House Democrats apologized today for wrestling what appeared to be a winning vote tally away from Republicans last night.
Republicans continued to steam, however, over the episode, in which they appeared to be the winners by a 215-213 tally on a procedural motion designed to make sure illegal aliens would not get certain benefits from an agriculture spending bill.
Instead, with several lawmakers milling in the well of the House registering votes, Rep. Michael R. McNulty, New York Democrat, quickly gaveled the vote to a close, saying the Republican measure had failed on a 214-214 tie vote.
Republicans erupted, chanting "shame, shame, shame," and then walked out in protest after Mr. McNulty permitted more Democrats to switch their votes to prevail on a 216-212 tally. Despite winning that tally, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, moved for a revote as permitted under the rules, and Democrats subsequently prevailed.
Today, Mr. Hoyer apologized. "The minority was understandably angry," Mr. Hoyer said.
The heavy-handed tactics capped a partisan week in the chamber, and Mr. Hoyer and Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, promised to try to work out some accommodation.
Still, rank-and-file Republicans remained furious, and the House recessed this morning as its leaders pondered what to do.
Democrats changed House rules in January to disallow the practice of holding votes open to affect the outcome. The new rule came after Republicans routinely held open votes to twist arms, including a 2003 episode on the Medicare prescription drug bill in which Republicans held a vote open for three hours before finally prevailing.
"Never once did we in the majority attempt to steal a vote," said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, today.
The stakes on the issue involved yesterday were far smaller. Democrats routinely had accepted comparable language on illegal aliens on other spending bills, but the agriculture measure was being debated under fast-track conditions denying Republicans a chance to offer the provision.