House clerk rose above the chaos

Watching Ms. Johnson in action was a reminder that democracy relies not just on elected officials, but also on dedicated and largely apolitical civil servants.

By

Editorials

January 9, 2023 - 3:24 PM

House Clerk Cheryl Johnson was a sane and calming presence in the House Chamber during the unprecedented four days of elections for Speaker of the House in Washington, D.C. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

The person who deserves a standing ovation after this week’s House speaker chaos is clerk Cheryl Johnson. She has been the calm presence at the front of the House chamber, keeping order with a gavel, a poker face and a lot of dignity. Without a speaker in place, she was temporarily in charge. 

There was no rulebook for the role in which she found herself. In fact, there are no rules at all for the House until a new speaker takes over. The reason proceedings weren’t dysfunctional was largely because of Ms. Johnson’s ability to command respect — and even admiration — from Republicans and Democrats alike, asking rowdy representatives to refrain “from engaging in personalities toward other members-elect.”

Watching Ms. Johnson in action — along with reading clerks Susan Cole and Tylease Alli, who have called out all 435 representatives’ names over and over again — was a reminder that democracy relies not just on elected officials, but also on dedicated and largely apolitical civil servants. They kept order. They kept the House moving, even when the Republican majority appeared ungovernable. They did their jobs in a neutral way, showing no favor for any candidate. They didn’t even show emotion as disgraced former president Donald Trump received a vote for speaker.

Related
January 6, 2023
July 31, 2019
January 3, 2019
November 23, 2018