A 400-pound gavel? The story of a symbol of congressional power and its heavy-handed abusers.

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tags: political history, Congressional history

When Nancy Pelosi became House speaker for the second time Thursday, her new power was symbolized by the gavel handed to her by the new minority leader.

In transferring the gavel — a mallet made of lacquered maple — the Republicans let go of one the oldest symbols of legislative power in Washington.

“In the speakership,” said Sam Rayburn, the Texas Democrat who held the office longer than anyone else, "the gavel becomes almost part of the office. It’s habit. Any gavel you use has a lot of sentiment attached.”

That is, until it is shattered.

Throughout American history, speakers have pounded their gavels so hard in search of order that — metaphor alert! — they wind up smashing the gavel itself into smithereens.

This is not the fault of the House carpentry shop, whose workers have diligently and expertly produced the mallets for decades, but rather a legislative process that often veered out of control in a world before microphones.

Read entire article at Washington Post

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