'I abandon the chair': A congressman presiding over the House got sick of partisan fighting and literally dropped the gavel and left

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, asks a question of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson during a House Financial Services Committee hearing, Wednesday, June 27, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).

  • A Democratic member of Congress presiding over the House of Representatives became so frustrated with partisan squabbling on Tuesday he tossed the gavel and abandoned his post.
  • Republicans and Democrats were debating whether to strike House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's words from the record for describing President Donald Trump's tweets as racist.
  • There are strict rules about what kind of language members of Congress can use on the House floor.
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WASHINGTON - Partisan fighting in the House of Representatives reached a boiling point Tuesday when the Democratic lawmaker presiding over the House floor tossed his gavel and declared, "I abandon the chair."

Republicans and Democrats were debating whether comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were not in order for describing a string of tweets by President Donald Trump as "racist."
When Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia moved to strike Pelosi's words, the fighting that ensued pushed Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri over the edge.

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Due to the strict rules about what kind of language lawmakers are allowed to use on the House floor, Republicans sought to strike Pelosi's comments from the record. Lawmakers are not permitted to make "personality-based comments" or anything that impugns another member or official.

When Republican Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin described some Democrats as "anti-American," Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal questioned whether that kind of language was permitted.

The back and forth was apparently too much for Cleaver to handle, prompting him to vacate his position presiding over the House floor."We don't ever, ever want to pass up, it seems, an opportunity to escalate, and that's what this is… we want to just fight," Cleaver said, dropping his gavel on to the desk. "I abandon the chair."


The unprecedented scene brought the House floor to a standstill and Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina filled Cleaver's empty spot in the chair. Moments later, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer took the podium to announced that Pelosi's comments were ruled to be not in order, prompting a vote on whether to strike her remarks from the record.

Removing a lawmaker's words from the record also means they are not allowed to speak on the House floor for the next 24 hours, according to House rules. 

The last time a speaker of the House's words were taken down was in 1984, when then-Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich pushed back against then-House Speaker Tip O'Neill.