Kevin McCarthy’s Speaker of the House vote was the fourth longest in history

Are we in one of the most divisive times in American politics?

Bonnie K. Goodman
24 min readJan 8


By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The news media is making a huge deal about the Republican House of Representatives not coming to a consensus vote and making GOP leader Kevin McCarthy Speaker of the House. For three days after the 118th Congress convened on January 3, 2023, to January 6, the House went through 14 votes, with Republicans from the Freedom Caucus opposing him. Although, by Friday, January 6, McCarthy made some strides inching closer to capturing the speakership after he made some concessions with the far-right representatives of his party. Finally, in a late-night vote on Saturday morning, January 7, after the 15th round House Republicans elected McCarthy Speaker of the House, ending a four-day stalemate that put Congress on hold.

On Friday, January 6, the second anniversary of the attack on Capitol Hill, in the 14th vote, he lost by only one vote, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who voted present, a holdout denying him the speakership. Violence nearly erupted on the House floor as McCarthy ally Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers tried to attack Gaetz, instead screaming at him. Twenty far-right Republicans started this stalemate because they did not find McCarthy “Conservative enough.” Among the opposition was Byron Donalds of Florida, who the Freedom Caucus gave votes to as an alternative as Speaker.

McCarthy made a lot of concessions to gain votes, including giving more powers to the rank and file in creating legislation and the dealmaker, that will put McCarthy agreed to reinstate a rule that allows any member to initiate a vote to oust the Speaker. At the same time, former President Donald Trump called the holdout and told them to get in line and end the internal battle. After winning, McCarthy swore in the new House. McCarthy told the House, accepting the gavel, “As Speaker of the House, my ultimate responsibility is not to my party, my conference, or even our Congress. My responsibility, our responsibility, is to our country.” [1]

Journalists and historians point to two other times in American history where there were multiple votes to capture the Speaker’s post. In 1923 and 1855, however, the situation now has just as much to do with the historical circumstances as with McCarthy and his political stances. Then as now, the country and parties are divided, and these divisions are visible in the votes. The Republicans have long had a problem with McCarthy, and he failed once before to capture the speakership. In the fall of 2015, then-Speaker John Boehner decided to retire as the House majority leader. McCarthy was Boehner’s natural successor, and McCarthy put his hat in the ring. Then, the Republican Freedom Caucus vowed a revolt to block McCarthy’s vote as Speaker. However, McCarthy chose to do the right thing for the House, and the Republicans backed out of the Speaker’s race, which paved the way for a consensus candidate, 2012 GOP Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan to win the Speaker’s vote.

McCarthy’s vote in the 118th Congress is the fourth longest vote for Speaker. The Office of the Historian of the House states there have been 54 speakers voted in the 118 Congresses. [2] Only 14 times in history before this week’s vote has the House needed to vote multiple times to elect a speaker. Among the 13 times, the Speaker’s vote took long before the Civil War, as the country was most divided on the expansion of slavery. However, that was an era in American history where Congress had more powers than the president. Most of the multiple votes needed less than five votes to elect the Speaker; three times, there were between 10 and 12 votes. The longest it took to vote a Speaker was in 1855, going two months and 133 rounds before Nathaniel Prentice Banks assumed the post. The most recent multiple votes were nearly a hundred years ago, in December 1923. Then it took three days for the 68th Congress to reelect Republican Rep. Fredrick Huntington Gillett of Massachusetts as their Speaker.

Historian Julian Zelizer, in his edited book, “The American Congress: The Building Of Democracy,” called them the formative and partisan era, Speakers of the House did not have the experience or influence they do now, except Henry Clay. [3] Most of the speakers that took multiple votes to be elected are barely footnotes in history; most were new to the House, their tenures were often brief, and they did not garner the experience needed to wield influence. Most of the House leaders did not stay long enough. “In the House after 1830, the Speaker selected the chairs of the committees in which legislation originated or was refined, determined who was called on in debate, and had great influence on the policy agendas.” [4]

