Brooklyn’s own Hakeem Jeffries, the newly minted House Democratic Leader, won the first three rounds of voting for House speaker Tuesday afternoon over Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA) — though he fell short of the 218-vote majority needed to win the post.
In the first round, Jeffries managed to eke out 212 votes to McCarthy’s 202, with all House Democrats standing behind their new leader. However, that’s the most votes Jeffries is likely to get and it falls short of the 218 he would need to capture the top post in the 435-member chamber.
McCarthy’s first attempt at taking the speakership was derailed by Republicans, who hold a slim 222-vote majority, splitting their ballots between him; Congress Member Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), who received 10 votes; and nine votes went to a handful of members who weren’t formally nominated including Jim Jordan of Ohio and former New York Congress Member Lee Zeldin.
Jordan backed McCarthy in the second round, but Florida Congress Member Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) nominated Jordan for the speakership. The second round went about the same for Jeffries, who again had the most votes at 212. McCarthy secured 203, and Jordan got all 19 defector votes from the first round.
McCarthy also came up short in the third round, again getting just 202 votes from his own caucus, with 20 dissenters.
The House will enter additional rounds until one candidate wins a 218-seat majority. McCarthy is the first nominee for speaker by the majority party not to be elected in the first round of voting in 100 years.
The deadlock could be broken any number of ways, most likely through backroom negotiating. A compromise candidate may also eventually emerge, and the vote does not necessarily have to come along party lines.
But until a speaker is elected (some pundits say it may take hours or even days), the House of Representatives cannot move on to their other legislative business — including the official swearing-in of the members. The Senate, firmly under Democratic control, also convened Tuesday and is operating normally.
Republicans took back control of Washington’s lower chamber in the 2022 midterms after four years of Democratic control, under the leadership of outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA). As the narrow GOP minority for the past four years, McCarthy seemed the most likely to succeed Pelosi as speaker but has hit roadblocks with far-right defectors in his party who want to see someone more inline with their ideology take the speaker’s gavel over him.
While presenting McCarthy’s bid for the speakership, Republican New York Congress Member Elise Stefanik, who represents much of the North Country, said that his leadership will be a much needed antidote to the past two years of Democrats controlling the House, U.S. Senate and the White House.
“Under Kevin McCarthy’s leadership, House Republicans drafted a bold vision to put our nation back on track,” Stefanik said. “Our commitment to America is a promise to the American people that this new Republican majority will stand up for an economy that is strong, a nation that’s safe, a future that’s built upon freedom and a government that’s accountable to the people.”
As they voted for McCarthy, some Republicans recognized the speaker’s race could last for multiple rounds.
“No matter how many times it takes,” said Congress Member Nicole Malliotakis (Staten Island, Brooklyn), while casting her vote.
In presenting Jeffries, Congress Member Pete Aguilar (D-CA) — who replaced Jeffries as chair of the House Democratic Caucus – said the party is “unified” behind Jeffries. Aguilar pointed to the distinctions between Jeffries and McCarthy, most notably that McCarthy is a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump and Jeffries is not.
“He does not traffic in extremism, he does not grovel to or make excuses for a twice-impeached so-called former president,” Aguilar said. “He does not bend a knee to anyone who would seek to undermine our democracy because, madam clerk, that’s not what leaders do.”
“Because he understands what great leaders of this chamber understand: that this body and this institution are best equipped to serve the needs of this democracy and the beautiful mosaic of the members it sends,” Aguilar continued, “that our responsibility as members of this body is to protect the American dream and honor the sacrifice of the generations before us.”
This story was updated, to reflect the third round of voting, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan 3, 2022.