Leaders Look to Protect Freshmen

Posted September 5, 2007 at 6:43pm

In an attempt to dissuade the Republican minority from offering contentious procedural amendments tied to the hot-button issues such as immigration, Democratic leaders are discussing how to give their lawmakers a vote that would inoculate them against such pressure in the future.

The discussion comes as a new House select committee prepares to investigate an Aug. 2 vote that Republican leaders allege the Democratic majority mishandled, resulting in the defeat of a GOP-authored procedural measure that would have amended the fiscal 2008 Agriculture spending bill by prohibiting illegal immigrants from accessing certain federally funded programs.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said he has discussed the issue with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and leadership staff from both offices are working on a proposal.

“I’m particularly concerned that these motions to recommit are tinged with a bit of … let’s just say this whole issue of immigration, it’s too serious an issue for us to … have it used as a wedge issue,” Clyburn said, and later added: “We ought not be using this very serious issue in this way.”

Neither Clyburn nor Hoyer would provide details for any potential proposal, including whether the measure would be new law or a nonbinding resolution.

“We’re talking about a lot of options and I don’t want to prejudge what options we’re going to choose,” Hoyer said.

The Maryland lawmaker added that because the Republican amendment at the heart of the August incident would have restated existing law — a point the GOP refutes — Democrats could opt to ask the executive branch to enforce statutes already on the books.

“We may just reiterate the law,” Hoyer said. Democrats also have pre-emptively discussed expanding the new effort to other hot-button legislative areas targeted by the GOP.

One Democratic lawmaker, who asked not to be identified, said the plan has been presented to some Members as a blanket measure that would prohibit the use of taxpayer-funded programs, such as food stamps, by immigrants in the country illegally.

“The idea is to reject them out of hand because they’ll be clearly redundant,” the Democrat said. “They’ll come up with some other ridiculous avenue to use, but hopefully this takes that off the table.”

But House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) spokesman Brian Kennedy immediately dismissed the Democrats’ new plan, saying, “It’s certainly a very clear indication of just how effective Republicans have been in using the motion to recommit to affect legislation.”

The procedural motion is one of the few options available to the minority party that allows it to offer legislative alternatives when a bill reaches the House floor, and it is used immediately before a final vote on legislation takes place.

During the first half of the 110th Congress, the Republican minority has offered numerous motions — winning on 11 to date — that present difficult political decisions for Democrats, particularly the large number of freshman lawmakers in competitive districts.

The National Republican Congressional Committee also targeted five Democratic freshmen in their districts Wednesday over the controversial August vote, more than six weeks after the incident. In press releases, the NRCC accused Democratic Reps. Jerry McNerney (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Zack Space (Ohio), Harry Mitchell (Ariz.) and Nick Lampson (Texas) of helping to steal “a vote in the dead of night,” citing the lawmakers’ decision to change their votes and oppose the Republican procedural measure after initially voting in favor of it.

During the vote, three Florida GOP lawmakers, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart, similarly switched their ballots to support the measure.

House Democrats have thus far opted against issuing a blanket edict to rank-and-file Members to oppose the Republican motions, instead instructing lawmakers in April to object only to “killer” amendments that would shelve legislation.

Despite the failure of nearly 20 Democrats to initially abide by those guidelines in early August — prompting some of the last-minute vote changes that contributed to the apparent disagreement on the House floor — Clyburn indicated that Democrats have no immediate plans to otherwise change their strategy on such motions.

“I don’t think anybody on our side confuses the issue — we know these are procedural issues,” he added.

But at his weekly press conference, Hoyer said he would speak with those Democrats who voted in favor of the Republican motion.

“It presented a big problem. We are working on it. I am going to continue to work on it,” Hoyer said, and later added: “In terms of the Members, the consequences are [that] I’m going to talk to them.”

In the meantime, the new House select committee established to investigate the disputed August vote is expected to soon hold its first meeting, following the appointment of its three Republican members Wednesday.

Republican Reps. Mike Pence (Ind.), Steven LaTourette (Ohio) and Kenny Hulshof (Mo.) will work along with Democratic Reps. Bill Delahunt (Mass.), Artur Davis (Ala.) and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.). No meeting date was set Wednesday, but the committee is required to file an interim report Sept. 30, with a final report due in mid-September 2008.

“I’m confident we’re going to be able to put our heads together and follow the facts, be judicious and take an impartial and thorough look at what happened that night,” said Pence, the panel’s ranking member.

Davis, noting that members of the committee have worked across the aisle, said: “The House voted for the committee and the committee will diligently do its work.”