The House of Representatives set a record Thursday for the most votes in one session, capping what amounted to a strange day on usually buttoned-up Capitol Hill.
Over a nearly eight hour period, the House voted a record 53 times. The old mark was 40 votes in a day on October 4, 1988. The 53 votes accounted for nearly a quarter of all votes taken in the House this year. The House has now voted 408 times since January.
The House considered an annual spending bill to fund the Departments of Justice and Commerce and to pay for Science programs. Republicans were incensed that Democrats yanked the same bill from the floor Tuesday night after the majority alleged the GOP was dawdling and chewing up too much time on the measure. Republicans argued they wanted to move more deliberately. So Thursday, Republicans called for vote after vote on amendments. On numerous occasions, the GOP demanded revotes of amendments already complete and then asked for the House to revote the revote.
“It is fortunate that people were here today,” said Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO). “It would have ruined our voting percentages.”
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) remarked that the vote-a-rama actually helped his attendance record.
“I have missed some votes here and there. So this helps repair my voting average,” Boucher said.
A number of lawmakers missed many or all of the votes. Among them were Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and John Sullivan (R-OK), who recently checked themselves into medical rehabilitation facilities, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) who had surgery earlier this week and Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA).
The marathon forced lawmakers to hang close to the House floor, since votes were often taken every five minutes. Members of Congress then had to cancel number of news conferences and hearings. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) canned his weekly news briefing with reporters. The House Financial Services Committee torpedoed a hearing with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner about the Obama Administration’s new financial regulation oversight plan.
An already unusual House session ended Thursday night with one of the most bizarre scenes in recent memory. The House finally approved the spending bill 259-157 with Republicans trying to force another procedural vote. Rep. Tim Holden (D-PA) had presided over the chamber over the final few hours. But Holden quickly moved to recess the House and left the Speaker’s chair on the dais.
That left Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) screaming at an empty Speaker’s chair, trying to gain the attention of a presiding officer that wasn’t there.
The maneuver to recess apparently caught the operators of government-controlled cameras in the House chamber (which provide video of the House floor to C-SPAN and other news organizations) off guard. The televised feed revealed the strange scene of no one in the Speaker’s chair while Republicans crowed and tried to make procedural motions.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) then crept up on the dais as though he might momentarily seize control of the gavel.
Historically, only members of the majority party are allowed to preside over the House. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) only presides periodically. But those duties are usually delegated to another House Democrat.
“We are not happy about that,” said a senior House Democratic source. “He should not have done that.”
For his part, Issa contends he was not trying to take the chair.
“I just wanted to see if (Holden) fell down or something,” he said.
When asked what it felt like to be back on the dais, Issa harkened back to when Republicans controlled the House.
“Been there, done that,” Issa said. “But it felt like old times.”