Updated May 22, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Fight over anti-Trump remarks briefly shuts down House floor

House Rules Committee Ranking Member Jim McGovern.

House Rules Committee Ranking Member Jim McGovern. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

The House floor ground to a halt for more than an hour on Wednesday over a top House Democrat's stinging rebuke of former President Trump.

Why it matters: It's a sign of the growing impact toxic presidential politics are having on Congress as the 2024 election heats up.

Driving the news: The remarks came during House Rules Committee Ranking Member Jim McGovern's (D-Mass.) opening remarks during debate on a set of GOP bills relating to cryptocurrency and non-citizen voting.

  • McGovern said Trump is "on trial for covering up hush money payments to a porn star for political gain, not to mention three other felony prosecutions he is facing."
  • Rep. Jerry Carl (R-Ala.), who was presiding over the floor, said he would "like to remind members to refrain from engaging in personalities towards presumed nominees for the office of the president."
  • McGovern shot back that his comments about Trump's indictment were "not my opinion, it's just the truth," asking Carl if he has "determined it is unparliamentary to state a fact?"

Zoom in: After McGovern and Carl went back and forth on whether McGovern violated the rules, McGovern doubled down by listing the charges in Trump's other trials and referencing a civil defamation judgment against the former president.

  • Noting that Republicans have referenced the trial on the House floor to criticize it, McGovern said sarcastically: "In this Republican-controlled House it's okay to talk about the trial, but you have to call it a sham."
  • Rep. Erin Houchin (R-Ind.) responded by demanding McGovern's words be stricken from the congressional record.
  • The result was a more than hour-long pause in debate in which McGovern, Houchin and Carl huddled with their respective teams.

Between the lines: Carl ultimately ruled that a prohibition on House members insulting sitting presidents also extends to presumptive presidential nominees – and thus that McGovern's comments ran afoul of House rules.

  • "Although remarks in debate may include criticism of candidates' official positions ... it is a breach of order to refer to the candidate in terms personally offensive, whether by actually accusing or by merely insulting," Carl said.

Zoom out: This is the second time in as many weeks that a parliamentary squabble has turned into a major story.

  • A raucous Oversight Committee hearing last week saw hours of debates and roll call votes on whether members of the panel could insult each other after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) remarked on Rep. Jasmine Crockett's (D-Texas) "fake eyelashes."
  • That exchange played out similarly, with Republicans ultimately deciding Greene was not out of order and Crockett alleging a double standard for GOP members.

What they're saying: Republicans "go to extreme measures to protect any which way they can, and they're awfully sensitive," McGovern told reporters outside the chamber.

  • "I didn't say he was guilty of anything, I talked about what he was charged with. And that set off this firestorm? Well that's too bad, the facts are the facts ... I must be hitting a nerve," he added.
  • Asked if he would do it again, McGovern said: "Don't be surprised."

The other side: Houchin told reporters that if McGovern "had stuck to just that there is a court case," his words would not have been stricken.

  • "He could have chosen other words that would not have been taken down, but ... he persisted in making specific accusations," she said, adding that he "did much more than just list the counts."

Go deeper: "Dumpster fire" hearing spurs groans about Congress' new low

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include additional context and quotes from McGovern and Houchin.

Go deeper