Members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation are expressing frustration that the U.S. House of Representatives remained at a standstill Wednesday night after Republicans failed to elect a speaker for the second day in a row.
But they are also reveling in a silver lining of the days-long saga: Democrats are starting the new session of Congress on a united front even as they lose control of the House to a narrow GOP majority.
Without the election of a speaker, the House is essentially inoperable: No members can be sworn into the 118th Congress, no committees can be formed and no rules governing the chamber can be adopted. On the other side of the U.S. Capitol, the Senate is operating normally as new members were sworn in on Tuesday and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., began his second term as majority leader.
The state of Congress stands in juxtaposition to the opening day of the Connecticut General Assembly, which began without any drama in electing leadership as well as the inauguration of Gov. Ned Lamont for his second term.
“There is only one house in Congress that is meeting, and that’s the Senate. We are not constituted yet. That creates a problem,” U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, said in a Wednesday evening interview. “We’re all in limbo, as the saying goes.”
While Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has secured the support of most House Republicans, he has repeatedly fallen short since he needs the votes of the majority of Congress. Twenty GOP members — and one voting present — blocked McCarthy’s bid for speaker on the sixth vote.
In every vote cast Tuesday and Wednesday, all five members of Connecticut’s delegation have supported Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., for speaker. He will become the first Black member to lead a party when he likely becomes House minority leader.
Some Democrats have been openly relishing the drama that has unfolded with Republicans unable to unify and get behind a speaker. But others are frustrated about the lack of progress and that the House cannot function until then.
“This thing started to become almost embarrassing, given the fact it was clear that 20 or so [members] were not budging with these consecutive votes,” U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said in a Wednesday interview. “And whatever sort of strategy that Kevin McCarthy had on first roll call and sixth roll call, it clearly hasn’t worked at all.”
The House initially adjourned for a few hours until 8 p.m. Wednesday as McCarthy and his supporters met with his critics to try to find a path forward. While they said progress was made, McCarthy wanted to hold off on a seventh speaker vote until Thursday to allow talks to continue.
When the House gaveled back in, McCarthy-aligned Republicans immediately sought a motion to adjourn, which narrowly passed after Democrats and a few Republicans sought to block the measure. The House stands adjourned until noon on Thursday.
The lack of a resolution has had a ripple effect on the work of lawmakers and how congressional offices function. Courtney noted that lawmakers lost their security clearances on Tuesday and that briefings for some returning members had to be canceled.
“If this thing gets resolved tonight or early tomorrow, 48 hours isn’t going to be catastrophic,” Courtney said. “If it really drags on this, I think this thing is really going to impact constituent case work, committee assignments.”
The long series of roll call votes have taken hours as the clerk goes one by one through each member’s name as they declare their vote. That has given members long stretches on the House floor to talk with each other and strategize.
McCarthy’s allies and critics have huddled on the House floor to hash out the disconnect and find a way to break the impasse.
For Democrats, they also have had time to chat with their colleagues and keep tabs on the vote. Larson said it has been “amazing” to see the body language of members as Republicans make nominating speeches attacking their own.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, tweeted the past two days his updates on the floor proceedings, sharing a photo of a notepad as he tracks which members are voting for someone other than McCarthy. Most of the dissenters have voted for Rep. Bryon Donalds, R-Fla.
The Connecticut delegation, however, feels that it has ultimately been positive for Democrats. Courtney, who said he was chatting with Jeffries earlier, said it has been “a pretty powerful bonding experience.”
Larson, who is entering his 13th term in the House, said the energy among Democrats feels similar to when Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., became the first woman to lead a party in Congress.
“The process and the experience is frustrating right now,” Larson said. “But on our side, the House morale is as energized as I’ve ever seen it.”
The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.