Using a rule governing decorum in debate that was originally put in place by Democrats during the 1992 election to stave off Republican attacks on Bill Clinton, Republicans in Congress moved on Tuesday to temper Democratic speeches on the House floor that featured attacks on Donald Trump.
“Mr. Trump, you’re supposed to be rooting for the American people, not rooting against them,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), as Ryan and other House Democrats jumped on statements that Trump had made ten years ago about the U.S. housing crisis, quotes which now were starring in a Hillary Clinton advertisement.
The audio of Trump in that Clinton video came not from an interview – but actually from something Trump had put together for Trump University, as he talked about possible investment opportunities in the housing market.
“If there is a bubble burst, as they call it, you know, you could make a lot of money,” Trump said.
Clinton and fellow Democrats made sure to circle back to the issue a number of times on Tuesday.
“Millions of families—disproportionately black and Latino families—lost homes, jobs, and savings,” Clinton wrote on Twitter. “Trump tried to profit at their expense.”
Back on the House floor, Democrats were more than happy to echo that line of attack against Trump.
“He rooted for that bubble to burst,” said Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), in a floor speech where she invoked Trump’s “short fingers.”
“His own failed company, Trump mortgages, actually pushed people into sub-prime mortgages,” said Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) in another speech.
“What a track record,” Polis sneered – but that’s where the GOP leadership began to draw the line, as Polis and other Democrats were mildly reprimanded by the Chair on the House floor.
“The Chair would remind members to refrain from engaging in personalities toward the presumptive nominees for the office of President,” lawmakers were told.
Most people may not know that there are rules in the House which limit the nasty things you can directly say about other members – and a President of the United States during debate.
The rules state quite clearly that on the House floor, members are not allowed to use “personal abuse, innuendo, or ridicule” against a sitting President – and that also applies to a presumptive nominee for President as well.
“Under this standard it is not in order to call the President, or a presumptive major-party nominee for President, a ‘liar’ or accuse such person of ‘lying,'” states the detailed precedents of the House in section 370 of the House rules.
Ironically, those limits on debate as applied to a ‘major-party nominee’ were put in place by a Democratic Speaker during the 1992 election, when Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas was running for President, and was taking constant flak from Republicans on the floor of the House.
In late September of 1992, Speaker Thomas Foley (D-WA) told the House that “minimal standards of propriety and debate should apply to all candidates,” after one Republican called Clinton a “liar.”
While the Speaker said the limits on debate applied both to President Bush and then Gov. Clinton, some Republicans felt at the time that Foley was trying to protect his party’s nominee.
But a few minutes after Foley’s pronouncement on that day, two Democrats were told to ease up on President George H.W. Bush, including Rep. Jim Traficant (D-OH), the colorful lawmaker from Youngstown, Ohio.
That was the day that Traficant, in the Well of the House, used an interesting line on Mr. Bush.
“I say it’s time for the Congress to tell the President to shove his veto pen up his deficit,” Traficant said.
We’ll see if we reach that point on the House floor in 2016 for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.