By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Nine months after Democrats allegedly stole a parliamentary vote in the House, the long-running "Select Committee to Investigate the Voting Irregularities of August 2, 2007" will haul House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer to the witness stand today for what Republicans insist will be the Maryland Democrat's comeuppance.
The events of that day have been long forgotten by all but the most partisan of Republicans or the wonkiest of C-SPAN watchers. In the meantime, an investigative committee created to salve wounded feelings in the House has spent nearly half a million dollars, mainly on high-priced K Street lawyers.
For taxpayers wondering what that money has yielded, today could be the payoff -- at least according to Republicans.
"Tomorrow's hearing will begin to pull back the curtain on one of the most shameful chapters of this Congress: a stolen vote on the floor of the United States House of Representatives," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said yesterday.
Republicans say they will present incontrovertible evidence -- in interviews, transcripts and videotape -- of "discrepancies" between Hoyer's account of the events of that day and the explanation of the two other primary witnesses: Rep. Michael R. McNulty (D-N.Y.), who wielded the gavel on the disputed vote, and Catlin O'Neill, a staff member who was helping manage the floor for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
"The chaos of August 2, 2007, was a dark moment in the history of the United States House of Representatives and must never be allowed to happen again," Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), the investigating committee's senior Republican, will say today, according to an opening statement obtained by The Washington Post. "The imperious actions of the Democratic leadership unduly influenced the chair and undermined the will of the American people."
There is an adage that academic politics are the fiercest because the stakes are so low, but professors have nothing on internal fights in the House of Representatives. At issue here is a parliamentary maneuver -- a Republican "motion to recommit" the annual Agriculture Department spending bill back to committee and thus kill the bill temporarily.
Republicans were demanding that the measure bar illegal immigrants from receiving taxpayer-funded benefits. The proposal was an attempt to divide Democrats, pressure freshmen in districts where anti-immigration sentiment runs high and test their leadership.
To thwart that move, Hoyer aggressively pushed McNulty to gavel the vote shut as soon as he could round up enough Democrats to kill it. When the gavel fell, the unofficial tally showed Republicans winning. But the vote stayed open until Democrats had won it.
Republicans cried foul, and have been doing so ever since.
By Pence's account, Hoyer was almost confessional when he told the committee in a private interview that he instructed O'Neill in "words to the effect of, 'We need to shut down the vote when we are prevailing.' "
Hoyer's account did not jibe with O'Neill's or McNulty's. Both denied receiving or giving instructions about closing the vote that evening.
"It is troubling," Pence will say, "that their testimony was contradicted by the testimony of Mr. Hoyer."
So after nine months, after the hiring of outside counsel from King & Spalding and Dickstein Shapiro, it appears that the committee has discovered someone didn't get the story straight.
Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), the investigation's chairman, said even that infraction would be a misreading of the committee's findings.
"I would suggest you are getting what we call in Boston 'bum information,' " he said yesterday.
Hoyer declined to comment on the issue, but an aide said: "It is unfortunate that, in the lead-up to this hearing, some are deliberately ignoring the facts in this case and making inaccurate statements that seem born out of partisanship."