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House Republicans' failure to elect a speaker is causing chaos for staff, constituents

Without a speaker, House members cannot be sworn in, business cannot be conducted, and pay for thousands of staffers is in jeopardy.

By Emily Singer - January 06, 2023
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Kevin McCarthy
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., listens during the twelfth round of voting in the House chamber as the House meets for the fourth day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The House of Representatives is at a standstill because the Republican majority hasn’t been able to elect a speaker in the new session of Congress.

The gridlock is preventing members of Congress from receiving briefings, constituents are unable to get the services they need from their representatives, and thousands of congressional staffers risk not getting paid if the situation continues.

The House did not elect a speaker on Jan. 3, when the last session of Congress ended.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican whom the GOP conference nominated for speaker in November, has so far lost 11 rounds of speaker votes, as 20 House Republicans have staunchly refused to vote for him.

It’s the first time in 100 years that the House didn’t select a speaker on the first ballot. In 1923, the last time this occurred, it took nine ballots before a speaker emerged.

As a result, no House members have been sworn into office. Even members who were reelected are now considered members-elect. They cannot conduct oversight, help with constituent case management, or even receive national security briefings, having lost their security clearances until they are sworn in for a new term.

“The lack of a House speaker is a national security issue,” Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) tweeted on Thursday. “Members of the House Intelligence and Armed Services Committees aren’t receiving classified briefings or conducting oversight of NatSec agencies. Republicans must end the chaos!”

“I’m informed by House security that technically I don’t have a clearance,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) said in a news conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. “I’m a member of the intel committee, I’m on the Armed Services Committee, and I can’t meet in the SCIF [sensitive compartmented information facility] to conduct essential business. My point is, we have work to do that we can’t do right now.”

House Republicans’ inability to choose a speaker has also affected constituent services.

At least one constituent wasn’t able to get help from their elected representative’s office because members have yet to be sworn in, according to Politico. After a Republican aide reached out to the Internal Revenue Service on behalf of a constituent, an employee of the federal agency reportedly responded, “unfortunately until a speaker is elected and the members sworn in I will not be able to assist you with this matter as the congressman is still technically a congressman-elect.”

“The response we got when we tried to contact the IRS on behalf of one of our constituents. Not sure people realize the non-political ramifications this has on our ability to help folks,” the unnamed staffer told Politico.

What’s more, the House cannot process payroll until members are sworn in and a set of rules is established for how the chamber will run, the New York Times reported. As a result, the thousands of congressional staffers working on Capitol Hill could face not getting paid if House Republicans fail to elect a speaker. The next congressional payroll deadline is Jan. 13, according to the news outlet.

The lack of a speaker could also impact Washington, D.C., as a city. The Council of the District of Columbia can pass bills, and Mayor Muriel Bowser can review them, but because the district is not a state, those bills must ultimately be reviewed by Congress before they can become law.

It’s unclear when a speaker will be elected, but the patience of the GOP members who support McCarthy’s bid appears to be wearing thin.

“At the end of the day, all 435 members of the House are being held up by 20 people,” Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) tweeted on Thursday. “The American people elected us to govern, to serve them. Let’s get to work.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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