GOP Conflicted on Uproar

Members Voice Regret While Defending Their Actions

Posted March 23, 2010 at 6:36pm

House Republican leaders appear to be conflicted about outbursts on the House floor last weekend.

On one hand, some have expressed contrition for the poor behavior of their Members; on the other hand, they are suggesting that the heavy-handed tactics of Democrats are to blame for their behavior.

But the laissez-faire attitude of Republican leaders has upset some Democrats, who believe Republicans are stoking an inflammatory atmosphere.

Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) on Tuesday approached Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) on the House floor with concerns about comments the Republican leader made in an interview last week.

“Rep. Driehaus expressed a view that Members need to be very careful about the words they use especially at a time when temperatures are running so high,” said a Democratic source familiar with the Boehner-Driehaus exchange.

During an interview with National Review, Boehner said Driehaus “may be a dead man” politically if he voted for the health care reform bill.

Tim Mulvey, a spokesman for Driehaus, confirmed the conversation, saying only, “Rep. Driehaus had a conversation with Rep. Boehner on the floor about his quote in National Review.”

Don Seymour, a spokesman for Boehner, said the remark was not meant to be taken to heart.

“The Leader does not condone violence and his remark was obviously not meant to be taken literally,” said Don Seymour, a spokesman for Boehner. “He is urging Americans to take the anger they’re feeling and focus it on building a new majority that will listen to the people.”

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) had a similar message for Republicans during his weekly briefing, telling reporters he was concerned that Republicans were fueling an already charged environment.

“We have seen violent acts committed in this country based upon differences of opinion,” Hoyer said, “and we ought to all be very careful as leaders in this country to conduct ourselves in a way that demonstrates to the public how we ought to act.”

Democratic leadership huddled on Tuesday night to discuss recent security threats against Members and planned to bring House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood to brief the full Democratic Caucus today.

Prior to Sunday’s raucous debate on health care reform, Boehner instructed Members to remain respectful and “somber” if the bill passed, according to GOP sources in a closed-door meeting of the House Republican Conference.

But on Tuesday when asked whether the behavior of Members of the Republican Conference was out of line, Boehner did not condemn nor condone several GOP breaches of decorum that occurred during the health care reform debate.

“You could get in this long debate about what came first, the chicken or the egg,” Boehner told Roll Call.

While Boehner did not elaborate on that comment, other Republicans outside the Capitol attributed the outbursts — including Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) shouting “baby killer” while Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) spoke on the House floor — to the overwhelming frustration that Republican Members have felt throughout the debate.

[IMGCAP(1)]”Members have been uncontrollable,” said one GOP strategist. “I think they are so saddened and angry and powerless that they, unfortunately, haven’t held the normal rules of decorum to the same level of priority that they usually do.”

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said Members haven’t really heard a lot from leaders on decorum, but he noted that for most Members, reminders haven’t been necessary.

“I think these are isolated and completely unconnected incidents,” Brady said, referring to several decorum breaches over the weekend on the House floor. “I think, as a whole, Republicans have been very appropriate both on their response on the floor and in debate.”

Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) said leadership has had “informal” conversations with individuals about the importance of remaining respectful of the rules.

“I think House Republicans are clear on the expectation of the leadership that we would always respect the rules of decorum in the House,” Pence said.

He noted that Neugebauer had apologized for his outburst.

“I forgive Mr. Neugebauer, but policy objections are not an excuse for failing to respect the rules of the House,” Pence said.

Some Democrats have doubted the sincerity of Republican apologies for these incidents — pointing to the fact that Neugebauer had already posted a fundraising video on the Internet in which he promises to continue aggressively defending the unborn.

Stupak, who led a group of Democrats opposed to abortion rights, said he was surprised Neugebauer was fundraising off the incident after he called Stupak to apologize. Neugebauer said Monday in a statement that he said, “It’s a baby killer,” referring to the bill and not Stupak, although only “baby killer” was audible in the chamber.

“I’m beginning to believe that’s how you raise money around here is insult somebody,” Stupak said. “I’m surprised that Mr. Neugebauer would do that. You sort of wonder if his motive was to not only impugn my reputation but also to use it for fundraising. That’s pretty sad.”

The fundraising pitch incensed Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.).

“It’s despicable that he would try to cash in on his outrageous conduct,” he said.

Pence said he did not see a problem with Neugebauer’s decision to raise money based on his beliefs.

“I would not stand in the way of any Member expressing their opposition to publicly funded abortion included in Obamacare simply because they made a mistake on the House floor,” he said.

John Feehery, president of the Feehery Group and a former Republican leadership staffer, cautioned that Republicans need to exercise discipline in how they conduct themselves, “especially in this brave new world of cable television and viral messaging.”

“I think Republicans by and large do a good job of staying on message,” Feehery said.

“That is why when something crazy happens it attracts so much more attention.”

Tory Newmyer and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.