US House speaker election: who is Speaker of House of Representatives, how many votes did Kevin McCarthy get?

Republican Kevin McCarthy has now lost eleven rounds of votes - the first time in a century a nominee failed to win the first vote.

US politics is in chaos after Republican Kevin McCarthy repeatedly failed in his bid to be elected Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The Californian Congressman was the leading candidate to replace Democrat Nancy Pelosi in the role, but failed to win the required majority in eleven consecutive rounds of voting after a group of hardline rightwingers continually refused to give him the majority required. It is the first time in a century that a nominee failed to win the first vote.

The House adjourned for the third time on Thursday (5 January), with the next vote set to be held on Friday (6 January) - but there’s no telling how long this will continue. So what exactly happens next, why did this happen to McCarthy, and what even is the Speaker of the House? Here’s what you need to know.

What is the Speaker of the House?

The Speaker of the House is one of the most important jobs in US politics. Whoever holds the role is the second in the presidential line of succession, after the vice president (currently Kamala Harris).

They act as the presiding officer of the House, which is one of Congress’ two chambers - the other being the Senate. President Joe Biden is facing a Republican majority in the House for the first time, but the Democrats will keep control of the Senate.

The Speaker’s duties include maintaining order, managing who sits on committees, and controlling the legislative agenda and timetable in the House. They are also charged with recognising members who seek to address the House and putting matters to a vote.

Republican Kevin McCarthy repeatedly failed in his bid to be elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. Credit: Getty Images

How does the voting process work?

The voting process can officially begin after candidates have been nominated by other Representatives of the House. McCarthy was formally nominated by Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the third-ranking House Republican.

He told the floor: “Under Kevin McCarthy’s leadership, House Republicans drafted a bold vision to put our nation back on track. No one in this party has worked harder for this Republican majority than Kevin McCarthy.”

Meanwhile, Hakeem Jeffries was nominated for the Democrats, with California Democrat Pete Aguilar saying the party is “unified behind a speaker who is an apologetic advocate for protecting and expanding our freedoms.”

The hard-right Republicans, who are opposing McCarthy, have so far nominated three members of Congress to oppose the California representative. First they nominated Andy Biggs, of Arizona, who took part in the first vote. For the second and third votes they put up Jim Jordan of Ohio, while on Wednesday (4 January), McCarthy was opposed in all three votes by Byron Donalds from Florida. Members of Congress are then asked in alphabetical order who they are voting for - a process which can take an hour or so.

Hakeem Jeffries is the nominee from the Democrats. Credit: Getty Images

What were the results of the vote?

To become Speaker of the House, a candidate needs to receive at least 218 votes. This amounts to an outright majority of the 434 members who can vote.

In the first round, the results were:

  • Kevin McCarthy (Republican) - 203 votes
  • Hakeem Jeffries (Democrat) - 212 votes
  • Andy Biggs (Republican) - 10 votes
  • Others - 9 votes

Nineteen Republicans voted for someone other than McCarthy, meaning enough defected to force a second round. In the leadup to the second vote, Jordan was nominated, putting him in a slightly sticky situation as he had just stood up to endorse McCarthy.

The result of the second round of votes were:

  • Kevin McCarthy (Republican) - 203 votes
  • Hakeem Jeffries (Democrat) - 212 votes
  • Jim Jordan (Republican) - 19 votes

Things didn’t improve for McCarthy in the third round. He actually lost a vote, with 20 Republicans now voting to back opponent Jim Jordan:

  • Kevin McCarthy (Republican) - 202 votes
  • Hakeem Jeffries (Democrat) - 212 votes
  • Jim Jordan (Republican) - 20 votes

During the fourth, fifth and sixth votes, McCarthy actually lost another vote - with Victoria Spartz abstaining and voting present - which means the majority threshold drops to 217. McCarthy’s Republican opposition also put up a third representative Byron Donalds.

  • Kevin McCarthy (Republican) - 201 votes
  • Hakeem Jeffries (Democrat) - 212 votes
  • Byron Donalds (Republican) - 20 votes
  • Present (abstaining) - 1 vote

Why did McCarthy lose the vote?

When Republicans won control of the House in November, it was by a narrow margin. That meant that McCarthy only had a few votes to spare in order to still win a majority over the Democrats - so it only took a few to ruin his bid.

McCarthy has generally been considered as part of the more moderate wing of the Republicans, so his downfall was brought about by a group of hardline conservatives or ‘rightwingers’, including Lauren Boebert, Scott Perry, Chip Roy and Ralph Norman.

The nomination of Jordan exemplified this, as he is seen by many as the epitome of the right of the party. He is both a long-standing supporter of Donald Trump and one of the founding members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.

One Republican, who wanted to remain anonymous, told BBC News that the rebellion was expected. They said: “Kevin McCarthy has not made friends with certain segments of the caucus for a while, he’s made a lot of enemies. There’s people who don’t like him for political reasons, for personal reasons."

Jim Jordan is considered as one of the more right-wing members of the Republican Party. Credit: Getty Images

What has been said?

McCarthy has remained optimistic, despite his defeats. He told reporters after the adjournment that “if this takes a little longer and it doesn’t meet your deadline that’s okay. Because it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” He added: “If we finish well, we’ll be very successful.”

“Well, it’s Groundhog Day,” said Republican Kat Cammack, in nominating McCarthy on the sixth ballot. “To all Americans watching right now, We hear you. And we will get through this — no matter how messy.”

But the right-flank conservatives, led by the Freedom Caucus and aligned with Donald Trump, appeared emboldened by the standoff — even though Trump publicly backed McCarthy.

“This is actually an invigorating day for America,” said Republican Byron Donalds, who was nominated three times by his rightwing colleagues as an alternative. “There’s a lot of members in the chamber who want to have serious conversations about how we can bring this all to a close and elect a speaker.”

President Joe Biden, departing the White House for a bipartisan event in Kentucky with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, said “the rest of the world is looking” at the scene on the floor of the House. “I just think it’s really embarrassing it’s taking so long,” Mr Biden said.

Texas Congressman and Democrat Joaquin Castro wrote on Twitter: “Kevin McCarthy has been rejected for the speakership 11 times by his own party. At this point he should accept “no” for an answer so that the House of Representatives can elect a Speaker and get on with serving the American people.” The Democrats have remained united behind their nominee Hakeem Jeffries throughout.

Rep. Byron Donalds. Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

What happens next?

The House will hold a twelfth vote on Fridat (6January). They will keep voting until a Speaker is chosen, and until then, the House cannot proceed with any other business - meaning new member cannot be sworn in, and new laws cannot be proposed or voted on.

McCarthy’s losses does not mean his candidacy is over. He can continue to be nominated in the next votes, but it is unclear how exactly he may be able to convince his Republican rebels to support him. The last time a candidate failed to secure the necessary votes on the first round of ballots occurred in 1923. It then took nine ballots - and several days - to select a speaker.

What does it all mean?

McCarthy’s failure to be elected speaker on his first attempt - and on the two other occasions - has weakened his and his party’s credibility. The Republicans seemed even more divided given that the Democrats remained rallied behind their candidate Jeffries.