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How Another Speaker Standoff Could Affect Certifying the Next Presidential Election -- WSJ

The Wall Street Journal · 01/06/2023 14:33

By Lindsay Wise

The House convened Friday, on the second anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, still unable to legislate after four straight days of failed votes to elect a speaker.

That timing raised a question without a clear answer: What happens if the House is similarly unable to elect a speaker or organize itself by Jan. 6, 2025, when Congress must certify the electoral college results of the next presidential election?

By law, Congress must convene for a joint session after a presidential election, at 1 p.m. on Jan. 6, to count and ratify the 538 electoral votes certified by the 50 states and District of Columbia. The vice president, serving as president of the Senate, has the duty to count the votes. In 2021, Mr. Trump pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally reject some electors, which Mr. Pence refused to do.

Congress has since passed a law that clarifies the vice president's role is merely ceremonial, and made other changes designed to make it harder for lawmakers to object to states' electoral votes, but it didn't address a hypothetical scenario in which there might be no speaker or sworn members.

Without a speaker, the House's newly elected members are unable to be sworn in to office, or conduct any other business beyond tedious voice votes, as the House clerk, who is presiding, calls out hundreds of lawmakers' names one by one, in alphabetical order.

Sarah Binder of the Brookings Institution said in past protracted speakership elections, there were times when a majority of the House decided to change the election rule for the speaker from a majority to a plurality, so there's precedent that the House can do some bare bones motions. But she said it's uncertain how the lack of a speaker -- who is supposed to submit any electoral count objections to the House for its consideration -- would affect the process of ratifying presidential results.

"Thank goodness, we don't have to certify any Electoral College results this week, because we wouldn't be able to," said Rep. Ted Lieu (D., Calif.).

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D., Mo.) said he didn't have any idea what would happen in two years if there was no speaker or functioning House on Jan. 6.

"And I bet nobody else does either," he said. "There is no contingency ... I mean, over the last three or four years we've been going in and out of unexplored territory."

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January 06, 2023 14:33 ET (19:33 GMT)

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