The Rules of the House are adopted usually shortly after the election of the Speaker and of the various officers of the House. I'm interested in what - apart from the Constitution of course - governs the House when these Rules haven't been adopted.

During the 2023 speakership election proceedings, which took several days, the Clerk - chairing the House at the time - announced an adjournment under clause 12c of rule 1 if my memory is correct. This furiously resembles the infamous clause 12b of rule 1, which empowers the chair to declare the House in recess in case of an immediate threat on the safety of the House - that which was invoked on January 6 2021. This would seem to indicate the Clerk was using the old Rules package. But during the same aforementioned proceedings, when a Republican member(-elect) accused the Democrats to be drinking on House floor, said member claimed (and media repeated) that her words could not be stricken from the record because there was no Rules. So, which is it ?

This answer cites "metarules" governing the House in the absence of any aforementioned Rules, and states that such metarules can only be amended under valid Rules. Is that accurate, and if so, how does it work, is there a block of rules that goes permanent until/unless amended out, and another block which expires the same time as the Congress adopting it ? If so, why doesn't any rule package get voted to the permanent block, rather than the temporary one ?

1 Answer 1


Some of what Congress has to do are written in the Constitution or written into law. The Constitution requires the House to choose ("chuse") a Speaker, but it doesn't say how. Neither do the Rules of the House of Representatives, which say nothing about how a Speaker is chosen. Title 2 of the US Code contains several laws that pertain to the US House of Representatives. For example, the final responsibility of the House (or its officers) after an election is to confirm the credentials of the members of the next session. By law, this has to be done prior to the opening of the next session. This means this is the responsibility of the previous session, and this taking of the roll is written into the House Rules. Those laws also require that members of Congress swear an oath of loyalty; the wording is explicitly spelled out.

There is however nothing in the Rules of the House of Representatives that covers the span of time between noon on the 3rd of January in an odd-numbered year to the point in time at which the Rules have been adopted. There is nothing in those Rules about how a Speaker is elected, how oaths are administered, or how the rules are decided upon. The Rules cover the span in time from the point the rules have been decided upon to just before noon on January 3 on the next odd numbered year.

For what happens between noon on January 3 to the adoption of the new set of rules, you need to look at the Precedents of the House of Representatives. Beware; these are thousands of pages long.

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