In his scramble Thursday to address votes taken by Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) before they were sworn in to the 112th Congress, Rules Chairman David Dreier proposed nullifying the votes.
“We’re in uncharted waters,” the California Republican said at a Rules Committee meeting called to find a way forward. He plans to include a provision voiding the votes in the rule governing floor debate on a health care repeal bill.
Dreier abruptly adjourned a Rules hearing on the repeal earlier in the day when he realized Sessions, a member of the panel, was not in the House chamber during a swearing-in ceremony Wednesday.
Under the Constitution, which was read on the House floor Thursday, only sworn Members of Congress are allowed to conduct official business, and Sessions and Fitzpatrick voted eight times each before the problem was discovered. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) swore the two in Thursday afternoon.
Sessions, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was with Fitzpatrick at an event in the Capitol Visitor Center when Boehner administered the oath of office for Members on the House floor Wednesday. Fitzpatrick and his supporters were at the CVC to celebrate his return to the House: In November, he won back the seat he lost to Democrat Patrick Murphy in 2006. Fitzpatrick was first elected to the House in 2004.
The two were “in front of the TV, addressing 600 people. And when Speaker Boehner came on, they took the oath,” Dreier said as he raised his hand, as if taking the oath. “But they were not obviously in the chamber.”
In lieu of a unanimous consent agreement to address the problem, which had been discussed, the committee will continue its work on the repeal bill and deal with the issue as part of the rule Friday, according to Dreier. The committee had met for more than six hours and had heard from several witnesses on the repeal bill Thursday.
Committee Democrats questioned the constitutionality of Dreier’s efforts.
“This is the very day we read the Constitution,” ranking member Louise Slaughter said. “I do not want to be at any risk of doing something to violate it.”
The New York Democrat argued that Dreier should simply postpone the hearing and that the problem must be addressed on the House floor. Democrats “feel ... that we are on somewhat shaky ground,” she said.
Dreier dismissed her complaints, saying that “the full House will address this” when it considers the proposed rule.
Slaughter persisted, questioning whether other lawmakers had also failed to take the oath. “Are we sure we’re through here?” she asked. “Are there any other people who decided not to take the oath?”
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) also missed taking the oath of office Wednesday. A spokesman said he was in Oregon taking care of a district matter and that he was sworn in Thursday morning. He did not participate in any votes before taking the oath.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.