The discussion had to be paused for more than an hour on Tuesday, as the House discussed whether to condemn the racist tweets of President Trump telling four minority congresswomen to “go back” to their “crime-infested” nations. The issue: Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) House Speaker used the term “racist.”
….and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how….Advertisement
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 14, 2019
“Every member of this institution, Democratic and Republican, should join us to condemn the president’s racist tweets,” she said. With that, her words triggered a long-standing precedent that you can’t call the president, or even his words, “racist” on the House floor. And from there a frenzy ensued.
Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.) asked Pelosi whether she wanted to “rephrase that comment,” but she refused. So Collins asked that her words be “taken down” — struck from the record. Soon, the House rule-keepers were reviewing her remarks like NFL officials looking at a potentially game-changing moment on replay.
The chairman presiding, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), grew so frustrated by the disagreement that he dropped the gavel and said, “I abandon the chair.” Finally, about an hour later, the verdict was in: Pelosi was out of order, and her “words should not be used in debate,” ruled House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).
Hoyer was not simply pointing to a House rule book when deciding that the language of Pelosi was out of touch.
The principle used to chastise Pelosi — that lawmakers can not insult the personality of the president — is rooted in the decorum laws of the British Parliament that shaped the knowledge of how Congress should operate for the Founding Fathers, Congressional scientists said.
As Josh Chafetz, a professor at the Cornell Law School, pointed out on Twitter, the decision of Hoyer was based on a precedent discovered in the Parliamentary Practice Manual of Thomas Jefferson. “Speaking irreverently or seditiously against the King in Parliament is against order,” reads the book of 1801.
1/ So, here’s the thing: That’s not a standing rule of the House; it’s a precedential ruling of the chair, set down in the annotated version of Jefferson’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice contained in the House Manual. https://t.co/aomVsuWQXcAdvertisement
— Josh Chafetz (@joshchafetz) July 16, 2019
“U. S. parliamentary process and the manual is rooted in British precedents to a large extent,” Eric Schickler, a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley, told The Washington Post. “In Britain, it was out of order to speak in parliament to attack the king, to attack the crown directly.”
Finally, the House enacted the resolution condemning the tweets of Trump. Pelosi was not the only Democrat to call Trump’s racist tweets, but she was the only one targeted for unauthorized language by Republicans. Carried by Democrats, the House eventually voted not to pull her words out of the record as well as enable her to continue talking; typically, sitting quietly would be the penalty.