WASHINGTON – Republicans lawmakers again gummed up the legislative process in the Democrat-controlled House despite slimmer numbers that usually keep them from getting their way.
Republicans, are angered over what they see as Democratic stalling on expired terror surveillance legislation, mounted a two-wave parliamentary attack on what otherwise would have been a non-controversial issue.
Unable to force a vote on the terror measure, Republicans instead aimed their limited weapons at the Public Housing Asset Management Improvement Act: a short, four-page bill revising rules on management of a Department of Housing and Urban Development public housing fund.
What the GOP did:
As House Democrats were preparing to close the vote on the housing bill, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, offered a "motion to recommit" the bill that would revise the language and send it back to committee for reconsideration. Because the maneuver usually means the bill halts in its tracks, Republicans have leaned on it this term to get Democrats' attention when they're unhappy.
Smith's motion — which would have attached language regarding the terror surveillance bill — was ruled out of order, fending off the first GOP attack. That did not stop Republicans, who were poised to mount a second attack.
Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., then offered another motion to recommit, but one pertaining to public housing: It would have permitted people who live in public housing in the District of Columbia to own guns; the issue is a wedge issue for Democrats, pitting those more sympathetic to Second Amendment rights against those more sympathetic to the District's home-rule and crime-fighting efforts.
Weapons ownership in the District of Columbia has been receiving more attention because a dispute over a city ordinance has been taken up by the Supreme Court. Republicans argue that the public housing ban is even more restrictive than the city's law.
Failing to convince Bachmann to change her motion, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., was forced to yank the original housing bill off the House floor before Republicans — peeling off sympathetic Democrats — were able to attach the bill-killing language.
This is the third time in less than a year that Democrats have had to completely torpedo their own legislation. The first came last year when Republicans offered a similar gun-related motion to a bill that would give the District of Columbia a vote in the House. Late last year, Democrats had to pull a measure to extend the Protect America Act, which is the terror surveillance package that expired earlier this month.
Terror Surveillance Negotiations Continue
In the meantime, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, said he and his counterpart on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., are working out the details of a new version of the terror surveillance package, which could re-establish portions of the Protect America Act that expired Feb. 17.
Reyes said the package could be delivered as early as next week.
The point of contention between the House and Senate bills is over lawsuit protection for telecommunication companies that have assisted the Bush administration's terror surveillance program that it developed following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Telecoms are facing dozens of lawsuits for their participation.
The Bush administration says the immunity protection provision is crucial to the bill because telecoms will no longer offer their help if they do not get retroactive immunity from the lawsuits.
House Democratic leaders have balked at the provision, saying it offers unnecessary protection to an already highly regulated industry.
"They're all talking about immunity. Why? My belief is because they did something wrong and they don't want something disclosed," Hoyer said speaking to reporters Tuesday.
He added: "The administration really doesn't want us to know what they've been doing. This administration likes secrecy. It does not like accountability."
The White House says it cannot fully protect U.S. citizens while the Protect America Act remains in limbo. The Senate already has passed a bill containing an immunity provision that is satisfactory to the White House.
"To put it bluntly, if the enemy is calling into America, we really need to know what they're saying, and we need to know what they're thinking, and we need to know who they're talking to," Bush said Monday, speaking to a group of governors gathered in Washington.
FOX News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.