This morning I have a column in the Hill newspaper on my reaction to the disgraceful conduct of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and various Democratic members at the State of the Union address last night. As I tweeted during the address, her conduct tore up more than a speech, but decades of tradition and left any semblance of civility in tatters on the House floor.
Forty-four years ago, I walked on to the floor of the House of Representatives as a new Democratic 15-year-old page from Chicago. I stood and marveled at the beehive of activity on the floor in the People’s House. I can still remember that moment because it forged a bond and reverence that has never weakened for me. As a Democratic leadership page during the speakership of Tip O’Neill, I watched some of the most passionate and important debates of the generation from the Neutron Bomb to civil rights legislation to sweeping national park bills. The country was deeply divided, but both parties maintained the tradition of civility and decorum. I was struck how members, even in the heat of furious debates, would not attack each other by name and followed rigid principles of decorum. They understood that they were the custodians of this institution and bore a duty to strengthen and pass along those traditions to the next generation.
That is why I was (and remain) so offended by this display. I believe that President Trump himself is worthy of criticism for not shaking the hand of Pelosi. I also did not approve of aspects of his speech, including bestowing the Medal of Freedom on Rush Limbaugh in the gallery like a reality show surprise scene. There was much to object to in the address, but presidents often make comments that enrage or irritate speakers.
However, none of that excuses Pelosi. At that moment, she represents the House as an institution — both Republicans and Democrats. Instead, she decided to become little more than a partisan troll from an elevated position. The protests of the Democratic members also reached a new low for the House. Pelosi did not gavel out the protest. She seemed to join it.
It was the tradition of the House that a speaker must remain in stone-faced neutrality no matter what comes off that podium. The tradition ended last night with one of the more shameful and inglorious moments of the House in its history. Rather than wait until she left the floor, she decided to demonstrate against the President as part of the State of the Union and from the Speaker’s chair. That made it a statement not of Pelosi but of the House.
For those of us who truly love the House as an institution, it was one of the lowest moments to unfold on the floor. That is why I argue in the Hill that, if Pelosi does not apologize and agree to honor the principle of neutrality and civility at the State of the Union, she should resign as speaker.