The Buzz

Rep. Cleaver abandons chair after contentious House debate on Trump’s racist tweets

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, frustrated with GOP colleagues while presiding over the House of Representatives Tuesday, took the highly unusual step of abandoning the chair during a contentious debate over President Trump’s racist tweets.

It happened as House Democrats were set to pass a resolution condemning Trump’s remarks, aimed at four Democratic congresswomen, all women of color, who he told to go back to the “broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Three of the four congresswomen were born in the United States.

Cleaver, D-Missouri, threw down the gavel and stepped from the dais when Congressional Republicans invoked an obscure parliamentary rule to strike House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s words from the record.

Thomas Jefferson’s Manual, a set of parliamentary rules devised by the third president and used by the House since the 1800s, prohibit a speaker on the House floor from referring to the president as having made a racist or bigoted statement.

Cleaver, the first African American mayor of Kansas City and a Methodist pastor, left without announcing a ruling by the parliamentarian that Pelosi had violated the House rules.

“We don’t ever, ever want to pass up it seems an opportunity to escalate and that’s what this is. I dare anybody to look at any of the footage and see if there was any unfairness, but unfairness is not enough because we want to just fight. I abandon the chair,” Cleaver said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, took over for Cleaver and read the ruling.

House Democrats voted to override that rule, enabling Pelosi to continue to speak. They went on to approve the measure condemning Trump’s comments by a party line vote of 240-187.

“Our rules of order and decency were broken today, and worse, the House just voted to condone this violation,” complained House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican.

Cleaver is chairman of the House Civility Caucus and has championed bipartisan relationships. He released a statement Tuesday evening explaining his decision to leave the chair in greater detail, explaining that he’s grown increasingly frustrated with the childish rancor in public discourse.

“If this is what our government has come to, then we are in serious trouble as a nation. My frustration reflects that of my constituents and the American people as a whole. I have spent my entire life working with people of all faiths and stripes in an effort solve real-world problems with concrete solutions, but never have we been this divided and this unwilling to listen to countering opinions or accept objective truths,” Cleaver said.

“If we’re going to solve the cataclysmic challenge of climate change, the prodigious problem of income inequality or the evasive challenge of equal justice under the law, it is going to take all of us, Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, men and women, elders and youth.”

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Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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