Let’s put aside for a moment, the scandal swirling around Rep. Scott DesJarlais and focus on something far wonkier. Yes, we know the controversy in which the Tennessee Republican is embroiled involves the salacious words “mistress” and “abortion,” making it hard to resist, but we best clear up a curious parliamentary matter first.
We noticed that DesJarlais’ campaign spokesman had told a hometown paper last month that he would not be able to debate his Democratic challenger on Oct. 11 because duty had called him to Washington on that date.
According to the Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro, Tenn.: “He... will be presiding over a pro-forma session of Congress Oct. 11 in Washington, D.C... ‘As a result, we will not be attending these (debate) events,’ DesJarlais campaign manager Brandon Lewis said.”
First of all, just about everyone with a passing knowledge of House procedure knows that presiding over a pro-forma session isn’t exactly a special-ops mission. “It’s the definition of perfunctory,” one former leadership aide explained to the Loop.
Often, it’s handled by a local lawmaker, someone whose commute from the Maryland or Virginia ‘burbs isn’t too taxing — or by a member planning to be in town on other business. They’ll cruise in, bang the gavel, listen to the chaplain’s prayer, say the pledge, then close the session a scant few moments later. DesJarlais did the honors last Friday, when he brushed off two Democrats’ efforts to speak.
Not only could anyone wield the gavel, it turns out that there’s not even going to be a pro-forma session today, after all. The next one, we’re told, will be on Friday.
DesJarlais’ congressional spokesman now says the big draw to Washington was really the hearing yesterday in the House Oversight and Investigations committee on the Libya bombings, not the gavel duty.
DesJarlais only volunteered to preside, spokesman Robert Jameson said, knowing that he would be in town for the hearing. The hearing hadn’t been scheduled when his campaign cited the trip to Washington, though the spokesman said he knew it was “in the pike.”
And now he plans to preside over the Friday session instead, Jameson says.
A grateful nation awaits.