Just another silly season in Congress

August is supposed to be quiet time in the national capital. Congress is in recess, the Supreme Court is adjourned and the president is usually at his ranch in Texas. Also gone are all their attendants. The place really does close up in August.

But this month is different. Even though Congress usually can’t wait to get out of town, some members are refusing to leave.

The Senate has technically not adjourned. To comply with the rules, every three days a handful of Democratic senators from neighboring states or who happen to be still in Washington hold a quick pro forma session. One such session lasted 28 seconds.

The whole point of the Senate’s not going into recess is to block President Bush from making recess appointments, which do not require Senate confirmation. Such appointments last until the end of the congressional session.

The House really has adjourned but an overly earnest group of Republican lawmakers refused to leave in protest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s refusal to allow a vote on domestic oil and gas drilling. They are demanding that Pelosi call the House back into session.

As The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank pointed out, 18 times over the past 90 days the Republicans tried to force the House to adjourn and now that it finally has, they are protesting.

The TV cameras and sound system were turned off — no C-SPAN, no microphones — and the lights dimmed, but the Republicans perorated on about how high gas prices are the Democrats’ fault. Or we assume that’s what they’re saying because the only way to hear them is to go in person to the House gallery.

Handfuls of tourists in t-shirts and shorts do turn up as part of the Capitol tour and so desperate are the Republicans for an audience that they have invited them down to the House floor in spite of a strict ban on both tourists and shorts in that sacred precinct.

The whole performance is bizarre — a publicity stunt with no publicity. Normally it’s difficult to make a graceful exit from a failed protest like this, but the Republicans are lucky. It’s August. No one is around to notice.