After a second day of multiple rounds of voting on Jan. 4, Republican lawmakers failed to elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy as House speaker. It was the first time in 100 years that a nominee for House speaker could not take the gavel on the first vote.
The day before, on Jan. 3, the offices of several House freshmen, including Rep.-elect George Santos, erroneously announced that they had been sworn into the 118th U.S. Congress. In a text message, VERIFY viewer Emmanuel asked our team if members of the House can be sworn in without an elected speaker.
Can members of the House be sworn in without a speaker?
No, members of the House cannot be sworn in without a speaker.
WHAT WE FOUND
According to a report published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution sets a term of office of two years for all members of the U.S. House of Representatives. This means one House ends at the conclusion of each two-year Congress and a new one must be sworn in.
“The House must take these actions at the beginning of each new Congress because it is not a continuing body,” the CRS report says.
On the opening day of a new Congress, which usually convenes at noon on Jan. 3, the House typically follows a “well-established routine,” according to the CRS report. These proceedings include electing and swearing in the House speaker, swearing in members, electing and swearing in administrative officers, and adopting rules of procedure and various administrative resolutions.
“After the speaker is elected, the member with the longest continuous service (the Dean of the House) administers the oath to the speaker,” according to the U.S. House of Representatives History, Art & Archives website. “The speaker, in turn, administers the oath to the rest of the members en masse.”
But if no speaker is chosen, incoming House members cannot take an oath or be sworn in on the House floor, according to the U.S. Code of Law, which reads:
“At the first session of Congress after every general election of Representatives, the oath of office shall be administered by any Member of the House of Representatives to the Speaker; and by the Speaker to all the Members and Delegates present, and to the Clerk, previous to entering on any other business; and to the Members and Delegates who afterward appear, previous to their taking their seats.”
Incoming House members who have not taken the oath cannot vote, engage in floor proceedings, introduce new legislation or conduct other official House business until a speaker is chosen, according to a guide on procedures of the House, published by the U.S. Government Publishing Office.
“Until a member-elect has subscribed to the oath, he does not enjoy all the rights and prerogatives of a member of Congress,” reads the House guide.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.