“You drive us wild. We’ll drive you crazy.” – KISS, Rock and Roll All Nite
GOPers are using a garden-variety procedural tool to goad Democrats into taking challenging votes on the floor – and risking the defeat or alteration of legislation which is on the verge of passing.
The parliamentary gambit is called the "Motion to Recommit," or MTR as it’s known in congressional shorthand. MTR's must be "germane" and tied directly to the legislation at hand. In short, an MTR can't deal with cats if the bill deals with dogs.
At the end of almost every debate, just before the House votes on most major legislation, the majority provides the minority a parliamentary option, which, depending on how it’s drafted, could either change or possibly kill bills. In its purest form, a MTR is just that: an effort to “recommit” legislation to committee, whisking it off the floor.
Most MTR’s resulted in party-line votes until 2007. That’s when Democrats again won control of the House after 12 years in the wilderness. Democrats captured the House with victories by moderate Democrats in battleground districts in the 2006 midterm elections. Seeing an opportunity, Republicans began crafting artful MTR’s, written in a way to put the squeeze on vulnerable Democrats. Democrats took pains to protect their new members and leaders granted them leeway to vote against the brass and in line with their district on some MTR’s. In the end, this created havoc for Democrats on the floor – even though they were in the majority.
The best example came in March 2007. Lawmakers debated a measure to award the District of Columbia a seat in the House. Republicans concocted a motion to recommit that would have repealed Washington's ban on handguns. The MTR was germane because the bill dealt with the District of Columbia, and it made many conservative, pro-Second Amendment Democrats jumpy. In that instance, those Democrats had to choose whether to vote with the Republicans and the firearms proposal or against the philosophies of their districts and side with leadership.
Either way, Republicans had Democrats in a stranglehold.
If those gun-friendly Democrats voted with the Republicans, the MTR would blow up the D.C. House seat bill. If Republicans were successful in goading those same Democrats into voting with the leadership, watch out come election time. By writing a controversial motion to recommit, Republicans generated a tally where they could document when certain Democrats from vulnerable districts might vote against the right to bear arms. Republicans would then prep election ads to portray those Democrats as opposing the Second Amendment. Republicans when then use those votes against those Democrats in swing districts.
Mindful that their lawmakers could face exposure to these ads, the Democratic leadership yanked the District of Columbia bill off the House floor. The bill to increase the size of the House by granting a seat to Washington, DC never went to a vote – despite debate on the floor.
In the succeeding months, Republicans successfully deployed MTRs against majority Democrats on the so-called "cash for caulkers" bill. The legislation would help people weatherize their homes and install energy efficient windows. Another GOP MTR gutted a science measure.
Democrats lost the House in the 2010 midterms. And once they were back in the minority, Democrats were never quite as wily with their MTRs as the GOP. But MTR’s are again an issue with the Democrats back in power. We're not two months into the new Congress and the GOP has already prevailed on two MTRs on the floor.
The GOP prevailed a few weeks ago, tacking on provisions via an MTR condemning anti-Semitism to a measure designed to halt U.S. action in Yemen. This week, a GOP MTR added language requiring Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) be told about undocumented persons purchasing weapons to a background check bill.
Twenty-six Democrats joined Republicans in the effort, inflaming many Democrats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., insists that Democrats should oppose motions to recommit as a matter of policy. Other Democrats believe leaders should give vulnerable Democrats more latitude. There is some chatter that Democrats could try to change the MTR rule.
"A yes vote is to give leverage to the other side,” said Pelosi. "To surrender leverage on the floor of the House."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., suggests that changing the MTR rule would be a "nuclear option."
"It would leave a stain on this majority," said McCarthy, arguing that MTRs are one of the few parliamentary tools granted the minority in the House.
House Republicans would blow a gasket if Democrats revoked the MTR, curbing what little power the minority has in the House. Yet ironically, many House Republicans want to curb the power of the minority in the Senate (where Republicans hold the majority) and eliminate the filibuster.
McCarthy wouldn't directly respond to the juxtaposition of those positions when pressed by Fox.