By Dana Milbank
Friday, May 9, 2008
It was already shaping up to be a difficult year for congressional Republicans. Now, on the cusp of Mother's Day, comes this: A majority of the House GOP has voted against motherhood.
On Wednesday afternoon, the House had just voted, 412 to 0, to pass H. Res. 1113, "Celebrating the role of mothers in the United States and supporting the goals and ideals of Mother's Day," when Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), rose in protest.
"Mr. Speaker, I move to reconsider the vote," he announced.
Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), who has two young daughters, moved to table Tiahrt's request, setting up a revote. This time, 178 Republicans cast their votes against mothers.
It has long been the custom to compare a popular piece of legislation to motherhood and apple pie. Evidently, that is no longer the standard. Worse, Republicans are now confronted with a John Kerry-esque predicament: They actually voted for motherhood before they voted against it.
Republicans, unhappy with the Democratic majority, have been using such procedural tactics as this all week to bring the House to a standstill, but the assault on mothers may have gone too far. House Minority Leader John Boehner, asked yesterday to explain why he and 177 of his colleagues switched their votes, answered: "Oh, we just wanted to make sure that everyone was on record in support of Mother's Day."
By voting against it?
If Boehner's explanation doesn't make much sense, he's been under a great deal of stress lately.
There's the case of one member of his caucus, Rep. Vito Fossella (N.Y.); the father of three from Staten Island yesterday announced that he has a fourth, a 3-year-old love child with a woman from Virginia. That admission was prompted by his drunken-driving arrest in Virginia last week, when he told police he was on his way to see his daughter. "I think Mr. Fossella is going to have some decisions to make over the weekend," Boehner said at his news conference yesterday, cutting Fossella loose. Fossella was spotted on the House floor, in tears, speaking to the chaplain.
For the record, Fossella did not participate in the Mother's Day vote.
Neither is Boehner likely to be helped by a Senate ethics committee decision yesterday exonerating Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) over his use of the "D.C. Madam's" call girls. The Senate cleared him because the prostitution occurred when he was in the House -- and the House can't punish him because he left for the Senate. The madam, meanwhile, killed herself by hanging last week.
Then Boehner must grapple with the problematic case of Don Cazayoux. The Democrat last week won a House seat in Louisiana vacated by Republican Richard Baker. The seat hadn't been held by a Democrat since 1974, and President Bush won 59 percent of the vote in the district in 2004. "The loss in Louisiana is a wake-up call," Boehner admitted yesterday.
Worse news could come for Boehner on Tuesday, when Mississippi voters decide on a replacement for Rep. Roger Wicker (R) in a district where Bush won 62 percent of the vote in 2004. The seat should be a safe one for Republicans, but Democrat Travis Childers is running even with Republican Greg Davis -- a potential sign of things to come in November, when Republicans stand to lose another 10 seats.
Whatever happens in Mississippi, Boehner has enough trouble to preoccupy him here in Washington, where House Democrats have been passing their agenda with little thought for Republican preferences. "The majority has taken, once again, their go-it-alone policy," Boehner lamented yesterday. "It's time for Democrats and Republicans to work together."
To induce this working together, Boehner decided to stop the House from working at all. As House Democrats tried to pass legislation to ease the mortgage crisis on Wednesday, Republicans served up hours of procedural delays, demanding a score of roll call votes: 10 motions to adjourn, half a dozen motions to reconsider, various and sundry amendments, a motion to approve the daily journal, a motion to instruct and a "motion to rise."
The high point came just after 6 p.m., when, after one of the motions to adjourn, 61 members lined up to change their votes, one by one. Forty-six went from aye to no, while 15 changed from no to aye. The maneuver ate up 28 minutes in all -- and caused an eruption by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who accused the minority of a "filibuster by vote changing."
"I know that probably all of you did polls on that and focus groups on whether or not you should vote aye or nay," Hoyer mocked. "What just happened is not appropriate for the House for either side, to simply use a device of changing votes, of voting late, of lining up in the aisle and coming down every 30 seconds or so with one more vote."
But the dilatory maneuvers continued, and the Democrats finally announced that they would postpone the vote on the mortgage bill until Thursday, thereby pushing a war spending bill to next week.
Finally, Republicans decided yesterday to suspend their shenanigans; it was time to catch flights to their districts. "Never underestimate the desire of members to go home," Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith explained.
They might also need some extra time with their mothers.