At Recess, a Little One-Sided Dodgeball

John McCain called on Congress Monday to return from their August recess to vote on a new energy package. McCain said he would leave the campaign trial to return to Washington, and challenged Barack Obama to do the same. Video by AP
By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, August 5, 2008

House Republicans can't seem to make up their minds.

Eighteen times over the past 90 days, the minority tried, unsuccessfully, to force the House to adjourn. Now the House has finally adjourned -- for a five-week recess, no less -- and Republicans are demanding that the chamber be called back into session.

On Friday and again yesterday, they opened the doors to the darkened House chamber and invited tourists wearing shorts and sandals to sit in the members' chairs. The microphones, lights and cameras were off. The speaker's chair was empty. But, hour after hour, the Republican lawmakers stood in the well and cursed the darkness.

"The lights are dimmed, the cameras are off," Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) observed, accurately.

"The lights are not on, and the microphones are not on," concurred Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.).

"The electricity's cut off," deduced Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.).

"What we simply ask," said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Tex.) "is for the speaker to turn those lights on."

Evidently, they didn't need to ask House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. While Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) was speaking, somebody found a light switch and brightened the chamber a bit. "My God, there's been a surge in power," the lawmaker exclaimed.

But even under the lights, dimness prevailed.

The Republicans put the "rump" into rump session yesterday. Democrats, when they were in the minority, also played House from time to time with phony hearings and debates. But the current effort (blessed by the GOP leadership, the rebels vow to keep at it all week, if not longer) has turned into a sort of 19th-century telethon, as lawmakers, denied C-SPAN or even live microphones, find new meaning in playing to the gallery.

"Contact the speaker," Price exhorted the tourists in tank tops and sunglasses. "You all got a pen, a piece of paper? "202-224-3121. 202-224-3121."

Price and 17 colleagues kicked off yesterday's event with a news conference outside the House chamber, underneath a statue of Will Rogers. It was a fitting spot, for they seemed determined to prove one of the late Oklahoma humorist's best lines: "I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts."

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