Despite a new term of U.S. Congress beginning on Tuesday, the House of Representatives has not yet been able to elect a new Speaker of the House.
They’ve so far held six ballots, with no successful candidate.
Here’s the context you need to know.
U.S. Congress is made up of two houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate.
A new two-year term of Congress began on Tuesday.
The new composition of Congress was decided at the midterm elections, which were held in November last year. Midterms are held at the midpoint of every presidential term, with every seat in the House of Reps and about one-third of the Senate elected.
At the midterms, the Democrats maintained a majority of seats in the Senate, but lost their majority to the Republicans in the House of Reps.
As the party with the majority in the House of Reps, the Republicans can elect a new speaker.
The speaker – most recently Nancy Pelosi – is the political and parliamentary leader of the House of Reps and second in the line to the President, after the Vice President.
A new speaker
To elect a new speaker, a majority of votes (218 votes) is needed for a single candidate. The Republicans have 222 seats in the House.
The number of votes required could change if some members withhold their votes.
The most likely candidate is Republican Kevin McCarthy, who was the House Minority Leader for the last four years.
After six ballots over two days, McCarthy has been unable to secure a majority of votes.
In the last three votes, McCarthy has received 201 votes, with 20 Republicans backing Republican Byron Donalds instead.
One Republican abstained from the last three votes, which meant the threshold needed to win was reduced to 217.
Meanwhile, the Democrats unanimously elected Hakeem Jeffries as their House Minority Leader.
The House cannot begin proceedings until a speaker is elected.
This scenario is extremely rare. In fact, this is the first time in 100 years that more than one vote has been needed to elect a speaker.
This process has the potential to drag on for weeks or months. In 1856, for example, 133 separate ballots had to be cast over a two-month period before a speaker was elected.
Why has this happened?
While speaking to CNN earlier today, Donalds said the standoff was part of a “deliberative conversation about what leadership is going to be like in the nation’s capital”.
He said he didn’t think McCarthy should withdraw from the vote yet as there is still a pathway for McCarthy to become speaker.
Will this affect the presidential race?
Not directly – the speaker vote is entirely separate from the presidential election, and the president doesn’t have a vote in who is elected as speaker.
However, the performance of the major parties in Congress over the current session, including in parliamentary votes, could sway voter opinion, which may then influence the presidential race.