As we always say, it’s about the math. And the math is a moving target as the Speaker’s vote moves into a second day.
Here’s the problem: Fox is hearing rumblings that at least two GOP members may need to be absent later this week. Absences on either side start to alter the math of the equation to win the Speakership.
The House began at 434 members today. Republicans have 222 members. But 20 support Rep.-elect Jim Jordan (R-OH). So, the number of members who currently support Rep.-elect Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is 202. However, Fox is told that number could dwindle – both in terms of attendance and GOPers who don’t believe McCarthy can ever pull it out. There are starting to be serious conversations around the Capitol now about vote attrition for McCarthy. Don’t forget that McCarthy failed to get the votes to succeed former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in October, 2015. What we are witnessing now is a fight which was delayed by seven years and is now playing out in full few, blocking the entire Congress from electing its Constitutional officer for the legislative branch of government.
Thus, the total number of members voting and voting for McCarthy could change.
Here’s another phenomenon to watch for: McCarthy’s biggest help and hindrance right now are the 20 GOPers voting for someone else by name. Voting for Jordan by name helps McCarthy stay in the game for now. But it obviously prevents him from securing the Speakership. However, the danger is lurking if McCarthy opponents were to switch their vote to ‘present.’ Voting ‘present’ doesn’t count against the overall vote total. Thus, it lowers the total number of lawmakers voting for someone by name. Prospective House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) outpolled McCarthy on every single vote, capturing the ballots of all 212 Democrats.
The doomsday scenario for McCarthy and Republicans is if some McCarthy supporters start to disappear or vote ‘present.’ Under such circumstances, Jeffries is inching close to winning an outright majority of those casting ballots by name. Jeffries outpaced McCarthy by nine to 10 votes on each tally today.
House Democratic leaders did not respond to a question at a press conference this evening as to whether they were telling their members to stay close to the floor. If Democrats have more members on hand that GOPers, this gets to be a problem. Keep in mind that Democrats have a defined leadership team at this moment. Republicans do not. That counts for a great deal in these rocky circumstances.
Also, there are no objection or demand for a roll call vote when Rep.-elect Tom Cole (R-OK) moved for the House to adjourn at the conclusion of the third roll call vote tonight. It’s possible that McCarthy opponents – teaming with Democrats – could demand a recorded vote on a motion to adjourn and block the House from adjourning.
McCarthy and his supporters needed the breather tonight. So it’s probably good from their perspective that the House isn’t continuing to vote and is adjourned. That’s because continued, repeated votes runs the risk of having people stray from the chamber. This is important the longer this goes on. A vote AGAINST an adjournment and keep the House in session, round the clock. This could work against McCarthy. Or, if the right mixture of his opponents and Democrats were absent on subsequent Speaker votes, it’s possible that the continued votes could help McCarthy.
Keep in mind that there is precedent in both 1849 and 1856 for the House to take a vote to lower the threshold for someone to win the Speakership from an outright majority of all members voting for someone by name versus a plurality. The House could approve such a resolution to help McCarthy. But, if the House were to do that now, you know you has a plurality? Hakeem Jeffries.