Congress

House Democrats show improved response to Republican messaging votes

Democrats easily defeated a Republican motion to recommit Friday to their HR 1 government overhaul

Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., center, had voted for several Republican motions to recommit this year but he argued against the one the GOP offered to HR 1 Friday, calling it a “joke.” Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., right, meanwhile was one of six Democrats who voted with Republicans on that motion. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democrats seem to have sharpened their response to Republican motions to recommit after the GOP twice bested the new majority using the procedural tool this year.

The improved messaging and whip operations around motions to recommit, or MTRs, since Democrats lost a second one early last week on a priority gun control bill seem to have quelled an immediate desire to overhaul the procedural tool.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer acknowledged Friday during a colloquy on the floor with Minority Whip Steve Scalise that there’s been “consternation” within the Democratic Caucus about the GOP’s MTRs and discussion about whether the tool should be changed. But the Maryland Democrat suggested that’s not on the horizon.

“There is no proposed change currently under consideration,” Hoyer said.

Scalise thanked Hoyer for clarifying the “rumors” that Democrats planned to change the motion to recommit, which is one of the few procedural tools of the minority. It’s a longstanding tradition to allow the minority to offer the last word on changing a bill, one that Republicans formalized as a House rule in 1995. 

“I hope that tradition continues on — that this motion to recommit stays in order because there are some members that, if the motion to recommit passes, would vote for final passage,” the Louisiana Republican said. 

Democrats have actually argued the opposite — that Republicans have no interest in amending the bill to make it acceptable for them to support. Thus, most Democrats treat it as a procedural motion rather than a procedural amendment and vote against it. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she wishes all members would vote that way.

“Motions to recommit on both sides of the aisle have been gotcha amendments. They’ve been amendments to use for political ads,” Hoyer said in his colloquy with Scalise. But he added that Democrats want to honor the rights of the minority. 

That’s the balance Democratic leaders have had to deal with as some of their members have called on them to get rid of the motion to recommit altogether. Others, including Hoyer, have suggested a rule change might be worth considering that would require the minority to share text of their MTRs within a longer amount of time.

‘Effort to divide’

The minority can currently spring text of their MTRs on the majority just minutes before actually voting on them. That was the case Friday, as Republicans offered an MTR to Democrats’ HR 1 package overhauling voting, campaign finance and ethics laws. 

That MTR would have added nonbinding language expressing the sense of Congress that “allowing illegal immigrants the right to vote devalues the franchise and diminishes the voting power of United States citizens.”

Democrats appeared ready for the line of the attack, and had freshman Rep. Max Rose, who has voted for several MTRs so far this year, argue against it. 

“This is a political effort to divide us, to sow hatred, and it’s a game,” the New York Democrat said. 

Likewise, Democrats had a defense ready when Republicans offered an MTR to add language exempting domestic violence victims from a bill lengthening the amount of time the government has to conduct background checks for gun purchases. 

Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell delivered a passionate response about hiding in a closet as her father domestically abused her mother and worrying about the fact that both of them had guns. Only two Democrats ended up supporting that MTR. 

‘We wish you godspeed’

Rose called Friday’s MTR a “joke” and told Republicans: “If this is your strategy to win future elections, we wish you godspeed because it will never work.”

Ultimately, only six Democrats defected from the party position and voted for the GOP motion to recommit: Reps. Anthony Brindisi of New York, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey.

Brindisi and Van Drew, exiting the floor together Friday, told Roll Call that while they understand Republicans are trying to weaponize the MTR into a political tool, they have no problem voting for one when it makes points they agree with.

“I’m always going to vote how I think is in the best interest of my district,” Brindisi said. “At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing to me, regardless of what anyone here on the floor tells me.”

“You do what’s right, exactly,” Van Drew added. 

The Republican MTR about voting rights, Van Drew said, is a pretty obvious statement but one he agrees with.

“I just use as an example, would people think it’s legal for Russian citizens to vote in the United States? I don’t think so,” he said. “I think the point of it is we are just declaring something that we already knew to be true. Is it necessary? No. But was it harmful? No.”

Still, Van Drew is one of the members who would be happy to get rid of the MTR altogether. 

“It’s an antiquated process that does not function as it should anymore,” he said. “You can still make a point if you want, but there are many other ways — through amendments, through bills, through rules. There are a host of ways you can do it. And the MTR is more and more being used as a tool and political ploy, and I don’t think that it’s functional.”

Brindisi was not ready to call for eliminating MTRs, saying he would want to take a look at whatever proposals for modifying it are put forward. 

“I also don’t see an issue if some of these MTRs pass,” he said. “As long as the underlying bill still passes, as did today, then I don’t see the harm.”

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