Republicans Return to House Chamber to Protest Energy Policy

Posted August 4, 2008 at 3:23pm

Two dozen House Republicans took over the chamber again Monday to continue their talk-a-thon protest of Democratic leaders’ decision to go home for the August recess without a vote on expanding oil and gas drilling.

“The microphones aren’t on, the lights are dim, the cameras are off, but we’re here because you’re here,” said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), talking to a chamber filled with tour groups.

The Republicans want Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to call Congress back into session “so we can have a vote on American energy,” Price said, and Republicans plan to continue their protest speeches on the House floor at least through the rest of this week.

“We are going to stand our ground on behalf of millions of Americans who are tired of talk,” Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said.

In a joint memo over the weekend, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) had urged Members to return to the Capitol, although they themselves didn’t show up.

“It’s not a request we make lightly. But the American people are suffering,” Boehner and Blunt said. “We’ve called on the Speaker to call Congress back into an emergency session this month and schedule a vote on the American Energy Act. We must continue to make a stand until the Speaker complies.”

Blunt is expected in town Wednesday and Thursday, with Boehner perhaps arriving by the end of the week. Other Republicans were planning to fly into town to make appearances.

Several Members have also called on President Bush to force Congress back to town, but Price noted that only Pelosi can schedule a vote.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) drove to Washington with his family overnight on vacation instead of taking their planned trip to Michigan. Other lawmakers, mostly conservatives, said they stayed through the weekend or flew back to town after receiving calls from constituents urging them to continue the protest.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) dismissed the protest as a stunt and a “transparent political effort to manufacture headlines.”

“Meanwhile, most of their Republican colleagues returned home burdened with trying to explain why they blocked efforts to combat high gas prices. Republicans voted against expanding drilling in Alaska, against promoting renewable energy, against establishing the first new vehicle efficiency standards in 32 years, against repealing taxpayer subsidies for major oil companies that are making record profits, against cracking down on price gouging and against curbing excessive speculation in energy markets,” Hoyer said.

Pelosi’s office also derided the GOP maneuver.

“Republicans are back again perpetrating a hoax on the American people,” spokesman Nadeam Elshami said. “The fact is, drilling in protected areas offshore will not reduce the price at the pump, but Big Oil, with its billions of dollars in record profits, wants more taxpayer lands, and Republicans are happy to oblige.”

Democratic aides also released memos attacking Republican speakers for accepting millions in contributions from oil companies.

Liberal group MoveOn also was organizing a counterprotest, passing out stickers calling the GOP the “Grand Oil Party.”

Pelosi’s office refused requests from television media to allow camera crews into the chamber to televise the proceedings, so the only nonprint coverage consisted of small video clips taken by Members with their phones and BlackBerrys and posted to YouTube. In the meantime, with the only place to view the proceedings in the chamber itself, the press gallery had more reporters than usual, dressed in casual summer attire with the usual jacket-and-tie dress code no longer required because the House is not in session.

Reporters no longer were being threatened with removal from the galleries, as they were Friday before Republican Members stood guard to prevent the press gallery from being closed.