The House Fades into "Blue Screen" as Chaos Reigns
The House is back to "blue screen" - the picture of the Capitol dome with the blue sky above it shown on the internal Capitol television system with the words "recess subject to the call of the chair" across the bottom.
And blue screen often means something has gone terribly awry inside the chamber, which is in chaos this afternoon. This follows a walkout of Republicans last night over a disputed vote on a farm spending bill and technical problems today with the voting board.
Shortly past 2 p.m. this afternoon, Republicans offered a motion to adjourn the chamber, a normal protest vote that the minority, regardless of party, has been using for decades. However, in the middle of this protest procedure, the voting machine that keeps the tally went dark, prompting House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to call for a recess in order to fix the voting machines.
But Republicans are staging the adjournment vote merely as a protest, a delaying tactic. So they tried to force an actual hand counted vote, which would take a long time in the 435-member body. After 20 minutes of back-and-forth arguing, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) went along with Hoyer's call for a recess so that the voting machines could be fixed. This is at least the second time today the chamber has gone to blue screen for an extended recess.
The entire atmosphere in the chamber has turned utterly toxic. Republicans are threatening all sorts of procedural tactics to blow up action on the floor and thereby delay the chamber's August recess, which is much needed in terms of the way cranky tempers have flared the past few days.
For now, House Republicans, in a statement from Boehner and Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), have said they will only allow an easy path toward passage for legislation allowing Minnesota to receive $250 million for reconstruction of the I-35 bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis this week and for a reformed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Republicans are likely to play shenanigans with the remaining bills that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would like to approve before leaving town, including the Defense appropriations bill and an energy bill.
This afternoon's adjournment vote is itself a reaction to the still-disputed "motion to recommit" offered last night by Republicans on the Agriculture appropriations bill. "In our view, this was an astonishing and unprecedented abuse of power, defying the will of the people and trampling on the very fabric of American freedom and democracy," Boehner and Blunt said in a joint statement after a morning meeting with Hoyer. At the meeting, according to the Republicans, Hoyer apologized for the mistakes the night before.
But Pelosi remained defiant today that nothing went wrong and vowed to plow straight ahead. "There was no mistake made last night," she said. Pelosi said the allegations of running rough-shod over minority rights - an accusation she lobbed repeatedly at Republicans during her four years as minority leader - will fall flat.
"They have plenty of minority rights, and if you compare the record, you will see that they have many, many, many more opportunities than we ever had ... I am proud to say that many of the bills that I've bragged about came through with strong bipartisan support," she told Capitol Briefing.
Hard feelings have been building all year as Democrats have denied Republicans the right to offer amendments on many pieces of legislation. The dispute hit its apex around 11 last night. As the minority is always allowed to do, Republicans offered a "motion to recommit" the Agriculture appropriations bill to the Appropriations Committee -- to add an explicit prohibition on illegal immigrants receiving food stamps. As the vote was about to be gaveled shut, members of both parties started changing votes back and forth as it appeared Republicans might actually win the vote.
Rep. Michael McNulty (D-N.Y.), sitting in the chair as the presiding officer, banged the gavel at the moment when it appeared the Republicans were winning, 215-213. As turmoil ensued, more votes were switched and the Democrats finally declared that they had won the vote, 216 to 212.
Thanks to Wonkette, the action can be seen here.
When the floor opened this morning, McNulty offered an emotional apology. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), a young firebrand the Democrats love to hate, called Democrats "cheaters". This prompted an effort to "take down" McHenry's words as inappropriate, leading to another bout of fighting and the first long period of blue-screen action.
August 3, 2007; 4:25 PM ET
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