Late Thursday, the Republicans moved from unhappy to irate when a Democratic presiding officer ruled that their motion to shelve the agriculture bill had been defeated, even though as the gavel fell the electronic scoreboard in the chamber blinked a tally of 215 votes for the motion and 213 against it.
House Republicans declared that unless Democrats honored the 215-213 outcome, the GOP would block action on all but two bills - a modification (HR 3356) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (PL 95-511) and a bill (HR 3311) authorizing up to $250 million to rebuild the collapsed Minneapolis highway bridge.
The GOP motion that touched off the furor would in effect have amended the spending bill (HR 3161) to bar use of funds to employ or provide housing for illegal immigrants. Instead, Democrats plowed ahead, eventually passing the bill by 237-18 on a roll call boycotted by most Republicans. […]
The floor confusion arose when, with the tally tied at 214-214, two politically vulnerable Democrats, Nick Lampson of Texas and Harry E. Mitchell of Arizona, went to the well of the chamber to switch their votes to "no." The buddy system would prevent Democrats who voted "no" from being targeted as the deciding vote in future campaign ads. Moments later, three Cuban-American Republicans from south Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart, moved to change their votes to "aye."
The five vote switches were called out by the House reading clerk. The two Democratic changes put the tally at 212-216. Ros-Lehtinen's switch made it 213-215. Lincoln Diaz-Balart evened it at 214-214, but a tie vote fails. As the reading clerk called out Mario Diaz-Balart's new vote, the Speaker Pro Tempore, Rep. Michael R. McNulty, D-N.Y., banged the gavel, apparently unaware that the second Diaz-Balart's vote had yet to be counted.
McNulty had his eyes on the electronic scoreboard, which still read 214-214. But almost as soon as the gavel came down, the scoreboard registered Mario Diaz-Balart's vote, pushing the tally to 215-213. The scoreboard showed those numbers and the word "FINAL."
Within a minute or so, a flurry of post-gavel vote switches by Reps. Zack Space of Ohio, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Jerry McNerney of California - resulted in an official outcome of 212-216. […]
"Shame! Shame!" Republicans chanted across the aisle.
You can watch it for yourself.
Now, I certainly have my own ideas about what transpired with this vote (note that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer seemed to be running the show for the Democrats and note, also, that it was five "politically vulnerable" freshman Democrats who won in Republican-leaning districts in 2006 who switched their votes at the last minute). Frankly, I don't like the conclusion that I've reached. If anyone reading this has a more charitable interpretation of these events, I'd certainly be interested in hearing all about it.