North Carolina GOP forces vote to block budget with just over half of legislature present

North Carolina GOP forces vote to block budget with just over half of legislature present

North Carolina Republicans in the state’s House of Representatives voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) veto of the state budget while just more than half of the body’s 120 members was in attendance. 

The measure, which passed by a 55-9 vote, came as several members of the Democratic delegation were in committee meetings and at least one was at a ceremony commemorating the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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Democrats maintained they had been assured by Rules Committee Chairman David R. Lewis (R) that no votes would be held during the session. 

“I had verified with House leadership that there would be no votes at 8:30, that we’d be voting at 1,” House Democratic leader Darren Jackson told The Hill. “So I had notified my caucus twice yesterday that they do not need to be present for the 8:30 session.”

Democrats erupted in the chamber once state House Speaker Tim Moore (R) made the motion to reconsider the state budget, according to a video online.

“You shall not usurp the process, Mr. Speaker,” Rep. Deb Butler (D) shouted on the floor. “How dare you subject this body to trickery, deceptive practices — hijacking the process. We have been here day and night for months, defending what we believe — and you would submit this body to trickery, deception, deceit. It is so typical of the way you conduct yourself.” 

Democrats also condemned that Republicans had overridden Cooper's veto while at least one member was attending a 9/11 event.

“It’s no longer a surprise when North Carolina Republicans disrespect the rule of law — but disrespecting 9/11 victims and their families is a contemptible new low for this moralless majority,” said Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee press secretary Matt Harringer in a statement. 

Republicans maintained that no assurances had been provided, saying that Democrats should have turned up to vote instead of kicking up a "fuss about procedure."

“There was never, there was never any statement made that we would not take up votes this morning. That allegation is simply not accurate,” Moore said at a press conference.

Lewis added that he had promised Jackson that Democrats would be able to hold their meetings before the votes but maintained he never said that no votes would be held.

State legislators later circulated audio from Wednesday of Lewis announcing a vote on the budget veto. However, he does not clarify at what time the vote was slated to be held.

Once the vote was underway, Democrats accused Moore of ignoring their objections during the process and cutting off their microphones.

Moore defended his handling of the proceedings, saying Democrats were “just screaming into the microphone" and that "at that point it was clear there was not going to be any decorum.”

Jackson estimated that while about 52 of the Democrats 55 were in the building during the vote, only nine were actually in the chamber. He said he was in his office watching footage of the 9/11 attacks, which he does every year.

Cooper panned Republicans after the vote, saying "their ideas haven't worked, their bullying hasn't work, their bribes haven't worked, and let me be clear, today Republicans waged an assault on our democracy. They cheated the people of North Carolina."

Before the measure heads to the state Senate, where Republicans must flip just one Democrat to override Cooper’s veto, Jackson said Democrats hope to hold a vote in the House to recall the veto, a measure that needs a simple majority and would require just a handful of GOP defections. 

“I have no idea if they’ll agree to that, if they will vote for that,” Jackson told The Hill. 

“The fact that nobody has returned any of my phone calls from the other side of the aisle, I’m not hopeful,” Jackson added, saying his staff is in touch with Senate Democrats and that he’s tried to call four to five Republican colleagues in the House. 

Both chambers of the state legislature must get a three-fifths majority vote from the members present to override the governor’s veto. 

Democrats warned Tuesday’s vote could harm relationships across the aisle going down the road, saying trust is what keeps the state House functioning.

“I think people would describe me as someone who tries to get along where you can and fights the battles you have to fight, but this place doesn’t run without trust between people. It would just grind to a halt if everything had to be done without trust,” Jackson said. “You have to operate with trust, and yes, that trust took a big hit today. It probably got knocked out.”

Reid Wilson contributed to this report

—Updated at 5:10 p.m.