North Carolina Republicans Pass Budget By Holding Surprise Vote

13 hours ago
Originally published on September 11, 2019 5:03 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Let's go to North Carolina now, where tensions between Republicans and Democrats have reached a whole new level. This is the same state where just last week, a judicial panel ruled that that Republicans legislative maps were unconstitutional. Today, Republicans who control the state House called a surprise vote on a critical issue. At least, it took Democrats by surprise.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEB BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, you are making a mockery of this process. You are deceiving all of North Carolina. Your leadership is an embarrassment to the history of this great state.

CHANG: That is state Representative Deb Butler, one of the very few Democrats in the House chamber at the time. To explain what happened and why it matters, we're joined now by Jeff Tiberii, WUNC's capital bureau chief.

Hey, Jeff.

JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: It sounded pretty intense in there. Can we just step back for a second? What led to all of this?

TIBERII: Sure. So since the beginning of July, the state has been operating without a new budget. No shutdown here but no new budget. Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed the spending plan. The big reason why - policy issue - was Medicaid. There was no expansion of Medicaid in the budget. And Republicans, after he vetoed it, didn't have the votes to override his budget. So ostensibly, it just sat. Then this morning, Democrats were under the belief that it would be a no vote session, and most of them were not in the House chamber. Some of them were downstairs, others at home. One was pulling in to park.

CHANG: Wow.

TIBERII: So House Speaker Tim Moore pulls the issue up for a vote, knowing that there were not enough Democrats to stop what was about to become an override.

CHANG: OK. Then what happened?

TIBERII: So then, Deb Butler, who we heard from just a minute ago, she grabbed the microphone. And the speaker cut her off. So she reached for another microphone. Cut off again. She grabbed multiple microphones.

CHANG: (Laughter) Wow.

TIBERII: And it got very tense, at one point so tense that it looked as though a sergeant at arms was going to remove her from the chamber. He motioned for a Capitol police officer to come over. Democrats surrounded Representative Butler, so she did not go anywhere. But she got a microphone that was not cut off for several minutes, and she continued. She clearly was very upset. She was irate. Here's a little bit more of what she said, directed very much at the speaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUTLER: How dare you, Mr. Speaker. How dare you usurp this process. The unseemly lack of leadership is incredible. Absolutely cowardice. Childishness. Cowardice. How dare you do this, Mr. Speaker.

CHANG: My goodness.

TIBERII: Now - (laughter) yeah, indeed. So Democrats say that word had come down from a different Republican leader that it was supposed to be a no vote session. However, that Republican lawmaker - not the speaker, somebody else - said subsequently today that he had never made that pledge and that some of this can be chalked up to miscommunication.

CHANG: Now, did Republicans have anything to say to explain why they did what they did?

TIBERII: They have been looking at the override as a possibility for a long time. This budget impasse now, I believe it's the 11th week, and there really hasn't been much negotiation or any kind of progress between the Republican lawmakers and the Democratic governor. And Tim Moore, the House speaker, who Butler was directing her remarks toward this morning, reiterated to reporters this afternoon that an override was really his primary goal here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM MOORE: I've made it clear. I've said right here from where I am, on the floor, everywhere, if I see an opportunity to override this budget, this veto, I was going to take that vote.

TIBERII: So he said for weeks that if lawmakers could advance and override, his chamber will now consider a bill dealing with Medicaid expansion, which is something the governor, of course, has wanted. And he says that could take place within the next week.

CHANG: That's Jeff Tiberii of WUNC.

Thanks, Jeff.

TIBERII: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "SERENADE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.