Historian Joel H. Silbey writes in the chapter “Congress in a Partisan Political Era,” “Speakers were, like their colleagues, often relatively new to the House. And there was a high turnover among them: only three of the fourteen speakers between 1825 and 1860 served more than one term. They moved on to other offices, lost an election, or were replaced when a new majority party took over. In such a situation, where leadership was always changing, the officeholders had little experience with or time to develop effective skills to direct and control any fractious member determined to go his own way in committee or on the floor. Some of the leaders did well despite these limitations; many of the rest, however, succumbed to the pressures encouraging disarray and confusion.” [5]

The House voted the most times for numerous candidates in 1855, before the start of the 34th Congress. The House voted 133 times over two months before they found a consensus candidate in Rep. Nathaniel Prentice Banks of Massachusetts of the American and Free Soil parties. Slavery divided the country and Congress in the 1850s. In 1855, nothing affected the divisions in the vote for Speaker of the House more than the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, which caused violence in Kansas or “Bleeding Kansas.” The divisive Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed those states to decide if they wanted to enter as free or slave states. The act marked the end of the Whig Party, especially in the North; they aligned together and led to the rise of the Republican Party, founded in 1854. The act also caused the sectional division of the Democrats. Northern Democrats had considerable losses in the 1854–1855 midterm elections.

Historian Michael F. Holt writing in his chapter “The Slavery Issue,” explains,

“It shattered the Whigs forever along sectional lines, for furious northern Whigs never forgave the southern Whigs for supporting the measure. It provoked a massive voter backlash in the North against the Democrats in the congressional elections of 1854–1855. While hostility to the Kansas-Nebraska Act was hardly the only issue that damaged the Democrats in those contests, they lost 66 of the 91 northern House seats they had held in 1854, and they would not recover that lost ground until 1874. Most important, along with the northern voter realignment against the Democrats came a reconfiguration of the opposition. As early as the fall of 1854, bipartisan anti-Nebraska coalitions had displaced the Whigs in four northern states, and by 1856 they had evolved across the North into a powerful Republican party that carried 11 of 16 free states in that year’s presidential election, thereby consigning the Whig party to its grave.” [6]

The fall of the Whigs and the Democrats led to the 1855 battle for Speaker of the House. Representatives rallied around their opposition to slavery and Southern Democrats and decided to compromise with the election of a Republican Speaker. Holt recounts:

“Two incidents in the Capitol, however, immeasurably helped the Republicans’ sudden surge to potency in 1856. First, after a prolonged two-month struggle, the House elected a Republican Speaker in January, which signaled that most northern anti-Democratic politicians in Congress were now prepared to rally behind the Republican banner. Second, the aforementioned caning of Charles Sumner allowed the Republicans to combine “Bleeding Sumner” with “Bleeding Kansas” as campaign issues; the caning of Sumner did more than anything else that year to convince infuriated anti-Democratic voters in the North to join the Republican party.” [7]

In December 1855, voting started for Speaker of the House, and over 20 representatives ran for the position. On February 2, 1856, Banks won by only three votes, 103 to 100, over Representative William Aiken of South Carolina. On February 4, 1856, The New York Tribune’s February 4, 1856, issue declared Bank’s vote the “END OF THE GREAT STRUGGLE; TRIUMPH OF THE REPUBLICANS.” While the New York Times, FROM WASHINGTON. BACKBONE TRIUMPHANT. The Election of Nathaniel P. Bankes, Jr., to the Speakership. “What do you think of backbone to-night? The Chivalry are terribly disappointed. They did not dream of BANKS’ ultimate sucess, but for once their reliance on the doughfaces failed them. To-morrow the Speaker will swear in the members.” “The “Union” on the Speakership,” wrote, “Although the result is one every national man must regret, yet as the Republicans have a known majority in the House — and, therefore, are entitled to a Speaker, — there is reason for acquiescing, in as much as it enables the machinery of Government once more to move on.” [8]

The Office of the Historian of the House explains, “Sectional conflict over slavery and a rising anti-immigrant mood in the nation contributed to a poisoned and deteriorating political climate.” [9] The number of Speaker candidates reflected the factionalism in Congress. Banks, 40, was a member of the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing Party and a Republican and he represented the anti-immigrant and anti-Slavery faction. Banks remained Speaker until the 1856 election, when the Democrats again captured the House, Senate, and the presidency. Banks went on to become the Governor of Massachusetts. Banks also had the most party affiliations in history, being associated with four different parties; the Democratic, American Party, Republican, and Independent.” [10]

