2015's wildest moments on the House floor

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From a showdown with the White House over immigration to electing a new Speaker, 2015 was a tumultuous year in the House.

Political theater played out on the House floor in nail-biting votes, emotional speeches and occasional downright comedy. Here's a look at the year's most captivating moments.

 

1. Chaos ensues as Homeland Security spending bill fails

With a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security looming at midnight, House Republicans brought a three-week stopgap funding bill as they debated how to stop President Obama’s immigration executive actions. Democrats were determined to force Republicans to pass the legislation on their own so they could highlight the intraparty GOP divisions over how to confront the president.

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House GOP leaders held the vote open for nearly an hour as they tried to convince reluctant lawmakers to switch their votes. In the end, they were still more than a dozen votes short to pass the three-week measure.

Democrats taunted the GOP amid the pandemonium, recalling how then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE (R-Ohio) had sternly reminded lawmakers about the House chamber dress code just days before.

"Madame Speaker, am I not properly dressed?" Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) shouted. "My shoes are polished."

 

2. Hoyer calls McCarthy a coward

Lawmakers were growing testy as the deadline to keep the Department of Homeland Security funded loomed without a resolution. In a floor colloquy with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) inquired about the latest stopgap bill and accused Republicans of leaving DHS “twisting in the wind.” 

“This House has taken action to make sure that DHS is fully funded,” McCarthy said, pointing to a spending bill with provisions to block the president’s immigration actions. 

Hoyer then got caught on a hot mic as he could be heard calling McCarthy a “coward.”

The second-ranking Democrat later apologized to McCarthy privately and on the House floor the next day.

 

3. Rep. Gutiérrez invokes “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), one of the most ardent immigration reform advocates in Congress, turned to a popular children’s book while accusing Republicans of repeatedly moving the goalposts. The latest example, Gutiérrez argued, was conservatives’ objection to a provision in the annual defense bill establishing a sense of Congress that the Pentagon review allowing young illegal immigrants to enlist in the military. 

Gutiérrez said Republicans were like the title character in “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” who first asks for milk with his cookie, but then adds a straw, mirror, scissors, a broom, a nap, a story read to him, drawing a picture, and hanging the picture on the refrigerator to his list of demands.

"Anything you give the little mouse is going to lead to a new and bigger request. And that must be what the Speaker of the House feels like with his nativist wing of his party," Gutiérrez said while standing next to an illustration of the titular mouse with a cookie in front of the Capitol.

"At some point, I respectfully suggest you cut off the mouse’s supply of cookies," he concluded.

 

4. President Obama’s trade package survives scare

The House almost didn’t clear the necessary hurdle to begin debating or voting on President Obama’s trade agenda. 

Typically, rules establishing debate parameters pass along partisan lines as tests of party discipline. But in an embarrassment for House GOP leaders, more than 30 Republicans voted against the rule and threatened to derail its passage.

A group of pro-trade Democrats gathered near the center of the House floor as the number of “no” votes piled up. When it became clear Republicans couldn’t pass the rule without help, eight Democrats opted to walk the plank and changed their votes all at the same time to pass the rule on a tight 217-212 vote.

The next day, the House failed to pass legislation providing assistance for workers displaced by trade deals, which sunk the entire package even though a separate measure giving President Obama fast-track trade authority passed in a slim 219-211 margin.

Many Republicans who defected on the rule vote later faced retribution from furious GOP leaders and their allies. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) briefly lost his Oversight subcommittee gavel, while fellow Freedom Caucus members Reps. Cynthia LummisCynthia LummisThe Hill's 12:30 Report GOP women push Trump on VP pick GOP lawmaker suggests Trump pick woman as VP MORE (Wyo.), Steve Pearce (N.M.) and Trent FranksTrent FranksDems: House GOP just like Trump Supreme Court wrestles with corruption law House GOP reignites push for budget plan MORE (Ariz.) were all kicked off the GOP whip team. 

 

5. Education bill almost fails

A long-awaited rewrite to the No Child Left Behind law nearly got, well, left behind. GOP leaders canceled a vote on the legislation in February - on the same day a three-week stopgap bill for the Department of Homeland Security melted down on the floor - due to conservative opposition. But Republicans eventually resurrected the measure five months later after allowing votes on amendments letting students opt out of requirements such as testing mandates. 

That still wasn’t enough for a mix of 27 conservatives and centrists who joined with all Democrats in opposition, nearly tanking the bill in the final roll call. For several tense minutes, the vote was failing with more votes against it than in favor. Many GOP lawmakers held out their votes until the last possible minute or changed their votes after scurried lobbying from top leaders. It finally passed by a mere five-vote margin.

Congress ultimately passed a bipartisan compromise measure in one of its final acts before adjourning for the year.

