For four consecutive days, as Congress plods through its most protracted election for House speaker since 1859, the House of Representatives has existed more as a theoretical concept — an aspirational ideal — than an actual lawmaking body.
Since its 434 members cannot be sworn in until a speaker is chosen, no one is officially a representative by title. Not Hal Rogers, Republican of Kentucky, who would serve his 22nd term. Not Nancy Pelosi, the most recent speaker. Not Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the highest-ranking Democrat and his party’s nominee for speaker.
And not any of the 74 freshman lawmakers who were elected in November, chose their offices in December and, presumably, expected to begin enacting a legislative agenda in January.
All are, technically, representatives-elect. They cannot respond to an emergency or a crisis. And with no rules adopted, the legislative process remains at a standstill. No bills can be passed, no resolutions adopted.
“I mean, it is weird. I wake up in the middle of the night and yell, ‘Jeffries,’ — you know, that’s kind of like where we’re at right now,” said Maxwell Frost, Democrat of Florida, 25, who at some point will be the youngest member of Congress. “But, I think at first I was going to a lot of members who have been here for a while, asking for their advice on everything. And no one has any advice because this hasn’t happened in 100 years.
“Contrary to popular belief, there’s no one who has been here for 100 years,” he said.
But what they can do is vote on a speaker. And they have. Again and again and again. And again and again and again. And again and again and again.
And again. With at least one more to come.
Stephanie Lai contributed reporting.