WASHINGTON — A House Republican rebellion is now an instructive vacation memory for San Joaquin Valley residents Milton and Beverly Rosas.
On Monday, the Kingsburg couple ventured where relatively few voters have gone before when they strolled onto the floor of the House of Representatives. The storied chamber is usually off-limits. But there, late Monday morning, sat the Rosases amid hundreds of other similarly unelected citizens.
"It's a gorgeous place, and it makes me think about all of the history that's taken place there," said Milton Rosas, a 51-year-old Caterpillar tractor technician.
Officially, the House is adjourned for August. Unofficially, the House is coming to life in a Republican political stunt that has taken on a momentum of its own. GOP lawmakers are convening daily to complain about lack of action on energy legislation that includes increased oil and gas drilling.
Monday marked the 10th day that Republicans opened up the House floor. The lights were dim, the microphones off and the C-SPAN cameras shut down. The only people in suits and ties were the politicians, perhaps by force of habit. Most everyone else came in casual summer garb.
Beverly Rosas, a 47-year-old special education teacher at Kingsburg's Lincoln School, sat next to the center aisle. It's the aisle presidents walk down before delivering the State of the Union speech. Her knees could nudge the electronic voting machine into which House members slide their voting cards.
"I think it's inspiring to see what they're doing," Beverly Rosas said. "It gave me some hope for the country."
It was also disorienting, at first.
Visitors arrived by walking through the Republican cloakroom, which usually screens out non-members with the help of discrete spy holes in the doors. The blue-carpeted House chamber, first used in 1857, feels both majestic and workmanlike. Portraits of Moses, Hammurabi and Thomas Jefferson hang high; the American flag behind the speaker's rostrum seems a tad worn.
Reporters and citizens are usually confined to the galleries above, looking down on the floor action. Or inaction, as the case may be.
"This Congress has passed 260 laws," Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., told the assembled visitors Monday. "Seventy-four of those were post office re-namings."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has retorted that most Republicans have voted against a succession of energy related bills, including bills to crack down on oil speculators and bills to invest more in renewable resources.
Sparring over whether Congress is a do-nothing or a do-something is standard rhetorical fare, and lawmakers from both parties are sensitive enough about allegations of laziness that they avoid calling August a vacation. They prefer "summer district work period."
Republicans first tried to block the August recess, losing on a 213-197 vote. Then, in what appears to be a first, a handful of vocal conservatives informally opened up the House floor the afternoon of Aug. 1 for a public that seemed primed and ready.
"People were jumping up and shouting, 'Vote, vote.' It was crazy," said Modesto native Ashley Peters, a University of California at Davis student now interning in the office of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia. "It's calmed down since then."
Nunes and the Valley's other lawmakers, Democrats included, have been making the House floor part of the standard Capitol tour ever since. This Friday, for instance, Modesto resident Jared Houser will get his chance through a tour arranged by the office of Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa. Republicans, though, are the only ones speaking. Radanovich himself will be part of the GOP speaking contingent next Monday.
"It's good to see there are men willing to stand up for what they believe," Beverly Rosas said.