The congressman who ended the U.S. House of Representatives’ opening prayer with the phrase, “Amen and A-woman,” is a Methodist minister. It’s all but certain he knew that “amen” is a Hebrew term for “so be it” – instead of a word referring to males.
Still, the remark by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., got plenty of attention because Democrats in the House majority has passed a new set of rules for Congress that requires the use of “gender inclusive language.”
It also makes permanent the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion, among other things.
Back to the prayer by Cleaver. He said his “Amen and A-woman” remark was intended to recognize the 144 women who are now serving in the House and Senate. The previous high was 129. He added that it also was a salute to the new House chaplain, who is the first woman to hold that post.
Cleaver said he was disappointed that some people misinterpreted the prayer “to fit a narrative that stokes resentment and greater division among portions of our population.”
OK, but given the Democratic addition of gender-inclusive language requirements to the House rules, it’s easy to see how some people who roll their eyes at such a topic would believe that Cleaver added the extra phrase because the word “amen” happens to include three consecutive letters that refer to a specific gender.
His Republican critics said Cleaver’s “A-woman” closing was part of the majority’s new obsession with removing gender-based words like “father” or “sister” from the House. No doubt many House Republicans agree with minority leader Kevin McCarthy, who described the new gender rules as stupid.
The topic is an interesting sidebar to a couple of other rules changes that will affect how the House handles legislation. In a concession to the most liberal Democrats, re-elected Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to exempt legislation on the coronavirus and climate change from rules that say new legislation cannot add to the government’s budget deficit. (Given the size of the deficit, who’s counting any more?)
And Republicans, as the minority party, will have fewer opportunities to offer amendments to bills just before lawmakers vote on it.
Returning to gender, it’s hard to understand the need to remove such common words from the House’s vocabulary, unless a specific person did not wish to be described with one of those terms. But the episode is a reminder that there are very good reasons why Republicans and Democrats have traded control of Congress several times in the past three decades.
Basically, the party in power loses its majority when it screws up. Two good examples are Republicans losing the House in 2006 after the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina, and Democrats losing in 2010 after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Gender-inclusive language doesn’t rise to those levels, but it’s certainly a signal that it may be the Democrats’ turn to overreach.