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House Decorum Is Fraying

Stupak said Monday on MSNBC that he “certainly took it as a personal attack on me” when Neugebauer had his outburst. “He said it wasn’t. If it was not directed at me, then I think he owes all the Members of the House of Representatives an apology for violating the rules of proper conduct,” Stupak said.

Referring to racial and homophobic slurs that were said to Members of Congress by protesters, the Michigan Democrat lamented that people seem to have “lost a sense of civility. Not just in the Congress but in this country. ... It’s becoming acceptable. I reject that.”

Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) told reporters on Sunday that Republicans who cheered the interruption had reacted inappropriately to the protester.

“Citizens in the gallery are the guests of the House,” Pence said. “Outbursts of that nature are not appropriate. House Republicans are going to stand for the rules of decorum on the floor.”

A House GOP aide said the tense environment created by long hours on the floor contributed to the charged atmosphere.

Democratic leaders “kept Members here through the weekend into the dead of night, even though we were scheduled to be in session this week, to force a vote through. They wore people down and nerves were obviously frayed,” the aide said.

But Democrats said Republican leaders need to do more to ensure that rules are followed. Some made a direct correlation between GOP Members applauding the actions of hecklers in the gallery and endorsing egregious comments made by protesters outside.

“I am very disappointed that elements of the Republican Party appear to think they benefit from this kind of mob behavior,” Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said.

Frank, who says he was the target of a homophobic slur by tea party protesters, said it is “appalling” that some Republicans are condoning the tactics used by protesters. He said Republicans acted like “clowns” when they cheered the gallery heckler.

The Massachusetts Democrat called on Boehner to “stop adding to that kind of outrageous bullying” and dismissed Boehner’s statements that there were only isolated instances of tea party protesters using slurs against lawmakers.

“No they weren’t. He wasn’t there. He ought to be refraining from inflammatory rhetoric himself,” Frank said.

Some Democrats have felt the effects of the charged environment firsthand. Someone threw a brick through the window of Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter’s (D-N.Y.) district office Friday, an incident now being investigated by the Capitol Police and the FBI.

Slaughter said her office has been getting “threatened constantly” as the health care debate has run its course.

“The shouting of something as derogatory as ‘baby killer’ is bad, but what’s even worse is inciting people in the galleries to shout and jeer, encouraging crowds that are making threatening and racist comments, and tolerating a climate of incivility,” Slaughter said.

Correction: March 26, 2010

The article incorrectly described a Feb. 24 incident on the House floor. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) withdrew remarks he made about the Republican Party and the insurance industry following an objection and a request that Weiner’s comments be removed from the record.

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