Of course, not every member has a knack for delivering quotable material, but some just can’t help it.
Of the quotes referenced here, many were almost certainly regretted. Others became defining moments. But regardless of their impact, positive or negative, these quotes had staying power.
Some members — like Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., with her “Go Gator!” speech — are known for a single address. Others — like Texas Republican Ted Poe — deliver one lasting line, repeatedly.
But these 10 members are among those who consistently make news with their potent language. Here are the top 10 most quotable members of the House:
1. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas
Gohmert can’t help but make news. Every week, as one of the last matters of House business, the Texas Republican has “Gohmert hour” — a 60-minute floor speech that is a goldmine for bizarre quotes. On July 25, for example, Gohmert hour included a story about the possible identification of marijuana dealers through stolen potato chips and an assertion that ”the Muslim Brotherhood has profound influence in this country, and in this administration and in this government.”
In 2010, Gohmert had a heated exchange with CNN host Anderson Cooper over ”terror babies” — a theoretical plot where terrorist networks send pregnant women to the United States so the child can freely enter and exit the country and later use their citizenship to return and attack the United States.
Gohmert also raised eyebrows when he told C-SPAN viewers earlier this year that “we know that people that are now being trained to come in and act like Hispanic [sic] when they are radical Islamists.”
And of course there was this exchange with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. earlier this year in which the integrity of his asparagus was allegedly called into question:
2. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla.
With his pinstripe suits and bold sound bites, Grayson does not shy away from the limelight. In 2009, Grayson went on the House floor and described his version of the Republican health care plan:
“Don’t get sick. And if you do get sick, die quickly.”
When Rush Limbaugh said he wanted President Barack Obama to fail, Grayson told DownWithTyranny that Limbaugh was a “has-been hypocrite loser who craves attention.”
Grayson added, “Limbaugh actually was more lucid when he was a drug addict. If America ever did 1 percent of what he wanted us to do, then we’d all need pain killers.”
Grayson also has a history of less than collegial words for Republicans:
“These are foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who know nothing but ‘no.’”
“Scientists have studied for years this difficult question of why some people have a conscious and some people don’t. Some people are called Democrats and some people are called Republicans.”
3. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa
King recently reaffirmed his status as a quote machine with his “calves the size of cantaloupes” comment. King said not all illegal immigrant children are valedictorians and that, “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
Speaking about a wire fence on the border, King said on the House floor in 2006 that the United States “could also electrify this wire with the kind of current that would not kill somebody, but it would simply be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it.”
“We do that with livestock all the time,” King assured the House.
In 2008, King also theorized to an Iowa newspaper that the Middle East’s reaction to Barack Hussein Obama being elected president would be terrorists “dancing in the streets because of his middle name.”
4. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.
Johnson’s slow, almost confused drawl punctuates comments that are often ripe for conservative ridicule.
Johnson once expressed concern at a 2010 Armed Services hearing that Guam “will, uh, become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize.”
Johnson said he was making a tongue-in-cheek point about the environment and global warming, but regardless of his intention, the Guam comments have haunted Johnson ever since.
“Imagine, Mr. Speaker, a world without balloons,” Johnson said. “How can we make sure that the injustice of there being no helium for comedians to get that high-pitched voice that we all hold near and dear to our hearts?”
Like the helium speech, Johnson’s musings on little people garnered national attention when he posed this question on the House floor in December 2012: “What happens when you put in a cage fight a giant in with a midget?”
Johnson theorized that “well, the midget will not win the fight — I’m going to tell you that.”
“Why?” Johnson rhetorically asked. “He just doesn’t carry enough weight to do so. Um, but, uh, if you put 30 midgets in with that giant, then the midgets have a chance.”
5. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
Since announcing she won’t seek re-election, Bachmann has not been as quotable. Still, Bachmann has made too many notable comments in the past to exclude her from this list. After all, she said on the House floor in 2009 that there has not been “even one study” that shows carbon dioxide is a “harmful gas,” and she has asserted that eliminating the minimum wage “could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely.”
In 2011, Bachmann, who was born in Waterloo, Iowa, told Fox News that she wanted Iowa voters to know that “just like John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa — that’s the kind of spirit that I have, too.” Unfortunately, Bachmann was confusing movie star John Wayne with serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who was from Waterloo and who famously dressed up as clown to lure young boys to his home so he could rape and murder them.
Bachmann also told Pajamas TV that she found it “interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter. And I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.” Bachmann’s “interesting coincidence” is less interesting, however, when you look at the facts: The swine flu scare of the ’70s broke out in 1976; Republican Gerald Ford was president.
6. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.
Paul Broun, as he told CQ Roll Call in 2012, calls it as he sees it. “With me, what you see is what you get,” he said.
Broun bragged in a fundraising letter earlier this year that he was “the first Member of Congress to call [Obama] a socialist who embraces Marxist-Leninist policies.”
Cole may not garner the national headlines like Bachmann or King, but he is known for delivering the unpopular truth that no one else dares speak. His quotes aren’t stunning gaffes; they’re just stunning for their honesty.
Earlier this year, Cole told The New Yorker that the Republican Party was ”a little like a dysfunctional family right now, where everybody knows old Uncle Joe at the end of the table’s an alcoholic, but nobody wants to say it.”
“And somebody needs to say it,” Cole continued. “We need to get Joe some help. Come on, he’s ruined too many Christmas parties!”
In one of his emblematic interviews in June, he said the idea of shutting down the government if a continuing resolution funds Obamacare was the “political equivalent of throwing a temper tantrum.”
But perhaps Stockman’s most controversial tweet is a proposed future campaign bumper sticker: “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted.”
Of course, it’s really Stockman’s communications director, Donny Ferguson (@DonnyFerguson), who does most of the Stockman tweeting, but that’s not going to keep the Texas Republican off the list.
9. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo.
Cleaver, once the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, has a knack for delivering a lasting phrase. He once told CQ Roll Call the emerging Budget Control Act deal was a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich.”
Once the quote took off, Cleaver ran with it, saying it everywhere he could and expanding on the metaphor on Twitter and elsewhere. The phrase was particularly powerful because of its tweet-ability (only 27 characters!) and its many puns (deviled-eggs, anyone?).
Cleaver makes the list because of his talent for evoking an imagery too vivid.
He told MSNBC in May that Congress suffers from “legislative constipation,” which, given the sound of it, just can’t be good.
10. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas
A former self-described “hellfire-and-brimstone prosecutor,” Poe knows how to whip up a crowd with his words.
But it’s not just what he says; it’s how often he says it.
When NASA decided to place a retired space shuttle in New York over Houston, Poe said it was “like putting the Statue of Liberty in Omaha.”
When the EPA was issuing new regulations he didn’t like, Poe said, “They sit around a big oak table, drinking their lattes. They have out their iPads and their computers, and they decide: Who shall we regulate today?”
But Poe’s uninhibited speech has also gotten him in hot water.
In May 2007, he quoted — misquoted, actually — one of the original grand wizards of the Ku Klux Klan on the House floor: “Git thar fustest with the mostest,” Poe said. (The actual quote, from Civil War Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, is “to git thar fust with the most men.”)
But he is best known for his concluding phrase, the line with which he ends every speech: “And that’s just the way it is.”