Washington and Congress have their own, often impenetrable, languages. So it may be somewhat confusing to assess what it means that the office of the speaker of the House of Representatives is vacant.
So, what does it mean for Americans that one chamber of Congress is in a state of paralysis?
Here are some of the answers to a few key questions.
First off, what the heck is going on in Washington?
The House is without a speaker, the person who, according to the Constitution, is required to be its leader. That means the chamber is essentially paralyzed until it can settle on a new speaker.
For now, a placeholder, Rep. Patrick McHenry, is what’s referred to as “speaker pro tempore,” which means the North Carolina Republican can essentially keep the lights on but has no power to move legislation through the House.
Will this affect me?
That depends on a few things, including how long the House is frozen, but also who takes over as the next speaker and what kind of negotiating they will do with Democrats who control the Senate and the White House.
For as long as the House is trying to find a new speaker, it’s unable to do much of anything else.
What does Congress need to do?
- Keep the government open. Temporary funding runs out on November 17 and a government shutdown, if one occurs, could affect every American. The next speaker will have to negotiate with the Senate and the White House to agree on spending that both Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate can stomach.
The House adopted a package of organizing rules back in January, which means some effects of this paralysis are muted. Lawmakers’ offices can continue to function, helping constituents with passports and other services. But if there is a national, regional or local emergency, Congress will be unable to respond for the time being. And any time it would have spent on legislation is now being spent on this internal Republican fight.