Lantos service interrupted by beepers

Democrats and Republicans traded accusations over who interrupted a congressional memorial service for Tom Lantos.

Lantos (D-Calif.), the only Holocaust survivor elected to Congress and the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, died Monday and a dignitary-packed service commemorated his passing on Thursday morning.

Towards the end of the service in the Capitol’s statuary hall, while fellow Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel was speaking, a chorus of beepers arose from the floor; a vote was about to take place. Congress members began to exit the chamber.

Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) had called for an adjournment vote to stop the House from hearing a scheduled contempt motion against Joshua Bolten, President Bush’s chief of staff, and Harriet Miers, his former legal counsel, for refusing to testify over allegations that U.S. attorneys spuriously prosecuted Democrats.

Diaz-Balart blamed the Democratic leadership for resuming the House session before the memorial had ended. Minority parties use adjournment motions to keep votes they oppose from coming to the floor.

Democrats countered that the session was open only for discussion and said that they had made it clear there were no plans to call the contempt motion to a vote during the memorial service.

The motion to adjourn failed. The contempt motion came to a vote hours after the memorial service ended, and passed.

“This is the height of disrespect and completely shameful,” said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who was on the dais memorializing Lantos. “None of their procedural options were denied by starting when we did; they just chose to call for a vote at the most inappropriate time.”

A spokesman for the minority leader, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused the Democrats of a “cheap, cynical political move,” according to Politico, the online magazine. “Playing this sort of game during the memorial service of a great and good man is beneath the dignity of this House and should be beneath the dignity of Democratic leaders,” the spokesman said.

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