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Kucinich, GOP Trigger Debate

Republicans once again wrested control of the House floor from the Democratic majority Tuesday — disrupting the schedule for nearly two hours — as GOP lawmakers provided unexpected support for Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D-Ohio) effort to vote on the impeachment of Vice President Cheney.

Both Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) vowed Tuesday to dispense with the Ohio lawmaker’s proposal — forced onto the floor as a privileged motion — but Republicans bucked a vote to table the motion, derailing Democratic plans to quietly shelve the measure.

“It was a last-minute decision to force Democrats to stand up and debate the Kucinich resolution,” said Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R- Ohio) spokesman, Brian Kennedy, who acknowledged that Republicans intended to use the debate period to criticize Democratic leadership in the 110th Congress and not the resolution itself. “We’re with Kucinich, debate it,” he said.

Republican leaders credit Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) with the strategy, which prompted a scheduled 15-minute vote to remain open for an hour as dozens of GOP lawmakers switched their vote to oppose shelving the legislation.

“I looked up at the screen and saw we were helping the majority table the motion,” Shadegg said of his decision to urge his colleagues to switch their votes, noting that he maintained a vote of “no” during the hour-long vote.

“It’s the job of the majority to run the floor,” he said, and later added: “The minority party shouldn’t be voting for the majority’s motion to table.”

That motion failed 251-162, with 165 Republicans voting against scuttling the measure.

Republican lawmakers who switched their votes also accused Democrats of trying to divert attention from the party’s more liberal faction.

“We don’t wish to save the Democrats from themselves when their left wing exposes themselves,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), noting that Democratic leaders were trying to draw as little attention as possible to the impeachment issue by voting to table the resolution. “When there’s an opportunity to show their strong left base, it’s important for it to be seen,” he added.

Rep. Henry Brown (R-S.C.), who also changed his vote to oppose shelving the measure, acknowledged there was some political risk in doing so, but added: “I hope the constituents back home recognize it’s a procedural thing.”

Democratic leaders decried Republican efforts as political gamesmanship.

“For them it’s about politics and scoring cheap political points. In the end, this issue was disposed of,” said Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami, referring to a subsequent vote by the House to refer the bill to the Judiciary Committee, where it is expected to languish.

“The Speaker and I have said impeaching the president or vice president is not on our agenda,” Hoyer said following the vote. “I think this is the continuing game of ‘gotcha’ that results in short-term discomfort … for the majority that delights the minority.”

Supporters of the Kucinich measure said they were pleased with the unexpected outcome. “I think we’ve added some spine to it,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.). “Now it can get the appropriate hearings and scrutiny.” But it remains to be seen whether the Judiciary panel will take up the report.

According to Woolsey, Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) assured Members that the measure would go forward in his panel, but a statement released by the committee Tuesday night was more vague.

“The Committee has a very busy agenda — over the next two weeks, we hope to pass a FISA bill, to vote on contempt of Congress citations, pass legislation on prisoner re-entry, court security and a variety of other very important items,” the statement said. “We were surprised that the minority was so ready to move forward with consideration of a matter of such complexity as impeaching the Vice President. The Chairman will discuss today’s vote with the Committee members but it would seem evident that the committee staff should continue to consider, as a preliminary matter, the many abuses of this Administration, including the Vice President.”

In a press conference after the vote, Kucinich declined to say whether Conyers had offered him reassurances on the bill’s future, but said: “I’m quite confident the bill is in good hands.”

Lauren W. Whittington contributed to this report.

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