Democrat ruled ‘out of order’ after listing off Trump’s legal woes on the House floor

WASHINGTON — Action on the floor of the House of Representatives paused for more than an hour Wednesday after Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., listed off the criminal charges against former President Donald Trump.

“We have a presumptive nominee for president facing 88 felony counts, and we’re being prevented from even acknowledging it,” McGovern said during debate on the House floor, suggesting that House Republicans had prohibited any honest discussion of Trump’s trials. “A candidate for president of the United States is on trial for sending a hush money payment to a porn star to avoid a sex scandal during his 2016 campaign and then fraudulently disguising those payments in violation of the law.”

House Republicans quickly pushed back against McGovern’s words, with the back-and-forth leading to a lengthy delay as House staff members figured out how to proceed. His remarks were eventually ruled out of order.

The situation started when McGovern, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, referred to the Republican members of Congress who have attended Trump’s hush money trial in New York. “Maybe they want to distract from the fact that their candidate for president has been indicted more times than he’s been elected,” he said.

Rep. Jerry Carl, R-Ala., who was in the chair presiding over debate, reminded McGovern to “refrain from engaging in personalities” toward the presumed presidential nominees.

McGovern shot back, asking whether it was “unparliamentary to state a fact.”

He then asked why a Republican member last week could call the Trump trial a “sham” on the House floor and not face the same admonishment by the chair. During a floor speech May 15, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, repeatedly referred to the “sham trial against the former president in New York,” which he said “relies on an unreliable witness being presided over by a biased judge.” 

While Carl said he would not weigh in on that, McGovern started going through Trump’s legal situation.

“He’s also charged with conspiring to overturn the election,” he said of Trump. “He’s also charged with stealing classified information, and a jury has already found him liable for rape and in a civil court. And yet, in this Republican-controlled House, it’s OK to talk about the trial, but you have to call it a ‘sham.’” 

At that point, Rep. Erin Houchin, R-Ind., interjected, asking that McGovern’s “words be taken down.” Representatives can make such a request if they feel one of their colleagues has used disorderly language.

After more than an hour as staff members huddled on the floor, Carl ruled that McGovern’s “offensive words” were out of order, citing past rulings by House speakers.

Specifically, Carl pointed to rules that prohibit members from using “personally offensive” language about the president.

“The accusation that the president has committed a crime or even that the president has done something illegal is not in order,” Carl said.

Though Trump is no longer in office, Carl added that precedents have afforded the same treatment that presidents receive to presumed nominees.

Having his words stricken from the record meant McGovern was not allowed to speak on the floor the rest of the day.

“They can silence me on the House floor, but they can’t silence me here,” McGovern told reporters later outside the Capitol. “And, you know, there’s nothing I said that I regret. There’s nothing I said that is inaccurate. I didn’t characterize the trials.”

A similar situation occurred in 2019 when Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., referred to Trump’s tweets as “racist” during floor debate. When her words were ruled out of order, Democrats voted to prevent them from being stricken from the record and to allow her to retain the ability to speak on the floor for the day.

“This is a cult,” McGovern said of Republicans. “I mean, they go to extreme measures to protect Trump, you know. And any which way they can. And they’re awfully sensitive.”

Kyle Stewart

Kyle Stewart is a field producer covering Congress for NBC News.

Rebecca Kaplan

contributed

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