Plus, Democrats held rock-solid control of the House for four decades before 1994 with their large majorities, allowing the certainty of who was speaker to be settled long before the pro forma vote on the House floor. And while the speaker is theoretically the constitutional officer for the whole House, the position has in reality evolved into the political and legislative leader of the majority party, making it the majority’s privilege to bestow.
To many, the mess on the House floor the past few days has been the best illustration yet of Republican dysfunction, a potential inability to govern and an unfortunate political tendency for the party to devour its leaders. But as they held out against Mr. McCarthy, his Republican opponents sought to portray the return to the days of speaker uncertainty as healthy and a move away from ingrained party power.
“We are making history in this process and we are showing the American people that this process works,” said Representative Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania and a leading McCarthy opponent. “Is it going to be painful? Is it going to be difficult? Yes, it probably is. That’s why it took 100 years.”
John James, a newly elected Republican from Michigan, pointed out on Thursday that the differences that forced the House into a 133-vote, two-month marathon before the election of Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts as speaker in 1856 were much more consequential than those holding up the speakership of Mr. McCarthy.
“Without question, the issues that divide us today are much less severe than they were in 1856,” Mr. James, who is Black, said in nominating Mr. McCarthy for a seventh round of indeterminate voting. “The issues today are over a few rules and personalities, while the issues at that time were about slavery and whether the value of a man who looks like me was 60 percent or 100 percent of a human being. It was a long, drawn-out, painful process, but it had to happen.”
“On that day long ago the good guys won,” he said. “The leading Republican nominee won then and the leading Republican nominee will win again.”
In the 1923 fight, the voting stretched over three days — the current deadlock hit three days on Thursday — and Mr. Gillett finally prevailed over Finis J. Garrett of Tennessee by a vote of 215 to 197 on the ninth ballot, a quicker conclusion than this year’s version, which saw its ninth ballot end Thursday afternoon without a winner.