Congressmen Who Skipped Swearing-In Stall GOP Health Reform Repeal

Jan 6, 2011 4:26pm

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe and John Parkinson report:

Oops.

Somehow two House Republicans yesterday neglected to get sworn in as new members of Congress.

A photo on www.phillyburbs.com shows, Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas with Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania were on Capitol Hill but during the swearing-in ceremony they were not in the House chamber but rather in front of a television in the Capitol Visitors Center.

Today Sessions and Fitzpatrick were on the House floor, voting and reading the Constitution – just like every other sworn-in member of Congress. And Sessions helped preside over a hearing of the House Rules Committee on the GOP’s push to repeal the health care law.

But once GOP leaders learned that two of their members weren’t yet legitimate members of Congress, they abruptly stopped the Rules hearing on the health care law.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-NC, was in the chair at the hearing and had just finished welcoming Rep. Rob Andrews, D-NJ, to the witness table when an aide whispered something into Foxx’s ear.

“I am sorry but we need to take a recess,” Foxx suddenly told Andrews.

Andrews was a bit surprised and joked to Foxx that he should not have just thanked her for letting him testify. Rep. John Tierney, D-MA – who was also waiting to testify at the hearing – was less amused, muttering, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Andrews asked Foxx when the hearing might restart, but Foxx replied, “I am sorry I don’t know an answer to your question. We’ll make it as short as possible.”

And with that, just before 3pm, the hearing adjourned – over an hour later, it had yet to resume.

Jennifer Crider, spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the snafu was no laughing matter.

“When Congressmen-elect Pete Sessions and Mike Fitzpatrick participated in reading parts of the U.S. Constitution on the House floor, Speaker Boehner should have given them Article 6 which requires Members of Congress to be sworn in,” Crider said. “Jokes aside, Congressmen-elect Pete Sessions and Mike Fitzpatrick’s actions raise serious questions: What in the world was more important to Congressmen-elect Pete Sessions and Mike Fitzpatrick than taking the oath of office, committing to support and defend  the U.S. Constitution? Why did Speaker Boehner and House Republican leadership allow two people who were not sworn Members of Congress to vote and speak on the House floor? Republicans have spent a lot of time over the past two days proselytizing about House rules, but they don’t seem very keen on actually following the rules.”

Shortly after the Rules committee hearing was stopped, Fitzpatrick and Sessions both appeared back on the House floor and were administered the oath of office by Speaker Boehner.

“During the swearing in of the 112th Congress, Congressman Sessions stated the oath publicly in the Capitol but was not on the House floor,” Sessions’ spokeswoman Emily Davis said. “To ensure that all constitutional and House requirements are fulfilled, Congressman Sessions officially took the oath of office this afternoon from the House floor. Public records and votes will be adjusted accordingly.”

A Republican aide noted that Sessions was present for the quorum call and manual roll call on the election Speaker Boehner, so right now Boehner’s office and the Rules panel are determining the appropriate process to correct the record to reflect today’s oath.

ABC's Jake Tapper contributed to this report.

UPDATE at 5:24 PM:    Just before 5pm, the Rules committee finally resumed its hearing. The panel’s chairman Rep. David Dreier and the top Democrat Rep. Louise Slaughter discussed –- in a rather confusing way –- what the snafu means in terms of the proceedings already undertaken before Sessions had been sworn in.

At one point during the two hour recess Dreier appeared in front of the confused crowd to try to explain the snafu.

“We all know that yesterday was an exciting day for members on the House floor,” Dreier said. “Families were with us and obviously just as today’s hearing has had a lot of people, downstairs there were a lot of people. Apparently accidentally Mr. Sessions was not on the floor when the oath was administered to all of us when we raised our right hands. And he’s off on a motion of this committee and he’s here now as a duly sworn member. He’s a colleague of ours once again. He’s just been sworn in…”

“And sworn at, too,” joked Sessions, appearing at the back of the hearing room.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are now pointing out that Sessions has missed numerous votes as a member of the Rules panel – in fact, they say, his attendance record was the worst among members, at 59 percent in the 111th Congress.

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