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Fact check: Did Pelosi 'block' tribute to troops killed in Afghanistan?

Posted September 14, 2021 2:02 p.m. EDT
Updated September 14, 2021 4:41 p.m. EDT

Following a House of Representatives session on Aug. 31, Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., tweeted that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats refused to read the names of the 13 U.S. service members who were killed in the airport bombing in Afghanistan.

"How badly do Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats want to cover up this Afghanistan debacle?" Gimenez wrote. "They just blocked Members of Congress from reading the names of the service members who sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan last week. Don’t you think our military deserves better?"

The tweet gained widespread traction across social media, including in this Facebook post, which shared a screenshot of a news article touting the claim that Pelosi blocked the reading. A reader asked us if the claim was true.

What the claim muddles is that Pelosi wasn’t present at the session at all.

A moment of silence to honor the 13 killed had been planned ahead of time and was held during the session. But session rules prohibited action on a new motion, such as one that Republicans say came to the floor requesting that the names be read.

Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan presided over the meeting, the congressional record shows. Pelosi appointed Dingell to take her place that day as speaker pro tempore. Mackenzie Smith, spokesperson for Dingell, also confirmed to PolitiFact that Pelosi appointed Dingell as speaker pro tempore and that the meeting was a pro forma session.

The session lasted about four minutes, according to the record and C-SPAN video.

It included an opening prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of silence that lasted about 26 seconds during which those present in the chamber bowed their heads. At the end of the silence, Dingell looked down at the lectern to read aloud the adjourning script and then gaveled the session to an end, only lifting her eyes as she raised the gavel. The video on C-SPAN shows that people shouted out as she lifted and landed her gavel, at which point it appears someone was standing to be recognized.

Pro forma sessions are known for being short. It’s a type of session in which no votes are held, and no formal legislative business is conducted. That means there are no floor resolutions, which are motions to take an action, like the request to read the names of the 13 military members who died.

There are also no free speech periods allowed in a pro forma session, said Donald Wolfensberger, congressional scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Bipartisan Policy Center fellow. The only exceptions are when majority and minority leaders from both parties have approved a matter of legislative business for the session.

"Any unilateral attempt by any member of either party to depart from that protocol would be gaveled as out of order by the presiding officer who is empowered to declare the House adjourned, without a separate motion or vote on adjournment necessary," Wolfensberger said.

According to Robyn Patterson, spokesperson for Pelosi, both parties agreed to a moment of silence for the fallen military members prior to the session, but House Republicans did not make a request to read the names until after the moment of silence was held on the House floor.

"Speaker Pelosi instructed the House of Representatives to hold a moment of silence to honor the brave service members killed in the heinous attack outside Kabul airport," Patterson said. "It’s troubling that these individuals are using service member deaths as an opportunity to spread misinformation and score political points."

PolitiFact reached out to the House Republican Conference for comment, but did not hear back. However, a report from The Floridian, a conservative media site run by a former Republican congressional candidate, quoted Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Florida, who said that House Republicans requested to be recognized after the moment of silence to read the names of the service members. "They did not acknowledge us, and just closed the House down," Mast told The Floridian.

Rep. Greg Steube of Florida tweeted a similar statement that the House Democrats refused to recognize Republican veterans on the House Floor.

Patterson noted that Pelosi issued an Aug. 31 statement in which she listed the names of the 13 service members and said Congress was praying for "every life lost."

PolitiFact reached out to the offices of Gimenez, Steube and Mast. None returned our requests for comment.

PolitiFact ruling

PolitiFact: Mostly False

A Facebook post shared a widespread claim that Pelosi and the Democrats blocked members of Congress on the House floor from reading the names of the 13 U.S. military service members who were killed in Afghanistan.

Congressional records and C-SPAN video show that Pelosi was not at the session, but appointed Dingell to serve as speaker pro tempore that day.

Pro forma sessions are brief, and do not allow votes or legislative business, like new resolutions from the floor, or free speech periods. The only exceptions are when majority and minority leaders from both parties have approved a matter of legislative business for the session. Pelosi’s office said the Republican request wasn’t raised with Democrats before the session.

The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate this claim Mostly False.

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