House debate on Trump’s racist tweets shows civility’s in short supply

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, pictured last week, was temporarily barred Tuesday from giving speeches on the House floor for making disparaging comments about the president.
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

Nearly three hours into the House debate Tuesday about whether to condemn President Trump’s incendiary weekend tweets, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II decided he’d had enough.

The Missouri Democrat, who was acting as speaker pro tempore, took a break from granting lawmakers permission to speak and made a statement of his own.

“We don’t ever want to pass up an opportunity, it seems, to escalate. And that’s what this is,” he said.

Then he announced, “I abandon the chair,” dropped his gavel on the dais, and stormed out.

It was an almost unheard-of move for a lawmaker — and one that seemed to underscore the lack of civility on display during Tuesday’s debate.

House members were slated to discuss a resolution condemning Trump’s tweets urging four female lawmakers of color to “go back” to the “crime-infested places from which they came.” The House ultimately passed the measure, 240 to 187, largely along party lines, but most of the argument centered around procedural disagreements and partisan squabbles.

Disputes ignited when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), echoing language in the resolution, called the president’s tweets “racist” and urged both parties to condemn them.


Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) argued that Pelosi had violated House protocol, which forbids members of Congress from making disparaging comments about the president on the floor of the House. He said her speech was out of order and should be erased from the record.

Pelosi refused, saying she previously had cleared her speech with the House parliamentarian. That set off lengthy procedural debates that dragged on for hours, and in a rare move, Pelosi was initially barred from giving speeches on the House floor for the rest of the day.

But the Democratic majority fought back, voting not to strike her language from the record and to restore her speaking privileges. Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) presided as speaker pro tempore after Cleaver walked out — another procedural quirk of Tuesday’s debate.

Collins’ objection paved the way for other objections. At one point, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) asked that an earlier remark by Rep. Sean P. Duffy (R-Wis.) that called some lawmakers “un-American” be removed from the record. It wasn’t for procedural reasons.

Just as it appeared the partisan squabbling was ebbing, one last dispute flared when Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) condemned as racist Trump’s reported complaint last year that too many immigrants came from “shithole countries.” Collins interrupted, argued that the expletive violated parliamentary rules, and asserted that it should be struck from the record.

At first, it looked like the House could be in for a replay of the earlier Pelosi controversy and another round of delays.

But Swalwell quickly decided to withdraw that comment from the record and the debate proceeded.