As the year comes to a close, and we look ahead to all the wild and wacky things that are sure to happen in the new Republican-controlled House and only narrowly Democratic-controlled Senate, let’s take a look back at the past year. A whole lot of amazing and memorable moments happened not only on the campaign trail, but on the two Congressional floors in the Capitol itself.
We’ve gathered together 10 unforgettable moments from the House and Senate in 2010. Some of them are great — while others are just so bad that they’re good.
But all of them give some perspective on the people who have been running our government, or who are about to have even more power next year. So sit back, relax, and laugh — because it’s better than crying.
On March 21, as the House was on the verge of approving health care reform, House Minority Leader — and now Speaker-designate — John Boehner (R-OH) railed against the Democrats, with a riff on the “Yes We Can” slogan used by President Obama in his 2008 campaign.
“Can you go home and tell your senior citizens that these cuts in Medicare will not limit their access to doctors or further weaken the program, instead of strenghtening it? No, you cannot,” said Boehner. “Can you go home and tell your constituents with confidence that this bill respects the sancitty of all human life, and that it won’t allow for taxpayer funding of abortions for the first time in 30 years? No, you cannot.
“And look at how this bill was written. Can you say it was done openly? With transparency and accountability? Without backroom deals and struck behind closed doors, hidden from the people? Hell no, you can’t!”
Also on March 21 during the debate on the health care bill, there came a moment when pro-life Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak went to the floor to speak on the assurances he had received from Democratic leaders that the bill would not result in publicly funded abortions.
At that moment, a voice rang out in the chamber: “Baby killer!”
The next day, March 22, after a hunt by reporters to figure out the identity of the shouter, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) admitted that it was he — but said in a statement that he was calling the bill a baby-killer, not Stupak:
“Last night was the climax of weeks and months of debate on a health care bill that my constituents fear and do not support. In the heat and emotion of the debate, I exclaimed the phrase ‘it’s a baby killer’ in reference to the agreement reached by the Democratic leadership. While I remain heartbroken over the passage of this bill and the tragic consequences it will have for the unborn, I deeply regret that my actions were mistakenly interpreted as a direct reference to Congressman Stupak himself.”
“I have apologized to Mr. Stupak and also apologize to my colleagues for the manner in which I expressed my disappointment about the bill. The House Chamber is a place of decorum and respect. The timing and tone of my comment last night was inappropriate.”
On April 15, during the debates on financial reform, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) accused Republicans of planning to vote en masse to filibuster the bill, even after some of them had worked with him on it.
“If the debate is going to consist of Democrats offering ideas to tackle this very complex — and it is a complex set of issues — and critical challenges on behalf of the American families and businesses, and the Republicans reading false talking points from Wall Street’s playbook, then count me out, Mr. President,” said Dodd. “I”m not going to engage in that kind of a debate, and that kind of a negotiation. I have no interest in that whatsoever.”
On June 24, Rep. Louie Gohmert delivered a speech that appears to have been related to efforts by some conservatives to overturn birthright citizenship — the legal principle enshrined in the 14th Amendment that all persons born in this country, with certain narrow exceptions such as the children of foreign officials serving here, are natural born citizens of the United States.
The danger, as Gohmert said, involved a plot by some very patient terorrists.
“I talked to a retired FBI agent who said that one of the things they were looking at were terrorist cells overseas who had figured out how to game our system. And it appeared they would have young women, who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby. They wouldn’t even have to pay anything for the baby. And then they would turn back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists. And then one day, twenty, thirty years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life. ‘Cause they figured out how stupid we are being in this country to allow our enemies to game our system, hurt our economy, get set up in a position to destroy our way of life.”
On July 29, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) really made the most of only about two minutes to blast Republicans who were objecting on the stated basis of procedure against the bill to assist emergency personnel who suffered health problems as a result of the 9/11 attacks.
“It’s Republicans wrapping their arms around Republicans, rather than doing the right thing on behalf of the heroes!” Weiner said, in just one of the many turns of phrases (and bulging of veins) from the speech.
On August 10, a defiant Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) took to the House floor and forcefully declared that he would not resign the House as a result of his ethics troubles — despite a lot of Democrats who might have preferred for him to get out of their hair.
“I don’t want anyone to feel embarrassed, awkward,” he continued. “Hey, if I was you, I’d want me to go away too.
“I am not going away. I am here,” he said, to applause.
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) took to the Seante floor on September 21, to call for the repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military. Franken told an anecdote of his own experiences meeting gay soldiers during his former career as a comedian, when he would entertain troops with the USO.
As Franken told the story, during one show at an unnamed base he told some jokes about how he did not agree with the policy, saying that the commanding general of the base was “one of the gayest men I’ve ever met” and should not have to stay in the closet when he is such a great leader. Franken noticed that a group of women had been applauding the joke — and as it turned out, the general later pointed those same women out to Franken, telling him to keep telling those jokes. And in turn, those women affirmed to Franken that they were gay. “I think everybody knew it,” said Franken.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is known for his vitriolic right-wing rhetoric, both on and off the floor of Congress — often with a racial tinge. But probably his most over-the-top floor speech ever was this past November 29, when he attacked the Department of Agriculature’s settlement with African-American farmers for discrimination in past decades as “slavery reparations,” and that the government would be defrauded by someone who didn’t want to work on the farm, went to the city, and became a drug addict.
“The fraudulent claims might be, well Johnny, yeah he was raised on a farm but he wouldn’t help his dad. He went to the city, became a drug addict, and when Daddy needed the help, Johnny wouldn’t come and help his daddy,” King said. “But now his daddy’s died and Johnny wants the $50,000 that comes from the USDA under this claim.”
On December 10, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) went to the Senate floor and gave voice to progressives who objected to the Obama administration’s deal with Congressional Republicans to temporarily extend both the Bush tax cuts and unemployment benefits.
In an event that became known online as the “FiliBernie,” the senator was joined by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in speaking for almost nine hours, against a policy that he said bailed out wealthy people who did not need help in the tough economy.
“The point that needs to be made is, when is enough enough? That is the essence of what we are talking about. Greed, in my view, is like a sickness. It is like an addiction. We know people who are on heroin. They can’t stop. They destroy their lives. They need more and more heroin. There are people who can’t stop smoking. They have problems with nicotine. They get addicted to cigarettes. It costs them their health. People have problems with food. We all have our share of addictions. But I would hope that these people who are worth hundreds of millions of dollars will look around them and say: There is something more important in life than the richest people becoming richer when we have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world. Maybe they will understand that they are Americans, part of a great nation which is in trouble today. Maybe they have to go back to the Bible, whatever they believe in, and understand there is virtue in sharing, in reaching out; that you can’t get it all.”
During the December 20 debate on the repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) warned that the repeal would lead to “distractions” for soldiers — and these distractions could result in more soldiers losing limbs.
“I don’t want to permit that opportunity to happen and I’ll tell you why. You go up to Bethesda [Naval Hospital], Marines are up there with no legs, none. You’ve got Marines at Walter Reed with no limbs.”