Panel Reissues Rules of House Decorum

Posted September 15, 2009 at 10:31am

The House Rules Committee on Tuesday issued a new summary of the rules of decorum to reiterate that it is against the rules to call the president a liar on the floor, a move that comes just hours before the chamber is set to reprimand Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) for shouting “You lie!— at President Barack Obama.

The House first passed a rule in 1909 relating to references to the president, the summary states.

“As a guide for debate, it is permissible in debate to challenge the President on matters of policy,— the Rules summary states. “The difference is one between political criticism and personally offensive criticism. For example, a Member may assert in debate that an incumbent President is not worthy of re-election, but in doing so should not allude to personal misconduct. By extension, a Member may assert in debate that the House should conduct an inquiry, or that a President should not remain in office.—

The rule has been interpreted to prohibit calling the government “something hated, something oppressive,— referring to the president as “using legislative or judicial pork,— referring to a message from the president as a “disgrace to the country,— or referring to government officials as “our half-baked nitwits handling foreign affairs.—

The rules also have been interpreted to prohibit calling the president a liar, a hypocrite or intellectually dishonest.

Wilson’s outburst came during Obama’s joint address to Congress on health care reform last week.

Under the rules, it’s also a violation to describe a veto as cowardly, say the president has given “aid and comfort to the enemy— or refer to sexual misconduct by the president.

The rules of decorum are based on “Jefferson’s Manual,— but those rules do not apply to the Senate. The Senate’s rules of decorum apply to talking about fellow Senators but not the vice president, the president or administration officials.