House

Inside the Trump-Congress Christmas meltdown

Don Young had had enough.

House lawmakers were in the midst of a marathon voting session on Thursday — a 35-vote slog demanded by a single lawmaker — when the cantankerous Alaska Republican stormed down the aisle of the House floor and began screaming at Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), who was presiding over the chamber, to close down the vote.

The 85-year-old Young, the dean of the House and longest-serving member, was furious that the vote was left open for Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.), who has been limping around the Capitol on a booted foot.

{mosads}“Next time, you bang that gavel,” Young shouted at Collins while shaking his fist. “Until he is in the goddamn well, it don’t count!”

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), standing near Young, gently scolded him, according to lawmakers on the floor: “You’re on TV. That’s not very Dean-like.’ ”

The episode underlined how tempers are at an all-time high in the Capitol as Washington barrels toward its third shutdown of 2018 — just four days before Christmas — in what could be the House GOP’s final act in the majority.

A partial shutdown will occur at midnight Friday unless President Trump and Democrats reach an eleventh-hour deal to fund a handful of government agencies.

Across the Capitol complex this week, lawmakers wore tired, gloomy looks on their faces as they limped to the finish line of the 115th Congress. They wanted to be anywhere but here over the holidays — especially the lame-duck Republicans who lost their reelection bids last month.

One cranky Republican said he wanted to rip the phone away from Trump, who’s been agitating for a Christmas shutdown over demands for his $5 billion border wall.

“The president tweets too much!” the lawmaker said. “I shave [myself] but I don’t tweet about it!”

Earlier Thursday, a closed-door meeting of House Republicans descended into chaos when member after member stood up at the microphone and rejected leadership’s initial plan to quickly take up a funding bill without Trump’s wall.

Another frustrated GOP lawmaker called leadership “stupid” for holding a meeting before a vote on the clean continuing resolution, or CR. They should have just put it on the floor, the lawmaker said.

The unexpected revolt came after lawmakers began receiving hundreds of phone calls from constituents outraged that Republicans were not demanding Trump’s wall before relinquishing control of the House to Democrats next month. Conservative radio and TV hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity had personally lobbied Trump to shut the government down if Democrats don’t give him his wall; Trump got the message and vowed to fight.

“Do we succumb to tyranny of talk-radio show hosts? I mean, this is a juvenile place we find ourselves,” retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) told reporters on Friday. “The reason we’re here is that we have a couple talk-radio hosts that get the president spun up.”

The House eventually pushed through a funding bill for Trump’s border wall, but the package is dead on arrival in the Senate, dramatically increasing the chances of a Christmastime shutdown that would force members to work through the holidays.

Not every House Republican appeared to be in a hurry to drive down the shutdown path. A trio of lawmakers was spotted at Tortilla Coast, a Capitol Hill Tex-Mex restaurant, after they were called back to the House to vote on the wall package Thursday evening.

“One more round!” a lawmaker called out to their waiter.

“I think they already called the vote,” a reporter interjected.

“They can’t pass this thing without us,” another lawmaker shot back.

Making life even more miserable for his colleagues, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) forced roll call votes on more than two dozen bipartisan bills in an unrelated protest over U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen — what one northeastern lawmaker referred to as “Massie’s tantrum.”

When Massie stood up to formally request a recorded vote on one of the measures, the Kentucky Republican was met with a round of bipartisan boos from his disgruntled colleagues.

{mossecondads}“It’s been a high drama, high stakes week,” added Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. “Not to mention Massie calling for recorded votes on every suspension bill. Throw that into the chaos.”

If that drama wasn’t enough, the stock market plummeted on news of an interest rate hike and potential government closure. And key defense hawks on Capitol Hill were entirely caught off guard by Defense Secretary James Mattis’s resignation over policy differences with Trump.

Both Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry and McCaul, both Texas Republicans, said they got no heads up that Mattis was heading for the exit.

“Holy shit!” exclaimed one Republican on the Armed Services Committee when a reporter shared the news about Mattis. “Don’t quote me on that.”

Democrats took every opportunity to exploit the turmoil unfolding across the aisle. Of all people, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who led a failed coup against expected Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) just weeks earlier, slammed Trump and his party for sowing chaos in government, the economy and national security.   

“This government is in chaos; it’s in a free fall. The market’s in a free fall. The staffing at the White House is in a free fall. The secretary of Defense is gone. We’re pulling out of Syria. What is going on?” Ryan said in a fiery floor speech.

On Friday, as senators who were dragged back to the Capitol to vote on the House-passed package that they knew was doomed to fail, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) held up a button to reporters that he said summed up the mood of the conference: “Senate Cranky Coalition,” it read.

The lawmaker who received the award for the most miserable holiday travel story: Sen. Brian Schatz.

On Thursday, a day after the Senate passed its clean funding package, the Hawaii Democrat hopped on an 11-hour flight out of D.C. to see his wife and kids, thinking his work was done for the year.

But when he landed in beautiful 78-degree weather in Honolulu, Schatz got word that he was needed back in Washington ASAP to help block the House GOP’s wall package. He phoned Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who told him to catch the next flight back to D.C.

“17 minute visit w the fam,” Schatz tweeted with a photo with his wife and kids in their minivan.

“[My wife] gave me some clean underwear and a T-shirt and I was able to hug the kids, and then turned right around,” Schatz recalled in the Capitol on Friday.

Tags Bob Corker Brian Schatz Don Young Donald Payne Jr. Donald Trump Doug Collins James Mattis Kevin McCarthy Mac Thornberry Michael McCaul Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Thomas Massie Tim Ryan
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