Republicans in the N.C. House held a surprise vote to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the state budget, starting the session Wednesday morning while many House Democrats were not on the floor or were in a caucus meeting about redistricting maps.

The vote was 55-9 in favor of the state budget override, with Republicans having achieved the necessary quorum of at least 61 members present.

There are 65 Republicans and 55 Democrats in the House. At full attendance, the GOP would have needed at least seven Democratic votes for a successful override.

“Republicans waged an assault on our Democracy,” Cooper said in response to the veto override vote. “They cheated the people of North Carolina.”

The House also voted 54-10 to override Cooper’s veto on Medicaid managed-care legislation House Bill 555, which appeared on the floor agenda for the first time Monday. Cooper vetoed that bill Aug. 30.

The bill would provide up to $218 million in start-up funding for a launch now projected to begin Feb. 1 statewide.

House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, was unapologetic about how the override votes were conducted, saying he fulfilled a pledge that when “I see an opportunity ... I was going to take that (budget) vote.”

“When we came in (Wednesday), we saw we had the numbers to do that.”

The fate of the vetoes now goes to the Senate, which also must vote to OK the overrides. The Senate has a 29-21 GOP majority and would need at least one Democratic vote at full attendance.

“At 8:40 a.m. on September 11th, we should be honoring and remembering the victims of those horrific attacks. Not ambushing our colleagues with partisan games,” Sen. Paul Lowe Jr., D-Forsyth, said in a tweet.

“This isn’t Democracy. It’s wrong. Dead wrong.”

Cooper said that “we still have the opportunity to sustain this veto in the Senate, and I implore Democratic Senators to remain steadfast.”

Lowe said separately that “the veto override will come to the Senate at some point and we plan to have enough votes to sustain Governor Cooper’s veto.”

GOP denies manipulation

Moore said he did not manipulate the House floor calendar to mislead House Democrats. He said he checked with the House clerk to see if they had been any announcements he was not aware of about not holding votes.

“Most of the (GOP) caucus showed up thinking that we were going to be voting on bills,” Moore said.

“While some want to turn around and fuss and argue about procedure, if they didn’t want (the veto overrides) to pass, all they had to do was show up for work,” Moore said. “Be there to vote.”

Moore said that regardless of the voting scenario, it “is a great day for North Carolina. We’re finally a step closer to having a state budget.”

Rep. Julie von Haefen, D-Wake, tweeted that Democrat Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, was told by Rep. David Lewis, House Rules and Operations committee chairman, on Tuesday that there would be no votes held Wednesday morning. Jackson said he relayed that message to the Democratic caucus.

“How dare you, Mr. Speaker?” Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover, said when House leadership prepared for the veto override on the state budget, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

“The trickery that is being evidenced by this morning is tantamount to a criminal offense.” Butler described the vote as a “hijacking of the process.”

Lewis denied in a joint press conference with Moore that he said there would be no recorded votes to Democratic members. He cited the introduction of two more “mini-budget” bills designed to release funding from the state budget.

Jackson submitted a motion in Wednesday’s afternoon session to recall both veto override bills because of the miscommunication. The motion failed by a 61-54 vote along party lines.

There have been concerns expressed multiple times by Jackson during the budget stalemate that Moore would attempt a vote when the right number of Democrats were off the House floor, including for restroom breaks.

However, there has been an outstanding question as to whether a no-vote pledge only counts for bills that require bill deliberations, compared with a vote to override a veto.

Both Jackson and Lewis said Wednesday on the House floor that they trusted each other. Jackson said he did not believe Lewis purposefully tried to mislead him.

But, Jackson questioned how House Republican leadership planned to hold such critical veto override votes at 8:30 a.m. if most Democrats weren’t in attendance, particularly when a House Finance committee meeting was set for 9 a.m. to address the two mini-budget bills

“I know that (Rep Jackson’s) trust in me has been shaken, but I did not have the authority to conduct no votes,” Lewis said.

Jackson said “I don’t believe” the veto override actions “is the way we want to treat each other, (being) forced to show up for declared no-vote days,” Jackson said.

“We didn’t come to Raleigh to legislate by ambush,” Jackson said. “If you did, God bless you.”

‘A bald-faced lie’

Wednesday marked Day 77 of the budget stalemate. Republican House leaders put a veto-override vote on HB966 on the floor agenda for the first time July 9.

Cooper wasn’t shy about expressing his frustration with the House GOP leadership’s tactics in conducting the veto override votes.

“For over two months, Democrats missed family events, work and even medical appointments to show up at every session just in case a veto override was suddenly brought up,” he said.

“They also relied on the word of Republican leaders when they were told there would not be votes because that’s how a true democracy should operate.

“Republicans could not override my veto as long as most Democrats were present. For two months, Republicans refused to offer a compromise or sit down at a true negotiating table with me.”

Cooper said Democrats “were told there would be no votes this morning. This was a bald-faced lie.”

“When you have to use bribes and lies — whether to override a veto or draw your own legislative districts — you are beyond desperate.”

Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said the House tactic “makes things interesting for any Democrat who had been contemplating voting for a budget veto override in the Senate.”

The Senate passed the proposed state budget by a 30-16 vote with the support of three Democrats.

“Those Democrats will face enormous pressure to stand with the governor and their House counterparts, if only as a protest against the way House leaders handled the situation,” Kokai said.

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