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Democrats Force Votes With Eye on Campaigns

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Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is consulting with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (far right) and other Democratic leaders on issues to be included in motions to recommit that the party is offering on the House floor.

House Democrats have launched a floor strategy aimed at forcing freshman Republicans to take tough votes on politically sensitive topics, mirroring a tactic that the GOP deployed when it was in the minority.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) is consulting with her leadership team, including Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.), on how to use a procedural tool known as a motion to recommit to force Republicans to take politically challenging votes.

Under House rules, the minority party is allowed to offer one motion to recommit, which functions much like an amendment, for each piece of legislation as the last step before final passage. With their return to the minority, Pelosi and her leadership team are trying to be more savvy about using the motions to put Republicans on the politically unpopular side of issues that Democrats want to champion ahead of the next election. 

So far, Democrats have offered four such motions this Congress: a proposal to require Members to publicly disclose whether they will accept government health insurance, a measure barring a health care repeal bill from taking effect unless a majority of lawmakers forfeit their government-sponsored health insurance, a proposal to bar companies that outsource jobs from obtaining government contracts and a proposal to require disclosure of foreign campaign contributors. 

The motions “will build thematics that we will keep coming back to,” a Democratic campaign official said.

The campaign official said Democrats’ proposals are aimed at highlighting what they call the hypocrisy of Republican lawmakers accepting taxpayer-funded health care while campaigning to repeal the health care law. This “became part of building the narrative” that Democrats are going to push on the health care front.

Israel acknowledged that Democrats are attempting to mimic the strategy that Republicans used when they were in the minority for the past four years. Republican leaders transformed the use of the motion to recommit into a tool that frequently forced vulnerable Democrats into difficult votes. Even Democrats acknowledge that they didn’t use the tool as effectively the last time they were in the minority.

“The Republican playbook when they were in the minority had three chapters: Chapter 1, go on offense; Chapter 2, just say no; and Chapter 3, don’t lift a finger to help,” Israel said. The only chapter in their playbook that I will use is Chapter 1. We will be aggressive, and we will be on offense.”

Pelosi’s office has been running the effort to craft the motions, in informal consultation with members of the Caucus, particularly with those whom she views as having strong messaging skills.

Rep. Robert Andrews said that Pelosi “has asked a number of Members to make recommendations on motions to recommit” and that he is among those she has reached out to.

“And then she assesses what she thinks is best for the Caucus, and she makes the decision,” the New Jersey Democrat said.

When deciding what motion to offer, Andrews said, Democrats “think about whether the motion advances a substantive position” that they support.

“Sure there’s a political assessment,” he said. “But we intend to pursue substantive points with which we agree. For example, we don’t think you should be able to repeal health care for your constituents and keep it for yourself.”

After no Republicans voted Jan. 19 for the Democratic motion to recommit that would have required a majority of Members to waive their government health benefits for the health care repeal to take effect, the DCCC sent an e-mail blast to local media in the districts of GOP freshmen.

 “It’s a clear opportunity to demonstrate the clear differences between Democrats and Republicans, and we will continue to use them for that,” Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said.

Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who is heading the DCCC’s recruitment efforts this cycle, said the motion to recommit votes would help Democrats’ campaign messaging.

“Everyone is held accountable for these votes,” the Pennsylvania lawmaker said, noting that many of the 84 Republican freshmen came to Congress without a voting record.

“This is their chance to demonstrate to their voters who they stand up for: Will they stand up for their voters or stand up for their leadership only?” Schwartz said.

But Republicans are confident that Democrats’ efforts will have little, if any, electoral effects.

“We didn’t win a single race because of an MTR last year,” a House GOP aide said.

Still, Republicans acknowledge that the most effective way to counter the Democratic assault is to get all of their Members to vote “no.” And they’ve been successful to date, with one exception. Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (N.C.) voted Wednesday in favor of Democrats’ motion to recommit on a Republican bill ending public funding of presidential campaigns.

Republicans point out that Democrats, meanwhile, have had at least one member of their Caucus vote against three of their four motions to recommit, including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), who voted against Democrats’ motion on the health care repeal bill.

Still, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who chaired the DCCC during the past two campaign cycles and is now the ranking member of the Budget Committee, said Democrats would continue to craft motions to recommit that “boil it down to a key issue” that Democrats think works in their favor. The Maryland Democrat said freshmen, in particular, could pay a price.

“They’re walking in lock step with their leadership, straight party line,” he said. “Let’s just see how their constituents take to it.”

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