Confessions of a process nerd

I am one of those people who likes to go behind the scenes and see how things get done. If I join an organization, I tend to study the bylaws to make sure that things are done properly. This is especially true of politics. Most of the time when things are working smoothly, the process is largely opaque. It is only when things go seriously off the rails that the inner workings get exposed. And boy, these last two years have been a boon for process nerds.

We saw this with the the Electoral College fiasco that led up to the January 6th riot by Trump supporters. The whole process was laid bare revealing the potential for abuse. One good thing that came out of it is that as part of the omnibus spending bill that was passed last month, it was clarified that the vice president’s role in certifying the results was purely ceremonial, leaving no room for him to unilaterally reject the slate of voters sent by each state, as Trump and his cult members claimed.

Importantly, the measure also would raise the bar for objecting to a state’s slate of electors. As it stands now, it takes just one member of the House and one senator to challenge a state’s electors and send both chambers into a potentially days-long debate period, even without legitimate concerns.

The new legislation would raise the threshold for an objection to 20% of the members of each chamber.

The Electoral College should be abolished altogether as an anachronism but failing that this is a good first step.

Now with the vote for the Speaker, we again see the workings exposed, revealing that a small but determined group of people can completely stymie the working of government by refusing to give the majority party leader the votes to become Speaker. Since that is the first order of. business, nothing can be done until the Speaker is chosen. He have now had 11 votes over three days and Kevin McCarthy’s support has actually declined from 203 to 200, well short of the 218 he needs.

The roll call is done orally with each member naming the person whom they are voting for. I was curious as to who was presiding over the votes since there is no Speaker. I could hear a woman’s voice calling the roll. It turns out that it is the Clerk of the House Cheryl Johnson who presides until the Speaker is chosen. She might be in that role for a while.

What a dreary task this must be for her, going through the same motions over and over again with almost no change in the outcome. It is not clear to me why they hold multiple votes back-to-back on the same day since the first vote on a day will pretty much determine the subsequent ones since there is really is no time to do any negotiations to change votes.

Furthermore some of Republicans have been making speeches before naming their choice, dragging out the process even more. Some like anti-McCarthy Matt Gaetz have trivialized the process by voting for Donald Trump. Then there is Lauren Boebert, one of the most fervent opponents of Kevin McCarthy. She decided to be cute when it was her turn on one vote and made a speech in which she said that she was voting for Kevin. This caused considerable surprise and confusion. She then rambled on, causing other members to yell at her to get to the point and then she then went on to say that she was voting for Oklahoma congressman Kevin Hern. Ha! Ha! Pranked you!

That Boebert, such a kidder! I am sure that all those hoping that this process would come to a merciful end were slapping their thighs with laughter. People like Boebert and Gaetz don’t seem have shed their middle-school mentality. Boebert barely won re-election this time. I am not sure if her childish behavior will help or hurt her next time around.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the the Electoral College fiasco …

    A few of the less cowardly Democrats have made such suggestions, but none of the reports indicate they’ve thought it through very well. To work democratically, a direct election would need some sort of ranked preference/instant runoff process: simply giving the presidency to whoever got a plurality would hand that office to whichever party did the best at splintering their opposition -- and I think we can all guess which set of r*tf*ck*rs that would be…

  2. larpar says

    Clerk of the House Cheryl Johnson does not read the roll call herself. That’s delegated to the “Reading Clerk” (I think that’s what they call it). I’ve seen two clerk staffers do it so far. They take turns.

  3. larpar says

    Follow up: One of the Reading Clerks is Susan Cole. I haven’t found the name of the one pictured in the tweet, but she is reading the roll for the ongoing 12th vote.

  4. springa73 says

    Holms @4

    The “greatest deliberative body in the world” term has traditionally been applied to the US Senate, not the House of Representatives. Of course, the Senate has its own problems, so the description might not be very apt there either.

    Still, the dysfunction in this case is entirely in the Republican Party, not the House of Representatives as a whole.

  5. John Morales says


    … the dysfunction in this case is entirely in the Republican Party, not the House of Representatives as a whole.

    Um, not really.

    I grant that, technically, you’re right — there’s a difference between dysfunction and lack of function. Right now, it’s the equivalent of someone fiddling with their lawnmower to get it started, and pulling on the starter cord over and over.
    But, until it actually gets started, no lawn gets mown.

    The processes of the House are currently in abeyance, other than the process of selecting a Speaker. Nothing is really getting done, and the reason is the process whereby a Speaker is selected. And that process is part of the House as a whole. Laws aren’t being passed, committees aren’t doing their thing, etc.

