Friday, January 06, 2023

One Difference Between 1856 and 2023

Gerard N. Magliocca

While we wait for white smoke to emerge from the House chamber, I want to make one observation about past practice. There are many references on the floor and in the media to the contest in 1856, in which the House took 133 ballots to elect a Speaker. I wrote about that deadlock in my Bingham biography, as that was Bingham's first term in Congress.

In 1855/56, though, members debated the merits of the candidates for Speaker. There was not, as we've seen in the past three days, simply one nomination speech per candidate and then a vote. The length of the debates helps explain why the House took two months to elect a Speaker. I do not know if the rules no longer allow for debate on the Speakership or if the current process is the result of a deliberate choice by the two parties today. If the latter is true, though, that suggests that some faction could, in effect, filibuster the Speakership vote, though simply voting over and over again amounts to the same thing.


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