What some critics would argue is the usual state of affairs is currently the official reality in the House of Representatives: With no speaker chosen, the chamber is a "useless entity," unable to swear in its members, let alone conduct other business including passing laws or forming committees, the New York Times reports. As things stand, the House doesn't even have representatives, only representatives-elect. "If there's a real emergency, we couldn't respond," says Democratic Rep. (or Rep.-elect) Jerrold Nadler, per the Times. "Either the Republicans don't understand that, or they do understand that and they don't care. I don't know which is worse, but it is a profound danger to the country as long as it lasts."
The speakerless House is a situation unprecedented in living memory—the last time a speaker wasn't elected on the first ballot was in 1923. In that year, it took three days to elect a speaker. Thursday will be the third day of voting for a speaker in the 118th Congress, and some analysts predict the deadlock among Republicans will continue for a fourth day and beyond. The AP reports that the lack of a speaker and uncertainty about the rules added to the "surreal, looser-than usual atmosphere on the House floor" on Wednesday, when members were seen taking photos, which is normally banned. Clerk Cheryl Johnson has been the one holding the gavel, and Republican lawmaker Chip Roy called her "Madam speaker" Wednesday before correcting himself.
"I think more people need to be aware of the institutional damage that's going on here," a House procedural expert speaking on condition of anonymity tells the Washington Post. "If one of those branches is so hamstringed, so paralyzed, as it is right now, do you really have the three equal branches of government that our Constitution has set out?" The representatives-elect say they're confused about many issues, including whether they're going to get paid if the stalemate drags on. The Post reports that when Greg Pence, brother of the former vice president, was asked who was in charge Wednesday, he pointed to the ceiling and said "God." (Read more House of Representatives stories.)