After a series of early missteps, Speaker John Boehner is leaving nothing to chance when it comes to running the floor. The Ohio Republican is even going so far as to handpick who will preside over this week’s contentious debate on the continuing resolution.
While the line-up has yet to be finalized, Boehner is expected to give turns in the Speaker’s chair to a handful of seasoned Members. Atop the list of possible gavel holders are Reps. Mac Thornberry (Texas), Steven LaTourette (Ohio), Candice Miller (Mich.) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.). Miller and Capito presided over last month’s floor vote to repeal the health care reform law.
Freshman Members are often enlisted to sit in the Speaker’s chair during routine debates. But aides and Members say the stakes are too high to trust an inexperienced hand during the open rule on the continuing resolution. An open rule allows for an unlimited amount of amendments, and in the case of this week’s continuing resolution, both sides have been examining potential opportunities to put the other party on defense.
“Next week, for the first time ever, the House will consider a CR under an open process — and it is the first CR that will actually cut spending,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. “A wise, steady and impartial hand holding the gavel will be essential.”
In 1996, after Republicans assumed control of the House the last time, few Members had the experience of serving in the majority. This year, however, there are plenty of veterans who have presided over the floor. Ex-Rep. Ray LaHood (Ill.), now President Barack Obama’s Transportation secretary, was considered one of the Republicans’ most adept at running the chamber, and he still holds the record for most hours in the chair.
Boehner has a deep bench of Members who know the rules and procedures, but that hasn’t saved the new majority from making some early mistakes. Last week Republicans broke their own House rules by keeping a vote open past 7 p.m. in a rushed — and unsuccessful — attempt to muster a two-thirds vote to pass an extension of the USA PATRIOT Act. The biggest procedural snafu came in January, however, when the GOP moved to clear the voting records of National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) after it was revealed the two men had not been officially sworn in on the floor.
Democrats sought to capitalize on the blunder, and in an interview, Rep. Anthony Weiner recalled doing so thanks to being called on by Miller, who was presiding at the time.
“I was recognized and got some time on the floor that perhaps I shouldn’t have had,” the New York Democrat said.
Weiner was called on for a parliamentary inquiry; he used the opportunity to take control of the proceedings and try to score a few points.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.