A Grammar of American Politics: The National Government

By Wilfred E. Binkley; Malcolm C. Moos | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXII THE ORGANIZATION OF CONGRESS

THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Organizing the House of Representatives

IT IS only a group of representatives-elect that gather in the chamber of the House of Representatives on the third day of January of odd-numbered years. Since the terms of the members who have been re-elected has expired, the group legally consists of 435 private citizens up to the moment when the oath is administered to them as representatives. Inasmuch as nothing done by way of organization by a preceding Congress is binding on a succeeding one a new set of representatives is, at the beginning of a new Congress, without any legal organization whatever. Consequently at the beginning of the Eightieth Congress the House of Representatives organized for the eightieth time. The rules of the last preceding House are no longer valid and general parliamentary law is followed until the previous rules of the House have been revised, reported, and adopted. Sheer usage long decreed that the clerk of the last House should preside while the new House was starting its organization; that duty is now vested in him by statute. He calls the assembly to order and reads the roll of members- elect. The former clerk of the House continues to preside while the speaker is being elected. Although this action takes the form of a deliberate election by the House it amounts, in fact, to nothing more than a ratification by majority party vote of the choice of a speaker already determined by party caucus or conference. The speaker-elect is escorted to the chair by the defeated candidate of the minority party and the oath of office is administered to the speaker by the member of the House with the longest service. Then the speaker administers the oath to the other members in a body, and the House proceeds to elect a clerk, a sergeant-at-arms, a door-keeper, a post- master and a chaplain, all of which really amounts to a ratification of the slate already decided on by the majority party caucus or conference.

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