In a move that raises serious questions under Article One and the First Amendment to the Constitution, House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has announced new rules for what members can and cannot say on the floor and in committee. The rules are remarkably broad and arbitrary in limiting comments regarding the President.
It appears that members can still use “disgrace” and “nitwit” but not “liar” or “sexual misconduct.”
The controversy concerns section 370 of the House Rules and Manual, which is being used to bar a range of comments on the President that are in my view protected speech. These include calling the President a “liar,” a “hypocrite,” guilty of a “cowardly” act, or any allegation of “sexual misconduct on the President’s part.” You can refer to the President as a “truthful but cowardly nitwit” but, if you want to refer to a case of sexual harassment of White House employees, you must express it as “the President’s non-budgetary conduct relating to employees in a non-platonic fashion.” That helps clear things up.
One possible approach is for Republicans to line up and give speeches using the prohibited words to force the issue.
This could raise some extremely interesting questions, particularly if the Democrats seek to enforce these rules against a member. I believe the Democrats are simply wrong in such a position and are putting themselves at odds with free speech and the inherent rights of a member in the representation of his or her constituency. Courts have indeed yielded to the prerogative of the House in setting its own rules. However, this may be the exception to that rule. The problem with Wilson’s outburst was that he was not allowed to speak or heckle a presidential address under the rules. This would appear to cover a much broader range of speech.
Members of the House of Commons are not allowed to call each other “liars,” but simply find other ways of expressing the same sentiment.
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