Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) this week became the latest House Democrat to be gaveled silent by Republicans.
Becerra, the vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, took to the chamber floor Tuesday to urge Republican leaders to return from Congress's seven-week recess to pass the Violence Against Women Act, which has languished since the spring when both chambers passed competing versions.
But after leading the chamber in the Pledge of Allegiance in the morning's pro forma session, Becerra was immediately shut down by presiding officer Andy Harris (R-Md.), who quickly gaveled the session closed and scheduled the next session for 10 a.m. Friday morning.
Becerra's political theatrics received a smattering of applause from some of the few dozen spectators gathered in the House gallery to watch the live proceedings. But that was the extent of his audience, as the C-Span cameras were shut down after the gavel fell, and any remarks after the session closed will not appear as part of the official chamber record.
"Mr. Speaker, it is outrageous," Becerra said to the empty chamber. "I guess you have to stand by yourself in this place to get work done."
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is among the long list of legislative loose ends Congress failed to tie up before leaving town last month for a long pre-election recess.
The Senate in April passed a VAWA reauthorization bill with a bipartisan vote of 68-31. Three weeks later the House approved its own version, but Senate Democratic leaders dismissed that proposal over its lack of specific language addressing Native American, immigrant and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) victims of domestic violence.
House Republicans argue that those populations are already protected under their bill, and don't require separate provisions. The resulting impasse has endured since May.
After Tuesday's brief session, Becerra expanded on his jabs across the aisle, calling on GOP leaders to pass not only the VAWA reauthorization bill, but also proposals renewing the expired farm bill, preventing sequester cuts to defense and domestic spending next year and extending the Bush-era tax rates for the middle-class.
"Fifty years ago was the last time we adjourned this early," Becerra said at a brief press conference in the Capitol. "And I guarantee you 50 years ago there weren't so many pressing pieces of legislation [before] the House of Representatives."
Becerra's attempt to speak marks the fifth try by Democrats this recess to call on the House to reconvene and work on issues such as taxes and healthcare. The House is expected to continue to operate in these very short pro forma sessions through the Nov. 6 elections, and is slated to return the week of Nov. 13.
The Democrats' headline-generating strategy is reminiscent of the GOP's 2008 effort to storm the empty House floor during August recess to call Democratic leaders – who then held the majority – back to Washington to address rising gas prices.
Democratic leaders have pushed back against that comparison, arguing that in 2008 they let the Republicans have the chamber rather than gaveling those sessions closed.
"That only was allowed because the House Democratic leadership had [allowed] freedom of speech on the floor of the House," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who held the Speaker's gavel in 2008, said last week.
— This story was updated at 12:25 p.m.