Wielding a giant wooden gavel on the first day of the 112th Congress, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi concluded her last speech in the top House position with a loaded comment:
I now pass this gavel, which is larger than most gavels here but the gavel of choice of Mr. Speaker Boehner …
The normally stodgy room then began to chuckle and … was that someone whistling?
While Congress may soon focusing on problems like the impending debt ceiling, repealing health care and changing filibuster rules, the biggest question today is: Is the new Speaker’s gavel really that big?
The short answer is “yes,” but he’ll probably only pull that one out every two years. According to CNN, John Boehner had a specially made gavel specially made for the occasion, although Boehner’s office won’t confirm any other details.
That isn’t to suggest Pelosi’s was any smaller. Since 1999, every new congress has used the same, large gavel, according to NPR:
“The clerk of the House used a gavel to open the proceedings of Congress and decided to save that gavel and use it again to open every Congress. So the clerk took that one gavel, put a piece of Scotch tape around it so he would remember to use that gavel next time, and kept it,” she says.
House Carpentry Shop (yes, it exists) actually churns out gavels like congressman stuff bills with pork. The main reason is that the gavels tend to break while some smaller versions are given away by the Speaker as gifts.
If watching House proceedings wasn’t evidence enough of how slow and boring things can get on the floor, the Office of the Clerk actually has a page dedicated to the date in history when one gavel popped its top. Speaker Joseph Cannon was pounding his gavel’s head so hard, it snapped and the head “landed between the clerks on the lower tier of the rostrum.” Speaker Sam Rayburn, it seems, had a bit of a gavel fetish and Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed broke desktops with his.
The new Speaker’s office was “experiencing heavy call traffic” and unavailable for comment. (That’s what she said!)