Will Congress Come Back?
As the House floor filled up this afternoon and Republican lawmakers emerged to air their complaints about Speaker Pelosi with reporters, one key player in the GOP uprising told me he had reached the White House and told a top aide to urge the President to call Congress back into session.
Rep. Mike Pence (R.Ind.), who joined with fellow conservative Republican Reps. John Shadegg (Ariz.) and Ted Poe (Tex.) to keep the House open this afternoon, said that the President was out of town. However, the Hoosier lawmaker quickly added that “I spoke with a key aide and made it clear he should urge the President to call Congress back and deal with the energy crisis.” Pence would not say who the aide was, but noted that the response to his admonition was “very positive.”
The Republican House members I spoke to today were defying Speaker Pelosi over adjournment without the traditional five-minute speeches that accompanies a closing day in the House. Almost to a person, they seconded the views of Shadegg, Pence, and other conservative swashbucklers that the speaker’s unusual tactic of trying to rush adjournment while shutting down floor microphones and CSPAN cameras was a way of avoiding fiery GOP orations about a “do-nothing” Congress on energy exploration.
The same lawmakers said they agreed with Pence that the President should call Congress back from its five-week respite to deal with the energy crisis. Rep. Wally Herger (R.-CA) told me outside the House floor that “We’re doing everything we can” to get President Bush to bring Congress back. As to the White House’s attitude on making this rare-but-constitutional step, Herger said, “I’d say that right now, it’s rising on his [Bush’s] agenda.”
Rep. Don Manzullo (R.Ill.) told me he would be willing to come back even though his August schedule is “packed.. . .I even have a trip to Alaska to see ANWR.”
Rep. John Carter (R.Tex.) said that the message of the angry lawmakers who kept speaking and refusing to adjourn was “the spontaneity—we all showed up on the floor [and said] ‘Give us our country back.’”
Perhaps the happiest lawmaker I spoke to today was Rep. Thad McCotter (R.-Mich.), who has long urged Republican to capture traditional conservative theory and unite with strong tactics based on issues. Using the language of the rock ‘n’roll guitarist that he sometimes is, McCotter described the day’s remarkable events as “Republican riff on Yippie Street Theater on Pelosi.”
Possibly the happiest lawmaker I spoke to today.
On what was expected to be a day of routine business and adjournment for the next five weeks, the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives suddenly became Washington’s equivalent of a barroom brawl. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi attempted repeatedly to shut down lawmakers from making the five-minute speeches that traditionally mark the closing of a House session. Angry conservatives on the Republican side rebelled, turned on microphones that the speaker had shut off, and kept the House press gallery in operation as more and more reporters came by to see what on earth was happening.
This was war, all right. And as Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona, one of the leaders of the Republican revolt told me, “The speaker wouldn’t let us have the five-minute speeches because she didn’t want the day dominated on the floor by speeches pointing out she has not allowed a vote on a single measure to permit greater oil exploration for the past two months. This is our answer to the Orange Revolution and our modern day Boston tea party.”
The first shot of the revolution was fired a few hours ago, as Republicans prepared to commence their five minute addresses that would decry the lack of any votes on meaningful energy legislation. From the Democratic side, a motion to adjourn for the day shot up. Then CSPAN, which covers House proceedings on television, was shut down. The microphones on the House floor were turned off.
Led by Rep. Tom Price (R.-GA), Republicans decided they weren’t going to take it — they would stay and fight. As the camera lights were shutting down, Price, Shadegg, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence and other conservative “young Turks” began delivering their speeches on the floor without microphones. The sparsely-filled visitors galleries that overlook the floor began to fill up and the ranks of reporters in the Press Gallery began to swell from the two or three newsmen who were there for what they thought was a routine closing day.
By 2:00 PM, in what resembled newsreels of the packed House floor on the day war was declared in December of 1941, the House floor was almost full. More than 400 visitors were in the gallery and Shadegg, having figured out the code on the panel that controls the microphones, put the sound system in the House back on — until a staffer (presumably from the speaker’s office) came and shut it off again.
“Word spread that the speaker — who was never actually here on the floor — was going to shut down the House press gallery,” a breathless Shadegg told me in a call from the floor, “But rules are clear that the gallery can’t be shut down if a Member is there. So a bunch of us have been taking turns — we’re ‘human shields,’ keeping the press gallery going.” Along with Shadegg, the ‘human shields’ included House GOP Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), and Texas Reps. Ted Poe and John Carter.
“You cannot repress free speech, Madame Speaker,” declared Shadegg, adding that the intense protest to keep the floor and press gallery alive were critical because “every day without oil production, the American people are hurt. It destroys the lives of the poorest Americans, those with the oldest cars, the worst mileage, and sometimes the longest commutes. That’s the point we are making.”
“So come on over and join us in the gallery,” Shadegg admonished me.