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Congress Is under Pressure to Move on Defense, Energy Before Recess

August 3, 2007 at 6:20 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Next, pre-recess tensions reach a new boiling point in the House of Representatives. NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman has the story.

KWAME HOLMAN: Another late-night session, sharp differences over legislation and members simply wanting to get home combined to set up a perfect storm on the House floor last evening.

Next year’s agriculture spending bill was debated with civility for most of the day. But that was lost shortly after California Republican Jerry Lewis called for assurance that no undocumented immigrant would benefit from any of the bill’s programs.

REP. JERRY LEWIS (R), California: Mr. Speaker, there’s nothing dilatory about this motion. This is not a political piece of chicanery. It only requires that funds in this act be implemented in accordance with the current law.

KWAME HOLMAN: Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro objected vehemently.

REP. ROSA DELAURO (D), Connecticut: There are no funds in this bill which would authorize any actions for illegal aliens, not for rural housing, not for employment, not for any of the activities funded under this bill.

KWAME HOLMAN: Just before 11:00, members began casting votes on whether a committee should rework the bill. And the vote was close throughout, tied apparently when New York Democrat Michael McNulty tried to end it…

REP. MICHAEL MCNULTY (D), New York: … 214, the nays are 214…

KWAME HOLMAN: … even as several members from both parties were changing their votes. The next few minutes were filled with confusion. At one point, Republicans thought they had won by a margin of 215-213, but McNulty reported it differently.

REP. MICHAEL MCNULTY: … the nays are 214, the motion is not agreed to.

KWAME HOLMAN: … and then explained he had made a mistake.

REP. MICHAEL MCNULTY: The chair prematurely called the vote at 214.

Republicans respond with protest

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans responded with a chant of "Shame."

HOUSE REPUBLICANS: Shame, shame, shame, shame!

KWAME HOLMAN: Recognizing the vote had been mishandled, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer came to the floor and called for a re-vote.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), House Majority Leader: ... I move to reconsider the vote by which the previous motion to recommit failed.

KWAME HOLMAN: But by then, Republicans wanted no part of it. Believing their victory had been stolen, more than 100 of them walked off the floor in protest. Without a majority of Republicans on the floor, Democrats were able to move ahead and approve the agriculture bill with little opposition.

REP. MICHAEL MCNULTY: On this vote, the yeas are 237, the nays are 18, 13 voting present. Accordingly, the bill is passed. And without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.

Some Republicans still outraged

KWAME HOLMAN: When the House reconvened this morning, Majority Leader Hoyer and his Republican counterpart, John Boehner, each tried to put the night before behind them.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), House Minority Leader: But I would ask my colleagues that we do our work in a businesslike fashion, that we treat each other with respect, and that we proceed in a way that the American people would be proud of.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Minority Whip Roy Blunt was still outraged.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R), Minority Whip: ... a week of violations of the principles of the House culminated last night in such an excessive way that Republicans walked off the floor, and it was a deserved walkout, and I'm ashamed of the House.

CHAIR: The gentleman's time has expired.

KWAME HOLMAN: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to downplay last night's events.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), Speaker of the House: A misunderstanding occurred. An apology for that inconvenience was given, and now we're moving on to what's next.

Focusing on the achievements

KWAME HOLMAN: And Pelosi stressed what Congress had achieved this week: legislation dealing with ethics and lobbying reform, as well as funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

However, as the House was about to move this afternoon to provide emergency aid in response to the Minneapolis bridge collapse and to rewrite laws on terrorist surveillance, the computerized vote tabulation system broke down. Again, Majority Leader Hoyer found himself in an embarrassing situation...

REP. STENY HOYER: It's obvious that we have a technical problem. I know that comes as a great shock and surprise to you.

KWAME HOLMAN: ... while Republicans savored the moment.

REP. DAVID DREIER (R), California: ... that under normal circumstances, this would be somewhat entertaining and funny. But this is a very, very serious matter.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans eventually agreed to recess the House. And after a delay of more than an hour, the voting display was fixed, and the legislative day in the House continued.