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GOP Ends Takeover of House Floor

House Republicans ended a five-hour takeover of the vacated House floor Friday, demanding a vote on oil drilling after singing “God Bless America” and chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A.”

“I think it took a couple of hours for people to understand we weren’t giving up, and the Speaker thought she could roll over us, but this is the biggest issue before the American people right now,” Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) said.

Several Republicans, including fellow instigator Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), Minority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Pete Hoekstra (Mich.), said they want President Bush to call Congress back into session if Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) refuses.

Chanting “work, work, work” and “vote, vote, vote,” nearly 50 Republicans staged protests on the House floor and refused to leave the chamber Friday after Democrats pushed through an adjournment resolution in an attempt to cut off Republican speeches.

At 11:23 a.m., the House voted 213 to 197 to adjourn, but GOP conservatives eager to speak on high gas prices were unwilling to disperse, and their guerrilla campaign was quickly embraced by Republican leaders. The GOP packed the chamber with staffers, Boy Scouts and tourists to hear their speeches.

“What has happened is the Democrats have gone home and the people have shown up,” Price said.

The afternoon had its share of lighter moments. Some Republicans returning for the protest were already in recess wear, including Reps. Mike Rogers (Mich.) and Rob Bishop (Utah), who showed up in short-sleeve shirts, cargo shorts and sandals. Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas) got a standing ovation when he turned up with his luggage and announced to the chamber that he had exited his plane headed for Texas to come back and participate.

With no Democrats on hand to even out the discussion, Reps. Dan Lungren (Calif.) and Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) staged a mock debate. McCotter played the Democrat, offering a “No” to every new energy proposal Lungren put forward. Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.) also posed as a Democrat, parading around the floor with a poster that he said summed up the majority party’s energy policy. Below a picture of a Volkswagen Bug outfitted with a sail, it read, “Drive small cars and wait for the wind.”

At one point, Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) managed to turn on the floor microphones by randomly guessing a security code governing the sound controls, but House staffers turned the microphones off after about half an hour later, and Pelosi’s office attempted to force reporters to exit the press gallery overlooking the floor.

Reporters were also kicked out of the Speaker’s Lobby. At one point, however, Blunt came into the press gallery and stayed after being told by staff that the gallery could not be closed if a Member was present. Later, Blunt was relieved by Shadegg and brought several reporters onto the House floor. Republican Members were seeking to stream video via their BlackBerrys to YouTube.

Several Republican Members had signed up to do five-minute speeches after the last vote of the day, prompting Democrats to change the adjournment resolution to cut them off.

“We are letting them have their fun because it only makes them look stupid,” said a Democratic leadership aide, adding that the Speaker’s Lobby was closed as it normally is when the House is not in session but denied that Democratic leadership was attempting to kick the press out of the gallery.

Republicans had hoped to highlight to a C-SPAN audience that Democrats were leaving town without voting on expanding areas open to oil drilling, but C-SPAN relies on the House’s television cameras, which are automatically turned off when the House is not in session.

Asked for comment, the Speaker’s office attacked the GOP.

“Republicans are too scared to go home to face their constituents after voting against bills to force Big Oil companies to use it or lose it, demand that the president free our oil from the government stockpile and crack down on speculators,” said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Pelosi. “In a week where Exxon Mobil made the largest quarterly profits by a U.S. corporation, Republicans are staying in Washington to argue that Big Oil deserves more taxpayer lands. That sums up their priorities.”

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