Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., caused an unusual ruckus and some eventual retrospection about partisanship in the House when she took her oath of office April 10. Speier — who already was known as the ex-aide who was seriously wounded in 1978 when her then-boss, Rep. Leo Ryan, was murdered during an attack in Guyana, and 30 years later won the vacant House seat of the late Rep. Tom Lantos — used her traditionally brief and ceremonial first moment as a House member to launch a sharp partisan attack. Her constituents ask repeatedly, Speier said, “When will we get out of Iraq?” After citing President Bush and the recent “100-year war” comment of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona, she continued, “History will not judge us kindly if we sacrifice four generations of Americans because of the folly of one.” That triggered a volley of boos among Republican members on the House floor and prompted Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., to walk out of the chamber. “Her conduct was inappropriate and violated House rules … She had a prepared statement and should be held accountable” by House Speaker Pelosi, who was presiding at the time, Issa said this week.
Speier voiced no regrets about her conduct a few days after the incident. “It wasn’t intended to be a controversial speech. [Democratic] Members were thrilled and very positive because I was forthright.” She said that Republicans’ reaction was “childlike and inappropriate in their treatment of a new member.” During her lengthy tenure as a state legislator in Sacramento, Speier added, she often worked on a bipartisan basis to enact major legislation — notably, the protection of financial privacy. But she lamented that Congress has become “so polarizing,” and “there is a great frustration in America that they don’t think we are taking care of them, while we protect the special interests.”
For his part, Issa voiced interest in Speier’s call for bipartisanship. He exited the House during her speech to avoid a more direct showdown, he said, and he would like to cooperate with her — and other Democrats. “She might have had bad guidance … I want to find ways to work together.” Although he has had positive dealings with individual Democrats, including from California, he called it unfortunate that his home state’s delegation has not been “functional” as a bipartisan group, and “it hasn’t learned to get past the problems of our own partisan leaders.” Although he has not spoken with Speier, he said he hopes that the two of them can find issues on which to cooperate. Likewise, Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., said he was “unhappy” with Speier’s “not appropriate” speech. Lungren, who recalled working with Speier when he was attorney general in Sacramento, said, “That’s not a way to make an impression.” Even Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank said he found Speier’s speech “inappropriate” and that oath-taking should “not be an occasion for political speeches.” But he said he walked out during her speech because he was returning to a committee hearing he was chairing.
This article appears in the April 19, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.