Tuesday morning, the National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru reported that House Republicans “may pass” their proposal to end the shutdown, prevent default and exact certain concessions from Democrats, “and then skip town.” The implicit threat being that President Obama and the Senate could either take what the House Republican caucus is offering, or they can watch the American economy tumble into the chaos of a debt default.
Such a gambit, however, is unlikely to succeed — at least if the House GOP’s goal is to be far away from Washington when the bottom falls out. The Constitution gives President Obama a way to reconvene Congress, and the House rules enable Leader Nancy Pelosi’s caucus to bring Republicans back to the Capitol to do their job.
Under Article II of the Constitution, the President of the United States “may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them.” Thus, even if Speaker John Boehner managed to adjourn the House and hop on a flight to Ohio, President Obama could summon him back to DC.
The Constitution’s text places few, if any, textual constraints on this power to convene Congress, and there is at least some precedent suggesting that the president can choose the specific date when Congress should reconvene. When President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the Congress back into session on March 5, 1933, he required “the Congress of the United States to convene in extra session at the Capitol in the City of Washington on the Ninth day of March, 1933, at twelve o’clock, noon.” If House Republicans closed down shop at 11pm on Tuesday, there’s nothing in the Constitution suggesting President Obama couldn’t order them back to work at 11:01.
Of course, House Republicans are nothing if not prone to defy this President, but the House rules account for the very circumstance where lawmakers try to prevent the lower house of Congress from operating by refusing to show up to work. Under those rules, “[i]n the absence of a quorum, a majority comprising at least 15 Members . . . may compel the attendance of absent members.” Once such a vote takes place, the House Sergeant-at-Arms may send officers “to arrest those Members for whom no sufficient excuse is made and shall secure and retain their attendance.” So if House Republicans try to flee town, they can be kept at work by force of law.
None of this, of course, forces any member of the House to vote on a bill to avert default. The Constitution, unfortunately, is designed to allow a minorty party controlling just once house of Congress to block any legislation they choose, even if that legislation is necessary to avert catastrophe. But if House Republicans decide to drive the American economy over the cliff, they will at least have a front row seat to witness the mess they’ve created.