Before Banks, the longest time it took to vote for a speaker was in 1849 and the 31st Congress. Representatives took 63 rounds from December 3–22, 1849, to vote in Georgia Rep. Howell Cobb. Divisions in Congress were over the expansion of slavery, especially in the newly acquired territories from the Mexican-American War. In 1846, Congress introduced the Wilmot Proviso that would fail to pass; the law would have prevented any territory from Mexico from allowing slavery, a law southerners opposed. Democrats sought to ride a fine line supporting popular sovereignty, allowing the territories to decide on slavery. While the Whigs supported a double standard, first, they opposed adding land from Mexico to prevent any discussion about expanding slavery. Then they opposed any expansion in the North while letting the South do as they wanted. On March 10, 1848, the Senate ratified the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, adding land from the Mexican Cession to the American territory and the slavery debate. [11]

Historian Michael F. Holt writing in his chapter “The Slavery Issue,” notes, “After March 1848, the Whigs in and outside Congress resorted to advocating the proviso in the North and opposing it in the South, a Janus-faced strategy that helped them elect General Zachary Taylor president in 1848.” [12] Although the Whigs captured the presidency for the second time with General Zachery Taylor, the Democrats had majorities in both the House and Senate. Taylor applied the Wilmot Proviso in the South, much to the objection of the Democrats. Taylor wanted California, including Utah and New Mexico, admitted as free states.

The president was inaugurated in March, but the Congress first convened in December, resulting in the speaker votes in December. The divide in Congress was less by party and more by sectional support or opposition to expanding slavery. Southern Whigs backed up Southern Democrats opposing the admission of free states in the South. At the same time, Northern Democrats aligned with Northern Whigs, agreeing that California is a free state, but the rest of the territory is based on popular sovereignty. Holt notes, “With Taylor’s plan lacking the votes to pass, Congress formulated its own policy for the Mexican Cession and two other matters that Taylor had ignored: the Southerners’ demand for a new fugitive slave law and northern demands for the abolition of public slave auctions in the District of Columbia.” After the contentious speaker vote, the parties agreed to the Compromise of 1850. [13] Cobb would be the Speaker for only one term before being elected the Governor of Georgia.

The Speaker’s vote for the 36th Congress on the eve of the 1860 presidential election, barely two years from the start of the Civil War and Southern secession, was almost as contentious as for Banks four years earlier. The House went through 44 votes before finally voting in New Jersey Republican William Pennington. [14] The proslavery Lecompton Constitution in Kansas had brought the slavery issue to the forefront, and Kansas’ status as a free or slave state again divided Congress, and the House of Representatives, realigning party positions. Democratic President James Buchanan wanted Kansas admitted as a slave state. Northern settlers wrote the Lecompton Constitution at an 1857 convention; it violated popular sovereignty, and Kansas residents rejected it in two referendums. Buchanan wanted to force Congressional Democrats to support it, causing a rebellion with Northern Democrats and its leader Senator Stephen Douglas. Holt explains, “Douglas and many of his northern Democratic supporters rebelled. Breaking openly with the Buchanan administration and southern Democrats, they joined the Republicans in opposing its acceptance. They could not stop the Senate from admitting Kansas as a slave state under Lecompton, but in the House, they did.” [15]

Indiana Representative William H. English’s initiative of a second referendum “saved face” for Buchanan and the Democrats. On August 2, 1858, Kansas voters ended any possibility of Kansas being a slave state. The issue split the Democrats in Congress, leading to the fight for the speakership again. Holt indicates, “These events in Congress once again had powerful reverberations throughout the country. They split the northern Democrats between pro and anti-Lecompton men and helped the Republicans gain a number of House seats in the 1858 elections. More important, the southern Democrats, aided by a vengeful Buchanan, turned openly against Douglas and his doctrine of popular sovereignty.” [16] Democrats split at the convention between North and South, Free and slave, leading to two conventions and presidential candidates, Stephen Douglas for North Democrats and Buchanan’s vice president, John C. Breckinridge for Southern Democrats. Pennington served one term as Speaker before New Jersey voters shot him out of his seat, ending his chances of continuing in the position.

