Leaders Huddle in Aftermath of Thursday Night Floor Controversy

Posted August 3, 2007 at 12:33pm

Republican and Democratic House leaders huddled Friday morning in an attempt to reconcile a Thursday night dispute over voting procedures — one that prompted more than 100 GOP lawmakers to walk out of the chamber and now threatens to stall several major pieces of legislation and force the chamber into a weekend session.

The House convened briefly Friday morning, but recessed as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) met with Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) in a mid-morning session.

The dispute sparked late Thursday night when Republicans raised objections to the majority’s management of a procedural vote on the fiscal 2008 Agriculture spending bill, ruling that the GOP’s motion to recommit had failed.

Republicans assert a tied 214-214 vote count — rending a defeat — announced by Rep. Mike McNulty (D-N.Y.), serving as the Speaker Pro Tem, was inaccurate and that the motion had in fact narrowly passed 215-213 as Republicans changed their votes. Democrats similarly disagreed, however, arguing their own Members also had changed votes, with a final tally of 212-216 — the result that currently appears on THOMAS’ official list of roll-call votes.

In the ensuing commotion Thursday night, Democrats sought to vacate that vote, but that effort failed. Hoyer subsequently called for the House to reconsider that vote, at which time more than 100 Republicans stormed out of the chamber in protest.

“I called the vote at 214-214, subsequently Members of both parties changed their votes,” McNulty said Friday in an apology on the House floor to his colleagues. Democrats have asserted that the confusion resulted from three Democrats and five Republicans switching their ballots at the close of the vote.

“I just want to express regret to all the Members of the House … for any role I had in causing that confusion,” McNulty said, and later added: “I will continue to go out of my way to be fair when I am giving the privilege of serving as Speaker Pro Tem.”

In a speech on the House floor Friday morning, Hoyer also expressed regret for the Thursday incident and called for the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to investigate the incident.

“I don’t blame the minority for being angry. … They were being treated in a way they thought was not fair,” Hoyer said.

Republican leadership rejected that proposal, however, calling instead for the creation of an independent commission to investigate the incident.

“Sending it to the ethics committee is sending it to what most people would describe as a black hole,” Boehner said on the House floor.

Members of the conservative Republican Study Committee sought to reframe the argument Thursday, highlighting the motion to recommit that would have prohibited funds from the Agriculture bill from being distributed to undocumented immigrants.

“The reason that I walked off the floor … was not an argument over procedure,” said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), and later added: “Republicans won the vote, and the imperial Democratic majority changed the vote.”

In addition, Republican members of the Rules Committee boycotted the panel’s scheduled meeting Friday morning, disrupting Democratic plans to set debate for Friday on several items, including Defense appropriations, energy legislation and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“The whole floor schedule is up in the air because the majority doesn’t know what they’re doing,” said Rules minority spokeswoman Jo Maney.

A Democratic leadership aide responded to those criticisms in kind, asserting that Republicans have attempted to sabotage the House schedule in the final days before the August recess was scheduled to begin.

“They’re just looking for a reason to blow up the floor. It’s what they’ve been doing all week long. … They don’t want us to get anything done,” the aide said.

Blunt said Republicans would allow Democrats to bring up only the FISA legislation and emergency legislation authorizing funding for the bridge collapse in Minnesota until Democrats agree to return to the Agriculture spending bill and send it to back to committee. That would require Democrats to agree to vacate the final vote on Agriculture, amend it in committee and bring it back to the floor, something Blunt said could be done within a day. “It’s not the worst thing in the world to go back to committee,” Blunt said.

“Our members felt like a victory was taken away from us on live television in front of everyone,” Blunt said.

Blunt said Republicans would use every procedural tool in their arsenal to slow consideration of the Defense spending and energy legislation unless an agreement is reached.

“We’re more than happy to talk for the next several days,” Blunt said.

Finishing the Defense bill was not critical, Blunt said, noting that it is not a conference report. “This bill has nothing to do with the ultimate funding of Defense in a time-sensitive way.”

Blunt said Democrats should pay a penalty, and that, “When you do something this egregious, you may not be able to get your work done.”

Blunt said he and Boehner “are in complete agreement on this” although he didn’t object to the characterization of the two leaders as “good cop, bad cop.”

“Who would think I would be the bad cop?” he said.