Republicans eager to register their displeasure with the Obama administration's posture toward Iran teed up an easy vote for their members Wednesday: A bill to tighten oversight of the Iran nuclear sanctions program.
There was just one thing they forgot to do: Show up on time. As soon as the bill's floor managers — Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., and ranking member Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., — finished their arguments, the speaker pro tem, Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., announced they were ready to tally the yeas and nays, and, for emphasis, said loudly to the near-empty chamber: "This is a 15 minute vote!"
The House bells rang. Members shuffled in from their offices. And shortly after the 15-minute time frame expired, the gavel came down. The bill passed 191-106, but 137 members, including 55 Republicans, missed their chance to fulfill the most basic duty of a member of Congress: to vote.
The Paul D. Ryan speakership, it would seem, will be punctual. In his pledge to restore regular order, this series of events was a clear example his pledge was a serious one.
"They closed it," Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, said, one foot in the Speaker's Lobby, one foot on the floor after the vote was gaveled. He shook his head, adding, "They need to learn."
A brief outcry broke out on the floor. Ryan huddled with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., and several other members.
Hoyer Hopes Iran Sailor Situation a ‘Mistake’
The upshot is that Republicans will get another chance to vote on this measure. McCarthy asked unanimous consent that the vote be vacated, and it was agreed the chamber would have a do-over on Jan. 26, when it returns from its retreat and Martin Luther King Jr. recess.
"I personally, as a former majority leader, appreciate the policy enunciated by the speaker in order to accommodate members' schedules so we can vote on time," Hoyer said on the floor. "This was an extraordinarily important vote. Members on both sides missed it and I appreciate the majority leader's action and the speaker's agreement to it to accommodate our members so that on this important bill, they'll be able to vote" on Jan. 26.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at a Wednesday news conference, “I think the gaveling was premature. But I think the speaker is rightfully serious about expeditiously dealing with the votes in a timely fashion.”
Members were likely taken aback because the average 15-minute vote usually stretches far beyond that time parameter, sometimes doubling it.
In an extreme case, Republican leaders kept the Nov. 22, 2003, vote on a Medicare prescription drug benefit open for just short of 3 hours.
Underscoring the relevance of the vote were the events of the past 24 hours. And Iran has a way of knocking politicians off message. Hours before President Barack Obama was to deliver his State of the Union address, 10 American sailors were detained by Iranian forces. While they were released a few hours after the speech, some were vexed that the president hadn't mentioned their plight.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., told Roll Call after the speech that he was "perplexed" that Obama didn't mention the incident: "This president not only ignored that, but acted as if his foreign policy is working and tried to condemn any naysayers."
On his way into the House chamber for the State of the Union, Secretary of State John Kerry was hounded by reporters about the status of the 10 sailors. "They're getting out," he said curtly, walking purposefully to the floor.
Obama did not mention the sailors, who were captured by Iranian forces after two naval vessels drifted into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf Tuesday. His only remarks about Iran were touting the Iran nuclear deal.
Some journalism outlets had implored Obama to also decry the detention of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has been held by the regime under flimsy charges since July 2014. Obama didn't mention him, either.
The stage was set for the House to register its displeasure with the administration over Iran. But then only 297 of 434 members (there is one vacancy in the House) voted, and the vote was vacated, like it never happened.
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report. Contact Dick at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @jasonjdick .
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