A Republican protest on the House floor that led Congress to lift a moratorium on new offshore drilling helped set the precedent for the dramatic sit-in that has played out in the chamber for the last 24 hours.
Chants of "drill, baby, drill" echoed through the House chamber in August 2008, as Republicans ranted about high gasoline prices. Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was on the verge of gaveling the House into recess for the summer.
Lawmakers called for one more vote ahead of an election featuring an open seat in the Oval Office. Just like the debate over gun control this year, both candidates had staked out firm positions on opposite sides of the issue: Presumed Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama opposed wider drilling, while his rival, GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona, called for more.
Pelosi — just as Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) did early this morning — adjourned the chamber, turned off the cameras and killed the microphones as the party out of power demanded a vote (E&E Daily, June 23).
"We definitely cannot afford for the Democrat Congress to vote themselves an adjournment resolution and leave for five weeks — five weeks, while the price at the pump continues to rise, while the price of electric power rises, while home heating oil prices are going to triple," Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) urged before the House adjourned.
Blackburn challenged Democrats: "Take some of the power you’re using to save the planet and use it to address this issue."
When Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the House majority leader at the time, moved to adjourn, 182 GOP members voted "no."
Two-dozen Republicans remained on the floor after the 11:23 a.m. adjournment, bashing Pelosi and her caucus for leaving town. They packed the floor and gallery with staffers and stopped Capitol Police when they tried to remove reporters from the press gallery.
A senior House GOP leadership aide pointed out yesterday that Democrats also went a step further in 2008 than Republicans did yesterday: Not only did they shut off the cameras, they actually shut off the lights.
That left Republicans talking in the dark, Politico reported at the time. However, the lights flickered back on a short time later.
Another big difference: Eight years later, it’s easier for politicians to bypass rules governing camera footage from the House floor.
When Republicans recessed the House yesterday, turning off C-SPAN cameras and the video feed to the public, Democrats countered the blackout by streaming the sit-in on their cellphones. That coverage ended up on C-SPAN and other major cable networks anyway. By picking up the live feed from a lawmaker, C-SPAN effectively did an end-run around Republican leaders.
Via the stream, Democrats have promised the public and protesters set up outside the Capitol that "business as usual" will not continue on the House floor. An email from leadership went out to the caucus this morning, asking fellow Democrats to come to the floor to "relieve" their weary colleagues who had been talking all night.
Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) called for the House to vote on gun-control legislation instead of "messaging bills that have no chance of passing," including provisions to overturn regulations by U.S. EPA.
Democrats claim public sentiment is overwhelmingly on their side and said they intend to keep some members in Washington, D.C., during the recess to gin up more support. The full House is due back on July 5.
During the 2008 recess, Republicans occupied the floor for weeks. Some flew back to D.C. during the recess and protested in the unattended chamber. Eventually, the stunt won the GOP a victory.
Eleven days into the recess, Pelosi went on CNN’s "Larry King Live" and said she might allow a vote on easing offshore drilling bans, if it was part of a broader package that included Democratic priorities. She cited her support for measures she said would bring quick relief for high gas prices, such as a release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and expanded regulation of oil futures markets (Greenwire, Aug. 12, 2008).
Capitol Hill was at the time cruising toward emergency legislation to continue federal spending beyond the end of the fiscal year with the appropriations process largely stalled. Republicans said they were opposed to attempts to use the spending bill to extend offshore leasing bans.
When members returned from recess, Democrats agreed to allow the decades-old offshore drilling bans to lapse. Pelosi cited the economic crisis as a major driver in her party’s decision. The agreement handed Republicans and the George W. Bush White House a major win (E&E Daily, Sept. 24, 2008).
"If true, this capitulation by Democrats following months of Republican pressure is a big victory for Americans struggling with record gasoline prices," said then-Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) at the time.