Lacking a Speaker, House Ceases to Function

(Mr. Long is not a congressman, since the last Congress adjourned for a final time on Tuesday, even though Representative-elect Eric Burlison, the Republican who won the race to succeed him, has yet to be sworn in.)

Many Democrats at first were enjoying the dysfunction of a Republican-led House that could not find a way to elect a speaker, with some posting on social media photos of popcorn while they mocked the discord. But others were starting to grow worried about practical matters, like, say, getting paid.

Representative Colin Allred, Democrat of Texas, said on MSNBC on Wednesday that he was not sure whether paychecks for members of Congress and their aides could still go out, and said lawmakers might ask for back pay.

Representative Chip Roy, Republican of Texas and one of Mr. McCarthy’s fiercest detractors, rejected concerns about a nonfunctioning House, and said Tuesday evening he did not think most Americans cared.

“Do you think anybody in America right now is like, ‘Oh my God, there’s not a speaker?’” he told reporters, adding that he believed there were untested legislative maneuvers the chamber could take to respond to an emergency should one arise. “We’re a body. We can go pass motions. We can do whatever. If there’s an emergency, we can do whatever we need to.”

But legal experts doubted whether any action taken by a House without a speaker — who is second in line to the presidency — could withstand judicial review.

For more than 200 years, the House has used provisions from the Constitution and from a 1789 law to form the basis for its order. According to the Revised Statutes of the United States, at the first session of Congress, the body must first swear in a speaker who then administers the oath of office to all members present, “previous to entering on any other business.”

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