  6. Steve Morrison says

    @4: Whenever anyone mentions that cliché, I always think of this, from chapter 33 of Catch-22:

    She agreed not to go to bed with Captain Black again or give him any more of Nately’s money, but she would not budge an inch on her friendship with the ugly, ill-kempt, dissipated, filthy-minded old man, who witnessed Nately’s flowering love affair with insulting derision and would not admit that Congress was the greatest deliberative body in the whole world.

  7. says

    Someone should nominate Cheryl Johnson for Speaker. It’s not like anyone, in either party, has had any objection to how she’s done the job so far…or is in any hurry to take it off her hands…

  8. John Morales says

    Do they even get nominated, as such?

    A bit of Googling is all about how prospective members vote to select the Speaker, but not about how the nomination is made. Seems almost like there are no nominations, as such, but that those who can vote may vote for whomever they wish, so that the nomination is implicit by virtue of that vote.

    (Anyone more informed can perhaps clarify)

  9. John Morales says

    I’m only vaguely interested in that bit of sausage-making, but I find it interesting that the spin being put upon circumstances by the pro-Republican media, to the effect that this is an example of how democracy works and is therefore a sign of a healthy democracy. A good thing.

  10. JM says

    McCarthy managed to squeeze out a victory in a session that ran into Saturday. Gaetz flipped his votes with minutes left on the clock. This was on the floor negotiations so no telling what Gaetz got promised for his vote.
    From the looks of things McCarthy had to make huge concessions to get his gavel. One that could be key is that a single representative can call for a new vote on Speaker. This makes it harder for McCarthy to go back on his word but also subjects him to random tantrums from the radical right. The other big one is a complex set of budgetary changes that in theory require spending cuts. This sets up big conflicts with the Senate and White House but depend on the House running better then it has in the past so what happens is up in the air.
    A couple of the changes I like in theory. There is a minimum time for bills before votes so that Representatives actually have time to examine bills. Allowing more amendments from the floor could be good or bad depending on how it’s worded.

  11. larpar says

    John Morales @ 9
    There were formal nominations before each vote. Someone nominated McCarthy or Jefferies each time. Others also got nominated for most of the votes. Trump even got nominated once. Members can vote for anyone or no one (present).

  12. Mano Singham says

    I was under the impression that there was no formal nominating or seconding as is the usual case in such election. The first time a member calls out the name of the person they are voting for, that becomes a de facto nomination.

  13. larpar says

    Mano @ 13.
    Before each vote the Clerk of the House would recognize whoever wanted to be recognized to nominate someone. That person would make a short speech and nominate their Canidate. There were no seconds. Members could choose one of the nominees or someone/anyone else or no one.
    After each unsuccessful vote, someone would rise to either go to recess or go through the nomination process and voting again.
    I watched about half of the proceedings on C-SPAN.

  14. seachange says

    The reason for repeatedly doing the same thing over and over again is because people are still connected to their offices their aides their donors and their consitutents throughout the day. The vote is not a one and done thing everyone voting all at once giving time for people to change their mind and negotiate (whether or not you can see it on camera). And if someone’s mind is changed somewhere in the middle of the vote but after their vote for (whomever) this time has been recorded, then yes you want to run the vote immediately again.

    This is the *whole point* of voting one at a time.

    The specific reason besides the general reason is that the Tea Party upended the Republican Party using similar methods. This current batch of upstarts thinks they can. In order for this to work like it did before, there have to have been people who are playing along with the party line, but which also believed the Tea Party’s thing no matter what they told the public and their own party what they believed. We don’t know what the current objectors are getting from this, because why would they tell -you- (or me and him and her) and the likes of us? But they want something enough that they’re sure they won’t be squelched by the rest of the party later for it.

    It is in the interest of the two political parties to pretend quite loudly that nothing’s going on. Or if there’s no true chance of compromise (and their can’t be, because of the box the Republicans have put themselves in) to eat popcorn. You have trusted the lazy reporters of the fake news who have told you that everything’s just a dull repeat. I find myself unable to believe that it is a dull repeat. I find myself unable to believe them.

    Sending AOC over to make requests, even if they seem ridiculous, is worth doing. Sending her in particular over is a fun little stiletto stabbing even if the offer is known to be from someone more acceptable. She or other Democratics may also be relaying information that is not readily available except throught backchannels. Because the opposition is likely *also* making ridiculous requests.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *