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House GOP Protests Delay On Drilling Bill

Members Assail Democrats For Not Bringing It to Vote

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washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Saturday, August 2, 2008; Page A03

Republicans staged a revolt on the House floor yesterday to protest the lack of a vote on opening more land to oil drilling -- but this particular revolution was not televised.

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On the last day of the session before a five-week break, several dozen GOP lawmakers took to the floor shortly after the House adjourned and essentially refused to leave for more than five hours, even after -- as is customary during an adjournment -- the television cameras were turned off, the microphones were silenced and the lights were extinguished. No one occupied the speaker's chair, nor were any clerks or parliamentarians present to steer the pseudo-debate.

But those audio-visual constraints did not stop a steady procession of Republicans from heading to the well of the House and criticizing Democratic leaders for leaving town without staging the drilling vote. Without a television audience, lawmakers played to the increasingly packed visitors' galleries.

"Tell your friends the Republicans refuse to go quietly!" yelled Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), gesturing to the balconies above.

Aides said members of Congress are allowed to bring guests onto the floor and address them when the House is out of session, which explained why nearly all the seats in the chamber were filled with tourists and other guests, including what appeared to be an entire troop of Boy Scouts. Even a few reporters ventured onto the floor, an act that would bring swift punishment if the House were in session.

There were other deviations from normal House decorum: Cellphones rang frequently, and at least a few members appeared wearing shorts and sandals. Dramatic analogies ran rampant.

"Today is the 2008 version of the Boston Tea Party," suggested Rep. John Shadegg (Ariz.), while Rep. Adam H. Putnam (Fla.) compared the happy few members present to a "band of brothers."

Democrats alternately ignored and were irritated by the pseudo-session, but the majority decided not to make the Republicans into martyrs by trying to kick them out of the chamber. .

Yesterday's phantom session, which began at 11:30 a.m., ended just after 5 p.m., not long after the galleries were finally cleared and the building was officially closed to tourists. The remaining lawmakers and staffers sang "God Bless America" and then filed out of the chamber chanting "USA! USA!"

A few Republicans said they thought the session went so well that they might just return next week.

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