Democratic House leaders dismissed Republican assertions Friday that the majority altered the outcome of a vote on the chamber’s floor, and rejected demands to return a disputed spending bill to committee, characterizing the request as “frivolous.”
“There was no mistake made last night,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a Friday press conference.
The Californian described the incident Thursday — in which Rep. Mike McNulty (D-N.Y.) allegedly announced a vote count before some Members had completed changing their ballots, leading Republicans and Democrats to differ on whether the measure had passed — as a “misunderstanding” and an “inconvenience.”
“It did not change the outcome of the vote,” she said.
But Republicans dispute that version of events and have demanded that the fiscal 2008 Agriculture spending bill be returned to the Appropriations Committee for amendments, vowing to block the majority of legislative action in the meantime.
“Our Members felt like a victory was taken away from us on live television in front of everyone,” House Minority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said.
Despite that threat, however, Democrats said the chamber would move on to other legislation, including funds for the Minnesota bridge collapse, the fiscal 2008 Defense spending bill and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
“We’re on to the order of business and they know that’s a frivolous request,” said Pelosi, who said the House will remain in a rare Saturday session tomorrow.
Nonetheless, the House was forced to take an unexpected recess Friday afternoon when the chamber’s voting system malfunctioned, disabling screens in the chamber that show which Members have voted as well as smaller screens showing the measure on the floor and a running tally of yeas and nays.
Republican and Democratic House leaders huddled early Friday morning in an attempt to reconcile the Thursday night dispute.
Republicans assert a tied 214-214 vote count — rending a defeat — announced by McNulty, was inaccurate and that the motion had in fact narrowly passed 215-213 as Republicans changed their votes. Democrats similarly disagreed, however, arguing their own Members also had changed votes, with a final tally of 212-216 — the result that currently appears on THOMAS’ official list of roll call votes.
In the ensuing commotion Thursday night, Democrats sought to vacate that vote, but that effort failed. Hoyer subsequently called for the House to reconsider that vote, at which time more than 100 Republicans stormed out of the chamber in protest.
“I called the vote at 214-214, subsequently Members of both parties changed their votes,” McNulty said Friday in an apology on the House floor to his colleagues. Democrats have asserted that the confusion resulted from three Democrats and five Republicans switching their ballots at the close of the vote.
“I just want to express regret to all the Members of the House … for any role I had in causing that confusion,” McNulty said, and later added: “I will continue to go out of my way to be fair when I am giving the privilege of serving as Speaker Pro Tem.”
In a speech on the House floor Friday morning, Hoyer also expressed regret for the Thursday incident, and called for the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to investigate the incident.
“I don’t blame the minority for being angry. … They were being treated in a way they thought was not fair,” Hoyer said.
Republican leadership rejected that proposal, however, calling instead for the creation of an independent commission to investigate the incident.
“Sending it to the ethics committee, is sending it to what most people would describe as a black hole,” Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on the House floor.
Members of the conservative Republican Study Committee sought to reframe the argument Thursday, highlighting the motion to recommit which would have prohibited funds from the Agriculture bill from being distributed to undocumented immigrants.
“The reason that I walked off the floor …was not an argument over procedure,” said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who later added: “Republicans won the vote, and the imperial Democratic majority change the vote.”
Blunt said Republicans would only allow Democrats to bring up the FISA legislation and emergency legislation authorizing funding for the bridge collapse in Minnesota until Democrats agree to return to the Agriculture spending bill and send it to back to committee. That would require Democrats to agree to vacate the final vote on Agriculture, amend it in committee and bring it back to the floor, something Blunt said could be done within a day. “It’s not the worst thing in the world to go back to committee,” Blunt said.
Blunt said Republicans would use every procedural tool in their arsenal to slow consideration of the Defense spending and energy legislation unless an agreement is reached.
“We’re more than happy to talk for the next several days,” Blunt said.
Finishing the Defense bill was not critical, Blunt said, noting that it is not a conference report. “This bill has nothing to do with the ultimate funding of Defense in a time-sensitive way.”
Blunt said Democrats should pay a penalty, and that, “When you do something this egregious, you may not be able to get your work done.”
Blunt said he and Boehner “are in complete agreement on this” although he didn’t object to the characterization of the two leaders as “good cop, bad cop.”
“Who would think I would be the bad cop?” he said.
As to Blunt’s contention that the votes counted by the clerk at the moment the roll call is gaveled is what should count, Hoyer disagreed.
“There’s no such rule,” Hoyer said. “The Speaker calls the vote when the vote is closed. … He allowed the vote to continue and they lost. … There was a time when the tote board had them ahead, but it was not called.”
Hoyer acknowledged that the clerk was entering a vote at the same time that the Speaker was calling the vote 214-214, but noted that McNulty declared he had prematurely called the vote and then kept it open until he declared it 212-216.
Hoyer also suggested that the glitch was minimal relative to what Republicans had done in years past.
“Let me remind you for two hours and 45 minutes we were winning a vote on the Medicare prescription drugs [bill in 2003], and the vote wasn’t called,” Hoyer said.