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9/15/2009 DECORUM IN THE HOUSE AND IN…

Decorum in the House and in


Committees
Under clause 1(a)(1) of Rule XI, the rules of the House are the rules of its
committees as far as applicable. Consequently, Members should comport
themselves with the rules of decorum and debate in the House and in
Committees specifically with regard to references to the President of the United
States as stated in Section 370 of the House Rules and Manual.

As stated in Cannon’s Precedents, on January 27, 1909, the House adopted a


report in response to improper references in debate to the President. That
report read in part as follows:

“It is... the duty of the House to require its Members in speech
or debate to preserve that proper restraint which will permit
the House to conduct its business in an orderly manner and
without unnecessarily and unduly exciting animosity among
its Members or antagonism from those other branches of the
Government with which the House is correlated.”

As a guide for debate, it is permissible in debate to challenge the President on


matters of policy. The difference is one between political criticism and
personally offensive criticism. For example, a Member may assert in debate that
an incumbent President is not worthy of re-election, but in doing so should not
allude to personal misconduct. By extension, a Member may assert in debate
that the House should conduct an inquiry, or that a President should not remain
in office.

Under section 370 of the House Rules and Manual it has been held that a
Member could:
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9/15/2009 DECORUM IN THE HOUSE AND IN…

refer to the government as “something hated, something oppressive.”


refer to the President as “using legislative or judicial pork.”
refer to a Presidential message as a “disgrace to the country.”
refer to unnamed officials as “our half-baked nitwits handling foreign
affairs.”

Likewise, it has been held that a member could not:

call the President a “liar.”


call the President a “hypocrite.”
describe the President’s veto of a bill as “cowardly.”
charge that the President has been “intellectually dishonest.”
refer to the President as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.”
refer to alleged “sexual misconduct on the President’s part.”

However, the Senate rules on decorum and debate do not prohibit personal
references to the President. Senate Rule XIX governing decorum and debate is
applied only to fellow Senators and “does not extend to the President, the Vice
President, or Administration officials and a Senator cannot be called to order
under rule XIX for comments or remarks about them...” (Senate Procedure, p.
741). The Senate rules also provide that Jefferson’s Manual is not part of the
Senate rules (Ibid, p.754).

By contrast, the rules of the House specifically provide that Jefferson’s Manual
does govern the proceedings of the House where applicable (Clause 1 of Rule
XXVIII). Section 370 of Jefferson’s Manual states that the rule in Parliament
prohibiting Members from “speak{ing} irreverently or seditiously against the
King” has been interpreted to prohibit personal references against the President.
In addition, Speakers of the House have consistently reiterated, and the House
has voted, to support the proposition that it is not in order in debate to engage in
personalities toward the President. The Chair enforces this rule of decorum on
his own initiative.

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