Congress

‘Sex-starved males’ comment sets off House floor kerfuffle

Rep. Norma Torres stirs GOP colleagues with comments during debate

Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., referred to some GOP colleagues as "sex starved males" on the House floor, setting off a brief spat. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A routine House debate nearly exploded Wednesday when California Democrat Norma J. Torres implied her Republican colleagues were “sex-starved males” for opposing abortion.

“Mr. Speaker, it is tiring to hear from so many sex-starved males on this floor talk about a woman’s right to choose,” Torres said as lawmakers debated a rule setting up amendment consideration for a four-bill spending package that includes funding for public health programs.

Torres, one of the newest members of the House Rules Committee, clearly broke House Rules — members cannot personally impugn their colleagues on the floor.

[Committee had broken voting rules for years, gets scolding]

Her remarks triggered audible outrage — and numerous calls for a point of order — from the Republican side of the chamber. But longtime Rules Committee member Rob Woodall, R-Ga., got the presiding officer’s attention first and gave his Rules Committee colleague a chance to, shall we say, clarify her words.

“Mr. Speaker, if it pleases my colleagues on the other side, I will withdraw my statement about sex-starved males on the floor,” Torres said in response, a clarification that only further outraged Republicans who yelled again for recognition in the chamber.

Torres at that point could have been at risk of being silenced for the entire day, as Republicans could have requested striking her words from the record. A day of silence is part of the consequence if the words are “ruled out of order,” according to the Congressional Research Service.

But Woodall kept requests from other members at bay, and allowed Torres to again propose withdrawing her statement — this time without the inflammatory commentary about GOP colleagues. Torres then rephrased her views.

“I will put it in different terms, it is tiring to be here on this floor or in committee as a woman — to continue to be counseled about what types of affordable — whether it is family planning conversations that rightfully I deserve to have with my own doctor, [or] choosing when women want to have a family and to avoid pregnancies before they become pregnancies,” Torres said. “It is unfortunate that, that is something that continues to be denied to American women day in and day out on this floor.”

The abortion fight came amid routine debate on a rule for further amendment consideration of a four-bill appropriations package. Work on amendments was set to drag into the wee hours, and final passage isn’t expected until next week. The nearly $1 trillion piece of legislation includes the fiscal 2020 Defense, Energy-Water, Labor-HHS-Education, and State-Foreign Operations spending bills.

Torres’s words came after Rep. Ross Spano spoke out against language in the health title of the bill authored by House Democrats.

“The legislation before us not only strips pro-life provisions, but it includes language that, in fact, undermines efforts to promote life,” the Florida Republican said prior to Torres’s remarks, urging colleagues to support Republican amendments related to the issue.

Specifically, Republicans against abortion oppose language in the bill authored by House Democrats that would block the Trump administration from enforcing a rule that protects health care providers that refuse to participate in services, such as abortion, that go against their beliefs.

Republicans have amendments in order to modify those provisions. One amendment up for debate from Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., would strip that specific language regarding blocking the conscience protection rule. Another, from Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., would strike bill language preventing the implementation of President Donald Trump’s administration from requiring all Title X grant recipients to be “physically and financially separate from abortion-providing facilities.”

Torres sponsored one amendment that was made in order under the rule lawmakers were debating Wednesday when the fight erupted. It would boost Army research funds by $4 million for more university and industry research related to biotechnology.

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