“Democrats have 212 votes. You get 213 votes, and the others don’t say another name, that’s how you can win. You can win with 218. You could win with 222. But if you want to look at how you have to go about doing it,” McCarthy said.
The House Speaker is elected by a majority of all those voting for a specific Speaker candidate, not necessarily all members. Those voting “present” and those who are absent do not count toward that total, lowering the threshold. Former House Speakers Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and John Boehner (R-Ohio) each won the Speakership with just 216 votes in 2021 and 2015, respectively.
In the three Tuesday votes, all 434 members voted in all ballots, putting the majority threshold at 218. In the first and second ballots, McCarthy got 203 votes, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries
(N.Y.) got 212 and 19 McCarthy opponents voted for other candidates. In the third vote, a 20th member joined the detractors, putting McCarthy at 202.