Angry House Republicans, divided over protest tactics in the disputed election in Indiana's 8th District, struggled yesterday to flesh out their threats to disrupt House activities if Democrat Frank McCloskey is seated next week.
"There is a consensus that we ought to do something," said Rep. Connie Mack III (R-Fla.) said. "But the question is how do you focus that and how do you make it work?"
Republicans threatened to keep the House going late last night but stopped talking at 9:30. But they are threatening to go all night tonight with a series of "special orders" speeches. A group of younger Democrats met yesterday to decide how to counter the Republicans during these talkathons.
The dispute over the Indiana election threatens to bring legislative paralysis to a chamber that already was sharply divided ideologically and politically.
But on a day when the House was debating a Republican leadership alternative on aid to the "contras" fighting Nicaragua's Sandinista government, the GOP came face-to-face with the problems of trying to tie up the House while doing business in it.
"Today is another important day legislatively," House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.), sponsor of the Nicaragua measure, said as he left a meeting of the House Republican Conference yesterday morning. "I've got a job to get done in the interest of the country, and I'm going to get that job done."
Michel warned that once the Nicaragua issue was finished, "all bets are off" about Republican tactics. But other Republicans expressed dismay that the leadership had been unable to settle on actions to protest the outcome in Indiana.
McCloskey was declared the winner by four votes over Republican Richard D. McIntyre, who had twice been certified the winner by Indiana officials. The final recount was overseen by a House task force that split 2 to 1 along party lines over whether to count certain unnotarized, absentee ballots.
"We thought we were coming in this morning to hear a list of alternatives," one House Republican said after this morning's GOP caucus. "Now we're told that will come tomorrow morning. That's the frustration."
The range of options discussed by Republicans ranges from parliamentary tactics to slow the House to civil disobedience. The most extreme proposals include blocking the doors to the House chamber when the Democrats try to seat McCloskey next week or chaining someone to the podium.
But Republican leaders rejected those ideas. "The leadership believes that whatever we do, we should stay within the rules and decorum of the House," said Republican Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.).
Republican leaders also have rejected some legislative disruptions, including a boycott of committee or subcommittee meetings. "That would hurt Republicans," one senior Republican said. "We have to get things done."
Instead, Republicans are looking at, among other things, delaying tactics, symbolic walkouts and possibly a massive advertising campaign to step up pressure on the Democrats. But there is a push for more dramatic action.
Some Republicans privately held out hope that the Democrats would eventually agree to a special election. But Democratic officials said there was no sentiment for that.
"We're going the regular process," House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) said.
House Democrats met in closed session to hear Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.), chairman of the task force that oversaw the recount in Indiana, explain what happened.
"I don't think there is pressure for a new election," said Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), Democratic Caucus chairman.
Some Republicans privately worried that the rhetoric on their side has been too extreme. Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) has referred to O'Neill and other Democratic leaders as "corrupt" and "thugs." Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.) yesterday denounced Democratic campaign committee officials "and the other slime in the Democratic Party."