Stunned On The House Floor

It might be easy to say "I saw it coming," but the honest truth is that hardly anyone outside of the GOP leadership seemed to know that the votes weren't there for a Wall Street Bailout bill in the U.S. House on Monday, which lost by a 228 to 205 vote.

In the hours leading up to the vote, there was no overt clue that anything was going off the tracks.

I spent a good chunk of time roaming the hallways around the floor of the House looking for lawmakers to interview.

There were hardly any around.

In fact, there were hardly any reporters around either.

When I interviewed Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) around 11am, we were the only people sitting in the Speaker's Lobby, just off the House floor.

On a day with a big vote, that space should be jammed with reporters, staffers and lawmakers.  But it was quiet.

Westmoreland was one of many more conservative Republicans who were voting against the bailout, but had no dreams of the bill going down to defeat.

I stopped a couple of other Republicans, some of whom didn't want to be interviewed, because they said they hadn't made up their minds as yet.

"I'm just right now trying to make my decision," said Rep. John Sullivan of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"There is pressure to vote for it," said Sullivan, "but people don't like it."

Sullivan headed onto the floor and chatted with friends and colleagues, many of whom would also vote no.

I didn't know this until much later, but Sullivan voted 'no,' changed his vote to 'yes,' and then ultimately changed back to 'no.'

Still there was no outward signs that this bill was going down.  Just pieces of the puzzle that we weren't putting together.  There was still little excitement off the floor.

When the vote began, there were no more than a dozen reporters in the Speaker's Lobby.  Clearly, everyone had written their stories already, and only needed to drop in the vote totals to say that the bill had been approved.

One of the doorkeepers chatted with me about how little buzz there was both on the floor and in the Speaker's Lobby.

"It's flat as a pancake," he chirped.

"They've got about ten guys (Republicans) in the back if they need them," he told me, meaning that the GOP leadership was confident of victory.

Looking out on the floor, everyone was watching the tote board.  As the 'no' votes reached two hundred, suddenly things changed just off the House floor.

Sensing that All Hell Was Breaking Loose, reporters by the dozens suddenly flooded the second floor hallways and surged into the Speaker's Lobby, like they were riding the tide of a hurricane.

There was blood in the water, but everyone looked confused on why the bailout had gone down to defeat.

"I told you," said one Capitol Hill police officer to another.  "I told you it was going to lose."

"That's good for us," the second one said, knowing extra days in session will mean extra overtime pay for them most likely.

"I gotta pay for those Christmas presents somehow," he said with a big smile.