A usually mundane congressional proceeding drifted into testy turf when a prominent Republican colleague accused a Democratic colleague of drunkenness during official proceedings.
A late-night meeting of the House Rules Committee to conduct what's known as a "mark-up" — a prolonged session of technical fixes to a piece of legislation — contained unexpected fireworks on Wednesday evening. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican who heads the House GOP's campaign efforts, accused Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern (D) of drinking on the job.
“I think we've gotten this that Mr. McGovern is not happy,” Sessions said to McGovern, borne of frustration at the repeated amendments offered by McGovern to the National Defense Authorization Act.
“I think this is also behavior, um, that I wonder if people have been out drinking tonight or whether they are mad or angry or incapable of controlling themselves. And I would question that tonight.”
McGovern took issue with the remarks, and hit back at Sessions.
“I would say to the gentleman that, you know, there are some issues worth fighting over, and for me ending this war is one of them,” McGovern said referring to the war in Afghanistan, “I'm sorry that the gentleman doesn't think that that — take that very seriously.” Sessions quickly responded, saying, “Simple asking a question, if the shoe fits.”
The interaction came in the seventh hour of a hearing that ended just before midnight, eight and a half hours after it started. During that hearing, 241 amendments were submitted for the defense bill, 142 of which were approved to move on to a full vote in the House. Rules Committee Hearings typically showcase frustration from the minority side, as the majority has control over what amendments are subsequently voted on by the full House or Representatives.
According to McGovern’s office, the congressman had not been drinking and Sessions called to apologize the next morning. Sessions pushed back to reporters late Thursday, saying that he spoke to McGovern that morning, but failed to confirm that he apologized for the remarks.
“I don’t know what there is to apologize about,” Sessions told reporters, “I mean, I’m not trying to say, ‘No, I didn’t apologize to him,’ that was not the discussion.”
Sessions said he hasn’t seen the tape of the late night exchange, but when reminded by reporters that he had intimated that McGovern had been drinking, he denied it. “No I did not [suggest that he was drinking],” Sessions said, “I’m not trying to intimate anything, I’m trying to say Jim was having a tough night and I’m sorry he did.”
The exchange comes as House Democrats are speaking out against the Republican’s exclusion of an amendment McGovern had submitted during the hearing, which was rejected by the Republican majority on the Rules Committee. Both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) spoke out on the House floor against the decision, with Hoyer saying the amendment’s exclusion was “unworthy of the Rules Committee.”
"I’m rarely surprised around here,” Pelosi said on the House floor, “ I was surprised that that discussion could not take place on this floor in the form of approving that amendment.”