Washington, DC, Mayor Adrian Fenty (L) speaks as U.S. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) (R) listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill February 26, 2009 in Washington, DC. The U.S. Senate earlier passed the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act.
So far this week, the House of Representatives has passed legislation to congratulate the University of South Carolina Gamecocks for winning the NCAA Division I College World Series, expressing support for National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, and supporting “the goals and ideals of National Aerospace Week,” among other things.
These sorts of uncontroversial resolutions -- adding congressional endorsement to a worthy cause or honoring a local hero in a key representative’s district -- are just part of what Congress does. The resolutions pass in rapid-fire votes, then the House gets down to the more controversial stuff.
So when D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton was on the House floor Tuesday evening, bringing up a bunch of such resolutions for quick clearance, she probably wasn’t expecting a fight.
Enter Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
The earnest and energetic freshman from Utah has recently been protesting against resolutions honoring sports champs, and has started voting “present” on such measures. He says the resolutions take about half an hour to pass, and with four or five coming up each week, that adds up. He told a television station back home, “I didn't get elected to do that. We don't even have a budget yet.”
Chaffetz also wonders why the House spends so much time honoring athletes, while not giving the same attention to scientists, medical researchers, spelling bee champions, and other deserving folks.
All fair points -- maybe Congress does waste too much time on this sort of thing. But Chaffetz is one of the House’s more vocal opponents of D.C. voting rights, so when he challenged Norton, sparks were certain to fly.
According to the Washington Post’s D.C. Wire, when Norton brought up a bill sponsored by upstate New York Rep. Scott Murphy congratulating Saratoga on the start of its 142nd season, Chaffetz complained.
Calling the measure resolution “trivial,” he then said that the “young kids” visiting the House that day would go home, “and the teachers are going to ask, ‘What did you talk about? Did you talk about the war on terror? Did you talk about the debt?’ Oh, no. They were honoring a race course. A race course. So it's terribly frustrating.”
Norton testily replied, “If I had a dime for every trivial bill the minority has put on this floor, I could retire as a rich woman.” She next wondered aloud if Chaffetz had “the political guts” to vote against Republican-sponsored sports resolutions, and mentioned that Chaffetz co-sponsoed a resolution commending the Salt Lake City MLS soccer team last December.
“I just don't think it lies in the gentleman's mouth to come to the floor and put down this member,” Norton said -- which Chaffetz formally challenged as a violation of the House rules of decorum. Norton apologized, saying “lie in his mouth” is “an idiomatic expression that means the gentleman has no business saying what he said,” and that she was not calling him a liar.
Chaffetz then conceded that he has voted for sports resolutions in the past, but having come “to realize what a waste of time that is,” he has since taken a “pledge that I was no longer going to participate.”