Next summer will mark forty years since I drew my first paycheck on Capitol Hill as a Page in the House of Representatives. Between working for the Congress, and then covering lawmakers as a reporter, I've seen lawmakers almost come to blows, watched Speakers angrily denounce their critics, seen lawmakers block the doors to the House floor to keep lawmakers from leaving, and all sorts of other legislative mischief.
But I have never seen what happened on Tuesday, when Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO) did what amounted to a 'gavel drop,' as he refused to read a parliamentary ruling against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and simply walked away.
"I abandon the Chair," Cleaver said, after getting my attention by clearly not reading the script in front of him, and speaking in the first person from the Speaker's Chair.
Maybe it's happened before in the almost 230 years that the House and Senate have been at work - but what Cleaver did on Tuesday was something that left my jaw on the floor.
JUST IN: Rep. Cleaver, who had been presiding over the House chamber, declares "I abandon the chair" and drops gavel on the dais as House members await ruling on if Speaker Pelosi's comments on the president's tweets will be taken down. pic.twitter.com/qB7TIJkhfO— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 16, 2019
In his off-the-cuff remarks, Cleaver seemed to indicate that he had given a pass to Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), who during debate on a resolution condemning President Trump, had denounced a group of minority women Democrats as 'anti-American.'
When one Democrat rose to ask that Duffy's words be 'taken down' and scrubbed from the Record, Cleaver brushed off the complaint.
And he evidently thought the same should have been done for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when she referred to the President's "racist tweets," directly going against precedents of the House which clearly state that such speech is against the rules.
In a statement, Cleaver said he was simply frustrated at what was going on before his eyes.
"I have spent my entire life working with people of all faiths and stripes in an effort solve real-world problems with concrete solutions, but never have we been this divided and this unwilling to listen to countering opinions or accept objective truths," the Missouri Democrat said.
"However, a house divided against itself cannot stand, regardless of how strong the foundation," Cleaver added.
Some of my colleagues were just as surprised at the turn of events.
The rules rebuke of Pelosi was historic as well - it was the first time a Speaker had words 'taken down' in 35 years, since a famous floor spat between Speaker Tip O'Neill, and future Speaker Newt Gingrich (though not many people at the time would have predicted Gingrich's ascension to that leadership post).
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