Kevin McCarthy’s fate could be determined by just a handful of votes. Precisely how many he needs to survive — or how many his opponents need to oust him — depends on how many House members show up to vote.
Before the House votes on the resolution to remove Mr. McCarthy, they will first consider a “motion to table,” or kill it. That motion will be decided by simple majority — as will the actual resolution to remove him, if the House moves on to that step.
There are 433 actively serving members of the House — 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats. If every last one of them shows up to vote “aye” or “nay,” the threshold for a victory for either side is 217.
In that scenario, presuming all Democrats vote against him, Mr. McCarthy can afford to lose only four Republican votes — and there are already at least five G.O.P. members who have publicly stated they plan to vote to oust him. So if all members show up to vote, and the Democrats stick together in opposition to him, Mr. McCarthy is in trouble.
“If 5 Republicans go with Democrats, then I’m out,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
But the math isn’t necessarily that straightforward.
If fewer than 433 members show up to vote, the threshold for a majority goes down. If two Democrats miss the vote, for example, Mr. McCarthy would need only 216 Republicans to survive, a potentially achievable goal if he and his deputies can forestall any further defections beyond the five Republicans who are already publicly declared against him.
The same thing would happen if a number of Democrats vote “present” instead of affirmatively for or against Mr. McCarthy. “Present” votes do not count for or against the passage of the resolution, so the majority would be calculated from the ranks of those voting “aye” or “nay.” Four “present” votes, for example, would mean that Mr. McCarthy could hang on with 215 votes in his favor.
It is also possible that a wayward Democrat or two might break rank with their party and vote to preserve Mr. McCarthy as speaker, despite Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, having told his members in a closed-door meeting that they ought to vote as a bloc against keeping him in the job. Given the margins, even one or two Democratic votes for Mr. McCarthy could determine the outcome.