House can now speak of Senate
Published: Wednesday, January 5, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 11:50 p.m.
WASHINGTON - Tinkering with a tradition that goes back to Thomas Jefferson, House members in the new Congress will be able to refer to senators by name on the floor - as long as they don't get too personal.
They will no longer have to speak of "the other body" or face admonishment from the chair when they slip up and utter the word "Senate" or name a senator.
"I felt that in the modern age the rule was antiquated," said Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., who added the measure to a package of rule changes the House was approving during its opening-day session.
"We don't want ad hominem attacks, but we certainly want to cite the record."
The former speaker of the Florida House said he was surprised when he arrived in Washington and discovered that members could be reprimanded for even mentioning the Senate.
Feeney's provision stipulates that, while members will now be able to refer to the Senate or a senator's action, they are still prohibited from launching personal attacks on a senator.
Concerns about politics becoming too personal were among the reasons Jefferson, while serving at John Adams' vice president and president of the Senate, wrote his manual of congressional rules with instructions that members shouldn't refer to other members by name.
In the House, this evolved into the prohibition on mentioning the Senate and its members by name. The premise was that senators, without floor privileges in the House, couldn't defend themselves against personal attacks. The Senate does not enforce similar language restrictions.
"Jefferson is definitely the father of it," said Senate historian Donald Ritchie, noting that the quiet Virginian wanted to calm passions in a more tempestuous political era.
"Jefferson himself didn't like impassioned debates," Ritchie added. "That was not his style."
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