The first time the Congress took over a dozen votes to elect a speaker was in 1820 when the 16th Congress (1819–1821) took 22 rounds and three days of voting to make John W. Taylor their Speaker. The vote ran from November 13–15, 1820, and the expansion of slavery was the main reason for the division in the House. The vote came the same year after the first major Congressional negotiation, the Missouri Compromise, aimed at resolving the expansion of slavery in the states. Until then, the states balanced out, one free slave admitted, to keep an equilibrium in the Senate votes, since in the House, the North had more representatives with immigration. Enslaved African Americans counted as the “three-fifths of a person” clause for Congressional representation, and 17 southern states benefitted. The rule did not keep up enough for the South in the House; they still needed some northerner “doughfaces,” which were “northern men with southern principles,” for support to pass measures. With the Missouri Compromise, the House agreed to allow Maine to be free, but Missouri and states below the Mason-Dixon Line were to be admitted as slave states. [17]

Historian Robin L. Einhorn, in her chapter, “The Early Impact of Slavery,” does not think slavery caused the first division but rather was a “culmination” of debates. “Nevertheless, it is incorrect to date the “appearance” of slavery as a divisive issue in Congress to the Missouri debates of 1819–1820, as generations of historians have done. The Missouri debates were a culmination of earlier history every bit as much as they were the start of something new (Thomas Jefferson’s “fire bell in the night”). Slavery — or the fact that the United States was, as Lincoln later said, “half slave and half free” — influenced the early congresses in many ways.” “Additionally, Einhorn notes, “As Leonard Richards has shown, the “slave representation” also boosted southern power in the House in another way. The founders had not anticipated the emergence of the national political parties. As it happened, the structure of these parties amplified the effects of the three-fifth’s clause.” [18]

A hundred years ago, Congress was in the aftermath of a divisive presidency when they went through nine rounds of voting to elect their Speaker. In December 1923, the 68th Congress took three days to elect Republican Rep. Fredrick Huntington Gillett of Massachusetts as their Speaker. Gillett had already served two terms as Speaker when he faced multiple votes to serve his third term. The vote came a few months after scandal-filled Republican president Warren Harding died of a heart attack while on a tour of the country. Harding’s scandals mostly involved those supposedly working for him in administration. The Teapot Dome scandals involved secretly leasing oil reserves for bribes.

Gillett was serving his 15th term in Congress when he was up for reelection as the Speaker. The Progressive wing of the Republicans gave their votes to Henry A. Cooper (R-WI) and Martin B. Madden (R-IL) with 17 and 5 votes. Gillett had to make significant concessions to Progressives to gain their votes; still, two held out and voted for Madden. The following term, Gillet would win a Senate seat serving just one term before retiring after Franklin Roosevelt’s Democratic wave. Gillett comes off now as more of a footnote in history. [19]

In the fall of 2015, I was a reporter for the online news site, I covered American politics, Barack Obama’s Presidency, and Congress. At the time, I wrote about every move that occurred in the race for Boehner’s speaker chair and gavel. McCarthy was set to win the position until news of an affair with a fellow representative was posted on his Wikipedia encyclopedia entry. However, as is occurring now, McCarthy faced a rebellion from a faction of Republicans because of rumors of scandal and his controversial positions.

Are Kevin McCarthy and Renee Ellmers resigning House seats after affair rumors?

October 11, 2015

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is now investigating whether an employee of theirs was responsible for changing House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s R-CA Wikipedia page to say he was having an affair with Rep. Renee Ellmers. [20]News media first reported the investigation on Friday, October 9, 2015. The rumors of the affair are being cited as one of the reasons McCarthy shocked the Congressional Republican Conference on Thursday, October 8, announcing he is dropping out of the race to succeed Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH. Now, the political tabloid behind the affair rumors, is reporting that both McCarthy and Ellmers are planning to resign their Congressional seats over the fiasco. [21]

McCarthy was deemed Boehner’s natural successor. At the time, it was believed that he dropped out because of comments he made about Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s falling poll numbers being a result of the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s ongoing investigation. McCarthy also lost the support of the conservative GOP Freedom Caucus and did not have the 218 votes needed to win the election. However, the persistent rumors of the affair, the changes to McCarthy and Ellmers’ Wikipedia pages, and a cryptic warning letter by Rep. Walter Jones, R-NC, about past “misdeeds” were the real reasons for the surprise withdrawal that has put the House in chaos.

