Politics

House of Representatives no longer observes monthly moment of silence for troops

Alex Pappas Political Reporter

Frustrated that the traditional practice no longer exists, a Republican congressman has introduced legislation that would require Speaker of the House John Boehner to personally lead a moment of silence for the country’s fallen troops on the House floor every month.

In a Tuesday interview with The Daily Caller, North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones said it “really quite frustrates me” that such an observance hasn’t happened on the House floor since February.

Jones speculated that the monthly custom — which was originally his idea — has stopped because of “the indifference of Congress, quite frankly, when it comes to war.”

“There’s no mentioning anymore of anybody dying,” Jones, a Republican, said by phone. “It’s off the print.”

He added: “Where’s the outrage?”

At the urging of Jones, the monthly observance started in 2008 under then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat. At that time, Jones had drafted legislation to require the practice, but Pelosi pledged to do it every month anyway, telling him the legislation wasn’t necessary.

“It really touched me,” said Jones, who said he had signed more than 10,800 letters to families who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For the rest of her speakership, Jones said, Pelosi led the moment of silence from the floor herself.

“It just needed to be done once a month to show that the Congress felt the pain of young men and women dying,” he said.

He added: “I was just so very pleased that Mrs. Pelosi did it, and she kept her word. She really did. Every month she was in that chair and asked for a moment of silence in memory of the lost soldiers and Marines and everyone else who was in those war zones.”

Things started to change after Boehner, the Ohio Republican, became speaker in 2011. After Boehner was sworn in, Jones sent the speaker a letter asking him to continue the monthly practice.

“I am writing to request that you continue the practice of observing a moment of silence on the House floor at least once a month in remembrance of our brave men and women in uniform who have given their lives in the service of our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families, and of all who serve in our Armed Forces and their families,” Jones wrote in a January 2011 letter, which was shared with TheDC.

The next month, a moment of silence was held on the floor, and Jones released a statement praising Boehner.

But by February of this year, the practice had stopped, Jones said.

Asked about the bill, a spokesman for Boehner said, “We don’t see the need for the legislation.”

“We’ve done moments of silence at fairly regular intervals since Boehner has been Speaker,” Michael Steel, an aide to Boehner, explained. “The last time Rep. Jones’ office asked us — in February — we did one, and our office has not heard from him since then.”

For comparison, the Senate does not hold monthly moments of silence for fallen soldiers. But, as is the case in the House, they do occur regularly, according to a senate source, to mark annual moments like the Sept. 11 attacks and other major anniversaries.

Another point of frustration for Jones: when the observances do occur, another legislator — not Boehner himself — usually leads the moment of silence.

“I really think that it ought to be the speaker,” Jones said, referencing how the speaker of the House is next in line to become president after the vice president.

“It’s not that all the members — including myself — cannot ask for the moment of silence,” Jones said. “I just think it’s right that the speaker of the House, whoever it might be, should ask for the silence.”

But Boehner’s office says the focus shouldn’t be on the speaker.

“We have a number of veterans in our conference, and generally let them take the lead. The point is honoring the troops — not making it about the speaker,” Steel said.

The new bill is similar to the one proposed by Jones in 2008: It calls for changing the rules of the House to require that on “the first legislative day of each month on which there is a record vote on any bill or joint resolution, immediately after that vote, a moment of silence shall be observed on behalf of those killed or wounded (as well as their families) in the current United States engagement in Afghanistan.”

A new clause was added to this year’s bill, clearly in response to Jones’ desire to see Boehner himself lead the observance: “The moment of silence shall be led by the Speaker of the House, except when granted a leave of absence from the House.”

According to figures provided by Jones’ office, at least 78 service members have died in Afghanistan since the House last held a moment of silence.

“As long as we still got one, or 10, or 100 young men and women and giving their life for this country, the House has a duty and a responsibility to remember those who were dying for our country,” Jones said.

The North Carolina legislator introduced the new resolution on Aug. 1. Jones said he plans to send a letter — displaying a photo of a Marine honor guard carrying a flag draped casket — to all the members of the House sometime over the next several weeks asking for support.

“It’s not a condemnation, it’s just a reminder that it’s the least we can do as members of Congress is to remember them at least once a month,” Jones said.

In January, Jones voted against Boehner for speaker, casting a public vote instead for former GAO Comptroller David Walker.

Asked if Jones’ vote is related to February’s being the last time a moment of silence was held on the floor, Steel responded: “Of course not.”

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