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While all the lawmakers are here, there is no House of Representatives

Without a speaker, there are no rules governing the day-to-day operations of the 434 House lawmakers and their staffs, and those lawmakers cannot be sworn in to the 118th Congress.

U.S. House floor
Only after the House elects a speaker can the chamber swear in new and returning members and adopt the rules that will govern the new Congress.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

WASHINGTON — President Biden said the inability of the House GOP to elect a speaker is “embarrassing,” but not having a functioning House of Representatives goes way beyond bad optics.

Without a speaker, there are no rules governing the day-to-day operations of the 434 House lawmakers and their staffs, and those lawmakers cannot be sworn in to the 118th Congress, making them officially Representatives-elect. Only after the House elects a speaker can the chamber swear in new and returning members and adopt the rules that will govern the new Congress.

If the standoff continues, members of Congress and their staff won’t get paid. The payroll would normally be scheduled to be prepared on Jan. 13. And as of right now, committees don’t officially exist.

That means lawmakers like Rep.-elect Pete Stauber, R-8th District, will have to wait to pick up the gavel of the Natural Resources subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

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Stauber is also frustrated about the postponement in moving to implement GOP priorities.

“Every minute we are delayed in having a speaker is a delay in delivering results for the American people, including rebuilding a strong economy, restoring American energy dominance, rescinding the 87,000 new IRS Agents the Biden Administration wants to hire, and securing our border,” Stauber said.

Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar, D-5th District, said the inability to agree on a speaker has already hurt lawmakers’ ability to serve their constituents.

“This is already impacting the work we do directly,” she said. “Because we are not sworn in yet, our constituent services work is being hampered. And I have constituents who need urgent help. We have no rules governing our congressional work, and of course have no ability legislate. If the impasse continues, we could be unable to pay our staff.”

Rep.-elect Angie Craig, D-2nd District, also said her work for constituents has been disrupted.

“Minnesotans sent me to Congress for a third term to solve their problems and get results, and the chaos from the Republican Caucus this week is standing directly in the way of that goal,” she said. “We cannot sacrifice our service to our constituents for the sake of scoring a few political points.”

With the issue of who will lead the House of Representatives unsettled, lawmakers are forced to stay in Washington, D.C. indefinitely, cancelling events with constituents in their districts. Craig, for instance, was forced to scrap events in Lakeville and Prior Lake this weekend.

Some lawmakers, however,  say the standoff has had little effect on their operations, at least up to now.

“Our office continues to operate without interruption,” said Amanda Yanchury, communications director for Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th District. “Caseworkers are helping constituents and D.C. staff are engaging with groups on policy matters.”

Of course, the standoff’s impact will grow the longer the chaos in the House continues.

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On Fox News on Thursday, Rep.-elect Bob Good, R-Va., one of the leaders of the rebellion against Rep.-elect Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the speakership, said the standoff could take “a couple of weeks to resolve,” and there is no hurry to end it.

“Most of what Congress does is bad,” Good said.

Even before the fight over the speakership, the 118th Congress was in danger of becoming a “do nothing” Congress, because, while the U.S. House is in GOP hands, the U.S. Senate is under Democratic control and areas of agreement were expected to be few.

Lawmakers say the nasty battle over electing a new speaker portends other bitter showdowns over key issues later this year. Legislation that has traditionally been bipartisanship in nature is in danger, including defense bills, a 5-year farm bill, and an increase in the debt limit.

The lack of a speaker has also upended the line of presidential succession. The Speaker of the House is second in line, after the vice president. But now the president pro tempore of the Senate, which is Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is second in line after the vice president.

And until the House is able to organize itself, it can’t participate in the sharing of national security intelligence with the White House.

One thing the stalemate has done has benefitted Americans who want to keep an eye on the drama in the U.S. House.

Because hundreds of pages of House rules have not been implemented, some restrictions on photographers and videographers are not in effect.

For instance, C-SPAN, the only organization allowed to operate video cameras in the chamber, was normally limited to focusing on the dais and the desks from which members of each party address the chamber.

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Now C-SPAN cameras roam free, showing huddles, arguments and wrangling among lawmakers and interesting tête-à-têtes between unlikely lawmakers, including usually bitter rivals like Reps.-elect Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y. and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.

Meanwhile, all lawmakers are in unchartered territory. None have experienced this kind of fight for speaker before or the House in this type of disarray.

On Thursday, the balloting for speaker sped past the number of ballots it took to elect a speaker the last time there were multiple ballots. In 1923, it took nine ballots to re-elect Speaker Frederick Gillett, a Republican. Gillett won by conceding to a number of changes to liberalize House legislative rules to win over some GOP insurgents.