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 TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' 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 ConnollyPerry won't comply with subpoena in impeachment inquiry Trump confirms Rick Perry to step down as Energy secretary Overnight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule 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 OmarOcasio-Cortez says endorsing Sanders early is 'the most authentic decision' she could make Ocasio-Cortez: Sanders' heart attack was a 'gut check' moment Ocasio-Cortez tweets endorsement of Sanders MORE (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez says endorsing Sanders early is 'the most authentic decision' she could make Ocasio-Cortez: Sanders' heart attack was a 'gut check' moment Ocasio-Cortez tweets endorsement of Sanders MORE (D-N.Y.), Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOcasio-Cortez says endorsing Sanders early is 'the most authentic decision' she could make Ocasio-Cortez: Sanders' heart attack was a 'gut check' moment Ocasio-Cortez tweets endorsement of Sanders MORE (D-Mich.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOcasio-Cortez mourns Cummings: 'A devastating loss for our country' Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings Omar endorses Sanders presidential bid 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 PelosiTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Trump lashes out at Pelosi as she visits Jordan to discuss Syria Thomas D'Alesandro III, brother of Nancy Pelosi, dies at 90 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 BarrFederal prosecutors interviewed multiple FBI officials for Russia probe review: report Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe Mulvaney ties withheld Ukraine aid to political probe sought by Trump MORE and Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossUS ban on China tech giant faces uncertainty a month out US imposes new sanctions on Cuba over human rights, Venezuela Commerce Department to develop stats on income inequality MORE in criminal contempt of Congress for ignoring Democratic subpoenas. The House killed a resolution by progressive Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenTrump criticizes Clinton for suggesting Jill Stein was Russian asset Climate finance must push net-zero emissions Trump impeachment efforts will haunt the next Democrat in the White House 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 ColeScalise, Cole introduce resolution to change rules on impeachment Fight over Trump's wall raises odds of 'continuous' stopgap measures Senate spending talks go off the rails as soon as they begin 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 McCarthyTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate How Trump and Pelosi went from bad to worse House Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment 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 LewisThe 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment Detroit police chief calls Tlaib facial recognization idea 'racist' Ossoff raises 0k in first three weeks of Senate bid, campaign says 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 KrishnamoorthiHere's what to watch this week on impeachment Sondland could provide more clues on Ukraine controversy Trump's cruelty toward immigrants weakens rather than strengthens America 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.”