Image, Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives
When Representative Harold Ford, Sr., of Tennessee (pictured above) retired in 1997, his son, Harold Ford, Jr., became the first African American to succeed his father in Congress.
On this date, House Democrats protested an early adjournment of a congressional session. During negotiations with President William J. “Bill” Clinton over the 1996 budget, Congress enacted a stopgap spending bill to maintain the operations of the U.S. federal government. When the bill expired on November 13, the government was forced to shut down. Congress met in a rare Saturday session
on November 18 to resolve the problem. Members voted on a number of bills, among them was a temporary measure to “restore processing of new applications for Social Security, pay claims filed by Medicare providers, and process and pay out claims for a wide range of veterans’ benefits.” When the Republican leadership then moved to adjourn, some Democrats disagreed and chanted, “Work, work, work.” In all, Members voted 361 to 32 against adjournment. However, the House declared a recess, which suspended action on the floor. As House Republicans left the chamber, House Democrats refused to leave until an agreement could be reached to end the partial shutdown of the government, which affected 800,000 federal workers. They took turns making speeches that criticized Congress’s inability to resolve the impasse. Democrats remained on the House Floor for more than two hours and some threatened to keep a vigil through the night. Throughout the protest, House television cameras were shut off, which is normal procedure during a recess. However, Harold Ford, Sr.
, of Tennessee went to the press gallery and turned the microphones on again. In all, 28 Democrats criticized the majority for leaving instead of debating the issue. Bob Wise
of West Virginia commented, “I’ve seen sit-ins to close a government down. This is the first sit-in I’ve ever seen to keep a government open.”