Policy

Senior Democrat, GOP Aide Get Into Altercation on House Floor

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A Democratic effort to stall floor action and highlight the shutdown turned into a shouting match between a member of Democratic leadership and a Republican floor staffer.

What is undisputed: Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., the vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, had an altercation with a Republican staffer, Chris Vieson, the floor director for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

What is in question is what Vieson and Crowley said to each other, and whether Crowley touched Vieson.

It all started when Democrats began lining up to make an endless string of unanimous consent requests for a vote on a "clean" continuing resolution to open up the government.

Over the course of about 25 minutes, Democrats offered 37 unanimous consent requests, all of which were denied by the presiding officer, GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, due to a lack of appropriate clearances.

Democrats could have gone on all day making the unanimous consent requests, and that could have brought a lot of media attention — and made members miss their flights home.

Eventually, Republicans had enough and they decided to pull the bill to cut off debate.

"He had come to our side, was yelling across the aisles that they were shutting down the debate and pulling the bill," Crowley told reporters. "And I had said to him then that a staffer was shutting down democracy, and he said, 'That's right.'"

Crowley said he went up to Vieson "and said that's inappropriate to act the way in which you did."

Crowley said Vieson agreed, apologized to Crowley, and Crowley accepted his apology.

No such apology, it seems, from Crowley.

There are multiple reports that Crowley was using his index finger to make his point and that he was poking Vieson, which is a definite no-no on the House floor.

Crowley said that never happened. A spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said it did.

"The Democrats were using dilatory tactics to delay the bill. Under instructions from Majority Leader Eric Cantor, our floor director instructed the Minority's floor director that we were moving off the bill and on to a vote to motion to instruct," said Rory Cooper, a Cantor spokesman. "They can continue their show on Monday when we return to the bill, and we're disappointed that Rep. Crowley would put his hands on a staffer who was merely sending that message to the minority."

Regardless of what was actually said — or whether someone was poked — Cooper eventually said the whole thing had been blown out of proportion. Crowley agreed.

"Blown out of proportion would be very accurate, I think," Crowley said.

But Democrats took the dust-up as an opportunity to make their larger point.

"Clearly Republicans are not happy with us," said Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who called Cantor's floor director a "good person."

Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House, had his own take on the situation.

"This is what happens in the public process when we stymie opposition, when we cut off debate, and when we continue to tilt on disaster by manufactured crises. It is time for us to reopen the government," Clyburn said.

Updated | Cantor's office now says Crowley did not touch Vieson.

Katey McGettrick contributed to this report.