Members pressured on debt seek sanctuary
WASHINGTON (AP) — The stare-down over the debt limit debate had become so fierce that a trio of South Carolina Republicans, pressured by their leaders to agree to a bill they didn't like, sought answers from a higher power.
"I'm going to pray on it," Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said late Thursday.
He ducked into a locked, little-known room tucked between the Rotunda walls and House Speaker John Boehner's office. Soon, fellow South Carolina Republicans Mick Mulvaney and Tim Scott punched the door combination and joined him.
Scott seemed the least burdened of the three. For him, "divine inspiration already happened."
"I was a lean no. Now I'm a no," he said with a grin.
The trio settled into chairs in the small, high-ceilinged room, which is dominated by a stained glass window that does not face the outside and fills the entire wall. A light behind it reveals George Washington at its center, on bended knee.
Their retreat lasted about 10 minutes. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, deep into the difficult task of rounding up enough votes to pass Boehner's debt ceiling plan, had summoned the lawmakers to his office for pizza and a chat. They ambled downstairs and joined a parade of Republican colleagues filing into McCarthy's office who had not committed to voting for Boehner's bill. The vote, originally scheduled for Wednesday, would not take place Thursday night either, McCarthy said late in the evening.
Peace and serenity were in short supply for House Republicans who could not or would not agree to Boehner's plan. The South Carolina delegation accounted for many of the holdouts.
Pizza and polite conversation aside, most on the hot seat said the final hours before the vote were less than comfortable. None interviewed, however, said GOP leaders were anything but polite. None reported being threatened or strong-armed. Some reported receiving extraordinarily kind treatment.
Freshman Rep. Trey Gowdy, another South Carolina Republican voting no, said he had dinner out with McCarthy in which the debt ceiling issue did not come up. He also received a friendly text from another Republican leader acknowledging it was a tough week for everyone.
"If there are kneecaps being busted, I haven't seen it," Gowdy said.
"I am very pleasantly surprised that they are not twisting and ripping arms off," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said.
But there was no doubt what the leaders were asking their recalcitrant members to do, and no question how badly they needed people to fall into the yes column. Sometimes, the whip tactics worked.
Through the afternoon, Boehner summoned members off the House floor to his ceremonial office across the hall.
Shortly after Tennessee Rep. Chuck Fleischmann emerged from such a session, he issued a statement saying he had decided to vote yes.
Not everyone fell in line.
"I'm bloody and beaten," but still a no vote, Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert, said outside Boehner' office.