Congress

Pelosi says Democrats should vote as one against GOP messaging votes

Republicans routinely voted against Democrats’ use of procedural tool when GOP was in control of the House

Speaker Nancy Pelosi stopped short of endorsing a plan to change the rules to weaken the minority party’s leverage on message-sending votes . (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The day after Republicans won a second messaging vote designed to rattle the majority’s agenda, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that House Democrats should uniformly vote against Republican motions to recommit so as not to give the minority leverage on purely procedural votes.

The California Democrat expressed openness to reviewing the practicality and functionality of the procedural tool but stopped short of endorsing an immediate rule change that would weaken the minority’s power to use motions to recommit.

The recently formed select committee that will be studying proposals for modernizing Congress is “an appropriate place for some of that discussion to take place,” Pelosi said. “In the meantime, vote no.”

A motion to recommit is one of the few procedural tools the House minority has to get its message across in the majority-run chamber. When Republicans held the majority the past eight years they treated Democratic motions to recommit as political theater and — with only minor and occasional defections — they uniformly voted against them.

Democrats are having trouble keeping the same unity, as more and more moderate Democrats have defected and sided with Republicans on motions to recommit. Twice now the defections have resulted in the minority winning motion to recommit votes.

The first GOP messaging win came through a motion to recommit on a resolution for reducing U.S. involvement in Yemen that added language to the measure condemning anti-Semitism. Democrats reluctantly agreed to vote for it because they didn’t want to appear anti-Semitic only to learn that its inclusion fuddled the resolution’s privileged status in the Senate.

The second motion to recommit that the House agreed to because of Democrats siding with Republicans came Wednesday on a bill to expand background checks for gun purchases. The motion to recommit that 26 Democrats voted to support added language to the bill to require the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to be alerted if an undocumented immigrant tries to buy a gun.

Many of the Democrats who voted for the motion to recommit are from districts Republicans are targeting in 2020.

Some Democrats feel that members should be able to vote for the motions to recommit if the message benefits their district so they aren’t prone to attack ads. Pelosi disagrees with that, saying that disunity only gives Republicans more leverage.

“No, vote no,” she said. “The fact is a vote yes is to give leverage to the other side, a surrender of the leverage on the other side.”

The motion to recommit matter was discussed Thursday during Democratic leaders’ weekly whip meeting. No decisions were made about how to proceed but Pelosi made the same argument to the members in the meeting that she made to the media.

“There might be a time when there is something so parochial to your district that there’s a case, but the minute you have decided it’s not a parochial vote, that it’s not a procedural vote, they smell blood; they’re on your case for every other MTR, and are on the case of our other colleagues, especially our freshman colleagues,” Pelosi said, according to a source in the room.

Another source present noted that two rank-and-file members floated getting rid of motions to recommit altogether, but Rules Chairman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts argued against that, saying Democrats might be in the minority again and, effectively, what goes around comes around.

Some Democrats talked about how the votes are tough and a challenge, especially for vulnerable members, which Pelosi agreed with but said they would be easier to fight if Democrats stuck together, both sources said.

“We are either a team or weren’t not, and we have to make that decision,” Pelosi said, according to the first source.

One proposal some members are contemplating is changing the rules to require more time to review motions to recommit. Democrats often don’t know what the Republicans are planning for the motion to recommit until they get to the floor for the vote.

Ultimately, no decisions were made Thursday about whether to change the rules on motions to recommit as members wanted to discuss the matter further.

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