The House floor spun into chaos Wednesday after Republicans voted to censure Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) — a rare rebuke that sparked a rowdy protest from scores of Democrats, who huddled around their embattled ally and heckled Republicans with accusations of political cowardice.
The episode made for a wild ride on the floor, where Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), presiding over the censure vote from the dais, faced down an angry crowd of Democratic lawmakers who had flocked en masse to the well of the chamber and directed their ire directly at him.
Behind former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the crowd of Democrats launched their protest with chants of, ‘Shame! Shame! Shame!” At one point, Pelosi, like a conductor, signaled to her colleagues to continue the chants.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who was kicked off of a key committee at the start of the year, called the Republicans “spiteful cowards.”
“Disgrace,” Rep. Mark Takano, another California Democrat, shouted.
One unidentified Democrat offered a warning: “What goes around comes around.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), in the front row and glaring straight at McCarthy, called the Speaker “pathetic” and “weak.”
Schiff walked through a sea of Democrats on his way to the well of the chamber, where he was formally censured. Omar followed him down the aisle during the trek, while Democrats clapped and patted Schiff on the back.
“Adam, Adam,” they chanted. Schiff was seen saying, “Thank you,” to his colleagues.
The Democratic protestations triggered a smattering of frustrated responses from the otherwise amused Republicans across the aisle. At least one GOP lawmaker followed the Democrats’ “shame” chant with the words “on Schiff.” One urged the Democrats simply to “be quiet.” Another yelled out, “Jackass!” — toward no one in particular.
At one point, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) yelled out “$32 million dollars on your charade,” a reference to the cost of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election. The dollar figure was included in Rep. Anna Paulina Luna’s (R-Fla.) initial resolution to censure Schiff but was nixed amid GOP concerns over the precedent and constitutionality of fining congress members.
And when McCarthy called for Schiff to report to the well of the chamber, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) shouted “woo” and started clapping.
All the while, McCarthy beat the gavel furiously and urged “order” in the chamber. It was a futile gesture.
“Out of order!” the Democrats bellowed in response.
When McCarthy attempted to read the formal admonishment — a text beginning with the words, “The House has resolved” — Democrats retorted: “The House has not resolved.”
After being interrupted a number of times by the Democratic chants, McCarthy warned the chamber, “I have all night.” When he finally got through the reading, Democrats once again started chanting “Adam, Adam.”
Throughout the bitter back-and-forth, Schiff stood stoically at the center of the storm. Afterwards, he called it “a badge of honor.”
“It was gratifying to hear such nice words from all my colleagues, and [it] reinforced what a badge of honor it is to stand up to Trump and McCarthy and all the MAGA enablers of the former president,” Schiff said.
The entire scene was a stark departure from the other censure votes in modern history, when the offending lawmaker would march — unchaperoned — to the well of a hushed chamber to receive the formal admonishment. That was the case with former Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who was censured in 2010, and more recently with Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who was censured in 2021.
The outpouring of Democratic support in Schiff’s case reflects not only his standing within the Caucus, but also the nature of the charges against him. Schiff, as senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, had emerged as among the fiercest antagonists of former President Trump, accusing him of abusing his power and serving as the lead manager in Trump’s first impeachment in 2019.
That national branding — radioactive on the right — led directly to the Republicans’ censure resolution, which accused Schiff of lying to the public about Trump’s ties to Russia. Most Democrats share Schiff’s sentiments about Trump, however, turning Wednesday’s would-be punishment into a celebration of Schiff’s willingness to stand up to the former president.
“It’s the Speaker’s House, not Trump’s,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) yelled out.
A number of Democrats also mentioned Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), the controversial first-term lawmaker who was indicted on 13 federal charges in May over accusations that he misled donors and misrepresented his finances to the public and government agencies. He pleaded not guilty.
“Where’s Santos,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) yelled.
Last month, the House voted to send a resolution to expel Santos to the Ethics Committee, punting on the question of whether or not the New York Republican should be ousted from Congress. The move, however, was largely redundant, since the Ethics panel is already looking into Santos. Republican leadership has said the Ethics probe should run its course before taking action against the congressman.
“Where do you stand on Santos, Mr. Speaker?” Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) yelled out.
Others cited the late-Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.); earlier in the day, House leaders unveiled a U.S. Postal Service stamp depicting the late congressman, who was a renowned civil rights leader.
“On the day you honor John Lewis,” one Democrat yelled out. “Shame on you.”
Luna, for her part, appeared to be soaking it up. She was seated near the front of the chamber throughout the process. Afterward, she was hailed by Republicans with a series of fist bumps as she exited up the center aisle. And just before walking off the chamber floor, Luna turned to send a warning to the protesting Democrats:
“I’m here for two years, guys,” she said.
Rebecca Beitsch contributed.