Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images
- House lawmakers are still not agreed on who will lead them.
- The lack of a speaker of the House has some very real consequences.
- One of those is that it’s more difficult for congressional offices to help Americans.
As of Friday afternoon, there is no speaker of the US House of Representatives.
So, technically speaking, all of the 434 would-be lawmakers is a Representative-elect. Everyone from Kentucky Republican Hal Rodgers who has served in the chamber since President Ronald Reagan’s election to New York Republican George Santos who wasn’t even alive yet, at least we’re pretty sure.
For the first time in over a century, lawmakers have taken multiple days to elect someone who will lead the chamber and become second-in-line to the presidency. Republican Rep.-elect Kevin McCarthy received good news Friday afternoon, flipping more than a dozen previous holdouts to his speakership bid.
There are real consequences as the drama drags on in Washington and fallout that will escalate if an end doesn’t come soon.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest headaches that have arisen so far:
Why can’t they stop voting?
There are no rules. Seriously, that is true. Usually, the chamber could recess when faced with such a debacle. But in order to call a recess, lawmakers need to pass rules governing the chamber. And in order to do that, they need to select a speaker first. In the meantime, the best lawmakers can do is adjourn, negotiate, and then return for more votes.
Are there any national security concerns?
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby tamped down on any “significant risks” related to the delay. In the meantime, lawmakers are unable to receive classified briefings. The House’s status means the body is unable to declare war.
Rep.-elect Mike Gallagher told reporters on Thursday that while it’s nowhere near the DEFCON scale, lawmakers are frustrated by their inability to receive such briefings. Gallagher and other members have had to cancel meetings with Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, due to security clearance issues. Since lawmakers are not sworn in, they don’t currently have the clearances they normally would.
“Listen, the free world will be fine without me getting that brief, but right now I can’t do my job,” Gallagher, who was scheduled to meet with Milley, told reporters just off the House floor on Thursday. “We can’t get to work.”
Will everyone get paid?
Politico reported last week that if a rules package is not passed by January 13, committee staff won’t be able to get paid. As we indicated above, the House can’t pass its rules until it has a speaker.
What about the normal business of a congressional office?
Members of Congress do more than just make laws. While the focus is always, deservedly, on the House floor, a lawmaker’s office is a critical point of contact for Americans who are struggling with an array of federal agencies. But House lawmakers have complained that they are unable to effectively coordinate due to their current unofficial status.
“IRS won’t help my constituent victimized by identify theft, saying Members of Congress haven’t been sworn in yet,” Rep.-elect Nicole Malliotakis of New York wrote on Twitter. “It’s ridiculous a small group is preventing us from doing our jobs & even more ridiculous @POTUS not directing agencies to help citizens who are HIS constituents too!”
The IRS, per ABC News, said it can’t turn over “taxpayer-specific information” until members are sworn in.