‘That’s why I’m the majority leader and you’re the minority whip’

Hoyer, Scalise trade barbs in first House floor colloquy together

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., replaces Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in the 116th Congress as the No. 2 Republican leader who gets to participate in weekly floor colloquies with the No. 2 Democratic leader, Steny H. Hoyer. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“That’s why I’m the majority leader and you’re the minority whip,” House Democratic leader Steny H. Hoyer said to Republican whip Steve Scalise on the House floor Friday, just one of the ways Hoyer welcomed his new floor sparring partner to the fray. 

The comment was the most pointed and somewhat personal but far from the only political insult the No. 2 party leaders traded during their first colloquy together. 

The colloquy is a House tradition in which the majority leader and minority whip dialogue on the floor about the upcoming floor schedule and then big policy issues facing Congress.

Hoyer of Maryland, now back in the majority leader role after eight years as minority whip, has a new political opponent, Scalise of Louisiana, to face off with on the floor. His former colloquy foe, Kevin McCarthy, has moved up to the top Republican spot of minority leader. 

The colloquy occurs weekly when the House is in session, following the conclusion of the week’s legislative business, and is set up to preview the floor schedule for the following week. (For that reason, the colloquy does not occur in weeks the House will be on recess the following week.)

But soon after the majority leader announces the coming week’s schedule, the discussion quickly pivots to political talking points and taunts.

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After Hoyer announced that the House next week will debate a disaster funding supplemental spending bill and remaining individual appropriations measures to reopen the government, he and Scalise spent the remainder of the colloquy going back and forth about the partial shutdown, which, at the time of their spat, was in its 21st day.  

Hoyer’s aforementioned remark on Scalise’s new stature in the minority came after the Louisiana Republican noted that the border wall, the subject of the current government funding impasse, was a key issue in President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“Obviously, the president ran on this as a front-and-center issue,” Scalise said. “Not only ran on it, but he was elected.”

“There was an election,” Hoyer responded by pointing to the most recent election in which Democrats won the House majority. “That’s why I’m the majority leader and you’re the minority whip.”

Scalise wasn’t as quick with the retorts — a skill Hoyer has had years to develop since he took over the No. 2 Democratic leadership position in 2003 — but was not shy about criticizing the new Democratic majority.

“We could have everything open today, but the speaker is the one being held hostage by the far-left elements of your party,” Scalise said, blaming Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders for the shutdown stalemate. He repeatedly jabbed them for not making a single counteroffer to the Republicans’ border security funding proposal.

As the colloquy rounded to a close, Scalise deployed a familiar minority tactic used when there’s a significant policy impasse — calling for the House to stay in session. He criticized Democrats for sending the chamber home, saying the parties won’t resolve their differences “by continuing to adjourn every weekend when we should be negotiating.”

Hoyer responded: “The gentleman has a different concept of negotiating than I do. Somebody takes somebody that I care about hostage and says, ‘I want to negotiate.’ That’s not a negotiation. That’s a demand.”

While the back-and-forth about which party was to blame for the shutdown accounted for the majority of the roughly 45-minute colloquy, it opened and closed with the two leaders exchanging kind words about their new working relationship. 

After the colloquy concluded, Hoyer and Scalise walked to the back of the chamber and shook hands and proceeded to talk for another five minutes. That exchange appeared to be a more lighthearted one between colleagues who will note weekly during the colloquy that they are indeed “friends” — even as they trade somewhat scripted criticism. 

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