 

6. Spending bills halt over Confederate flag controversy

Over the course of the summer, the House plowed through six out of 12 individual appropriations bills under a process allowing lawmakers to offer unlimited numbers of amendments. When the seventh bill - for the Interior Department - hit the floor, that process backfired on House GOP leaders. 

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) offered an amendment banning the display of Confederate flags in certain national cemeteries weeks after the racially charged shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C. His amendment passed by voice vote after less than ten minutes of debate and no opposition.

But some GOP lawmakers, primarily from southern states, who found out about the amendment after the vote then demanded its reversal. Once it became clear the underlying spending bill might not have the votes to pass, GOP leaders abruptly canceled the final vote and opted to halt work on all of the remaining spending bills out of concern Democrats might try to force more votes related to the Confederate flag. 

Democrats quickly pounced. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) forced a vote on a resolution to ban the Confederate image from the Capitol, which would have resulted in the removal of Mississippi’s state flag. When House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) moved to refer the measure to committee for review, Democrats drowned out the proceedings with chants of, “vote! vote! vote!”

Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) delivered an emotional floor speech, sharing his memories of an encounter with hostile police officers who wore the Confederate image on their helmets as protesters marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. in 1965.

“I don’t want to go back. And as a country, we cannot go back,” Lewis said.

 

7. Moment of silence for Oregon shooting prompts outcry

To many lawmakers, the scene felt increasingly routine after a mass shooting. The state delegation where the shooting occurred gathered in the center of the House floor; the lawmaker representing the individual district eulogized the victims; everyone paused for a moment of silence; and then it was back to usual vote proceedings. 

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) made her frustration clear after a moment of silence for the nine victims of an October shooting at a community college in Roseburg, Ore.

"Now let's do something!" she shouted once the moment of silence concluded. Even though she wasn't standing in front of a microphone, her voice was heard around the chamber. Several Democrats around her applauded. 

 

8. BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE bids the House farewell 

Outgoing Speaker John Boehner, famous for wearing his heart on his sleeve, likely had a feeling he’d start crying during his farewell address to Congress. This time, he was ready with a preemptive box of tissues. Lawmakers laughed as he held up the tissue box before beginning.

"I leave with no regrets or burdens. If anything, I leave as I started — just a regular guy humbled by the chance to do a big job," Boehner said.

He only began to tear up near the end of his speech as he recalled his path from a humble upbringing in Cincinnati to becoming Speaker.

"In America you can do anything you’re willing to work for, willing to work hard at," Boehner said. "Anything can happen if you’re willing to make the necessary sacrifices in life." 

Then, for just the fifth time in the last century, the House voted mid-term to elect a new Speaker. Boehner cast the final vote for his successor, Wisconsin Republican Paul RyanPaul RyanDole: Gingrich should be Trump's running mate In House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable Meet the billionaire donor behind Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker MORE

The outgoing Speaker then stood along the back of the chamber, near staff lining the walls. He saluted his colleagues as Ryan thanked Boehner for his service. Then, for the last time, Boehner departed the House floor.

 

9. Rep. Schiff sings Mets song after losing bet

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam SchiffSunday shows preview: Bernie soldiers on OPM, not an outside contractor, discovered massive breach Clinton’s email troubles deepen MORE (D-Calif.), an avid Dodgers fan, found himself singing the praises of the New York Mets - literally - after losing a bet to Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.).

Under the bet, the loser of the Major League Baseball playoff game had to give a speech "extolling the virtues" of the winning team. Schiff then serenaded his colleagues on the House floor by unenthusiastically singing “Meet the Mets” while wearing a Mets tie.

“Meet the Mets, meet the Mets, step right up and greet the Mets. Bring your kiddies, bring your wife. Guaranteed to have the time of your life,” Schiff sang off-key, although he was clearly not having the time of his life.

“Mr. Speaker, please tell me my time is expired,” Schiff begged after he finished singing. But he noted there was at least one silver lining: "I say thank God the Mets are going to the World Series and not the Yankees.”

 

10. Rep. Jolly calls on Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJohnson faces tough crowd at Libertarian debate Sanders: Primary isn't 'rigged,' just 'dumb' Trump University judge to unseal documents MORE to drop out

A day after GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump proposed banning all Muslims from entering the United States, Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) took to the House floor to denounce the real estate mogul in the strongest rebuke from a sitting lawmaker.

Jolly, who is running for Senate and has endorsed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for president, called on Trump to drop out of the primary race.

"It is time that my side of the aisle has one less candidate in the race for the White House. It is time for Donald Trump to withdraw from the race," Jolly said.

Jolly warned calls to deny Muslims entry could lead to a slippery slope threatening Americans’ First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

“I’m a born-again Christian. I believe in the saving grace of the Jesus Christ that I call my God. And the beautiful thing about this country is I can stand here on the House floor among my peers and in front of the nation and declare that faith without fear of any reprisal,” he said.

“But if Donald Trump has his way, we may not have the liberty to do that anymore.”

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