For A Congress At Rest, It's Been A Busy Week

Congress was supposed to be on recess this past week. Instead, the House came back on Tuesday to pass legislation for teachers and border security. The Senate — or two senators, rather — came back Thursday to clear the border bill. And two embattled Democrats defended themselves against ethics charges in singular ways. NPR's Andrea Seabrook talks to host Scott Simon.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This past week was supposed to be a time of R&R for the U.S. Congress. Lawmakers were on vacation. Instead, the House and the Senate came back to Washington, D.C. to pass legislation.

And two embattled Democrats defended themselves against ethics charges, each in his or her own fashion. Here to discuss the unusual goings-on of the week is NPR's congressional correspondent, Andrea Seabrook.

Andie, thanks for being with us.

ANDREA SEABROOK: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: So, first thing that happens, House comes back to town and - on Tuesday, and in fact almost all of them did come back. And a lot of members of Congress don't often come back on a Tuesday. So what was that all about?

SEABROOK: They don't often come back in August. And I tell you, the entirety -every heart sank on Capitol Hill when we found out that they were coming back.

They came back because they had to pass - in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's estimation - they had to pass this $26 billion infusion of cash to the states, which are having trouble keeping teachers on the payrolls and keeping Medicaid in the black and so on.

And so they almost all come back, even those who come back to vote against it -the Republicans, mainly. Two Republicans did vote for it, but otherwise it was pretty much a party line vote. And then they passed this border security bill and quickly left again.

SIMON: The Senate came back on Thursday.

SEABROOK: The Senate, in quotes, because really it was exactly two senators -New York Senator Chuck Schumer and Maryland's Ben Cardin - both Democrats. They came back because they had passed a bill that...

SIMON: Only two of 100 coming back, it sounds like they came back because, you know, they left their BlackBerrys or something.

SEABROOK: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Well, they had already passed the bill that they came back to pass again. And so it wasn't really controversial.

They came back to pass it again, because this tiny provision in this sort of insignificant document called the Constitution of the United States says that certain kinds of bills have to originate in the House. And the Senate kind of messed up a little bit and passed a bill before the House did. And so they had to come back and pass it again after...

SIMON: Andie, maybe this kind of thing happens all the time, but with all of their experience, how could the Senate pass a bill before the House when they knew that that's like, you know, backwards?

SEABROOK: You know what? They put this bill on the wrong kind of form.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: They filled out the wrong form, essentially?

SEABROOK: Yeah, basically. Yeah. No one was supposed to be here. This is August.

SIMON: I'm going to cite this the next time there's a problem - a question about my taxes. Oh, that form. I'm sorry. Well, I just did what the Senate did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Well, there was serious business though.

SIMON: Let me ask you about Charlie Rangel's appearance before the House - New York Democrat, under a cloud of ethics charges.

SEABROOK: This week was also interesting for that. the fact that New York Democrat Charlie Rangel, the man from Harlem who has 13 counts against him - 13 charges against him - in the Ethics Committee, not in a court but in the Ethics Committee, decided to bring up a personal point of privilege while the House was in session.

He spoke for about 35 minutes. And just on and on talking about how the process was not fair to him. He didn't get enough of a chance to defend himself and so on.

SIMON: Maxine Waters spoke out too.

SEABROOK: Yes. This is the second person in the House this week who used an unconventional forum to defend herself against ethics allegations. She, in her case, on Friday had a press conference on a day when no one else and nothing else was happening in the Capitol. So the entire press corps showed up. Can't help but think that was on purpose - the timing of it.

And she not only went point by point, but she had her chief of staff, who happens to be her grandson, give an entire PowerPoint presentation defending her against the ethics allegations.

SIMON: Well, NPR's congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook, thanks very much.

SEABROOK: Thanks, Scott.

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