As speaker drama continues, the US has no functional House of Representatives
By LUKE BROADWATER
The personal and political drama that is playing out on the House floor as Rep. Kevin McCarthy tries and fails repeatedly to become speaker has broader implications for the country, raising questions about what happens when one chamber of the legislative branch ceases to function.
Without a speaker, the U.S. House of Representatives essentially becomes a useless entity. With no sworn members, there are no lawmakers to make an official response to an emergency or a crisis. With no rules adopted, the legislative process cannot move forward; no bills can be passed or resolutions adopted.
Oversight of the government or any other entity also cannot be performed. The House cannot haul witnesses before committees, and those elected to serve there cannot set up constituent services operations or even take their oaths of office.
That’s because law and precedents state that the House must elect a speaker before lawmakers take any other action.
“This brings up a ton of legitimate questions,” Billy Long, R-Mo., who left office with the close of the 117th Congress on Tuesday morning, wrote on Twitter. “Who can legally help any and all of our citizens with issues we normally handle everyday? Passports, IRS, #Veteran’s issues, SBA, Post Office, Immigration issues, Corps of Engineers, etc. who’s getting paid? Outgoing or incoming?”
Long changed his Twitter biography to make light of the predicament.
“Am I Still a Congressman until @EricBurlison is sworn in or not? Who’s minding the store? Welcome to Bizaroland.”
(Long is not a congressman, since the last Congress adjourned for a final time Tuesday, even though Rep.-elect Eric Burlison, who won the race to succeed him, has yet to be sworn in.)
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, one of McCarthy’s detractors, rejected concerns about a nonfunctioning House, and said Tuesday evening he didn’t think most Americans cared.
“Do you think anybody in America right now is like, ‘Oh my God, there’s not a speaker?’” he told reporters, adding that he believed there were untested legislative maneuvers the chamber could take to respond to an emergency should one arise. “We’re a body. We can go pass motions. We can do whatever. If there’s an emergency, we can do whatever we need to.”
But legal experts doubted whether any action taken by a House without a speaker — who, according to the Constitution, is second in line to the presidency — could withstand judicial review.