Could Jim Jordan Secure Speaker Position Without Majority Vote?

Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

( – Jim Jordan, the Republican representative from Ohio and head of the House Judiciary Committee, finds himself navigating uncertain waters in his quest to become the Speaker.

The tumultuous struggle to fill the vacancy left by the former Speaker, Kevin McCarthy from California, has seen Jordan actively seeking reinforcements for his candidacy. This comes after Steve Scalise, the Republican from Louisiana and initial favorite, withdrew when it became evident that the fragmented Republican group wouldn’t back him sufficiently.

Yet, as reported by Fox News, achieving a majority in the House isn’t a strict prerequisite for Jordan to wield the gavel. History shows instances where the House has chosen a speaker based on a plurality instead of an absolute majority.

The procedures governing the election of the speaker are within the House’s discretion as outlined in House Practice.

The U.S. has witnessed two instances where the speaker was chosen by a plurality. One such event unfolded in 1856, during the 34th Congress, a period marred by intense divisions over slavery just before the Civil War. The political landscape was scattered, with emerging factions like the Republicans, weakened forces such as the Democrats, the American Party with its nativist stance, and the waning Whig Party, all struggling to agree on a House leader.

The initial round of voting was inconclusive, with 21 contenders and no decisive outcome, leading to a two-month impasse. In an unprecedented move, Felix Zollicoffer, a representative from the American Party hailing from Tennessee, demanded that the top three speaker candidates publicly disclose their views on the issue of extending slavery to new western territories. Despite this, consensus on a speaker remained elusive.

Resolution came when the House opted to shift from a simple majority to a plurality-based election. Following 133 ballots, Nathaniel Banks, representing the Know-Nothings, emerged victorious as the speaker for the 34th Congress, secured by 103 votes.

An earlier instance occurred during the 31st Congress in 1849, where the House grappled for 19 days to elect a speaker due to a split between the Whigs, Democrats, and the vote-diluting Free Soil Party. The impasse ended after Andrew Johnson suggested reducing the majority threshold and modifying the voting process. Subsequently, Howell Cobb, a Democrat from Georgia, clinched the speakership through a plurality after 63 rounds of voting, just three attempts post-amendment.

At this point, it’s unclear whether this option would be seriously considered in the House to put someone in the position of Speaker. Jordan has lost not one, but two votes in his attempt to secure the position, as of Wednesday, October 18. However, he hasn’t shown any signs of giving up just yet.

Jordan is planning on holding a third vote, and when speaking to reporters on Thursday, he expressed a desire to speak with the colleagues who voted against him so they could all move forward.

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