WASHINGTON – The House Friday night unanimously agreed to create a special select committee, with subpoena powers, to investigate Republican allegations that Democratic leaders had stolen a victory from the House GOP on a parliamentary vote late Thursday night.
The move capped a remarkable day that started with Republicans marching out of the House in protest near midnight Thursday, was punctuated by partisan bickering, and ended with Democratic hopes for a final legislative rush fading. Even a temporary blackout of the House chamber’s vote tally board led to suspicions and accusations of skullduggery.
While Democratic leaders hoped to leave for their August recess on a wave of legislative successes, the House instead slowed to an acrimonious crawl that threatened to stretch the legislative session into next week.
The agreement to form a special committee was extraordinary. Such powerful investigative committees are usually reserved for issues such as the Watergate scandal and the funneling of profits from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s. “I don’t know when something like this has happened before,” said House deputy historian Fred Beuttler. He called the decision “incredible.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., accepted GOP calls for an investigation. “I do not believe there was any wrongdoing by any member of the House. I do believe a mistake was made,” he said.
“We are not irrelevant here,” said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “Just because we are in the minority doesn’t mean we’re irrelevant.”
GOP lawmakers had marched out of the House chamber about 11 p.m. Thursday, shouting “shame, shame” and saying that Democrats had “stolen” a vote on a parliamentary motion to pull an agriculture spending bill off the floor. Democrats stressed that they won the vote fair and square. But a campaign has been launched, and the House has not fully recovered.
Anger-driven delaying tactics threw into uncertainty an agenda that was to include votes on a huge energy bill and a defense spending bill before Congress’ departure for its summer recess.