When reader G.S. emailed me yesterday to tell me Republican lawmakers in Virginia had broken into Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) office, I assumed this was some kind of joke. But as the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported, that’s kind of what happened on Fathers’ Day weekend.
At the urging of House Speaker William J. Howell, the clerk’s office of the House of Delegates enlisted the help of the Capitol Police to enter Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s unoccupied, secure suite of offices on a Sunday afternoon to deliver the state budget.The highly unusual entry on June 15 took place without the permission of administration officials or the knowledge of the Virginia State Police, which is in charge of protecting the governor. McAuliffe was not in the building.
Let’s back up and review the larger context. GOP lawmakers in the commonwealth recently hatched an ugly scheme, arguably bribing a Democratic state senator – who has since lawyered up – in order to allow GOP control of the chamber. Once the scheme worked and Republicans seized control of the state Senate, GOP lawmakers passed a conservative budget that, among other things, tried to kill Medicaid expansion, denying medical coverage to 400,000 low-income Virginians.
McAuliffe eventually signed the budget bill, but not before using his line-item veto on Medicaid-related provisions. The Democratic governor said at the time that he would have preferred to veto the entire budget, but with state finances expiring on July 1, he didn’t have time – a veto likely would have shut down the state government.
And that’s where the GOP plan to enter McAuliffe’s office without his permission becomes important.
Once Republicans completed work on their version of the budget, the next step was to deliver the document to the governor’s office. GOP lawmakers, however, wanted to give McAuliffe as little time as possible, increasing the pressure that he’d have to sign it to prevent a shutdown.
As the Richmond paper explained, “Once the clerk’s office enrolls a budget and delivers it to the governor, the statutory clock starts ticking. The governor has seven days to take action on the spending plan.”
In this case, however, Republicans decided to start the clock when they knew the governor and his staff weren’t in their offices. Indeed, GOP lawmakers waited until they knew the offices were empty, ignored security protocols, and delivered the budget knowing no one would be there to receive it.
They then sent an email, 15 minutes later, stating for the record that the document had been dropped off (and the clock was ticking).
To put it mildly, the governor’s office was not pleased that lawmakers had entered their workspace, uninvited, knowing no one was there. McAuliffe’s chief of staff, Paul Reagan, wrote an angry letter to Col. Anthony S. Pike, chief of the Virginia Capitol Police, cc’ing GOP leaders and the superintendent of the Virginia State Police, which is responsible for the governor’s security.“This letter is to inform you that under no circumstances are you or any of your officers authorized to allow employees of the General Assembly to enter the secure areas of the governor’s office without my express permission, or the express permission of Suzette Denslow, the governor’s deputy chief of staff,” Reagan wrote in the letter to Pike, dated June 18.“What occurred here Sunday is unacceptable,” the letter continues. “Two employees of the speaker of the House of Delegates were given access to an area of the governor’s office where sensitive files and materials are kept.”
I’m reminded of some reports out of Virginia a few months ago. McAuliffe put his “celebrated talents for sociability and salesmanship” to work, trying to forge relationships with Republican lawmakers, inviting them to social events, and throwing open the doors to the Executive Mansion.
So much for that idea.
As Robert Schlesinger explained at the time: “[A]nyone who thinks that back-slapping joviality is the key to ending Washington gridlock need look no further than Richmond for its limits.”