The House Friday night unanimously agreed to create a special select committee, with subpoena powers, to investigate Republican allegations that Democratic leaders had stolen a victory from the House GOP on a parliamentary vote late Thursday night.
The move capped a day that started with Republicans marching out of the House in protest near midnight Thursday, was punctuated by partisan brawling, and ended with Democratic hopes for a final legislative rush before the August recess fading.
The agreement for a special committee was extraordinary. Such powerful investigative committees are usually reserved for issues such as Watergate.
"I don't know when something like this has happened before," said House deputy historian Fred Beuttler. He called the decision "incredible."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., accepted GOP calls for an investigation. "I do not believe there was any wrongdoing by any member of the House. I do believe a mistake was made," he said. "And I regret it."
"We are not irrelevant here," said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo. "Just because we are in the minority doesn't mean we're irrelevant."
GOP lawmakers had marched out of the House chamber about 11 p.m. Thursday, shouting "shame, shame" and claiming Democrats had "stolen" a vote on a parliamentary motion to pull an agriculture spending bill off the floor until it was appended with an explicit denial of federal benefits to illegal immigrants.
Democrats appeared to have won the vote, but with time apparently expired, GOP leaders persuaded three Republicans who had voted with the Democrats to change their votes. At the same time, Democrats say, five Democratic lawmakers who voted with Republicans were scrambling to change their votes as well. With two of the GOP votes changed, Democrats gaveled the vote shut, 214-214, and declared they had won the motion. But the public tally showed the Republicans winning, 215-213, just as the vote was declared for the Democrats. The official final tally was 216-212 in the Democrats' favor.