Sunday, December 25, 2022

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Full House Or Empty House?

The threat to oppose Republican Congressman Kevin

McCarthy’s bid to become the new speaker of the U.S.

House on January 3, 2023 has created the unusual

possibility that the new members of the 118th Congress

will not be sworn in just after noon on that date — and

therefore no U.S. House of Representatives  will exist 

until that election is resolved.

The U.S. constitution states that the terms of the 

members of the previous Congress automatically end

at noon on January 3. The clerk of the House at that

time convenes the new session, a prayer is said,

followed by the pledge of allegiance. The clerk then

conducts the election of the new speaker. When that

speaker is elected, he or she then swears in all the


Since 1924, the election of the new speaker has taken

only one ballot, and the technical circumstance of "no

existing" House of Representatives has only lasted a

few minutes.

In order to be elected speaker, a member must receive

a majority of those present. The U.S. House currently

has 435 members, so a majority is 218. One newly

elected Democratic member has passed away, but the

majority is still 218.

At least five Republicans have indicated they will not

honor the previously taken vote which selected Kevin

McCarthy as speaker-designate by a vote of 188 to 31.

The man who lost that vote, Andy Biggs, has decided to

run against McCarthy on January 3, and if the five (or

more) fellow Republicans vote for Biggs, McCarthy will

be one vote (or more) short of the required 218. (There

are 222 Republicans elected to the new House.)

The Democrats will nominate Hakeem Jeffers for

speaker, but he would only have 212 if his entire

caucus votes for him. The election will then go to a

second ballot, and if McCarthy fails to receive 218

votes on that ballot, there will be a third ballot, and

so on until someone (technically not necessarily

an elected member) does obtain a majority.

Only once in the past 150 years has there been more

than one ballot for speaker. In 1923, it took nine ballots

for Republican Frederick Gillett to win. But in 1855, it

took 133 ballots and two months to elect Nathaniel

Banks as speaker.

In addition to opposition to McCarthy based on his

record as minority leader, his opponents have called

for a change of House rules which McCarthy has so

far refuse to say he would do. McCarthy has received

praise for his recruitment of Republican members in

2022, and for the success of his campaign fundraising.

He has been endorsed by virtually all Republican


At this writing, neither side has budged. An agreement

could made before January 3, but unless that happens,

there will be a lot of suspense in the House chamber

on that date at the noon hour.


Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


Friday, December 9, 2022


The surprise announcement by Arizona Senator Kyrsten

Sinema that she has left the Democratic Party, and is

now formally an independent was particularly curious

because of its timing just after the national mid-term

elections in which the Democrats regained by one seat

control the U.S. senate.

Her explanation that she will not now caucus with the

Republicans, and will continue to vote as she has in

the past, makes her action all the more ambiguous.

There are two other “independents” currently in the

U.S. senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus 

King of Maine, but they are rightly described as 

“independents-in-name-only” since they support the

Democratic leadership and almost always vote with

the Democrats.

Senator Sinema has proven to be an always shrewd

political figure, so what are the real reasons for making

the announcement at this time?

It would seem that her motivation was driven by the

political environment in Arizona where in two years she

is scheduled to run for re-election. 

Arizona has been generally a red state, but Republican

factionalism has led the party to lose several recent

statewide elections, including a Democratic sweep in

2022. Sinema’s independent voting record since

taking office has made political sense for the general

electorate, but has understandably upset some Arizona

Democratic figures, some of whom have said she should

be opposed in the 2024 Democratic primary. At least one

prominent Democratic congressman is likely to do so.

By declaring as an independent, Sinema makes it

virtually impossible for any Democrat to win in a

three-way race. Sistema’s strategy seems to be that

no major liberal figure, especially a sitting member of

Congress (who would have to give up a safe seat to

run), would seek their party nomination in 2024. In

that case, Sinema with her independent voting

record drawing support from many GOP voters,

could win a three-way race with a weak Democratic

nominee and the state GOP still divided as it has been

in the recent past. Moreover, Sinema has the option

of changing her mind and caucusing with the

Republicans, thus heading off a potentially serious 

GOP challenger in 2024.

It is, of course, a risky strategy, but if Sinema has

assessed she would likely lose in a 2024 Democratic

primary, it might well be her best option, especially

if her eventual move to caucus with the GOP would

give them control of the U.S. senate.

The latter possibility is heightened by the prospects

of the other Democratic senate maverick, West

Virginia’s Joe Manchin. Manchin also is up in 2024,

and faces a serious challenge then — after he ended

up supporting the Democratic infrastructure 

legislation (in return for concessions that were

reneged). His popularity in West Virginia has seemed

to nosedive after this happened, and his best hope for

re-election might be to change parties. His doing so,

and coupled with Sistema, would give Republicans

senate control before 2024 when GOP prospects are


All of this is speculative. of course, but it does seem

clear that Senator Sistema is playing some kind of

political chess in Arizona. She has also taken some of

the celebratory edge off the Democrats’ run-off victory 

in Georgia, and made Majority Leader Schumer’s

life more complicated.

Dominoes, anyone?


Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.