Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Democrats Ban Free Speech on House Floor

If that were all one were to read one would be right to be angry with House Democrats. One would also be dead wrong. The Democrats in the House of Representatives did no such thing.

Yesterday, Drudge Report linked to a Glenn Thrush story in Politico called "House guidelines for Presidential put downs" in which Thrush wrote (link on "primer" in original),
"House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has released a helpful, updated primer for members regarding their conduct on the floor and in committees."
That's almost all true. The problem is "updated." The story provides no reference to any updates or any changes made recently. The timing of the Politico story on the same day Rep. Joe Wilson was rebuked by the House has left many believing House Democrats are on the warpath to stifle the free speech of House Republicans and, by extension, render the 1st Amendment void.

The "primer" link goes to the Slaughter memo. Rep. Louise Slaughter is Chairwoman of the House of Representatives Committee on Rules. The "Decorum in the House and in Committees" is part of her duties including notifying and reminding all members of existing rules.

That's right - EXISTING rules. Quoting from the memo, "As stated in Cannon’s Precedents, on January 27, 1909, the House adopted a report in response to improper references in debate to the President."

1909?! Good lord, that's 100 years ago. And the rules were a response to some debate concerning the President at that time. In January 1909, the president was Theodore Roosevelt, the 60th Congress was in session, and both House and Senate were Republican majorities. It stands to reason then that the rules being horsewhipped today as Democrat conniving are the result of Republican efforts. (Ed. note: the person of Indigo Red is a registered Republican who hates dishonsety from any quarter.)

The Slaughter memo goes on, and this is where the errant public anger has it's genesis as well as the apparent fact, few readers of the Thrush piece actually read the linked memo text which clearly stated,

As stated in Cannon’s Precedents, on January 27, 1909, the House adopted a report in response to improper references in debate to the President. That report read in part as follows:

"It is... the duty of the House to require its Members in speech or debate to preserve that proper restraint which will permit the House to conduct its business in an orderly manner and without unnecessarily and unduly exciting animosity among its Members or antagonism from those other branches of the Government with which the House is correlated.”

As a guide for debate, it is permissible in debate to challenge the President on matters of policy. The difference is one between political criticism and personally offensive criticism. For example, a Member may assert in debate that an incumbent President is not worthy of re-election, but in doing so should not allude to personal misconduct. By extension, a Member may assert in debate that the House should conduct an inquiry, or that a President should not remain in office.

Under section 370 of the House Rules and Manual it has been held that a Member could:

refer to the government as “something hated, something oppressive.”[a comedy tonight!]
refer to the President as “using legislative or judicial pork.”
refer to a Presidential message as a “disgrace to the country.”
refer to unnamed officials as “our half-baked nitwits handling foreign affairs.”
Likewise, it has been held that a member could not:

call the President a “liar.”
call the President a “hypocrite.”
describe the President’s veto of a bill as “cowardly.”
charge that the President has been “intellectually dishonest.”
refer to the President as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.”
refer to alleged “sexual misconduct on the President’s part.”
This morning I contacted Rep. Slaughter's office to ask what the "updates" were and, indeed, if any changes had been made. I was informed the memo was simply a reiteration of existing 100 year old House Rules and Decorum. From time to time, members must be reminded of the rules.
I also contacted my Republican Congressman's office. Again, I was told the rules have not been updated or changed.

I am sure Glenn Thrush had no intention of leading anyone to believe House Democrats were out to limit free speech or stifle House Republicans. It was a surprise to me to verify the rules in question have stood for one hundred years and nine months nearly unchanged through several majority party changes apparently because of some inherent doctrine of mutually assured vengeance.

There were no rules changes. Both Republicans and Democrats can continue saying whatever they want within the bounds of common decency. This was a tempest in an already tempestuous Tea Party teapot.

The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.

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