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Escalating tensions on Capitol Hill erupted into a contentious floor fight in the House of Representatives on Tuesday afternoon, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke in favor of a proposed resolution condemning “racist” comments by President Trump — even as Republican leaders stood steadfast behind the president.
As Pelosi’s remarks turned personal, Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins rose to challenge her and demand that her words be “taken down.” The extraordinary rebuke, the first of its kind by a member of Congress and a speaker of the House in decades, theoretically could result in Pelosi being barred from speaking on the floor for the remainder of the day.
“There is no place anywhere for the president’s words, which are not only divisive, but dangerous — and have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “It’s so sad because you would think that there would be a given that we would universally, in this body, just say, ‘Of course. Of course.'”
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Pelosi continued, her voice rising: “There’s no excuse for any response to those words but a swift and strong unified condemnation. Every single member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us in condemning the president’s racist tweets. To do anything less would be a shocking rejection of our values, and a shameful abdication of our oath of office to protect the American people. I urge a unanimous vote, and yield back the balance of my time.”
Collins then stood and asked if Pelosi wanted to “rephrase that comment.”
“I have cleared my remarks with the parliamentarian before I read them,” Pelosi said, before walking away to applause.
“Can I ask the words be taken down? I make a point of order that the gentlewoman’s words are unparliamentary and be taken down,” Collins said.
“The chair will remind all members, please, please, do not make personality-based comments,” the chair, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said.
Collins then repeated his request to strike Pelosi’s comments. Determining whether Pelosi’s comments were out of order could require a vote of the House.
For several minutes after Collins’ objection, House members were huddled with the parliamentarian, Thomas J. Wickham Jr., to determine next steps. Wickham’s determination could be overruled by Cleaver or a vote of the full House.
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Among other volumes, the House has used Thomas Jefferson’s “Manual of Parliamentary Practice” as a touchstone for House operations even today. Jefferson’s manual stated that House members cannot use language on the floor “which is personally offensive to the President.”
The House also relies on Cannon’s Book of Precedents, authored by the late Missouri Rep. Clarence Cannon, a Democrat. Cannon’s book says that “personal criticism, innuendo, ridicule and terms of opprobrium” are out of the order in the House.
Fox News has obtained a copy of the draft resolution being debated, which mentioned Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. It also quoted Benjamin Franklin, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President John Kennedy and President Ronald Reagan.
The resolution, entitled “H. Res. 489 — Condemning President Trump’s racist comments directed at Members of Congress,” asserted that “President Donald Trump’s racist comments have legitimized fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”
Fox News is told Republican support for the resolution is likely to be in the single digits. The scrap on the House floor over Pelosi’s comments could delay a vote late into the evening.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., didn’t have a direct answer when questioned about the text of the resolution earlier Tuesday.
A similar, dramatic episode occured in the House in the 1980s, when Newt Gingrich sparred with then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Georgia Democrat. O’Neill remarked: “My personal opinion is this: You deliberately stood in that well before an empty House and challenged these people, and you challenged their Americanism, and it is the lowest thing I have ever seen in my thirty-two years in Congress.”
The parliamentarian determined at the time that the Speaker’s use of the word “lowest” amounted to inappropriate language, and O’Neill’s words were taken down.
House Republican leaders, meanwhile, said the outrage over Trump’s comments was “all about politics.”
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“They talked more about impeachment than anything else,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said, referring to Monday’s fiery news conference with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley. “We should get back to the business of America.”
The brouhaha began on Sunday after Trump tweeted that unnamed “Democrat Congresswomen” should go back and fix the “corrupt” and “crime infested places” from which they came and then “come back and show us how it’s done.”
Several Republicans have stood by the president. South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, for example, told “Fox & Friends” that the progressive representatives were a “bunch of communists,” and charged that Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar was plainly anti-Semitic.
Omar previously has been criticized by prominent members of both parties for making remarks widely deemed anti-Semitic. This past March, the Democrat-led House overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan resolution that indirectly condemned Omar’s repeated ‘anti-Semitic’ and ‘pernicious’ comments, including some in which she suggested Jewish politicians in the U.S. were bought and paid for.
“We all know that [AOC] and this crowd are a bunch of communists, they hate Israel, they hate our own country, they’re calling the guards along our border—the Border Patrol agents—concentration camp guards,” Graham said.
In advance of the planned House vote on the resolution Tuesday evening, Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., in a Capitol news conference, said Trump must “tone down the xenophobic and racist rhetoric that is consistently peddled out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” He called for Republicans to join Democrats in voting to condemn the president’s remarks in Tuesday’s vote.
“We want the strongest vote possible,” Jeffries said. “And, we’re hopeful that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle would put country ahead of party, would put decency ahead of Donald Trump. Let’s see what happens on the floor later on this evening.”
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Some Republicans have condemned the president’s remarks, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who tweeted: “There is no excuse for the president’s spiteful comments –they were absolutely unacceptable and this needs to stop.”
But, McCarthy, while clarifying that he believes the Democrats in question “love this country,” said he was not on board with the resolution and will encourage other Republicans to vote against it.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.
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