Steve Womack’s Unethical Adjournment
Following the fiscal cliff votes, Steny Hoyer announced that Speaker Boehner would not put the Senate passed H.R. 1 Hurricane Sandy relief bill on the floor in this Congress. Now I was not particularly mad about this, as it will surely be passed in the first week or two of the next Congress, but one thing really pissed me off. The presiding chair of the House, Representative Steve Womack of Arkansas’ 3rd District, heard a motion to adjourn the House until Wednesday, following very heated pleas of politicians whose constituents were affected by the hurricane. As an ardent observer of parliamentary procedure, I listened as the motion to adjourn was heard. Womack spoke: “All those in favor say ‘aye'” which was followed by two, maybe three ‘ayes’. Womack continued: “All those opposed, say ‘nay'”, which was followed by the loudest cocaphony of ‘nays’ I have heard in quite some time; possibly 30-40 pleas to remain in session and discuss the issue. Quite suprisingly, Womack hesitated for a moment, looked around, then concluded: “the yeas have it, the House is adjourned…” I was left quite angry. In fact, all I kept saying to myself is, “wow, that is really unethical. I cannot believe he just did that.”
The chair of House proceedings is chosen by the Speaker of the House to act in his absence (which is most of the time). They are generally loyalists, good orators (like Kevin Yoder) and they are expected do their party’s bidding. When it is close, it is the prerogative of the chair to rule as he will, even if he knows his side has not reached the two-thirds threshold (fair enough). However, When two-thirds are not in the affirmative, and it is extremely evident, it is not uncommon for the presiding chair to rule against his party, which usually just means a recorded vote must occur. I have seen this in both parties, as Charlie Bass has done it against the GOP, and Jose Serrano did (laughingly) against Dems when they were in the majority. Unfortunately, Representative Womack clearly ruled against the majority in a blatant, unethical manner. With his position on the Appropriations Committee, it is clear he is a loyalist to leadership, but not matter what outcome may be desired, the will of the House cannot be denied. On an issue as heated as disaster relief, with a bipartisan desire to provide assistance, it is quite detestable for the presiding chair to conduct House business in this manner.
I watched as he left the podium and was approached by a fellow Republican. Womack extended his hand to shake hands after a long day of legislating, only to be denied by a clearly perturbed Congressman. A Democratic Representative briskly walked across the floor to give Womack a piece of his mind, only to have the C-SPAN feed cut out. I would have liked to see that interaction.
I will remember this throughout Womack’s time in Congress. As someone who has shunned the integrity of parliamentary pocedure, Womack’s unethical behavior will now live in infamy.