Rob Bishop

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has one son getting married next Tuesday and another leaving on an LDS mission the day after. So he had planned to take advantage of Congress' August recess to spend the week weeding and preparing his home for expected guests.

Instead, he now is flying back to Washington to join a GOP protest about taking that five-week vacation without first voting on GOP legislation designed to help lower the cost of oil.

"We will go on the House floor, and talk to whoever is there. We do not think it is right to go on vacation until we have dealt with this issue," he said Monday.

Such protests began spontaneously Friday, continued Monday and may extend indefinitely, Bishop said. Congress has stalemated on energy legislation as Democrats have pushed bills to address price speculation, while the GOP instead wants measures to allow more drilling — and each has blocked bills by the other.

The GOP protests began Friday when after a vote to adjourn, Democratic leaders turned off C-SPAN TV cameras in the House chamber, turned off the microphones, dimmed the lights and tried to clear the room. Some Republicans stayed to protest to journalists and tourists about leaving without a vote on energy bills.

"I went home to my apartment, did some laundry and was getting ready to leave" but returned to his office before catching his flight, Bishop said. When he heard the protest was still proceeding, he went back to the House floor and joined it.

"I was in shorts and flip-flops," but spoke there anyway. "I thus fulfilled one of my dreams" of speaking on the floor without the normally required tie and suit coat, he said.

"The floor was full — mostly with tourists and staffers," who normally are not allowed on the floor when Congress is in session. "Because the mics were off, it led to old-style oration" in loud voice, he said.

"I was truly amazed at what I saw there. There was a unique feeling or spirit. You usually don't see that kind of energy on the floor. Usually, you are talking to a lot of empty chairs. But the floor was full, and the galleries were three-quarters full. All the tourists were responding plausibly for what we were doing," he said.

He adds that on Friday, he and other members weren't quite sure how to end their protest that day. "I suggested singing, 'God Bless America' and leaving. That's what they did eventually, although I had already left by then."

Bishop said GOP leaders asked members over the weekend if any were available to join continuing protests this week, and when — so he volunteered to be there on Wednesday and Thursday.

"What I am giving up really is getting my house in order" for the missionary farewell and wedding. "I am missing a lot of weeding. I actually enjoy yard work, but my other kids have volunteered to step in."

Bishop said his main message at the protest will be about "the impact this (high oil prices) has on poor people. If you are rich, high oil prices are an annoyance — and take about 11 percent of your income. If you are poor and living on a fixed income, about 50 cents of every dollar you have goes for energy."

He said he will also talk, to whomever is listening, about how GOP proposals would reward innovation in distributing and developing energy.

As a former history teacher, Bishop says what is happening on the technically closed House floor is historic. "Since even pre-Civil War times, I don't think anything this spontaneous and dramatic has happened before," he said.

E-mail: [email protected]