The Democratic-controlled House yesterday blocked a Republican effort to declare vacant Indiana's 8th Congressional District seat and call a special election to fill it.
The 229-to-200 vote against the GOP proposal sets the stage for the seating today of Democratic incumbent Frank McCloskey, declared the four-vote winner over Republican Richard D. McIntyre by a House task force. Democratic officials said yesterday they expect their proposal to seat McCloskey to succeed.
House Republicans were unanimous in voting to vacate the seat. Nineteen Democrats, many of them southern conservatives, voted with the Republicans. None of the Washington area's Democrats supported the GOP motion.
Immediately after the vote, the Republicans began demanding votes on a variety of minor issues in an effort to tie up the House. The Democrats responded by quickly adjourning.
The Republicans have been stalling for days as a protest against what they regard as the Democrats' "stealing" of the election. The GOP is planning to stage a walkout if McCloskey is seated as expected.
"You'll see the House pretty much shut down," predicted Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
GOP leaders acknowledge that their tactics could boomerang by stalling the Reagan administration's legislative program. But they are angry at the outcome of the disputed election and see it as a symbol of what they consider regular abuse of power by the House's Democratic majority.
Yesterday's vote followed an unusually rancorous House session, punctuated by angry personal charges and countercharges, a few catcalls, and warnings from Republicans of "anarchy" and the loss of bipartisan "comity" if McCloskey is seated.
"This is a black day in the history of the House," said Rep. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.) after the vote. "It's going to be very hard for me to work personally with people who just told me how honorable they were while they rolled me and the people of Indiana."
After the vote, McCloskey said he expects to be sworn in today "barring any unusual physical restraint" by those opposing him.
McIntyre appeared resigned to losing today and said he would return to Indiana to get out of "the intensity of this situation" before deciding whether to run again.
The Indiana election has been bitterly disputed since Election Day last November, when it appeared that McCloskey had won by 72 votes. An accounting error was discovered a few days later, giving McIntyre a 34-vote victory. He was certified the winner by Indiana's secretary of state, a Republican.
When the new Congress convened Jan. 3, the House split along party lines and voted to keep the seat open because a recount was under way. The recount eventually enlarged McIntyre's margin, but many questions were raised about how it was conducted.
The House set up a task force in response, made up of two Democrats and one Republican. The task force investigation and ruling in favor of McCloskey was the focus of debate yesterday.
Republicans charged that House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) and his fellow Democrats had "stolen" the election by stacking the task force, setting up ballot-counting rules designed to help McCloskey and failing to count 32 absentee ballots that he said should have been counted.
They charged that the vote was too close for anyone to tell who really won, and they told wavering Democrats that only fair way to handle the situation was to vacate the seat and have Indiana Gov. Robert D. Orr (R) call a special election.
But Democrats responded that the task force had supervised a recount by the nonpartisan General Accounting Office and that almost all of the rules had been agreed to by all three members of the task force.
They charged that the Republicans were now calling for a special election -- after calling it an "insidious" idea immediately after McIntyre was certified the winner -- only because their candidate lost. In addition, they said the Republican were trying to "bully" their way to an electoral victory.
"Mr. Speaker, you know how to win votes the old-fashioned way. You steal them," said Rep. Bob McEwen (R-Ohio), in a remark that brought a rebuke from House Majority Leader James C. Wright Jr. (D-Tex.).
House Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said the vote was the legislative equivalent of a "hung jury," adding that "we should be asking for a retrial."
Rep. William M. Thomas (R-Calif.), the Republican on the task force, said the task force "had put a cloud over the outcome of this election . . . . I call on you to be honorable men and women" and support a special election.
A visibly angry House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) said "might does not make right . . . . The McIntrye case is but one example of a consistent abuse and misuse of power by the majority."
But Wright responded, "I think it was an honest recount. I'm sorry it was only four votes. I wish it were 4,000 votes either way. In all my years in Congress I've never know anything to create such a degree of emotionalism. I regret that.
"We're not so hard up for an extra seat in the House that we would deprive someone of it by theft," he said.
Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.), who came under furious attack by the Republicans for his actions as task force chairman, said Republicans supported the recount process until the end, changing posture only after it became clear McIntyre was going to lose.
"Now the minority is arguing that the game wasn't fair, that we ought to go another 10 innings . . . . There's no rule here that says if you win by four votes you have to have a runoff." Panetta was later given a standing ovation by his Democratic colleagues.
The Republicans gave a standing ovation to Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D-Ky.), the only Democrat to speak in favor of the Republican motion.
Here are the 19 Democrats who voted to declare the Indiana seat vacant:
Ralph Hall, Sam Hall, Leath, Stenholm of Texas; Daniel and Olin of Virginia; Wise of West Virginia; Penny of Minnesota; Montgomery of Mississippi; LaFalce of New York; Applegate of Ohio; English of Oklahoma; Lloyd of Tennessee; Hutto of Florida; Barnard and Ray of Georgia; Stallings of Idaho; Mazzoli of Kentucky, and Frank of Massachusetts.