Today is the start of the 115th Congress. It’s a big day for the House—especially for the new Members who will be sworn in for the first time. A lot will happen to set the stage for the next two years in DC, and here is a quick rundown of some of the most important events:
No legislative business can be conducted without a Speaker in office. So after the Clerk of the preceding Congress, Karen Haas, calls the body to order and takes attendance, she will preside over the election of a new Speaker. Before the opening of Congress, each party met to nominate a candidate for the speakership. The Republicans chose Representative Paul Ryan, the Speaker from the 114th Congress, and the Democrats chose Representative Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader from the last Congress. A candidate needs a simple majority to win—and since the vote is along party lines, the majority party’s nominee almost always wins. So expect Speaker Ryan to keep his gavel for the 115th Congress.
After a Speaker is elected and sworn in by the Dean of the House—the longest-serving Member—he will administer the oath of office to all the other Members. They take this oath en masse, but new Members might schedule a private, ceremonial swearing in with the Speaker later. The official swearing in will empower them to discharge their duties, but the ceremonial oath is an excellent photo op.
After Members are sworn in, they vote on they vote on two important matters: the Rules of the House and the House officers. The Rules of the House stipulate important procedural matters like the powers of various officeholders, committee jurisdiction, and rules of debate. Although there is much consistency from Congress to Congress, some changes can be controversial. And like the election for the Speaker, it is a partisan affair.
The officers of the House serve the entire body. They are the Clerk, the Sergeant at Arms, the Chief Administrative Officer and the Chaplain. As with the votes on the Speakership and House Rules, they fall along party lines.
While the House actually elects officers on the first day, the parties simply provide formal notification of who their leaders will be. These include the Majority and Minority Leaders; the Democratic Caucus and House Conference Chairs, Vice Chairs and Secretaries; and majority and minority whips. The parties elected these office holders last year, following the November elections. Their positions are not subject to a vote on the House Floor.
And of course, since the House is not the only player in Washington, they also formally let the President and Senate know that they are ready to legislate.
Let the legislating begin!
Mark Strand is the President of the Congressional Institute and Timothy Lang is the research director. The Sausage Factory blog is a Congressional Institute project dedicated to explaining parliamentary procedure, Congressional politics, and other issues pertaining to the legislative branch.
Judy Schneider and Michael L. Koempel. The First Day of a New Congress: A Guide to Proceedings on the House Floor. Congressional Research Service. 5 December 2014.