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ICYMI: AJC: Ga. lawmaker challenges Pelosi in dramatic floor standoff

Jul 17, 2019
Press Release

By Tamar Hallerman
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

This article was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on July 16, 2019 and can be viewed on their website here.

Gainesville U.S. Rep. Doug Collins squared off against Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday, using a parliamentary tactic to punish the House’s top leader for comments she made about President Donald Trump on the floor.

The nearly two-hour fight came after Pelosi called Trump’s tweets about four of her freshman colleagues “racist” in a floor speech.

It represented the rare occasion in which a member of the minority party has challenged the most powerful official on Capitol Hill on his or her own turf and won - at least for a few minutes.

The scene was reminiscent of 35 years ago, the last time a speaker was rebuked from the House floor. In May 1984, words from then-Speaker Tip O’Neill about a rabble-rousing young Georgia congressman, Newt Gingrich, were struck from the congressional record after being deemed too personal in nature.

Tuesday’s fight came as the House debated a resolution condemning Trump’s comments that four freshman Democrats of color - U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib – should “go back” to where they came from.

At the tail end of an impassioned speech, Pelosi urged lawmakers to condemn 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,” she concluded.

The congressional rulebook considers “references to racial or other discrimination on the part of the President” to be out of order, and Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, asked Pelosi whether she would like to rephrase her remarks. After Pelosi declined – she said she’d cleared her remarks with the House parliamentarian ahead of time - Collins asked for Pelosi’s remarks be struck from the record.

"For me, it was purely that no one in our body is above the rules," Collins said in a subsequent interview, "and the speaker found out about that today."

Proceedings screeched to a halt for nearly two hours as lawmakers and aides debated with the parliamentarian. Atlanta Democrat John Lewis watched from the front row as Collins whispered with GOP leaders Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise from across the chamber.

Pelosi’s top deputy eventually ruled that Pelosi’s comments were indeed out of order – handing Collins a political victory – but not before another one of her designees stormed off the dais in a dramatic protest.

"We don't ever, ever want to pass up, it seems, an opportunity to escalate, and that's what this is," U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said before walking out of the chamber. "We want to just fight."

Collins’ coup, however, was short lived.

Democrats quickly voted to keep Pelosi’s comments on the congressional record, and they also reversed a rule that would have barred the Californian from speaking on the floor for the rest of the day.

Collins later blamed Democrats for presiding over a breakdown of House decorum.

"What the Democrats did today is they said our speaker can break the House rules and we don't care,” he said.

As the House voted, Lithonia Democrat Hank Johnson lambasted Republicans for using a “cheap, dilatory parliamentary tactic” against Pelosi.

“To prove what point?” Johnson said. “They’re making things worse for themselves, and I’m ashamed of the conduct of my friends on the other side of the aisle.”

Shortly after, the chamber voted along party lines to condemn Trump for making racist comments.