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“Are the Members of Congress who have not been duly sworn in entitled to be paid for the days of service in which they were here and were not sworn in?” he asked.
Miller replied, “The gentleman has not stated a proper parliamentary inquiry.”
It was a rare misstep for Miller, a regular in the chair. But the complexity and the pace of that January debate “gave me the opportunity to claim the floor when I probably shouldn’t have,” Weiner said.
The presiding officer has significant influence over the flow of debate on the floor. Impartiality is key, and parliamentarians are helpful lieutenants, Members and aides said.
“It’s like a referee; you need someone who can be decisive. The chamber will walk all over anybody who is not decisive,” said Quinn Gillespie & Associates’ John Feehery, a former aide to then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
“It’s important the person in the chair not be red meat to the other side,” LaTourette said. “If you put someone who’s identified as a very partisan Republican in the chair, the other side would say, ‘Oh no, am I going to get treated fairly?’”
Even Weiner, who identified himself as “one of the top five more partisan Members of Congress,” said he kept himself in check while he served in the chair.
How Members perform in the chair sticks with them long after their career in Congress ends.
Former Rep. Ellen Tauscher became one of her party’s most skillful presiding officers and logged more hours than any of her colleagues before leaving the House for the State Department in 2009. The California Democrat was in the chair in 2008 when Republicans staged a walkout to protest Democratic efforts to subpoena former Bush White House officials; she later presided over a rare secret session called by the GOP to discuss the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.
Tauscher’s reputation for running the floor was a celebrated part of her career. But for former Rep. Mike McNulty, a missed call as the presiding officer became a stain on his Congressional résumé. In 2007, the New York Democrat prematurely gaveled down a vote, announcing it defeated on a 214-214 tie. Republicans yelled “shame” on the floor and said the final tally was 215-213 in their favor.
A bipartisan panel investigated and determined the vote was gaveled down incorrectly, but it stopped short of admonishing McNulty. Instead, the panel said the events were the result of “the perfect storm: a long and contentious week; a close vote on a politically sensitive issue; the lateness of the hour; urging from the Majority Leader and other Members to close the vote.”
No doubt Boehner is looking to avoid a similar event.
“It’s big stakes on the CR and people are watching; this is really kind of the House of Representatives on display,” Feehery said. “The most important thing will be that whoever is presiding plays well on TV.”