Stung by ongoing defections on some key votes, House Democrats are pondering a quick rules change that would limit the GOP’s chances to offer its own amendments to bills — a move the top Republican said would amount to “a nuclear option.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she wasn’t a fan of the rules change, but clearly was irked Thursday after her party suffered another embarrassing defeat on the chamber floor a day earlier, when Republicans won a vote to report illegal immigrants who try to buy guns — which in itself is illegal — to deportation officers.
At issue is a parliamentary tactic known as a “motion to recommit.” In the House, it’s usually the last action taken before a bill passes, and it’s almost always a tool for the minority party to try to force one last amendment.
Democrats have now lost two such votes this year.
“A vote yes is to give leverage to the other side, to surrender leverage on the floor of the House,” Mrs. Pelosi complained to reporters at her weekly press briefing.
She said she doesn’t support a unilateral rules change, but said the issue could be decided as part of a special committee the House set up to modernize its rules.
For now, though, she’s begging her fellow Democrats to stay united by voting lock-step against any GOP motions.
“Let’s make life easy. Just vote against them,” she said.
That’s easier said than done.
Wednesday’s motion on reporting illegal immigrants who attempt to commit an illegal gun purchase. Republicans said any Democrat who voted against it was in effect supporting both illegal immigrants and gun crimes.
That’s the sort of message that’s ready-made for campaign commercials.
And it was too much for 26 Democrats, who joined with all but one Republican in voting for it.
The other GOP motion to succeed this year came on a bill about U.S. policy in Yemen. Republicans offered a motion to add an amendment condemning anti-Semitism at a time when such accusations were being aimed at a freshman Democratic lawmaker.
That motion easily passed, and it began a debate that’s only intensified within Democratic circles over whether to change the rules to restrict motions to recommit. That would eliminate the embarrassing dilemma for Democratic leaders, but it would also be seen as a major power play.
Republicans said the angst within Democrats was good news.
“I think it shows that we’re doing our job better right now — that conservatives are using the tools available to us and using the procedure in an effective way,” said Rep. Mike Johnson. “It’s sad and unfortunate if they would try to change the rules of the game just because they’re losing, but apparently that’s where they are now.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, suggested there would be repercussions to a rules change.
“Changes to the motion to recommit would be a nuclear option, and it would be a stain on this majority,” he said.
He said over the last quarter-century the GOP has been in control of the House for 20 years, and never pulled such a change, even as Democrats used the same “motion to recommit” tactic to force tough votes for Republicans.
“Less than 60 days into a new majority they want to silence a minority? That’s wrong,” he said.
Democrats, though, have changed the rules before. When they gained the majority in 2007, the GOP also made liberal use of the motion to recommit, tying Mrs. Pelosi and her top two lieutenants in knots.
That team — which is still in place today, more than a decade later — imposed a rules change limiting the damage that could result from a successful motion to recommit. It no longer can be used to delay or kill legislation altogether.
Mr. McCarthy’s suggestion that there would be repercussions for the pace of floor action didn’t trouble Mrs. Pelosi, who questioned what avenues of retaliation the GOP had.
“I don’t know that he has the authority to do that. The power of the speaker is awesome. They should remember that,” she said.
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