A Debacle in the House

So, last week the tension in the Democratic Party was that Nancy Pelosi stood accused of being a kind-of racist because she was always putting down what has come to be called "the Squad," or, as Squad-leader AOC puts it, 'freshmen women of color.' Speaker Pelosi pulled out all the stops in self-defense against this career-destroying claim, up to and including the Congressional Black Caucus and Maureen Dowd in the Sunday New York Times.

As of yesterday, it appeared that President Trump had decided to rescue Speaker Pelosi by giving her an ample chance to turn the charge around against him, and show staunch support for 'the Squad.' Yesterday afternoon, however, 'the Squad' called for the President to be impeached (for an ill-considered exercise of his First Amendment rights, I suppose, which is apparently either a high crime or a misdemeanor these days; although one of them mentioned Russia Collusion, as if that were still a live issue that might lead to impeachment somehow). Speaker Pelosi risked another split with the four by insisting on a toothless resolution instead, arguing that impeachment would fail in the Senate and the President would claim vindication.

The idea was this was the safe bet, and she could peel off some Republicans and have a symbolic victory at no cost -- assuming 'the Squad' didn't keep raising a fuss about how she didn't impeach.

Instead, what happened was that she used language that violated rules going back to Thomas Jefferson; the Parliamentarian sided with a challenge to that language from Rep. Doug Collins (my old representative, actually, from Georgia's Mighty 9th Congressional District); Pelosi then left the floor in violation of the rules; the chairman abandoned the chair rather than accept the ruling that she was guilty; the next chairman did accept it, so the House voted to reject applying the rule and keep her remarks on the record; and then the House voted to exempt her from any punishment for breaking the rule, even though the punishment was purely symbolic.

So now, not only did they not get the show of Republicans joining them to shame the President, they damaged the cause of impeachment. Now, if they ever do impeach, the Senate Republicans can simply point to this as a clear precedent for how things are done these days. If they'd made Pelosi accept the token symbol of a punishment, they could have claimed the high ground for applying the rules to their own elected party leader. Now, they've set a clear standard that those with the power to do so shall set the rules aside to protect their party leader (even when there's really nothing at stake in applying the rules). They've deprived themselves of a huge rhetorical advantage, making a successful impeachment and removal of the President far less likely than it already was.

The floor of the House is a smoking ruin this afternoon.


RonF said...

I wish I could agree with you, but a violation of House rules is too obscure for most "journalists" to actually properly explain, never mind for most members of the public to care about. The reaction among most people who are determined to see Pres. Trump as racist will be that if the rules of the House forbid calling him a racist - especially if that rule was written by a slaveowner - then the rules are wrong and should simply be ignored. This attitude is already widespread with regards to enforcement of our present immigration laws, after all.

The Chicago Tribune published an article recently on it's op-ed page favorably comparing resistance towards ICE raids to resistance towards the Fugitive Slave Law.

J Melcher said...

The images of the House Rules posted to the Breitbart site indicate a lot of examples of things not to say regarding racism dated to the previous 8 years. Like, specifically, rules were passed to keep House members from calling OBAMA a racist, or governing with racial preferences, or being other than race-blind.

If the rules are so new and so targeted I understand, if not agree with, Democrats who feel they don't apply right now.

Christopher B said...

What the rules are or aren't should not give Pelosi a pass on claiming that she'd cleared her remarks with the parliamentarian, and then having the parliamentarian rule them out of bounds. Either she lied about what she was going to say but thought she could sneak in something stronger, or she lied about pre-clearing them.

E Hines said...

a violation of House rules is too obscure for most "journalists" to actually properly explain

Not at all. It's a piece of cake for these folks, who hold themselves out as smarter than us, who insist they are the gatekeepers of what we're to be allowed to know, to explain such things.

In any event, surely you're not suggesting they slept through their 8th grade Civics class.

Eric Hines

douglas said...

JMelcher, I had heard that the rules in those images were from the 2016 rules (probably adopted with addendendum this congress as would be usual), so they wouldn't have been to prevent Obama being called racist, but in fact to prevent exactly this. The Democrats never seem to pay much attention to these things as they aren't much for rules anyway.

Grim- I don't think the rules as they stand now were written by Jefferson- it's called he Jefferson manual because he wrote the original set of rules. My understanding is that each congress the House and Senate have to approve the rules (and that is when they make any changes). It was like this when I was on the local PTA as parliamentarian. We had the standard required National and California PTA Rules, and then we could propose additional rules and select from a table of pre-approved options on some others, and then voted them in each new term.

Grim said...

Is that so, Douglas? I had been under the impression that this rule was an older one, but perhaps not.

Still, the precedent is demonstrated: a house of Congress should act to protect its political faction, not to apply the rules, not even if the parliamentarian's decision goes against the majority.

Should the Senate do the same thing -- if they ever get so far -- they'll have no one to complain to but themselves.

As for me, of course I would support an impeachment if a genuine high crime or even a solid misdemeanor that justified it were proven. The man being the man everyone knew he was when they elected him does not constitute such. America is just getting what she paid for in Donald J. Trump.