The Republican Party did not realize it then, but they were about to give up power in the House of Representatives for 60 of the next 64 years. On March 4, 1931, Speaker Nicholas Longworth (R-OH) approached the rostrum for the last time. The first person on his feet was Jack Garner (D-TX) who would be his successor. Then every Democrat and Republican stood up and the applause was thunderous.
Lawmakers motioned to the galleries and they joined the ovation. Longworth repeatedly used his gavel and said “The House will come to order.” His colleagues would not listen, and the applause and rebel yells continued for 15 minutes. The “Roaring 20s” were officially over and Longworth died unexpectedly 35 days later. The second House office building was named in his honor, and the obituary by Frank Kent of the Baltimore Sun said:
without any revision of the rules he completely recovered the power of the Speakership. . . he exercised this power with infinitely more tact and grace and gumption and without that touch of offensive arrogance that characterized former House Czars. But he was just as much a Czar. What Mr. Longworth clearly proved was this matter of leadership depends not so much on the rules but on the man.
A similar scene was repeated on January 31, 1961 when Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-TX) opened his last Congress. A resolution was introduced by the Republican and Democratic leadership stating:
Resolved, That the House of Representatives hereby extends its heartiest congratulations to its beloved Speaker . . . and expresses its deep appreciation. . . for his impartiality, integrity and outstanding parliamentary skill in presiding over this House.
House Republican Leader Charles Halleck (IN) was acting Speaker during the debate honoring Rayburn, and GOP Whip Les Arends (IL) said Rayburn “always recognized and defended the rights of the minority.” Rayburn, 79, was in fine health that day, but died five months later. The third House office building is named in his honor.
It is impossible to imagine Republicans introducing a similar resolution, participating in a long ovation or naming an office building in honor of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Longworth and Rayburn were powerful and effective, and are among the greatest Speakers of all time.
They were able to accomplish their goals and to defend minority rights at the same time. They were leaders of their political parties, but they were Speakers of the entire House of Representatives. Longworth and Rayburn would never have told their colleagues to first vote for a bill and only later would they find out what was in it. Speaker Pelosi put the $787 billion stimulus bill on line at 4 am and called for a vote at noon. She went through the entire 111th Congress without one open rule.
The Speaker would not allow any amendments to be introduced on the floor, and debate was sharply limited. The Speaker controlled the Rules Committee, and they shut down all discussions. Pelosi unified the Republican Party in anger towards her dictatorial leadership. Pelosi was a liberal leader rather than a Speaker of the House. She also cheated the moderate Blue Dog Democrats and 43 of them voted against her last month. On the key procedural vote, 68 Democrats voted against Pelosi, and one-third of House Democrats now oppose her. She tricked the Blue Dogs on abortion rights in the health care bill, but she really fooled herself.
Many of those Democrats were defeated and tomorrow she will no longer be Speaker. Many bills were enacted in the 111th Congress, but they destroyed the popularity of President Obama and the Democrats. She could have had lasting achievements but because she was hyper partisan a significant number of her legislative achievements will be repealed.
She is the only Speaker who could not pass a budget or one appropriations bill, despite having a huge majority. Pelosi is also the only Speaker to have never had a meeting with the minority during her four year tenure.
Nick Longworth and Jack Garner met every single day. Rayburn regularly met with the GOP, and said if he lived in Massachusetts he would vote for House Republican Leader Joe Martin. They were Speakers who could be trusted and kept their promises.
All of Nancy Pelosi’s vows were false and the only lawmakers who had rights during her tenure were members of the House Progressive Caucus. Everything she said in January of 2007 was a lie. She never worked with Republicans, she immediately broke her transparency promise, and there was no “new era of civility and cooperation.” She was unable to fulfill her most basic responsibilities as Speaker.
Speaker Pelosi’s first address emphasized the importance of fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction, and this turned out to be her biggest fallacy. Tomorrow will be a sad day for the Progressive Caucus, Code Pink, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and the radical left. It will also be a tremendous step forward toward economic growth, freedom and prosperity for all Americans. They had their turn, now its our turn.