New Congress to be sworn in Tuesday: How is the speaker of the House elected?

A new congressional term begins Tuesday as members of the 118th Congress are set to be sworn in while questions remain over whether House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy can get enough votes to be elected speaker of the House.

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According to The Washington Post, McCarthy, R-Calif., and his supporters spent the weekend trying to win over Republican holdouts who threaten to keep him from the speakership.

With Republicans holding only a narrow majority in the House, 222 Republicans compared with 212 Democrats, McCarthy can lose only four GOP votes and still be elected.

The first official act of the House in a new Congress is to elect a speaker, and no other member of the House can be sworn in before that happens.

The speaker of the House, in addition to deciding what comes to the floor for a vote, is, per the Constitution, second in line to succeed the president. The speaker is in line behind the vice president.

How is a speaker of the House chosen? Here is how it works.

At noon, the clerk of the House will gavel in the new Congress and call a quorum, or call for the minimum number of members that must be present for business to be done.

Candidates for speaker are nominated by each party’s caucus or conference. On Tuesday, Democrats will place New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ name into nomination. Republicans are expected to place McCarthy’s name into nomination.

No rule requires the nominee to be an elected member of the House, according to Article I, Section II of the Constitution. Candidates nominated for the position who were not members of the House when they were nominated include former Sec. of State Colin Powell, Georgia politician Stacy Abrams and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky.

After nominations are offered, the speaker is elected by roll call vote. A candidate must receive a majority of the votes cast to become speaker. If all members of the House are present and voting, the majority is 218 votes.

If all the members are not present, it is a majority of the members present and voting who selects the speaker. If no candidate wins a majority, the roll call is repeated until a speaker is elected.

In 1849, the House was in session 19 days without being able to elect a speaker, with no candidate having received a majority of the votes cast. The House voted 59 times before it adopted a resolution that declared that the speaker could be elected by a plurality – the person who receives the most votes even if it is not a majority.

In 1856, the same thing happened except the House had 129 votes before declaring the candidate could be elected by a plurality.