WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — As Republicans rage on over who will be the next Speaker of the House, the House is essentially without members; It has only elected legislators.
No one can be sworn in without the President, and the 118th legislature can neither sit nor vote on any policy. Parliamentary procedure has been traded for controlled chaos. Members of both parties are unsure whether they can call for votes or file motions on the floor because there is no speaker to rule on their requests. Neither commissions can be constituted nor bills can be approved.
“I don’t know what my position is,” said Democrat Ted Lieu. “I don’t know whether I am entitled to medical services or not, and neither are my employees getting their salaries. We are seeing all that now because something like this has not happened in 100 years.”
Former Representative Billy Long, who recently retired, has been tweeting about what he calls “Bizarroland.” At one point, she openly wondered on her Twitter bio whether she was still a Congresswoman (she’s no longer).
A House of Representatives without members and rules could only go down in history as a curious moment if Republicans manage to find a way forward this week and elect a new president. While that remains a strong possibility, a potential resolution to the impasse was too closed on Wednesday after Republican Kevin McCarthy was defeated in the precinct vote for the second day in a row. Supporters and opponents were seen standing in their respective places.
The uncertainty added to a quieter than usual atmosphere on the floor of the lower house on Wednesday, with its members huddled in their seats for vote after vote, hour after hour, talking, gossiping and wondering what would happen next. Some read books or newspapers, or checked their phones. Some were taking photographs and selfies, a practice that is generally prohibited by law.
Others were still on campus with children, a holdover from Tuesday’s proceedings, in which families often accompanied members to watch their inaugurations. He was the only one not sworn in on the first day of the new Congress, the first time in a century.
In 1923, the process to elect the Speaker of the House of Representatives lasted three days. In 1855 it ran for two months with 133 votes.
“It’s a very strange limbo,” said Democrat Madeleine Dean, who had hoped her grandson would take his oath on Tuesday. “We’re leading by example.”
On the House floor, Secretary Cheryl Johnson is in charge of the gavel, not the Republican majority.
“Madam Speaker,” Republican Chip Roy said at one point, addressing the podium, as members usually do. “Madam Secretary,” he corrected.
Off the floor, members are operating under the rules of the previous Congress… or so they think. Nobody really seems to know, and there are concerns about what will happen if the standoff continues until mid-January, when the first probe is due to arrive. Some workers are confused: they are only temporarily employed if they are new employees or changing jobs.
Republican Tom Cole, the incoming chairman of the House Rules Committee, said the elected members were operating under the rules of the previous Congress, which was controlled by Democrats. But he added: “I don’t know if it’s in writing.”
Without a president, “there’s a lot we can’t do,” Cole said. The staff and members will be paid, “but at some point (the camera) stops working.”
As the hours passed, the members began to weigh the possible scenarios. Liu said he was concerned that lawmakers would not be able to examine classified documents critical to national security and respond to a global crisis. Can Internet sites be updated? Will email still work?
Long tweeted, “Who can legally help all of our citizens in general with the issues we deal with every day?” “Passport, Internal Revenue Service, Veterans Affairs, Small Business Administration, Postal Service, Immigration issues, Corps of Engineers, etc. Who will get his salary?
“It raises a lot of valid questions,” Long wrote.