House Republicans view a recent move by 11 Democrats to have United Nations observers monitor U.S. elections as a politically motivated stunt, and last week they moved to nip the idea in the bud.
But after an unusually rancorous skirmish that brought proceedings on the House floor to a standstill late Thursday, the issue may have received more publicity than even Democrats hoped for.
It pitted Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), author of an amendment to the 2005 foreign aid bill aimed at blocking U.N. involvement in U.S. elections, against Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), who had harsh words for Buyer.
Buyer had been describing a July 1 letter from Democrats to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, requesting that he send observers to "monitor" this fall's elections, as "rather foolish, nonsense and silly."
"Imagine on Election Day you get up, you have your breakfast, you grab your coffee and your Danish, and you are going to go to the voting booth," Buyer said. "When you show up, you are curious because you see a white van out there that says the U.N. beside it and little blue helmets. The United Nations has arrived; we are going to ensure the integrity of the American electoral process. . . . I don't think so."
When Brown's turn came, she tore into Buyer.
"I come from Florida where you and others participated in what I call the United States coup d'etat," she said. "We need to make sure that it does not happen again. Over and over again, after the election, when you stole the election, you came back here and said get over it."
An irate Buyer then halted the debate and demanded that Brown's words be "taken down," a step that can lead to a formal House reprimand.
After a 20-minute conference with the House parliamentarian, Acting Speaker Doug Ose (R-Calif.) issued a ruling: "Members should not accuse other members of committing a crime, such as stealing an election. By accusing an identifiable member of stealing an election, the gentlewoman's words are not in order."
Brown appealed the ruling, Buyer attempted to table the appeal and Brown then demanded a recorded vote. Proceedings continued on hold for more than a half-hour, as members returned to the chamber from functions around town.
The straight party-line vote of 219 to 187 upheld the ruling that Brown was out of order. By 243 to 161, the House then approved Buyer's amendment barring any U.S. funds from being used by the United Nations to monitor elections here. Thirty-three Democrats joined a solid block of 210 Republicans in that vote.