The House voted on Tuesday night to condemn racist language from President Donald Trump, capping off a tumultuous couple of hours on Capitol Hill including a brief time in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was barred from speaking in the chamber.
The vote was 240-187. Four Republicans and one independent — Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan — supported it as well as all Democrats who voted.
Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, one of the congresswomen Trump attacked, said Tuesday’s vote sent a message to young kids who “are wrestling with the weight of those words now coming from the President, that we hear them, we see them and we never will allow anybody to tell them that this isn’t their country.”
The resolution denounced the President for racist comments targeting four Democratic congresswomen of color, but tensions surrounding the procedural fight over Pelosi’s language halted floor action for a heated debate for more than an hour while her words were deliberated.
Pelosi violated House rules with her choice of words condemning Trump’s racist language, leading to a dramatic series of events ahead of the vote. In one such moment of frustration, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat from Missouri who had been presiding in the chair for much of the fight, blasted Republicans and threw his gavel down, abandoning the chair.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer made the announcement that the House parliamentarian had ruled Pelosi’s comments were not in order and should not be used in debate. The breach of decorum led to a vote on whether to strike her words from the record and a separate vote as to whether the speaker should have her speaking privileges for the day reinstated, privileges that are removed if a lawmaker is found not to be in order.
As expected, the Democratic-controlled House voted not to strike Pelosi’s comments from the record and to allow Pelosi to speak on the floor of the House again, but the dramatic and unprecedented series of events highlighted the partisan anger ignited by Trump’s racist language.
Pelosi told reporters she had “absolutely” no regrets for her language describing the resolution.
“Look, I stand by my statement,” Pelosi said off the House floor. “I’m proud of the attention has been called to it because what the President said was completely inappropriate against our colleagues but not just against them but against so many people in our country and he said to them ‘go back to where you came from.'”
Members have to be careful with how they debate this condemnation resolution because they’re not allowed to attack the personalities or character of members, senators, or the President on the House floor. House rules specifically say members can’t say that a President has made a bigoted or racist statement.
The deliberations over whether Pelosi’s words should be taken down took more than an hour. The top three Republican leaders in the House as well as Pelosi’s staff came to the floor as they awaited the decision, talking with each other as well as with other GOP members who were on the floor during the deliberations.
Cleaver later told reporters that he acted out of “frustration” arguing that it was an unnecessary escalation by Republicans to challenge what Pelosi had said.
“I had been calling balls and strikes all day and all of a sudden, let’s escalate it,” Cleaver said, describing what had happened. “It’s one of those moments where you realize that people have come here for the purpose of conflict, being engaged in conflict as opposed to getting something done.”
“People were violating the rules the whole time, on both sides,” he added.
Cleaver had harsh words for the President too, saying, “I think the whole world is at a standstill because of the President’s tweet. … We spend the day waiting on the next tweet and I think we’re doing great damage to this republic.”
Trump has faced intense backlash, including from some congressional Republicans, after suggesting in a series of tweets over the weekend that the four Democratic progressive women known on Capitol Hill as “The Squad” should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
The President’s tweets did not explicitly mention the lawmakers by name, but it was clear who Trump was referring to and his comments came on the heels of a public clash between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the four lawmakers, which includes Omar as well as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
The President has continued to defend his remarks amid backlash, claiming on Tuesday that the “tweets were NOT Racist,” and urging Republicans to vote against the resolution. “The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat con game. Republicans should not show ‘weakness’ and fall into their trap,” the President tweeted on Tuesday.
While a significant number of congressional Republicans have rebuked the President over his comments, House GOP leadership has come to Trump’s defense.
House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, insisted the President’s tweets were not racist at a news conference on Tuesday. The top House Republican said he’ll be voting against the Democratic-backed resolution condemning the tweets and suggested he was encouraging other members to vote against it as well.
“Yeah, it’s all politics,” McCarthy said when asked if he’s encouraging Republicans to oppose it.
Democrats have been united in their condemnation of the President over his attacks on the progressive lawmakers. Pelosi urged the caucus in a closed-door meeting Tuesday to support the resolution. “These are our sisters,” she said, referring to the so-called squad. “We are offended by what he said about our sisters.”
But that unity comes after a clash between Pelosi and the same lawmakers that escalated after Pelosi told The New York Times in reference to their opposition to a border funding bill in Congress, “They didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”
For now, the divide among Democrats appears to have been at least papered over as they come together in opposition to the President.
It is unclear how many Republican lawmakers will vote for the resolution. But with the top House Republican vocally opposing the measure and the President pushing back, it is unlikely to be a large number.
Pelosi announced on Monday that Democrats would take up a resolution in response to the attacks from the President, saying, “The House cannot allow the President’s characterization of immigrants to our country to stand. Our Republican colleagues must join us in condemning the President’s xenophobic tweets,” in a Dear Colleague letter to House Democrats.
The four progressive Democratic congresswomen have also forcefully pushed back.
At a press conference on Monday, Omar condemned the President’s words as “a blatantly racist attack on four duly elected members of the United States of House of Representatives, all of whom are women of color.”
Omar went on to say, “This is the agenda of white nationalists, whether it is happening in chat rooms or it’s happening on national TV, and now it’s reached the White House garden.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.