On Wednesday, a vote in the North Carolina House made national headlines when The Washington Post reported that “North Carolina Republicans overrode a budget veto while Democrats were at a 9/11 ceremony,” in a story that featured damning accusations by Democrats that were initially presented uncritically.
“While most North Carolinians were remembering the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, the Republican leaders in the General Assembly took advantage of a half-empty House and voted to override the governor’s budget veto Wednesday morning,” the Post’s Lateshia Beachum reported Wednesday. The Republicans, Beachum reported, held the vote after allegedly promising Democrats that no vote would take place on the anniversary of the terror attacks.
The Post’s initial report uncritically published Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s claims at a news conference that “House Republicans called for a ‘surprise vote’ while he and House members were honoring first responders on the anniversary of 9/11.”
“Republicans called a deceptive surprise override of my budget veto,” said Cooper. “Unfortunately, it’s the people of North Carolina who lose.”
“Republicans were unable to override the veto for about two months as long as Democrats were present in the chamber, Cooper said,” the Post reported. “The General Assembly needs a three-fifths majority to override a veto, which Republicans lack.”
The Post’s report gave the impression that many of the Democrats were absent specifically because they were attending the 9/11 memorial and Republicans deliberately used the memorial to push through the vote. In its tweet promoting the article, the Post emphasized that claim, declaring, “North Carolina Republicans overrode a budget veto while Democrats were at a 9/11 ceremony.”
The damning story quickly made the rounds, including ending up in a Now This video accusing North Carolina Republicans of using “a 9/11 memorial to trick Democrats into missing a key vote.”
The vote also resulted in a viral video of a Democrat calling foul and a hashtag movement declaring “#WeWillNotYield”
So did North Carolina Republicans seize on Democrats attending the 9/11 memorial to push through the vote? As a “clarification” issued by the Post after being called out online notes, the initial claim that the override was possible because “Democrats were at a 9/11 ceremony” is grossly overstated:
Clarification: An earlier version of this article overly generalized the reason for Democrats’ absence from the General Assembly session. This version has been updated.
The Post issued its clarification after local news reports pointed out that “only one or two Democrats claimed to have been attending a 9/11 memorial at the time of the vote.” The News & Observer reports:
Some headlines suggested that Democrats were at events commemorating the 9/11 attacks — the vote was taken at roughly the same time as the national moment of silence. But The News & Observer has confirmed only two Democrats attended 9/11 events.
As for the claim that Republicans promised Democrats that no votes would take place Wednesday, Republicans say that’s false. Here’s how the Post reported the claim:
House Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D) said he told his caucus members that they did not need to be in attendance and that state Rep. David Lewis (R), chairman of the Rules, Calendar and Operations Committee, gave Jackson his word that there would be no votes, according to the News & Observer.
Republicans say otherwise and provided The Associated Press evidence that they did tell Democrats on Tuesday that votes would take place Wednesday. The Post reports:
Republican leaders denied giving any such assurance. The Associated Press reported that the office of Republican Speaker Tim Moore provided audio from Tuesday’s floor session of Lewis saying that recorded votes would happen Wednesday.
What is certainly true is that Republicans held the veto override vote while barely any Democrats were there and that the vote took place on 9/11. While the move might be criticized as in poor taste, it’s also perfectly within the rules of the House, which only requires that a majority (61 of the 120 members) be present. On Wednesday, 64 members of the House were present, the vote passing 55 to 9.