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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dan Spencer says:

    I’m disappointed that you would even attempt to equate keeping a vote open for an extra 47 minutes to allowing votes after the vote is declared over.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I’m disappointed that you would even attempt to equate keeping a vote open for an extra 47 minutes to allowing votes after the vote is declared over.

    Both are unprecedented violations of the rules. And, arguably at least, the Democrats did it out of confusion last night. Further, the Hastert fiasco came at the cost of what amounts to bribery paid for with tax dollars.

  3. just me says:

    Also, the problem for the democrats is that they ran against these tactics with a promise to change them. At some point pointing at the GOP and saying “they did it too” is going to get think.

    Granted the real problem is the majority of voters don’t give a flip about this stuff, they just care about the end product, and there hasn’t been much end product out of congress.

    The democrats promised to be different-so far they aren’t really succeeding.

  4. Ugh says:

    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?”

    all true, because once passed, this bill immediately became the law of the land, fncking idiots.

  5. Dan Spencer says:

    Both are unprecedented violations of the rules. And, arguably at least, the Democrats did it out of confusion last night. Further, the Hastert fiasco came at the cost of what amounts to bribery paid for with tax dollars.

    I remain disappointed. There is a big difference. Once a vote has been gaveled closed, it becomes part of the record and should become official.

  6. Michael says:

    I remain disappointed. There is a big difference. Once a vote has been gaveled closed, it becomes part of the record and should become official.

    What would be come official? The outcome of the vote? That’s what was in question, wasn’t it? Would you be happy if the “deadlocked” outcome was made official?

  7. Michael says:

    Ok, so here’s how I’m reading this story, someone tell me what the Democrats did wrong:

    1.) A vote was cast, sometime before and leading up to 11pm.

    2.) After the vote was gaveled closed, the Majority party believed the vote was 214-214, while the Minority party believed the vote was 215-213. Nobody is saying why there was this confusion, wasn’t somebody counting? Can we get a C-SPAN instant replay?

    3.) Because of the disagreement, Majority leader Hoyer offered a re-vote, instead of just making official what his Majority party believed should be official. If nobody was keeping count the first time, I can’t think of any other way to resolve it.

    4.) Republicans don’t want the re-vote, I can only assume they want their belief that the vote was 215-213 made official, so they walk out.

    5.) With disagreement about the actual outcome of the vote, and Republicans refusing a re-vote, and I assume not enough reps left for quorum, the House didn’t record any outcome of the vote in the official record. What other choice was there, really?

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    “have you noticed these things seem to happen late at night? It seems like calmer heads always lose out in these extended sessions.”

    Sundowning

  9. Simon says:

    I think Dan’s point is right, James, at least to some extent. Certainly, both are procedural chicanery, but while holding open votes long after the minimum period has expired may be unseemly, but it’s far from unprecedented. This, on the other hand, is something quite different: the allegation that after the vote was gavelled to a close, more votes were taken. That really is different, and really is deplorable.

    With that said, however, I should add that at the moment, it is merely asserted that it happened, not established. The video posted supposedly “of the events” does nothing to establish what took place. What’s driven this story thusfar is the accounts of Representatives and staffers (on both sides), who surely shouldn’t be considered a disinterested (and thus reliable) source. But there is a reliable source: the whole thing was carried live, on CSPAN. I want to see the unedited video posted to youtube, not just a snippet.

    “Ugh”‘s comment at 9:04 is distressingly ignorant in its assertion that “once passed [last night], this bill immediately became the law of the land.” I seem to remember the Constitution envisioning a role for the Senate and the President in bills becoming the law of the land.

  10. Simon says:

    Michael, I think your point two is wrong – I had understood the incident (and maybe it’s me who’s got it wrong) as being that votes were allowed after the gavel came down, not that there was confusion about votes cast before the gavel dropped.

  11. James Joyner says:

    it is merely asserted that it happened, not established

    Right. The video shows the acting speaker saying, essentially, that they mistakenly gaveled the tally while people were still voting.

    “Ugh”‘s comment at 9:04 is distressingly ignorant in its assertion that “once passed [last night], this bill immediately became the law of the land.” I seem to remember the Constitution envisioning a role for the Senate and the President in bills becoming the law of the land.

    I gather he was being sardonic.

  12. Simon says:

    James – oh, I guess that makes sense if he was calling you guys and the commenters here “fncking idiots.” I was presuming good faith (and ability to use emoticons) on his part – my bad. 😉

  13. Michael says:

    Michael, I think your point two is wrong – I had understood the incident (and maybe it’s me who’s got it wrong) as being that votes were allowed after the gavel came down, not that there was confusion about votes cast before the gavel dropped.

    215 + 213 = 428
    214 + 214 = 428

    Since they were both in agreement about the total number of votes counted, that argument wouldn’t make sense. It sounded more like one (or more) votes were counted as a “No” by the Democrats, but as a “Yes” by the Republicans. Unless those numbers are wrong, if it was 214-213 instead of 215-213, then I can see where an late “No” vote would cause the argument.

    The video shows the acting speaker saying, essentially, that they mistakenly gaveled the tally while people were still voting.

    Ok, that still doesn’t explain why both sides are claiming the same total number of votes. Unless one (or more) people who had not yet cast their vote were recorded as voting either “Yes” or “No”, depend on which side of the isle you were listening from. Was there an under-vote, or misrepresented votes, and in who’s count?

  14. Michael says:

    Ok, one more possibility, it could have been 215-213, then after the gavel someone changed their vote from “Yes” to “No”, making is 214-214. But then one wonders why McNulty, a Democract, would have prematurely closed the vote when it was not in his party’s preferred outcome.

    Or it could be that somebody was planning on changing their vote from “No” to “Yes”, but McNulty closed the vote as 214-214 before the vote was changed, and the Republicans are in fact arguing that it should have been counted anyway. I can’t play the youtube video, so can someone tell me if it’s got the details?

  15. Ed says:

    Before they get on too high horses, didn’t the Republicans keep the voting open for an additional THREE hours to pass the Medicaid Prescription bill?

  16. Gary Denton says:

    “Unprecedented” – hardly. This happened several times in the last few years with the GOP parliamentary thugs in charge. On one of them the circumstances were identical, during the last minute vote switching they declared the measure passed when it appeared it hadn’t. Guess you must have snoozed through it.

    Oh wait, you had noticed that the GOP leadership held the vote open four hours in another case while they pressured and bribed Congressmen on the floor to vote for a Medicare Drug package.

    Spare me the faux partisan outrage.

    By the way, the vote was held open and it finally was resolved and the Democrats won. McNulty even apologized for misreading the vote earlier. We are still waiting for apologies for the last few years of GOP misrule.

  17. Phil says:

    CQ did a really good piece on this issue. It looks like what happened was a genuine mistake caused by some confusion opens a partisan floodgate. We all know votes are often a forgone conclusion over their outcomes. Even close votes like this one are operations where a whip will allow fence straddling members to buck the party so long as the final vote outcome is secured. In this case, the whips got caught off guard because of a flurry of vote changes including changes by two members with the same hyphenated last name. It throws off the vote counts. Now the confusion enters. The Rs suddenly have a win they weren’t expecting to get and when the dems yank it from them, all hell breaks loose.

  18. Ugh says:

    simon – I was calling Hinderaker’s source and the Rep. Cantor idiots for equating some procedural rule twisting/breaking in the House of Representatives over a single amendment to a bill that AFAIK still has to go through the Senate and receive the President’s signature with things “Stalin” would recognize and a “dictatorship.”

    It’s just plain dumb.