Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who leads Democrats in the House, and Rep. David Dreier (Calif.), the Republican chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, are on friendly terms despite political differences.
Dreier was one of the few Republicans to attend a party for Pelosi after she was elected House minority leader in November 2002. "I was very proud that the first minority leader was from my state," he said.
But that didn't stop Pelosi from roughing up Dreier during a contretemps on the House floor June 25. Behind the attack was rising anger among House Democrats about Republican use of the procedural power of the Rules Committee to prevent or limit amendments and debate on key bills.
In that case, Pelosi was protesting Dreier's refusal to let the House debate a Democratic amendment that she said would have helped Californians "get the refunds they deserve after they were ripped off by Enron and others."
Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) and several other western Democrats had wanted to attach the amendment to the bill funding the Energy Department in 2005. It would have required the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to let states participate in price-fixing claims against energy companies, possibly paving the way for consumers to get refunds on their utility bills.
But Dreier said the amendment would interfere with moves underway in California courts, and was not in order on an appropriations bill.
Pelosi then took to the House floor to hammer the decision, suggesting it went against the interests of Dreier's home-state constituents, and repeatedly refusing to yield time to him to respond.
"Will the gentlewoman yield?" Dreier asked.
"I think that you are going to have to get time from your own [Republican] chairman," Pelosi replied.
"Well, I was happy to yield earlier to the gentlewoman," he said. "For 10 seconds, and I yielded more time to you," Pelosi shot back.
The attack on Dreier, using the Eshoo amendment, was no accident. It had been carefully planned in the minority leader's office, according to House Democratic aides. Since taking charge of the minority, Pelosi has tried to sharpen the party's message and instill unity, for which she has received good marks.
"Nancy's very standup. She's been terrific," said Rep. Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.).
For his part, Dreier was philosophical. "I served in the minority for 14 years, and I certainly respect attempts by members of the minority to create division and attack those in leadership," he said. But he added, "I think you can be a street fighter and still be civil."
The partisan testiness increased last week after Republicans prolonged a scheduled 15-minute vote by 23 minutes to corral GOP lawmakers who had sided with Democrats on an amendment to water down the USA Patriot Act. The amendment lost on a 210 to 210 tie.
To protest the GOP maneuvering, Democrats on Friday tied up the House for several hours with procedural motions that had the effect of stalling all legislative action.
FROM THE HEART: It was one of those rare moments in the Senate when members forget about political games and the intricacies of legislation to speak from the heart about tragedies that have touched their own lives.
It happened last Thursday, when Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) rose to discuss a bill he is championing to authorize $60 million over three years to help states set up programs to prevent suicides by young people. The bill is named after Smith's son Garrett, who took his own life last fall, just one day short of his 22nd birthday.
Straining to choke back sobs, Smith told how Garrett struggled with learning disabilities, and was later diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder, with wild mood swings that included depression.
"While we knew intuitively that suicide was possible in his case, there are simply no parental preparations adequate for this crisis in one's own child, no owner's manual to help one in burying a child, especially when the cause is suicide," Smith said.
After he finished, colleagues hugged him, and some rose to tell their own stories. Minority Whip Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told how his mother called him one day to say his father shot himself. "For a long time, I was embarrassed. I did not know how to handle that," he said.
Reid was followed by Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), who said his father also committed suicide. "I have no doubt as a result of us passing this legislation, we'll end up saving a lot of lives," Nickles said.
The Senate approved the youth suicide prevention bill without dissent. Smith aides said House approval is expected soon.
THE WEEK AHEAD: The Senate is scheduled to debate a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages, with a vote planned for Wednesday. The Senate also may take up the Australia free-trade legislation. The House is expected to take up three appropriations bills, covering the legislative branch of government, the Department of Agriculture and foreign aid.