How will House Republicans elect their new leader?

After nine days of intense jockeying after the surprise primary defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Republicans are scheduled to gather Thursday behind closed doors in a setting mirroring the secrecy of a papal election and the elimination rules of a televised singing contest.

The process of electing a new Republican majority leader -- and likely a new House majority whip -- is steeped in traditions established years ago during similar contests for speaker, majority leader and whip. Several aides described details of the elections on the condition of anonymity, because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the process.


House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), center, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), far left, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), second from left, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), to the right of Cantor, and House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Capitol Hill in March 2012. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The voting is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Thursday in Room 1100 of the Longworth House Office Building, the ornate hearing room of the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee -- and a room that reporters often complain is kept at exceptionally frigid temperatures during the hot summer months.

But reporters won't be allowed inside to observe the voting. Instead, only Republican lawmakers and a small clutch of senior staffers will participate in a process expected to last at least two hours.

The gathering will be led by House Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who is the fourth-ranking House Republican. It's her job to lead the House GOP messaging shop and the weekly Tuesday morning meeting of the entire conference. Despite Cantor's departure, McMorris Rodgers is not seeking to climb the leadership ranks.

Up first will be the election of a new majority leader, a contest expected to pit House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) against Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), a leading member of the 2010 class of tea party-backed Republican lawmakers. Before votes are cast, someone (we don't know who yet) will rise to nominate McCarthy in a speech no longer than three minutes. Then, up to two more colleagues may rise and give another one-minute speech to second the nomination. Supporters of Labrador also will be asked to nominate him and second the nomination.

McCarthy or Labrador will need a majority of the 233 members of the House GOP Conference to win. Paper ballots, numbered 1 to 233, will be distributed to members by aides, who will collect the ballots and give them to three "tally clerks," or lawmakers who are not publicly aligned with either candidate. Once counted, the tally clerks will announce the winner. If recent tradition holds, the tally clerks will not announce the raw vote count.

If McCarthy wins the election for majority leader, the group will turn to choosing a new majority whip. Currently, Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) are vying for the job of lead Republican vote counter. Here again, supporters will be asked to formally nominate and second the nomination of each candidate.

A majority of votes will be needed to win -- but if none of the three candidates wins an outright majority on the first ballot, the third-place finisher will drop out and members will vote again. Three new tally clerks will tabulate the final results and announce the winner.

And what happens to the paper ballots? Will we ever see them? Most likely not. Aides said they will be destroyed after the meeting, probably by a paper shredder.

Results will be formally announced to the media after the votes, either by an aide who is sent out to inform awaiting reporters and cameras, or via e-mail. But in the modern age of Twitter and text messaging, it is likely that press-friendly members inside the room will begin sharing details as the votes are cast.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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