What: All Issues : Making Government Work for Everyone, Not Just the Rich or Powerful : Curbing Presidential Power : H. Res. 5. Rules of the House of Representatives/Vote on a Point of Order Asserting that Proposed Rules Governing House of Representatives Permitting a "Provisional Quorum" to Govern House of Representatives in the Event of a Catastrophe is Unconstitutional.
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H. Res. 5. Rules of the House of Representatives/Vote on a Point of Order Asserting that Proposed Rules Governing House of Representatives Permitting a "Provisional Quorum" to Govern House of Representatives in the Event of a Catastrophe is Unconstitutional.
house Roll Call 3     Jan 04, 2005
Y = Conservative
N = Progressive
Winning Side:
Conservative

The House voted to proceed to consideration of H. Res. 5, the Republican-drafted resolution establishing the rules that would govern the House of Representatives in the 109th Congress. (Each two-year period beginning in January following congressional elections the previous November is considered a "Congress.") These rules must be re-adopted every two years when a new Congress begins. H. Res. 5 contained a number of significant changes from the rules that governed the 108th Congress, including the creation of a Committee on Homeland Security, the introduction of the concept of a "provisional quorum" (provisional majority required in order for Congress to vote and otherwise conduct certain business) in the case of catastrophe, and changes in ethics-related provisions. In this vote, Brian Baird (D-WA) raised a point of order (interruption in the proceedings contending that consideration of the pending legislation or other current business is improper and violates the Constitution or other law or House rules; points of order take precedence over pending legislation and must be resolved before the House can continue its other business) against the resolution containing the proposed rules. Baird argued on behalf of Democrats that the proposed rules contained an unconstitutional provision permitting the Speaker of the House (the highest-ranking member of the House of Representatives; the Speaker is always a member of the majority party), in the case of "catastrophic circumstances," to conduct House business with a quorum of House members who are physically available. This provision ran counter to the usual requirement that a quorum of House members duly elected and sworn in be present for the conduct of House business. Democrats stated that this change to the rules would, in effect, be amending the Constitution because it would permit the Speaker "nearly unfettered authority to change the number of the Members of the whole House to exclude Members who are chosen, sworn, and living . . . . This would seem to amount to a constructive expulsion without a [constitutionally required] two-thirds vote of the whole House." (Nadler, D-NY.) (The U.S. Constitution requires two-thirds of the House to vote to expel a member from its ranks.) Democrats further argued that the Constitution requires amendment to address the question of how to govern the country in the event of an act of mass terrorism or other catastrophe affecting Congress, but that such an amendment would need to be completed via the amendment process as set forth in the Constitution, and the Republican resolution did not follow that requirement. Republicans responded that this rule change would be constitutional because "the Constitution as drafted permits the Congress to ensure the preservation of government." The Speaker (in this context, member of Congress presiding over floor proceedings) determined that the outcome of Baird's point of order ought to be determined by a vote of the House, and the House voted 224 to 192-almost completely along party lines-to proceed to consideration of the resolution, meaning that it believed the proposed rule to be constitutional. Thus, the provision altering the manner in which the House might govern in the case of certain emergencies was retained in the rule, so that the Speaker of the House could, in the event of a "catastrophe," conduct official legislative business without the majority of 435 elected members of the House of Representatives specified in the Constitution.

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