House Democrats rallied behind Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York as their pick for speaker of the House on Tuesday, uniting — again — around a liberal lawyer and disciplined political tactician as the face of their opposition to the Republican majority.
The vote raised a question for many watching: Could Jeffries, now the House minority leader, actually become speaker? After all, he received 212 votes, more than the 200 that the Republican nominee, Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, received.
But House rules require that the speaker receive a majority of the votes cast, something neither Mr. Jeffries nor Mr. Jordan got in the first round of voting, because 20 Republicans voted for other candidates. A plurality is not enough.
It is highly improbable that any Republicans would defect and vote for Mr. Jeffries, handing the speaker’s gavel to the leader of the opposing party. That would be viewed as political treason by Republican lawmakers and voters alike.
With Republicans having trouble settling on a speaker, Mr. Jeffries has pitched a coalition government that he describes as an “enlightened arrangement.” But the idea is a long shot. Earlier this week he said “informal conversations” had occurred but did not share details.
Mr. Jeffries said Democrats would join Republicans to elect a speaker only if they agreed to change House rules to allow “governance by consensus”; in other words, allowing bills with bipartisan support to come to the floor.
Right now, the Rules Committee, which determines what legislation gets a vote, is structured so that Republicans control what bills the House considers. That leaves Democratic priorities blocked.
Mr. Jeffries is the first Black politician to lead either party in Congress. And, at 53, he represents a generational change for House Democrats after two decades under Representative Nancy Pelosi of California.
A son of civil servants who cut his teeth as a litigator at a white-shoe law firm and at CBS, Mr. Jeffries rose swiftly through the ranks of Democratic politics in New York and then Washington. Since 2013, he has represented some of the nation’s iconic Black neighborhoods in Brooklyn. During the Trump presidency, he built a national profile as a sharp-tongued critic and impeachment prosecutor, while also working with Republicans to pass criminal justice reform legislation.
He faced no easy task when he became minority leader in January: taming an ideologically diverse Democratic caucus as he tried to blunt Republican attacks on the Biden administration and win back the majority in 2024. But he has largely accomplished the first goal, keeping Democrats united on important votes as the Republican caucus fell to pieces.
Annie Karni contributed reporting.