WASHINGTON -- A rebellious group of House Republicans – including Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Flower Mound, and four other Texans – staged a dramatic and unusual revolt Friday over House inaction on energy policy, refusing to leave the House floor for more than five hours after the chamber adjourned for the summer.
The spontaneous action was sparked, said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's refusal to allow House floor votes on domestic drilling as members scrambled to begin a five-week summer recess. "We want a vote on energy," said Poe, who was one of the revolt's ringleaders.
"It was liberating," Burgess said. The usually soft-spoken physician said he turned into a firebrand during the floor battle because Republicans are being shut out of the process. "You should come to my town meetings and feel the heat that I am getting from people commuting around Fort Worth who have to fill up their tanks twice a week," he said. "People are mad about this."
At its peak, 47 House Republicans spoke in a dimmed chamber without microphones while hundreds of visitors filled the House chamber and the galleries.
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Word started to spread around midday that the revolt was underway. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, was already on the plane on a flight to Houston when he checked his Blackberry. "I was literally sitting on the plane, drinking a Diet Sprite," said Brady. He raced back with his carry-on luggage and ran on to the House floor to a standing ovation.
"It was exciting," Brady said of the GOP uprising. "I wanted to be part of it. We should not be going home with gas prices this high."
According to Poe, the lights were turned down and the sound system and the C-SPAN cameras were off, as they are when Congress is not in session. But for the "simple country judge," the experience was sublime.
"It was one of the best moments in Congress" he had ever had, said Poe. "All the speakers spoke with passion; we spoke extemporaneously; we spoke to the gallery and the gallery responded."
There were Boy Scouts, tour groups and even a group of German soldiers who took in the unusual event.
"It was democracy at one of its finest moments," said Poe. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, acted as the unofficial videographer with his Nokia N95 phone, interviewing Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, outside the chamber. (Taping is not allowed inside the House chamber, except for C-SPAN.)
"To me," said Poe, "the issue is bigger than energy. It's about freedom of speech." The ability to vote, he said, was an extension of the right to speak. "I talked a lot about the first amendment," said Poe. "It's first because without it, the rest are meaningless."
Members said they weren't sure if they would meet again Saturday or let their protest stand as a one-day event.