Griffith in the Roanoke Times: Is the office of House Speaker vacant?

Griffith: Is the office of House Speaker vacant?
Congressman Morgan Griffith
Roanoke Times, January 11, 2020

On December 18, 2019, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi spoke on the floor of the House in favor of impeaching President Donald Trump. She told the House, “If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty.”

Today, Speaker Pelosi is indeed derelict in her duty by holding onto the articles of impeachment when they should have been sent to the Senate last year.

Although I voted no on the articles of impeachment, contained in H. Res. 755, they were duly passed by the House of Representatives. If for some reason the majority that passed impeachment wanted to reconsider, it could have done so immediately after the vote or within the next two legislative days.

Instead, the motion to reconsider was laid on the table. According to the rules of the House, this killed any opportunity to reconsider the resolution of impeachment.

After the motion to reconsider was laid on the table, Speaker Pelosi no longer had any discretion on the resolution of impeachment. Her duty became that of a simple functionary transmitting it from the House to the Senate, which according to the Constitution “shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.”

Instead, she held onto the resolution, saying that she would not transmit it unless the Senate met her demands for trying the impeachment.

This failure to perform an essential part of the Speaker’s administrative duties is extraordinary.

With that being the case, I went to the House floor on January 9 to raise a parliamentary inquiry about the status of the Office of the Speaker. Under clause 8(b)(3)(C) of Rule I of the House rules, “a vacancy in the Office of Speaker may exist by reason of the physical inability of the Speaker to discharge the duties of the office.”

I asked whether the Office of Speaker was automatically vacant due to her apparent physical inability to discharge the duty of transmitting the impeachment resolution, at that point 21 calendar days, 12 working days, and 7 legislative days after it has passed the House. Further, I asked the presiding officer if she was aware of a precedent other than incapacity for a Speaker to not transmit actions of the House to the Senate in a timely manner.

Of course, my inquiries were not met with substantive responses, but the important questions remain about Speaker Pelosi not carrying out the essential functions of her job. I have not found a precedent for her behavior, nor do I think there is a justification for it under the House rules or the Constitution.

Her dissatisfaction with Senate procedures are not good enough. I have often expressed frustration with Senate rules, but I never advocated holding onto legislation duly passed by the House as a response.

Speaker Pelosi may not be physically unable to discharge the duties of her office, but her conduct regarding the impeachment resolution is nevertheless a failure to discharge those duties.

If she has not vacated the Office of Speaker by failing to do her duty, then I believe a writ of mandamus may be appropriate. This is an extraordinary court order telling a government official to do his or her duty.

While the courts do not generally intervene in the internal workings of the House or the Senate, the impeachment resolution is no longer technically in the House and has not arrived in the Senate. It is figuratively in the hallway of the Capitol, stuck in a limbo of Nancy Pelosi’s own creation.

This is concerning because if the House Speaker refuses to do her duty on this resolution, then any measure passed by the House in the future could be held up at the whim of a Speaker, whether Democrat or Republican.

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