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House Forms Special Panel Over Alleged Stolen Vote

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By Jonathan Weisman and Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 4, 2007

The House last night unanimously agreed to create a special select committee, with subpoena powers, to investigate Republican allegations that Democratic leaders had stolen a victory from the House GOP on a parliamentary vote late Thursday night.

The move capped a remarkable day that started with Republicans marching out of the House in protest near midnight Thursday, was punctuated by partisan bickering, and ended with Democratic hopes for a final legislative rush fading. Even a temporary blackout of the House chamber's vote tally board led to suspicions and accusations of skullduggery.

While Democratic leaders hoped to leave for their August recess on a wave of legislative successes, the House instead slowed to an acrimonious crawl that threatened to stretch the legislative session into next week.

The agreement to form a special committee was extraordinary. Such powerful investigative committees are usually reserved for issues such as the Watergate scandal and the funneling of profits from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s.

"I don't know when something like this has happened before," said House deputy historian Fred W. Beuttler. He called the decision "incredible."

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) accepted GOP calls for an investigation. "I do not believe there was any wrongdoing by any member of the House. I do believe a mistake was made," he said. "And I regret it."

"We are not irrelevant here," said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). "Just because we are in the minority doesn't mean we're irrelevant."

GOP lawmakers had marched out of the House chamber about 11 p.m. Thursday, shouting "shame, shame" and saying that Democrats had "stolen" a vote on a parliamentary motion to pull an agriculture spending bill off the floor until it incorporated an explicit denial of federal benefits to illegal immigrants. The bill already would deny such benefits to illegal immigrants, and Democrats stressed that they won the vote fair and square. But a campaign has been launched, and the House has not fully recovered.

"Last night sent a clear message to the American people that there are people in this town who are willing to break rules and utilize extraordinary maneuvers just so that illegal immigrants can receive taxpayer-funded benefits," said Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Calif.).

Anger-driven delaying tactics threw into uncertainty an agenda that was to include important votes on a huge energy bill, a defense spending bill and a terrorism surveillance measure before Congress's departure for its month-long summer recess.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused Republicans of blatant obstructionism. "They've just been deluged by the success of the Democrats on behalf of the American people," she said.

After Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) violated House rules by calling Democrats "cheaters" on the floor, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), a freshman and relative political neophyte, warned her colleagues that their mothers might be watching.

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