The Very Long Effort to Elect a US House Speaker Creates Some Very Unlikely Stars

House speaker elections
Lots of eyeballs were trained on C-SPAN this week as hearings to elect a House Speaker went on and on and on.Getty

This week's tedious and and time-consuming effort to elect a U.S. House Speaker has created some unlikely media darlings.

History was made this week — though not necessarily in a good way— as the U.S. House of Representatives failed time after time to elect a Speaker.

And with the Capitol at a standstill, some unexpected and unusual institutions took center stage during the extremely long, and extremely tedious, proceedings.

C-SPAN, for example, the august and normally staid purveyor of gavel-to-gavel Congress coverage.

Because no Speaker has been elected, there was a suspension of normal rules. That left the cable network free to carry video on its own cameras, instead of the official government lenses. 

That resulted in some members putting their hands over their mouths as they bartered and bargained for votes so that viewers could not see their wheeling and dealing. It also showed deep conversations between House members who are miles apart in ideology and personalities — most notably an intense discussion between liberal Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Republican Paul Gosar of Arizona, the latter of whom proudly describes himself as the "most conservative member" of Congress.

And with nowhere else to watch second-by-second TV coverage, C-SPAN viewers got a long glimpse of Clerk of the House of Representatives Cheryl Johnson, who ruled the proceedings with a stern gavel and the patience of a pre-school teacher.

To newly elected House members, she sternly advised them to behave themselves. 

“Members-elect should refrain from engaging in personalities toward other members-elect,” she admonished this week. “The chair appreciates the cooperation of members-elect in respecting and upholding order and decorum in the House. Thank you.”

Johnson wasn't afraid to bring down her wooden hammer when muttering and milling on the floor reached a dull roar. "The House will come to order," she regularly intoned over four days of hearings.

On Friday, after the 13th round of voting again stumbled, the House narrowly voted to come back at 10 p.m., so that members who'd gone home for the weekend could come back for a new round of voting.

And C-SPAN was coming back as well, to an ever-widening fan base.

“This the best season of C-SPAN … ever,” Jon Stewart tweeted earlier this week.

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