about? Can the Democrats nominate someone too, even if they fail to secure the role of speaker?

Who gets to decide that McCarthy gets a 7th bid, or when someone else can be voted on?

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    Both answers focus on the official process, but do not cover how someone gets to be the obvious candidate. The behind the scenes negotiation and favour trading. cnn.com/2022/12/29/politics/kevin-mccarthy-house-speaker-bid/… and cnn.com/2018/11/23/politics/…
    – Jontia
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 7:51
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    The Democrats have nominated someone (Hakeem Jeffries), six times so far. He failed to get a majority of the votes by surname (six times so far). To be the Speaker, the nominee must receive a majority of the votes that were votes by surname. (The votes for "Present" do not count. Heaven forbid if there ever becomes a person named some-first-name Present who is nominated for Speaker.) Given present circumstances, if 31 Democrats vote "Present", that will be enough to make McCarthy the Speaker. Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 7:55

2 Answers 2


Before each roll-call vote, members-elect are given the opportunity to nominate candidates by the Clerk of the House. They do so simply by stating that they are doing so; take for example the proceedings recorded in the Congressional Record before the first roll-call vote on January 3rd 2023:

The CLERK. Pursuant to law and precedent, the next order of business is the election of the Speaker of the House of Representatives for the 118th Congress. Nominations are now in order. The Clerk recognizes the gentlewoman from New York (Ms. STEFANIK).

Ms. STEFANIK Madam Clerk, on behalf of the House Republican Conference, I rise today to nominate the gentleman from California, KEVIN MCCARTHY, as Speaker of the House to lead America’s new Republican majority.

Stefanik then continues on in her speech, concluding with:

Madam Clerk, as the chair of the Re- publican Conference, it is my high honor to present our Conference’s nominee for election to the office of the Speaker of the people’s House, the Honorable KEVIN MCCARTHY from the State of California.

The Clerk then continues, allowing Mr. Anguilar of California to nominate Hakeem Jeffries, and Mr. Gosar of Arizona to nominate Andy Biggs before voting commences.

However, although these three candidates were the only ones formally nominated, members-elect are free to vote for any individual they like, without needing to nominate them to be a formal candidate beforehand. You can see this from the results of the first ballot. The individual doesn't even have to be a member of the House; according to the CRS report Speaker of the House Elections 1913-2021, votes were cast for candidates who were not representatives or members-elect in "1997, 2013, 2015 (both instances), 2019, and 2021".

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    Your answers are always on point. So just to be absolutely clear, nomination in entirely ceremonial and the voting itself is a round where people put down anyone's name, which they keep doing until they have a majority. Commented Jan 4, 2023 at 23:45
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    @EvanCarroll exactly, except as it's a roll-call vote the reps each read out who they're voting for in turn rather than writing them down somewhere.
    – CDJB
    Commented Jan 4, 2023 at 23:47
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    @CDJB In particular, it's a roll call vote by the members-elect. The newly elected members aren't officially representatives at the time of voting. They become official after being sworn in, and that happens after the speaker is elected. The swearing in is one of the duties of the speaker. Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 6:23
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    @DavidHammen good point, fixed
    – CDJB
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 7:28
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    As to your last point, Donald Trump was nominated and got a single vote last night despite not being a member of the House.
    – kuhl
    Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 15:48

Supplemental answer to address the news side of it:

You're only reading about McCarthy because the Democrats are business-as-usual (nominate one person, have all D's vote for him) but don't have enough votes for it to matter, and no other Republican is actively trying to become Speaker (as far as I've heard as of this writing).

It's not a "yes/no" vote on McCarthy, it's an open vote between everyone whom a Representative wants to vote for, but the winner has to get an actual majority. In the usual process for Congress, all the Democrats would vote for their candidate (Hakeem Jeffries this year), all the Republicans would vote for theirs (McCarthy), and whichever party had more seats would win. (A few people might cast a protest vote against their party's candidate, but there are few enough of them and enough other members that they don't affect the outcome.) In that scenario, McCarthy would have won 222 to 212 over Jeffries. But because there are a small group of Republicans who refuse to vote for him, and the Republicans have the majority by such a thin margin, he doesn't have enough votes to win - but neither does anyone else.

Since the vast majority of the Republican Representatives want McCarthy as Speaker, they're (theoretically) going to keep nominating him as long as he wants to keep trying, and he will keep failing until enough people change their votes. The Democrats will keep quietly attempting to select Jeffries and watching him also fail to get enough votes, but since that's the expected outcome and there's nothing unusual going on there, it doesn't really make any headlines.

  • Respectfully, this doesn't even attempt to answer the question and it's all based on both chambers being saturated with politicians with a partisan-frame rather than a materialist-frame. I reject that foundation. Commented Jan 4, 2023 at 23:47
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    @EvanCarroll - Yes, it explicitly doesn't cover the same ground that CDJB covered in the other answer. But that answer didn't address the "Why only him?" question, so I figured I'd supplement it with this. As for the rest, I really don't understand what you're saying. The answer is about what makes the news. Democrats voting as a block for a Dem nominee isn't really newsworthy, since it's what happens in every other year, so it doesn't make any headlines. If some of them make a deal and change their vote, then that will be on the news.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 5:22
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    @EvanCarroll I think that's why I put "normal" in quotes. Read it as "this is how it's worked for the last 50 Congresses, but there's no particular reason it has to be that way". I can replace that with "usual" instead, if you think that's a better word.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 15:11
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    What also makes this less "normal" is the razor-thin margin that one party has. With a larger majority, they can elect a speaker despite a handful of holdouts.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 15:48
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    @EvanCarroll Eh, the margin of victory for a party is usually going to result in enough seats that a few dissenters can just be ignored, rather than negotiated with. That isn't to say there wasn't any dealmaking, but it would have all taken place during the (closed) intra-party caucuses where they picked who to put forward as Speaker, and so the public vote goes smoothly. But I did add a sidebar about protest votes, because they certainly have happened - it's just never mattered.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jan 5, 2023 at 17:37

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