Congress

House voice vote to end government shutdown sows confusion, anger and eventually reconciliation

Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., right, and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., right, was presiding over the chamber when the back and forth over the voice vote on ending the shutdown went down.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

It seemed simple: The House on Thursday passed a continuing resolution that would reopen nine Cabinet departments through Feb. 28 on a voice vote, a result that devolved into partisan sparring on the floor as Republicans sought to vacate the vote and Democrats said, in effect, too bad. By the end, both sides hugged it out, vacated the initial vote, voted by voice again, and postponed a roll call vote until Wednesday. 

It all started with passage, via voice vote on the resolution. Then the gavel came down, ending the vote. 

In a series of responses and subsequent parliamentary inquiries, the chair, Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., ultimately ruled that the vote had been decided by voice vote, and that the motion to reconsider had been laid on the table.

As a result, Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., has asked unanimous consent that the House reconsider the vote on which the joint resolution passed.

Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said, “I’m not sure what’s going on, but I object.”

In objecting to Scalise’s request, Hoyer said many members have already departed the Capitol to catch their planes home. Scalise responded by noting they can tell the members to return or to delay a recorded vote until next week.

“The majority does have it within their purview to work with us to agree by unanimous consent to make it a previous vote,” Scalise said.

Hoyer declined, saying he does not have the ability to do that by unanimous consent.

“I regret Mr. Speaker that I am not in a position to try cure the failure in my view, because I didn’t hear it … the [chair] obviously did not hear it either,” he said, referring to Republicans saying they requested a recorded vote. Had the chair heard it he would have honored it, Hoyer said.

After the Democrats ruled against Republicans’ request, the members on their side of the aisle — dozens had stayed behind while most Democrats had cleared out of the chamber — started booing.

Several Republicans shouted at the chair or across the aisle with comments like: “You heard him and you walked away.” “We want to be heard.” “Is this how it’s going to be?”

Texas GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert added: “Where was the vote on the motion to adjourn? There was none.”

One member concluded the shouting with an ever harsher insult, saying, “Go back to Puerto Rico,” a reference to several Democratic members who spent the early part of the week at a political summit in Puerto Rico while the government is shut down.

Republicans lingered behind on the floor, first huddling around Scalise and then breaking off and chatting in smaller groups about their frustration on what just happened.

Eventually, Hoyer and Scalise huddled and hammered out an agreement. 

Hoyer asked unanimous consent to vacate proceedings by which the CR was passed and schedule a recorded vote on it for Wednesday.

“That will have the effect of allowing a revote on the resolution,” he said. Scalise thanked Hoyer for his willingness to work with Republicans, noting “obviously emotions ran high” and the procedural debate got heated.

“I appreciate that we were able to resolve this,” he said.

The unanimous consent request was agreed to.

Afterward, Hoyer took a moment to note that during the emotions running high a Republican member called for Rep. Tony Cardenas of California to return to Puerto Rico.

“I would hope that we could refrain from any implications which have any undertones of prejudice or racism or any kind of ism that would diminish the character … of any of our fellow members,” he said.

Scalise, who was not given an opportunity to respond to that claim on the floor said he’d let whoever made the Puerto Rico comment speak for themselves when asked whether that was directed at Cardenas or a reference to the political retreat.

He expressed doubt that it was intended in the way Hoyer characterized it, saying none of the Republicans would be making racially charged statements.

The back and forth over the procedure for the CR seemed to replace the weekly colloquy between Hoyer and Scalise as the House voted to adjourn after the unanimous consent request was approved .

Hoyer said there was “absolutely not” any mistakes made by Butterfield while he was presiding over the floor during the CR vote.

“What happened was the Republicans forgot to ask for a vote — probably because they’re so used to not having to ask for a vote. ... Having said that, their mistake led to their members not being able to express their opinion on the vote and we’re going to allow them to do that.”

Hoyer said he did not personally look at the tape but his staff did and Butterfield waited 30 seconds for a Republican to ask for a recorded vote. “And they just didn’t do it,” he said.

The White House has issued a veto threat against the temporary funding bill and Senate Republican leaders aren’t expected to take it up. President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders remain in a stalemate over border security funds with no signs of progress yet.

The partial government shutdown, now in its record-setting 27th day, is likely to drag into next week. Both chambers are planning to stay in session for a holiday-shortened week, instead of taking a previously-scheduled recess.

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