By Russell Berman - 02/10/11 01:15 AM EST
House Republicans suffered their second embarrassing defeat in as many days on Wednesday as the new majority struggled to manage the House floor after an early run of GOP unity.
With help from a senior Republican defector, Democrats defeated a GOP bill that targeted overpayments to the United Nations. A day earlier, 26 Republicans bucked their leadership to block an extension of the Patriot Act.
Contrite senior aides acknowledged that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had miscalculated the level of opposition from Democrats and from within their own ranks.
“We’ve been in the majority four weeks. We’re not going to be perfect every day,” Boehner told reporters on Wednesday morning, before the U.N. vote failed.
The pair of defeats raised doubts about Cantor’s decision to bring up the measures under a suspension of the rules, a fast-track procedure that requires a two-thirds majority to pass. The procedure is usually reserved for non-controversial bills.
Both the Patriot Act and the U.N. bill won majority support, but did not meet the higher threshold.
Some senior Republicans tried to put a positive face on the losses, saying they highlighted Boehner’s pledge to run a more open, member-driven House. The chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), even suggested the unpredictability was “exciting.”
“We’re not running it in the heavy-handed, dictatorial manner that it was run in the past,” said Price, taking a shot at former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who rarely brought a bill to the floor unless she was certain it would pass.
“The outcome is not drawn up in the back room somewhere, so it ought to be exciting. It’s exciting to me. It’s exciting to members, and I think it’s exciting to the American people.”
That more open process will be tested in earnest next week, when Republicans bring up their bill to fund the government for the remainder of the year. Boehner and Cantor have pledged to allow amendments from both conservatives and liberals so that the full House can determine what level of spending cuts can win the necessary 218 votes to pass.
Boehner blamed the defeat of the Patriot Act — the post-9/11 national security law — on the 36 Democrats who voted against the bill on Tuesday after supporting similar provisions in the 111th Congress. “If the Democrats who voted for these same provisions last year would have voted for them this year, it would have passed,” Boehner said.
Yet the Speaker lost 26 of his own members, including several freshmen aligned with the Tea Party. GOP leaders did not know in advance who would oppose the bill because Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), charged with the vote-counting operations, did not whip the measure, under the assumption that it would not have been brought up under suspension if it did not have a two-thirds majority.
Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) said he didn’t tell the leadership he planned to vote against the Patriot Act. “Nobody asked,” he said.
Explaining his decision, he said: “This was put into effect after 9/11. It’s been 10 years since then. A lot of the norms have changed, a lot of things have changed and we should re-evaluate it. Until then, there are elements of it that I will oppose.”
Cantor said the bill was brought up under suspension because the committees with jurisdiction over the legislation “weren’t even organized.”
He also blamed Democrats. A total of 122 Democrats — nearly two-thirds of the caucus — voted against the bill.
“It shows that they’re not serious. I mean, come on, this is needed for our law enforcement,” Cantor said.
Aides said their mistake was in counting on help from the Democratic minority to back a bill endorsed by the Obama administration.
“Republican leadership falsely assumed that 36 Democrats would support not only the position of the Obama administration, but a position that they had each previously personally advocated,” a senior House GOP aide said. “Shame on us, lesson learned — Democrats are willing to play games with national security.”
Democrats giggled from the sidelines, taking obvious pleasure in the sight of Republicans struggling — they spent two years trying to wrangle majority votes with no cooperation from the GOP.
“It’s emblematic of the divisions in the Republican Party,” Democratic whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “We all knew they had divisions in their party.” Hoyer’s press office sent an e-mail to reporters with the subject line: “Republicans’ Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week.”
Republicans held an emergency meeting of the Rules Committee on Wednesday to craft new procedures for the Patriot Act. They plan to bring the bill back to the floor on Thursday under rules requiring a simple majority to pass.
The GOP was more unified in backing the U.N. bill, which would have required the world body to repay $179 million in overpayments to the U.S. government. But Democrats banded together to block the legislation after a morning speech by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the party’s ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Democrats were joined by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, GOP Rep. Peter King (N.Y.), who said he only learned of the bill on Tuesday, and made a late but aggressive push against it. He cited pleas from the New York Police Department that the money was needed for security. “This is a matter of life and death,” King said on the House floor. “This is a serious matter.”
King and New York City’s lone GOP congressman, freshman Rep. Michael Grimm, were the only Republicans to vote against the bill, which was part of Cantor’s “YouCut” program.
Republicans did not immediately say whether they would bring the bill back to the floor under normal rules requiring a simple majority vote.
Pete Kasperowicz contributed to this report.
This post was originally posted at 11:06 a.m. and last updated at 8:15 p.m.