House Republicans stage protest walkout

Republicans walked out of their chamber and into a press conference Thursday, as Democrats remained and voted on contempt of Congress resolutions.

Published February 14, 2008 9:48PM (EST)

Because House Democrats wouldn't agree to immediately enact the Republican-supported version of an extension of the Protect America Act -- which now includes a provision letting telecommunication companies off the hook for illegally spying on America -- House Republicans announced Thursday that they would simply take their ball and go home. And that's what they did, walking out from their chamber and holding a press conference on Capitol grounds.

The Senate already passed a bill that includes the provision, and extends the PAA, thereby preventing changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act from expiring as scheduled this weekend. A House version of the bill does not include the provision, and so House Democrats tried just to pass a straight temporary extension of the PAA in order to allow more time for negotiations between the two houses of Congress, but that vote failed yesterday.

Instead of working on the PAA, on Thursday House Democrats pushed citations for contempt of Congress against White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel. Bolten, as a representative of the White House, is under fire for withholding certain documents from Congress; despite a congressional subpoena, Miers earlier refused to appear before Congress to discuss the firing of several U.S. attorneys.

So House Republicans -- who were shocked! shocked! by their colleagues' actions -- staged their walkout and held a press conference. "Instead of bringing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act bill to the floor of the House today, the House decided to take up a political stunt by trying to hold several White House officials in contempt," House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, thundered. "The majority says we've got space on the floor of the House to do some political stunt, but we don't have space to do what's in our nation's best interest, and that's to protect the American people." Leading off the press conference, Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., struck a similar theme, saying, "The Democratic Congress has indicated that they're more interested in a political witch hunt than in keeping America more secure before they leave Washington for a week."

Congress is set to leave town for yet another vacation next week, but now both parties are in a standoff over the spying bill. In remarks earlier today, President Bush said he was prepared to delay a planned trip to Africa to get the bill through. "The House should not leave Washington without passing the Senate bill," Bush said. "My staff informed the House leadership that I am prepared to delay my departure and stay in Washington with them if it will help them complete their work on this critical bill."

House Democrats stayed behind during their counterparts' walkout and voted on the contempt citations, which passed, 223 to 32.

By Mark Benjamin

Mark Benjamin is a national correspondent for Salon based in Washington, D.C. Read his other articles here.

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