Rep. Kevin McCarthy has the support of a majority of Republicans to be the GOP leader but has so far not secured enough votes to become House speaker in three rounds of voting.
When House members require multiple ballots, or votes, to elect their speaker, which is referred to as a “floor fight.”
In the 200-plus years since the first two-year Congress met in 1789, such floor fights have occurred just 14 times, according to the House historian.
All but one of those multi-ballot speaker elections took place before the Civil War as the two-party system was evolving. Back then, floor fights were routine.
A floor fight has only taken place once since the Civil War, exactly 100 years ago, when it took nine ballots for Rep. Frederick Gillett of Massachusetts to be elected speaker in 1923.
The epic record for a floor fight: In 1855 and 1856, it took 133 separate votes for Rep. Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts to be elected, again by a plurality and not a majority.
The process stretched over more than a month and included a sort of inquisition on the House floor of the three contenders as they answered questions about their view of the expansion of slavery. Read more from the House historian’s website.
It’s also interesting to read about Banks; his official House biography notes he was elected to office as a Republican, an independent, a member of the America Party and as a Democrat.
There is some mystery in the process: Politico notes it’s been so long that the exact procedure if no one has a majority is a smidge unclear. A Congressional Research Service brief on electing the speaker simply says that if no one gets a majority, the vote is repeated.
Way back in 1849, the House had been in session so long without being able to elect a speaker – 19 days – that members voted to elect their speaker with a plurality rather than a majority. Members ultimately confirmed the plurality election with a majority vote.
It doesn’t always require 218 votes: A majority of those present and voting is required to get the speakership, which is usually 218 lawmakers. But if enough people skip the vote or vote “present,” the number of votes required for a majority can drop.