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House Forms Special Panel Over Alleged Stolen Vote

Even the House hardware contributed to the disarray. Republicans had at last been coaxed back to the House floor yesterday afternoon, when a lawmaker moved to adjourn the House, a favorite GOP delaying tactic. As the votes were coming in, the electronic tally board suddenly went blank, leading to a new round of recriminations and another House recess.

"I understand that everybody's sensibilities are taut," Hoyer pleaded, as Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) hinted darkly that perhaps the House had just voted to adjourn. "I regret what happened last night, but we do have business to do," Hoyer said.

It started late Thursday, when GOP lawmakers moved to send the 2008 agriculture spending bill back to the House Appropriations Committee for members to add an explicit prohibition on illegal immigrants receiving food stamps. With so much on their plate, Democratic leaders were in no mood to comply.

Democrats appeared to have won the vote, but with the voting time apparently having expired, GOP leaders persuaded three Latino Republicans who had voted with the Democrats to change their votes. At the same time, Democrats say, five Democratic lawmakers who had voted with Republicans were scrambling to change their votes as well. With two of the GOP votes changed, Democrats gaveled the vote shut, 214 to 214, and declared that they had won. But the public tally showed that the Republicans had won, 215 to 213, just as the vote was declared for the Democrats. The official final tally was 216 to 212 in the Democrats' favor.

But House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said there were no Democrats seeking to change their votes at the time. Moreover, he charged, Hoyer had told a protesting parliamentarian, "We control, not the parliamentarians." And, he said, electronic records on the vote disappeared from the House's voting system and on the House clerk's Web site.

"Many of my colleagues and I feel as though the vote was taken from us," Boehner said.

In a raucous protest, Republicans walked out of the House en masse.

Hoyer conceded that the gavel had fallen too quickly, but he said it had been an error. When he put the issue to a new vote, Republicans boycotted, demanding that their victorious tally stand.

Pelosi was unsympathetic.

"There was no mistake made last night," she said. "Apologies were made for the early announcement of the vote," but the early announcement would not have changed the outcome, she added.

The select committee, to be made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, will deliver an interim report by Sept. 30, with the final report due by Sept. 15, 2008.

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