Congress

House floor shenanigans punctuate start of spending season

Democrat calls GOP males ‘sex-starved,’ while Republicans use procedural delay tactics

From left, Republicans Justin Amash, Chip Roy and Jim Jordan are seen during a House Oversight and Reform Committee markup on Wednesday. Roy was requiring the House to conduct roll call votes on noncontroversial amendments. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Congressional proceedings are usually pretty dry, but on Wednesday, House floor watchers might as well have been tuned into a reality TV show given all the shenanigans occurring as lawmakers debated their first spending package for the upcoming fiscal year.

Between a Democratic lawmaker calling her GOP male colleagues “sex-starved” and Republicans using a series of procedural tricks to delay proceedings, there was no shortage of tension to kick off the fiscal 2020 appropriations process.

Wednesday was supposed to be a relatively quiet one — at least during normal business hours — as the House debated a four-bill spending package. The chamber was scheduled to spend most of the day working through amendments, with roll call votes on those not expected until around 5:30 p.m.

But those plans were interrupted around 12:15 p.m. when Texas Republican Chip Roy took to the floor to offer a motion to adjourn.

The procedural move was made to protest Democrats’ inaction on President Donald Trump’s $4.5 billion supplemental funding request for the Department of Homeland Security. The administration says the extra money is urgently needed to address an increasing number of migrants trying to cross the southern border. 

“It is unconscionable that this body will not address it,” Roy said. 

Roy’s motion to adjourn was defeated, 146-244. Arizona Republican Andy Biggs quickly offered up another, which was also defeated, 140-254. A few dozen Republicans joined Democrats in voting the motions down.

Members on both sides of the aisle grumbled about the disruption as they had to leave committee hearings and markups or other events for the unscheduled votes. A day in which votes were expected as late as 11 p.m. was now guaranteed to stretch longer.

New York Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Carolyn B. Maloney had their lunches interrupted, as both were separately spotted carrying food containers on their way to the floor. 

Maloney, in her haste to get to the second vote, mistakenly signed the bill for her meal in the members’ dining room rather than the receipt.

Thinking she had skipped out on the bill, a House food service worker pursued her to the chamber and was nearly clotheslined by the doorkeepers because he did not have clearance to enter.

Once learning about the mix-up, Maloney returned to the members’ dining room to ensure the bill was settled properly.

After the surprise motions to adjourn, the House resumed normal business, debating a rule governing proceedings on the spending package.

The package includes government-funded health care programs, so the debate spilled into a partisan back-and-forth about abortion. Such exchanges are always heated but Wednesday’s got particularly nasty when California Democrat Norma J. Torres questioned whether her GOP male colleagues were enjoying enough extracurricular time in the bedroom.

“Mr. Speaker, it is tiring to hear from so many sex-starved males on this floor talk about a woman’s right to choose,” Torres said.

Her remarks triggered audible outrage — and numerous calls for a point of order — from Republicans.

House Rules ban members from impugning their colleagues on the floor, something Torres should know as a member of the panel that writes those rules.

Georgia Republican Rob Woodall got the chair’s attention to give his Rules Committee colleague a chance to, shall we say, clarify her words.

“Mr. Speaker, if it pleases my colleagues on the other side, I will withdraw my statement about sex-starved males on the floor,” Torres responded, prompting more yelling from Republicans.

Torres finally clarified her statement without the offending words, saying, “It is tiring to be here on this floor or in committee as a woman — to continue to be counseled about … family planning conversations that, rightfully, I deserve to have with my own doctor.”

The day’s diablerie did not end there. Republicans continued to use procedural tools to call attention to the border funding matter, which is not relevant to the spending bills the House was debating.

While managing the rule debate for the minority, Woodall yielded his time to several GOP members. Each offered unanimous consent requests for immediate consideration of the border funding supplemental. The chair declined to entertain the requests, ruling the time may be yielded only for rule debate.

As proceedings shifted to amendment debate, Roy was back to being a thorn in the Democrats’ side. Lawmakers tried to voice vote many of the amendments, most of them noncontroversial, but Roy objected and asked for roll call votes on each one.

That meant as members returned to the floor later in the evening for those votes, the time spent there would be painstakingly long.

Katherine Tully-McManus, Jacob Metz and Tia Yang contributed to this report.

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