Meet Cheryl Johnson, the clerk responsible for dividing the House


ET just after 6 p.m. ET Thursday, after a historic three days of 10 rounds of trying — all failed — to pick the next Speaker of the House, Clerk Cheryl Johnson’s grace under pressure is a divided House can One thing to agree on.

As France Hill (R-Ark.) stood up for the 11th time to nominate Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, he paused to thank Johnson, who had stood where she had been for most of last week: In the center of the podium, she, the wooden man to her right, gavel, trying to maintain order in a chaotic house.

“Let me express my deep gratitude to everyone in this room for the work you’ve done,” Ms Hill said.

In a rare show of unity, the House of Representatives – more than 430 elected members of the House – gave Johnson a standing ovation.

House Clerk Cheryl L. Johnson received a standing ovation for her work after her 10th undecided vote for Speaker of the House on Jan. 10. 5. (Video: The Washington Post)

The first House clerk was elected in 1789, and for the next 234 years he remained a little-known role. But in an unusually dysfunctional speaker’s election, Johnson gained the highest visibility of any House clerk in U.S. history, as what was once a humble political process became the most literal political arena. You don’t have to be a political expert to tune in, you just have to have a keen nose for drama.

Johnson was front and center in all the politics, posturing and speeches. With no speaker of the House, Johnson became the de facto leader of the session. The only rules are the ones she sets. To those watching at home or in the office, Johnson impresses: always in an impeccable jacket; her hair is a shiny copper, with not a single strand out of place. Firmly but politely imploring the room, “what is the purpose of this lady”—or gentleman—”to get up?”

Throughout the week, lawmakers lavished praise on her on social media.

Jamie Ruskin, Democrat of Maryland (Johnson lives in Chevrolet Chase, Maryland).

“House Clerk Cheryl Johnson as Speaker? She’s doing a great job without passing any rules and with some sense of fairness and order,” Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) tweets Thursday.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime role that no one has had to fill for at least 100 years. She’s full of grace, competence and confidence,” Washington, D.C. congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton told The Washington Post on Friday afternoon .

“She worked empty-handed without any direction. She had to make up as she went,” said Holmes Norton. “There’s no living precedent for how it’s been done without a speaker.”

What if there is no Speaker of the House? These things cannot be done.

Typically, the House Clerk’s role is to perform important but mundane administrative tasks under the direction of the Speaker, such as delivering messages to the U.S. Senate or certifying the passage of all House bills and resolutions.

Johnson, a native of New Orleans with a law degree from Howard University, spent nearly 20 years in the House of Representatives, serving as committee director and policy advisor. She then spent 10 years at the Smithsonian Institution as director of the Office of Government Relations before becoming the clerk of the 36th House of Representatives in 2019. She was one of four women to serve as clerk, and the second black person to hold the position.

Johnson was first sworn in by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who served as clerk in extraordinary times.

She served in January. Riots on January 6, 2021, when mobs supporting President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol. In 2020 and 2021, it was Johnson who, together with the Sergeant of the House of Representatives, led the House impeachment manager to submit the articles of impeachment against Trump to the U.S. Senate.

But no task stands out more than the one before her this week. This isn’t the first time she’s run the House: When a new Congress convenes every two years, the clerk controls the chamber until a new speaker is elected. But in the past, the process has only lasted a few minutes — not four days.

What McCarthy’s concessions could cost him and the GOP

Over the past week, Johnson has overseen round after round of voting, and the tedious roll call from Alma Adams (D-N.C.) to Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) can take more than an hour. Throughout, Johnson was a steady and determined presence, swiveling from a tall leather chair at the back of the room, where she could be seen taking notes and sipping from a plastic cup, before walking to the podium, where the With some rap or her gavel, Johnson commands the room.

When the din of chattering representatives gets too loud, or when arguments erupt in the chamber, as they did between Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) and House Democrats earlier this week As in the past, Johnson called for order and “established decorum”.

Every time the vote failed (13:00 on a Friday), it was Johnson who counted the votes under the empty Speaker’s chair, ending with the depressingly familiar refrain: “No MP won a majority, the Speaker did not Elected.”

How long Johnson will lead the elected members of the 118th Congress remains to be seen. On Friday afternoon, after lawmakers gave another standing ovation to thank her for her service, Johnson presided over a motion to adjourn until 10 p.m. ET, extending her term as House leader.

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