History in the House: Congress weathers unprecedented week

Even in the volatile Trump era, this was an extraordinary and historic week in Washington. 

The House voted to condemn a sitting president for “racist” tweets. The Speaker’s words were stricken from the record only to be restored minutes later in a controversial vote. The lower chamber voted to hold two top Cabinet officials in contempt of Congress.

And Democrats and Republicans teamed up to kill the first impeachment effort against President TrumpDonald John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial MORE brought forth in the new Democratic majority.  


“It certainly was a contentious week, and in many respects, an unbelievable week,” Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who’s spent more than two decades in the House, told The Hill.

Partisanship on Capitol Hill has been getting more entrenched for years, but the tensions have escalated under Trump and seemed to come to a head this week in a perfect storm of racial acrimony, partisan finger-pointing and even concerns about violent attacks against members of Congress.

“We are beginning to see the radioactive fallout of this presidency on this institution. That's really what you’re seeing,” Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyTrump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Democrats 'utterly unpersuaded' by evidence behind Soleimani strike MORE (D-Va.), a former Senate staffer who’s served a decade in the House. “And what he's not used to is, he's no longer dealing with a compliant, see-and-hear-no-evil Congress. He's actually dealing with a Congress that believes oversight's real, and a constitutional requirement. And that has created a whole new environment, and I don't think anyone should be surprised that we are now reacting to his radioactivity.”

Connolly pointed to the episode of Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) vacating the chair in a fit of frustration Wednesday as a striking example of just how toxic the political environment has become under Trump.

“To ask an African American in the chair to have to be complicit in ruling 'out of order' speaking the truth about the racist remarks of the president is a bridge too far for, certainly, Emanuel Cleaver, and probably for most of my [Democratic] colleagues in the House,” Connolly said. 

“All of this is unprecedented. And we're all trying to navigate our way through these very uncharted waters,” he said.

Trump unleashed a tidal wave on Sunday when he tweeted that four progressive freshman congresswomen of color who have criticized him — Reps. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarSanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Donald Trump' if the US doesn't elect a progressive Media's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle MORE (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezSanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden Impeachment trial forces senators to scrap fundraisers Ocasio-Cortez knocks Biden: He 'helped sell the invasion of Iraq' and 'spent years working to cut Social Security' MORE (D-N.Y.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibSanders wants one-on-one fight with Biden Democrats press Trump administration to stop DNA collection from detained migrants Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Donald Trump' if the US doesn't elect a progressive MORE (D-Mich.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyMassachusetts governor apologizes after calling Pressley speech a 'rant' Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Donald Trump' if the US doesn't elect a progressive Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Jayapal endorses Sanders MORE (D-Mass.) — should “go back” to their own countries. All four are American citizens; three were born in the U.S. 

The Democratic-led House responded with an extremely rare vote to condemn Trump’s remarks about the minority women, but not before the two parties brawled over whether Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSekulow indicates White House not interested in motion to dismiss impeachment articles Overnight Health Care: Trump restores funding for Texas program that bars Planned Parenthood | Trump to attend March for Life | PhRMA spent record on 2019 lobbying Key House committee chairman to meet with Mnuchin on infrastructure next week MORE (D-Calif.), Trump’s chief adversary on the Hill, could call Trump’s remarks “racist” on the floor under House rules. The parliamentarian ruled that she could not, but the decision was overturned in a vote by Democrats.


In the same Wednesday vote series, the lower chamber voted to hold Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrLawmaker wants Chinese news outlet to register as foreign agent The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Barr wrote 2018 memo contradicting Trump's claim that abuse of power is not impeachable MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossDesperate Democrats badmouth economy even as it booms Trump scheduled to attend Davos amid impeachment trial Let's remember the real gifts the president has given America MORE in criminal contempt of Congress for ignoring Democratic subpoenas. The House killed a resolution by progressive Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenThe Memo: Will Iran crisis sideline impeachment process? Green says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely GOP set to make life difficult for Democrats on impeachment MORE (D-Texas) to impeach Trump, but 95 Democrats went on record saying they wanted to move forward with impeachment.

Later that night at a campaign rally in North Carolina, Trump threw fuel on the fire by invoking each of the four progressive congresswomen by name. When Trump mentioned Omar, the crowd began to chant: “Send her back! Send her back!” — words the president distanced himself from a day later. 

Democrats accused Trump of creating a security risk for the Democratic women.

“I’ve never seen a week like this week,” said another veteran of the House, Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeDemocrats don't expect to do 2020 budget The Hill's Morning Report — Impeachment face-off; Dems go after Buttigieg in debate Trump shocks, earns GOP rebukes with Dingell remarks MORE (Okla.), a former member of GOP leadership who now is the top Republican on the Rules Committee. Cole said he’s never seen a lawmaker abandon the chair of the House, never seen a Speaker’s words be ruled out of order and never seen a House majority vote to reinstate those words.

Cole blamed the rising temperatures on next year’s presidential election.

“It’s a supercharged and very heated year. Everybody knows a lot is at stake moving toward the next election,” Cole said. 

“This idea that there would be a quiet off year. … The simple fact that you’ve got 20 candidates running for the Democratic side for president suggests that this is going to be a very hot year. People are gearing up. It’s a big election, and that makes governing more difficult,” he said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Cheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter Mark Mellman: A failure of GOP leadership MORE (R-Calif.) on Thursday blasted Pelosi, suggesting she abused her power as Speaker in refusing to apologize for the remarks, and later staging a vote to restore them to the congressional record.  

“She made her own House vote to give her the right to speak again — to treat her differently than everybody else. So the rules do not apply equally to everybody in this body. And we have seen this time and time again,” he said.

Rep. John LewisJohn LewisObama marks MLK Day by honoring King for his 'poetic brilliance' and 'moral clarity' The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial John Lewis to miss Martin Luther King Jr. Day event MORE (D-Ga.), an icon of the civil rights movement who was beaten nearly to death in Alabama in 1965, suggested tempers are flaring because lawmakers are fatigued and ready for the long August recess. 

“It is out of the ordinary. It’s just the drama of it all,” he said. “People are ready to go home, ready for a break.”

For other lawmakers of color, the president’s “go back” comments were personally painful.  

“As a racial, religious and ethnic minority who happens to be an immigrant and is a proud American, I found his comments really hit close to home because they really shake at the core of what it means to be an American,” said Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiTrump suggests LBJ is in hell: 'He's probably looking down — or looking up' Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Turf war derails push on surprise medical bills | Bill would tax e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaign | .5M ad blitz backs vulnerable Dems on drug prices Lawmakers introduce bill taxing e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaigns MORE (D-Ill.), who was born in India and became the first member of the Hindu faith to preside over the House in April.

He recalls being told to go back to his own country, “but that was maybe on the school yard or maybe in a fit of road rage. Never thought I’d hear those words coming from the president. … Now it’s considered normal, and that might be the worst outcome of what’s happened this week.”