Republicans Walk out of House in Protest
Patrick O’Connor reports on a bizarre incident last night wherein the Republicans stormed out of the House of Representatives after a shouting match with the Democrats.
The flap represents a complete breakdown in parliamentary procedure and an unprecedented low for the sometimes bitterly divided chamber.
The rancor erupted shortly before 11 p.m. as Rep. Michael R. McNulty (D-N.Y.) gaveled close the vote on a standard procedural measure with the outcome still in doubt.
Details remain fuzzy, but numerous Republicans argued afterward that they had secured a 215-213 win on their motion to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving any federal funds apportioned in the agricultural spending bill for employment or rental assistance. Democrats, however, argued the measure was deadlocked at 214-214 and failed, members and aides on both sides of the aisle said afterward.
Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) eventually offered a motion to reconsider, according to floor staff on either side, ostensibly giving members a chance to recast their votes. But the maneuver sparked a chorus of angry protests from the Republicans, yelling “shame” on Democrats, while they returned fire with angry volleys of their own.
When Democrats finally moved to consider the spending bill as the last vote of the night, furious Republicans left the chamber en masse to protest the maneuver. The House eventually recessed at 11:18 p.m. But Republicans quickly discovered that there was no longer any record of the controversial vote and immediately charged Democrats with erasing the bad result.
An outraged source wrote John Hinderaker about this, terming the Democrats’ actions “an insult to our democracy, something that Stalin would recognize.” Rep. Eric Cantor blogged, “An outrage. Is this a democracy or a dictatorship?”
The Republicans would certainly be in a better position to take the moral high ground on this one had they not done essentially the same thing when they had the majority. It happened two years ago on the Central America Free Trade Area bill:
The 217 to 215 vote came just after midnight, in a dramatic finish that highlighted the intensity brought by both sides to the battle. When the usual 15-minute voting period expired at 11:17 p.m., the no votes outnumbered the yes votes by 180 to 175, with dozens of members undeclared. House Republican leaders kept the voting open for another 47 minutes, furiously rounding up holdouts in their own party until they had secured just enough to ensure approval.
The last-minute negotiations for Republican votes resembled the wheeling and dealing on a car lot. Republicans who were opposed or undecided were courted during hurried meetings in Capitol hallways, on the House floor and at the White House. GOP leaders told their rank and file that if they wanted anything, now was the time to ask, lawmakers said, and members took advantage of the opportunity by requesting such things as fundraising appearances by Cheney and the restoration of money the White House has tried to cut from agriculture programs. Lawmakers also said many of the favors bestowed in exchange for votes will be tucked into the huge energy and highway bills that Congress is scheduled to pass this week before leaving for the August recess
Cantor didn’t seem to mind:
Rep. Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), the chief deputy majority whip, said as members left the Capitol that trade votes are always hard but that this one was especially so for Republicans because “the other side really ramped this up and made this a political vote.”
Regardless, though, one wonders what the Majority Whip and his staff were doing? In the House, the majority can simply ram controversial measures down the opposition’s throat, given that they control the rules. Why even put it up for vote if the outcome was in question?
UPDATE: John Cole says we can “blame the Democrats for learning from DeLay.” He also muses, “have you noticed these things seem to happen late at night? It seems like calmer heads always lose out in these extended sessions.”
Dan Spencer, who maintains that last night’s action was far worse than what Hastert and Co. did on the CAFTA vote, provides this video of last night’s controversy:
Democracy at its finest folks. Democracy at its finest.