Washington Free Beacon reporter Lachlan Markay was the first to report about a DHS Internet Protocol IP address being behind the Wikipedia page changes. Markay took to Twitter and wrote on October 9, “Someone using a DHS IP address edited Renee Ellmers’ Wikipedia page to allege an affair with McCarthy.” Markay also included screencap photos of the changes and the IP address linking it to DHS.[22]

The DHS discovered on Thursday, October 8, that the IP address that made the changes was traced back to their offices in Springfield, Virginia. DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron issued a statement about the investigation, saying, “DHS has immediately launched an investigation into this serious matter. If it is discovered that a DHS employee, using Government property, is responsible for these alleged actions, immediate and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.” [23]

The Wikipedia page changes are not the first time the affair rumors have been brought up between the two lawmakers; it has been an unfounded gossip topic for years. [24] The Wikipedia entries, however, came at the most strategic time as McCarthy was running for Speaker. Recently, a controversial GOP donor from Chicago, Steve Baer, sent emails personally to Republican representatives informing them of the indiscretions between McCarthy and Ellmers. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, also said the Texas Congressional delegation confronted McCarthy on Tuesday, October 6, who “categorically denied” the affair. also wrote about the possible affair that prompted Ellmer’s lawyer to send the political tabloid news site a cease and desist letter this week for two of their articles about the affair. [25]The first article was published on January 23, 2015, and was entitled “BREAKING EXCLUSIVE: Rep. Kevin McCarthy & Rep. Renee Ellmers Are Having an Affair,” the second article came the day Speaker

Boehner resigned on Friday, September 25, and entitled “EXCLUSIVE: # Boehner’s Replacement Is Carrying On Long Running Affair With Congresswoman.” [26]

Ellmers’ lawyer “Raleigh, NC, attorney Thomas A. Farr” sent the cease and desist letter on October 7 to editor Charles C. Johnson who created the site. Johnson calls himself a “journalist and new media entrepreneur in the spirit of Matt Drudge or Julian Assange.” [27] The letter did not stop Johnson from continuing to report on the story, and wrote on Friday, October 9, that McCarthy and Ellmers are both planning to resign from their Congressional seats. Johnson claims the resignation was a hot topic among “lobbyists and reporters” at the “Media Research Center (MRC) dinner.” Johnson also cites Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson as the primary source for the news. [28]

The Wikipedia page changes were not the first implied threat to McCarthy to out his affair; Rep. Walter Jones, R-NC, sent a letter to Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-WA, on October 6 “warning” that any speaker candidate with “misdeeds” in their past should withdraw. [29] In the letter, Jones wrote about two other Republican leaders on a speaker, the other a speaker elect that had to resign because of their affairs. The insinuation led many to believe Jones’ letter affected McCarthy’s decision. Jones wrote, “Some of the most difficult times have been when our Republican leaders or potential Republican leaders must step down because of Skeletons in their closets. We’ve seen it with former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Bob Livingston, who ran for Speaker in 1998.” [30]

Jones highlighted and put in a bold font his next paragraph, where he warned and discussed past “misdeeds.” Jones wrote, “With all the voter distrust of Washington felt around the country, I’m asking that any candidate for Speaker of the House, majority leader, and majority whip withdraw himself from the leadership election if there any misdeeds he has committed since joining Congress that will embarrass himself, the Republican Conference, and the House of Representatives if they become public.”

In an interview on Fox News with anchor Shepard Smith after McCarthy’s withdrawal from the race, Jones denied his letter had anything to with McCarthy or Ellmers. Jones explained, “My belief is that when you have people in a leadership position, who have the privilege to service, they need to say to the conference that I have nothing in my background that will embarrass the Congress.” [31]Jones said he does not “deal with rumors,” Jones said it was more about integrity about policies and legislation, “The trigger has been the lack of integrity that brought bills to the floor for no reason but to raise money.”

