House Republicans haven’t been in the minority in eight years. And in a slapstick scene on the House floor Thursday afternoon, the rust showed.
The House was voting on another stopgap bill to reopen the government, this one until Feb. 28. Nearly all House Republicans routinely have voted against House Democratic spending bills over the last two weeks in an effort to stay in lockstep with President Trump’s demand for border wall funding. And it’s important to their messaging that they show unity against the Democratic bills.
When the bill came up, the Democrat presiding over the House, North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield, called for a voice vote and declared the resolution passed. This is a standard majority move. What’s supposed to happen afterward, though, is for a member who wants a recorded vote to call for a recorded vote. The Republican at the lectern responsible for this task was Kentucky Rep. Brett Guthrie. Either he didn’t call for the recorded vote, or Butterfield didn’t hear him. (If Guthrie did say something, it’s certainly not audible on the C-SPAN replay.) Butterfield waited about 30 seconds and then moved on to the next item of business.
In other words, because no roll call vote was requested, the Democratic bill to reopen the government had just passed without Republicans recording their objection. On paper, that might look like House Republicans had sided with Democrats to defy President Trump and reopen the government without wall funding.
Some Republicans, realizing the messaging snafu that took place while they were tuned out, stayed in the chamber and tried to convince Butterfield, and Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, that Guthrie totally called for the recorded vote. Butterfield and Hoyer insisted that they didn’t hear it. When Republican Whip Steve Scalise offered a series of ideas for redoing the vote, Hoyer noted that most of his members were already at the airport so, eh, sorry.
Things then got noisy. Ohio Rep. Warren Davidson, a Republican Freedom Caucus member, walked over to the Democratic side, pointing at Butterfield and shouting at him that he heard Guthrie. Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, too, was shouting indiscriminately.
When GOP Rep. Jason Smith screamed at the Democrats, “Go back to Puerto Rico!”—an apparent reference to a Congressional Hispanic Caucus trip to the island last week, where Republicans accused them of “partying” during the shutdown—Democrats jeered loudly.
Eventually, Hoyer and Scalise talked privately, and Hoyer left the floor. I saw him about 15 minutes later emerging from Speaker Pelosi’s office, and he confirmed that he’d decided to give Republicans another shot: They would vacate the voice vote and try again next week. House Republican PR failure averted.
Talking to some Republican members after the vote, they … were not so sure that Guthrie had called for the recorded vote after all.
“I wear two hearing aids, so I’m the worst one to ask,” one member told me.
Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar said he certainly saw Guthrie standing at the lectern, but didn’t hear the objection. “There was a lot of commotion,” he said as a caveat. He said further that he had heard stories like this about Pelosi’s bag of tricks, and that Republicans had better wake up when they’re on the floor.
“We were warned—I wasn’t here when Pelosi was in the speakership before—that she is known for this,” he said. “She is known for quick votes, sending people out, all of a sudden having a [unanimous consent] vote when nobody is around. She’s known for this.”
“So plenty of us now are very aware of it,” he said, “and [this] brings it to a point that we’re going to have to be on guard. And leadership is going to have to be on guard as well.”
North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, the Freedom Caucus chairman, could barely disguise his grin afterward when asked whether he heard Guthrie call for the recorded vote. “I think there’s a question about that,” he said, before saying very diplomatically: “I think at this point, I have no reason to question Mr. Butterfield’s integrity. Let’s put it that way.”
I asked Meadows if this was an episode of Republicans getting used to life without the gavel.
“I think there could be a little bit of that,” he said. “You just have to understand: You have to ask for votes.”
Support our independent journalism
Readers like you make our work possible. Help us continue to provide the reporting, commentary and criticism you won’t find anywhere else. Join Slate Plus.Join Slate Plus