Seeking retribution, Republicans kept their colleagues in session all night after the committee announced the recount outcome and prevented the House from conducting any business for three days. Live on C-SPAN, a relatively new channel created in 1978, Republicans delivered one tirade after another alleging that Democrats were stealing an election.
Nevertheless, on May 1, the House voted 236 to 190 to seat McCloskey, with 10 Democrats joining the unanimous Republican opposition. And by a vote of 229 to 200, the House once again rejected a Republican proposal to hold a new special election to settle the matter at the ballot box.
Republicans weren’t quite finished, though: Theatrically, they stormed out of the chamber before O’Neill could officially seat McCloskey. “Would the gentlemen remain within until I have had an opportunity to administer the oath?” O’Neill asked. “No!” yelled House Minority Leader Robert Michel, usually considered one of the most civil voices on Capitol Hill.
As O’Neill swore McCloskey into office, Republicans stood side by side on the steps leading out of the House chamber to speak with reporters. “This has united the Republican Party as nothing else,” McIntyre told the press. “The American people are not going to forget.” Republicans compared Democrats to “slime” and “thugs.”
Some Democrats were uncomfortable with the outcome, which they considered dubious. The Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, for example, voted against the committee recommendation. O’Neill, Frank recalled, was “mad at me until I explained myself; then he became furious.”
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But most Democrats brushed aside the criticism. In their minds, what mattered most was that they’d held the seat. They didn’t understand that Republicans had succeeded in convincing the public that something was amiss—that, perhaps, the very legitimacy of the Democratic majority was suspect. Nor did they anticipate how the Bloody Eighth would embolden Republicans, convincing many of them that Gingrich’s way of thinking was fundamentally correct. In short: Enough with bipartisanship; it was time for a do-anything approach to taking back control of the House. “It validated Newt’s thesis,” Vin Weber, a COS ally, recalled. “The Democrats are corrupt, they are making us look like fools, and we are idiots to cooperate with them.”
Arguably, the Bloody Eighth is what led to the eventual GOP takeover of the House, under Gingrich, in 1994. The Bloody Eighth was his trial run, and the 1994 election his proof of concept. Thus even though Democrats won their seat, they lost the long-term narrative.
When pundits look back at the 2000 presidential election, the lesson they tend to draw is that what really matters in a recount is raw power. Who cares that the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision was, by many lights, among the most partisan, least legitimate rulings ever issued? George W. Bush, not Al Gore, became president.