Jones spoke to the press after a GOP conference meeting on Friday, October 9, where he clarified his position about the letter, “I would hope not. How can words asking for integrity create so much trouble? I don’t think so, to be honest with you…. That’s their decision to interpret it that way. Anybody in leadership, male or female, should be a man or woman of integrity. That is nothing personal about anybody.” [32] Later on Friday, Jones admitted the affair rumors “prompted the letter.” [33]

So far, McCarthy and his camp are refusing to respond; he only said “No, No. Come on” when reporters asked him about the affair. Ellmers sent the letter from her lawyer to, calling the story about the affair “defamatory and false statements.” Ellmers also issued a response statement denying any affair, saying, “As someone who has been targeted by completely false accusations and innuendo, I have been moved by the outpouring of support and prayers from my colleagues, constituents, and friends. Now I will be praying for those who find it acceptable to bear false witness.” [34]

Kevin McCarthy drops out of race for House speaker. Will Boehner remain Speaker?

October 8, 2015

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, shocked the House of Representatives with his announcement Thursday morning, October 8, 2015, that he is dropping out of the race to become the next Speaker of the House. [35]This is the House’s second biggest shock since outgoing Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, first announced resigning on September 25. McCarthy dropped out when it had become clear he would not get the 218 votes needed. The fact that the House does not have a candidate to coalesce around might mean that Boehner might be forced to postpone his retirement and stay on as Speaker.

McCarthy’s announcement comes the morning when the House was prepared to nominate the next Speaker at noon, with the formal elections set to be held on October 29. The announcement also comes a week after McCarthy remarks on Fox News on September 29, linking the House Select Committee on Benghazi with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s scandal surrounding her private email server and falling poll numbers.

McCarthy faced a backlash for those comments from Democrats and Republicans for his remarks, which said that the committee’s goal was to destroy Clinton’s presidential campaign. Clinton herself seized on the comments and used them to reenergize her campaign, using her favorite lines about Republican conspiracies being out to get her. In contrast, the committee’s Democratic candidates have also been rebelling and unsuccessfully attempting to close down the committee.

The GOP House Freedom Caucus was also planning to vote against him and for Rep. Daniel Webster, R-FL, instead. The 40 conservative Republicans announced Wednesday evening, October 7, that they would support Webster over McCarthy, further making McCarthy’s chances of winning slimmer. [36]The caucus wanted to use their support as leverage to change the House procedure rules to give conservatives a greater voice and more power while diminishing that of the Speaker. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, also announced his candidacy for the speakership but acknowledged he was a long shot for the post. Conservatives were no warmer to McCarthy than they were to Boehner; they saw the majority leader as ideologically the same as the outgoing Speaker.

The majority leader shocked his fellow party members when during a closed-door morning meeting where he told them of his decision, declaring, “‘I’m not the one, I’m not the one that can unite the conference and get to 218.” [37] McCarthy supporters were shocked and in disbelief; some still believed McCarthy would change his mind. There was almost the same sense of shock as Boehner’s resignation at the end of September. McCarthy was considered the most logical successor and had Boehner’s blessing. McCarthy supporters hugged him after his announcement; some said they witnessed tears.

After the meeting, McCarthy prepared a statement where he said, “I have the deepest respect and regard for each member of the conference and our team as a whole. It is imperative for us to unite and work together on the challenges facing our country.” McCarthy also acknowledged the adverse effect his remarks on Benghazi had on his chances to be elected Speaker. The majority leader expressed he wants to put his party first, “Over the last week, it has become clear to me that our conference is deeply divided and needs to unite behind one leader. I have always put this conference ahead of myself. Therefore, I am withdrawing my candidacy for Speaker of the House. I look forward to working alongside my colleagues to help move our conference’s agenda and our country forward.” [38]

McCarthy seemed to joke after speaking with the press, “I think I shocked some of you.” However, he said, “I feel good about the decision. I think we’re only going to be stronger.” McCarthy was still determining if he would garner the 218 voted need for the post, but he did not win a slim majority, “I don’t want to go to the floor and win with 220 votes. I think the best thing for our party is to win with 247 votes.” [39]

