Last night on the House floor – that sprawling, brawling arena that was like a second home to me during my 22 year career in Congress – it seems pretty clear that a crime was perpetrated against the rule of law and the American people. A combination of arrogance and incompetence on the part of the Democrat leadership left the Rules looking like a prisoner at Abu Ghraib. Not bad for a Thursday night.
Here’s how it went down. The House of Representatives, like all democratic legislatures, provides for what is called a “Motion to Recommit.” It’s one of the many minority rights built into the structure of the legislative process. Basically, a properly led majority party in the House – unlike in the Senate – can pass pretty much any bill it wants to. It can swat down minority amendments, or even disallow their introduction in the first place. In order to give minority members a semblance of dignity in such circumstances, they are usually permitted one more vote, before a major bill’s final passage, to send the bill back to committee. A good example of this would be a budget bill: Republicans don’t want to just vote against the Democrat budget, so they propose their own in the form of the motion to recommit, so at least they can have something they’re for. Now, because majority parties are in control of things and presumably have competent leadership, these procedural votes are typically formalities.
Until this year. In the seven months since the Democrats took control of Congress and, as now appears evident, elected the most incompetent speaker in American history, Republicans have passed one motion to recommit after another. They have cleverly written their motions so as to make it difficult for Democrats to cavalierly vote against them. Such was the case last night. Before the vote on the Agriculture spending bill for the next fiscal year, Republicans offered a nifty little motion to recommit so that illegal immigrants would not receive taxpayer funded government welfare. (My compliments to whoever thought that one up.)
Well, because a few of the Democrats can’t afford to have an ad in their next campaign saying he wanted to give illegal immigrants federal funds, Nancy Pelosi’s duct-taped majority sprung another leak. The motion to recommit, whose passage would scuttle the Democrats’ bill offering taxpayer benefits to illegal immigrants, was on the verge of passage, with 215 votes in favor and 213 votes opposed. Yet another ring was about to run around Pelosi and her bumbling leadership team.Then it happened.
The presiding officer, the guy in the big chair with the gavel, was Democrat Congressman Michael McNulty, who would apparently make a compelling contestant on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?, gaveled the vote closed – repeat, closed – when it was 215 to 213. Republicans win. Except when McNulty got the tally from the Clerk and realized what happened, he and the Democrat leader conspired to “correct” their mistake, after the gavel had fallen.
Angry Republicans started asking questions, primarily one beginning with the words, “what” and “the”. Republican Leader John Boehner stood up and asked the same question, politely, and all McNulty said was that the “voting machine is down.” (The House’s electronic voting machine doesn’t just “go down”, incidentally: it was more likely turned off to hide the evidence of the crime.) A few minutes of strange rustlings over on the Democrat side of the dais ensued until finally Rep. McNulty spoke up again and said, “The Chair prematurely called the vote at 214-214 [a lie], while there were votes being entered [illegal]. After all the cards [whose?] were added, the final [illegal] vote was 212 to 216, nay. Sorry suckers, it’s Schlitz O’Clock!” (Okay, I added the last part.)
Except here’s the thing. The vote was closed. Not open. Not ajar. Closed. The rules don’t allow for McNulty’s personal problem with premature e-gavel-ation. He screwed up and cost the Democrats the vote. But in Nancy Pelosi’s America, votes only count when Democrats win: so she cheated, and bent a once-proud and honorable political party into an instrument of despotism. Jaw-dropping as it may sound, it’s not an exaggeration to say that for a few minutes last night, the United States was not a representative democracy.
(And for those of you who are trying so desperately to compare it to the Medicare vote that was held open for three hours, I give you this. The House requires a minimum of 15 minutes for a vote; however, the vote can stay open as long as needed, until the strike of the gavel when the vote is properly tallied. That early morning in 2003, we won, fair and square. Democrats had every right to find it annoying – I would have in their shoes –, but what we did was no way illegal or unruly. What’s amazing is that after we took the Democrats to school for 12 years, they’d still rather cheat than learn.)