House GOP Scrambles To Clean Up Sessions’ Mess

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January 7, 2011 4:47 am
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House Republican leaders will be busy today constructing the parliamentary Rube Goldberg device they’ll need to briefly turn back the House clock after Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) skipped Wednesday’s official swearing-in ceremony, rendering everything they did between the moment the Republicans officially took over and yesterday afternoon unconstitutional.

Roll Call reports that House Rules Committee chair David Dreier (R-CA) is planning to nullify those votes via a rule in the procedures his committee is writing for the health care repeal process, the first major vote of the new Congress which is expected to come next week.

Basically, Drier’s proposed scheme would allow Sessions’ votes and other actions in the Rules Committee, of which he is a member, and Fitzpatrick’s actions on the floor (including the reading of the Constitution yesterday) to be made Constitutional by a full vote of the House, which of course is now controlled by the Republicans. (The Democrats could have allowed the Sessions mess to be cleaned up by a unanimous consent decree, rendering all that the pair did before being sworn in Thursday to count retroactively, but Politico reports the Democrats weren’t interested in playing ball.)Session’s failure to be sworn in properly the first time led to speculation that the repeal effort, a crown jewel of the new majority’s agenda, might be delayed. Drier’s solution to the problem apparently puts those fears to rest.

From Roll Call‘s Anna Palmer and John Stanton:

In lieu of a unanimous consent agreement to address the problem, which had been discussed, the committee will continue its work on the repeal bill and deal with the issue as part of the rule Friday, according to Dreier. The committee had met for more than six hours and had heard from several witnesses on the repeal bill Thursday.

“We’re in uncharted waters,” Drier reportedly said at a hearing of the Rules committee last night.

Rules committee Democrats are criticizing Drier’s scheme, which they say needs to be addressed by the full House, not just the Rules committee. They propose a delay in the repeal hearings so the House can meet and figure out what to do. But in the new reality of Republican control, it’s unlikely the Democratic concerns will move from political rhetoric to legislative action.

It’s worth noting that Fitzpatrick and Sessions weren’t the only ones to miss the swearing-in ceremony Wednesday. Rep. Peter DeFaizio (D-OR) skipped the ceremony to meet with veterans in his home district. He was sworn in on Thursday and his absence, and his absence on Wednesday caused none of the issues Fitzpatrick’s and Sessions’ did because he cast no votes before becoming a Constitutionally-recognized member of the 112th Congress.

Late Update: The process by which the mess Sessions and Fitzpatrick made will be cleaned up is coming into better focus. The full House will vote twice — once on the rules for repealing the health care law, and once on “a resolution relating to the status of certain actions taken by Members-elect.”

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