The Republicans are now facing a problem where do they find a candidate for Speaker they could all support? The only name that has come up is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Ryan is the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and former 2012 Vice Presidential nominee. Ryan does not want the job, and he has now shot down the possibility a second time and, in fact, nominated McCarthy for the post.[40]

Ryan issued a statement lamenting McCarthy’s choice, saying, “Kevin McCarthy is the best person to lead the House, and so I’m disappointed in this decision. Now it is important that we, as a Conference, take time to deliberate and seek new candidates for the speakership.” Ryan, however, made it clear he will not run for Speaker, “While I am grateful for the encouragement I’ve received, I will not be a candidate. I continue to believe I can best serve the country and this conference as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.”

There are two other possible candidates, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chairman of the House panel, a conservative favorite, who also refused to run for Speaker, and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who has support from the moderates but not that of conservatives. Another option is having a temporary choice as Speaker who will only serve until the term ends in 2016.

The House faces a hectic fall schedule with deadlines important to the country’s economy and well-being. First, the debt ceiling needs to be raised by November 5, when the Treasury Department will see funds depleted. Suppose the debt ceiling is not raised, the country faces defaulting on its loans, which could cause “economic chaos,” as the New York Times points out, including soaring interest rates and plunging stock prices. Additionally, the stopgap-spending bill Congress passed on September 30 will expire on December 11, and the government will shut down if a budget is not passed. President Barack Obama has made it clear he will not accept any more continuing resolutions. [41]

The lack of a candidate means Boehner might be forced to stay longer than the October 30 date; he said he would formally resign from the speakership and his House seat. Speaker Boehner was equally shocked that McCarthy dropped out of the race. In his statement when he resigned, Boehner said he stayed and “will serve as Speaker until the House votes to elect a new Speaker,” his statement implicitly implied he would stay longer if required.

House rules require that a speaker be elected before the outgoing one can resign. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) agreed that Boehner might be needed to stay on, “If you don’t put up 218, Boehner stays Speaker, because his resignation doesn’t take effect until there’s a new Speaker. They’ve checked with the parliamentarian about that. … We will not be without a Speaker.”

Just two days ago, on Tuesday, October 6, the Speaker’s longtime friend, Rep. Cole, recounted a story Boehner told his “Republican colleagues” where he predicted he would not be able to resign when he had planned, calling it a “nightmare.” Boehner said, “I had this terrible nightmare last night that I was trying to get out and couldn’t get out. And a hand came reaching, pulling me.” [42]The question, though, is it a nightmare or a brilliant ploy by the Speaker to get House conservatives’ respect without any more rebellions until the end of the session.



[3] Julian E. Zelizer, The American Congress: The Building of Democracy, Boston: Houghton Mifflin 2004.

[4] Ibid., Zelizer, The American Congress, 141.

[5] Ibid., Zelizer, The American Congress, 141.

[6] Ibid., Zelizer, The American Congress, 198.

[7] Ibid., Zelizer, The American Congress, 199.




[11] Zelizer, The American Congress, 195.

[12] Ibid., Zelizer, The American Congress, 195.

[13] Ibid., Zelizer, The American Congress, 195.


[15] Zelizer, The American Congress, 199.

[16] Ibid., Zelizer, The American Congress, 200.

[17] Ibid., Zelizer, The American Congress, 79.

[18] Ibid., Zelizer, The American Congress, 79.


























Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) and historian. She is the author of “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” “The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South,” “We Used to be Friends? The Long Complicated History of Jews, Blacks, and Anti-Semitism,” and the viral article, “OTD in History… October 19, 1796, Alexander Hamilton accuses Thomas Jefferson of having an affair with his slave creating a 200-year-old controversy over Sally Hemings.”

Ms. Goodman has a BA in History, and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused on Medieval and Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, particularly American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.”

Ms. Goodman contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history and regularly writes on the “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature and on the Times of Israel. Her scholarly articles can be found on She has over fifteen years of experience in education and political journalism.



Bonnie K. Goodman

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @