The Motion to Recommit is a procedural move in the U.S. House of Representatives that can be utilized by the minority to amend a bill or to essentially kill it by sending it back to the committee of jurisdiction. It’s a privileged motion, which means that the majority-controlled Rules Committee is prohibited from crafting a rule that would deny the minority the opportunity of introducing it. As with many procedural rules, it can be weaponized by the minority to create mischief. Here are a couple of recent examples of how the House Republicans have used the privileged motion to troll the Democrats:
House Republicans, under the leadership of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, have designed the measures to be as politically painful as possible for Democrats.
One amendment would have banned pay increases for federal workers who have been disciplined for sexual misconduct. Another would have forced veterans’ child care centers to suspend any workers who have been accused of drug-related or violent crimes.
Most recently, the Republicans succeeded on Wednesday in getting the Democrats to unanimously support their Motion to Recommit with Instructions amending H.J.Res 37, a joint Senate/House resolution calling for “the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.”
The right is crowing that this success is a rebuke of freshmen Democratic congresswoman Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. The language of the motion doesn’t mention her by name, but it rebukes her support for the the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Movement:
“With an unfortunate rise in anti-Semitism and attempts to delegitimize Israel, the United States House of Representatives must emphasize the importance of combating anti-Semitism and reject all movements that deny Israel’s right to exist.”
Israel insists that BDS is denying its right to exist, but proponents of the movement argue that they’re merely trying to compel them to change their behavior with respect to the Palestinians. However you feel about that dispute, the motion to recommit is clearly referring to BDS when it says the House of Representatives rejects “all movements that deny Israel’s right to exist.”
It’s rare for a motion to recommit to actually pass. When the Republicans are in control, it never happens.
Wednesday’s vote had GOP lawmakers and aides salivating at what they saw as a huge victory in an institution where the minority has almost no power. Republicans never once lost such a procedural vote when they were in the majority.
Compare that to the Democrats:
Democrats struggled with the same problem last time they were in the majority between 2007 and 2011 and had a cluster of vulnerable members in Republican-leaning districts to protect. The Democratic-led House approved the GOP’s procedural votes roughly one-fifth of the time during those years.
One way to tell whether the motion to recommit is being used to make better policy or simply to troll is to look at how the minority votes on the underlying bill. In the case of the joint resolution on Yemen, 194 Republicans voted to add the language about BDS, but only 18 actually voted for bill that contained that amendment. In other words, they voted to condemn BDS before they voted against condemning it.
And I think that gets to something that is bothering a lot of Democrats. When Democratic lawmakers vote for Republican motions to recommit, they do so for two reasons. One is that they don’t want to fail to condemn anti-Semitism, sexual and drug abuse, killing kittens, or whatever Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s staff of trolls comes up with. The other is that they want to reduce their overall percentage rating for voting with their own party. This allows them to fend off attacks that they’re a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi. In other words, they’re trying to protect themselves from political attacks. But the Democrats can now turn around and run against all but eighteen members of the House for voting against a joint resolution condemning anti-Semitism and the BDS movement, and they’ll be telling the truth. The Republicans don’t care. The Democrats do.
Do you think the Republicans won’t make that kind of misleading attack against Democratic incumbents? They will say whatever they want, even if there isn’t even a shred of truth involved. The idea that they won’t call you a rubber-stamp for Pelosi if you cast a few votes against the party on procedural moves is nothing but a fantasy. The idea that they won’t tie you to the most left-wing members of your party regardless of what you say and how you vote is also a fantasy.
It’s one thing if you can appeal to some objective reality to counter their attacks. But casting an insincere vote on a procedural move doesn’t fit that bill. If you opposed the measure but voted for it out of fear, that doesn’t mean that you were objectively in favor of what you voted for. In these times, fact-checking doesn’t do much work in the best of cases, but appealing to facts when the facts don’t support you is especially ineffective.
Nancy Pelosi understands this, which is why she’s angry about members voting for Republican motions to recommit. Unfortunately, her lieutenants Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn think it’s fine for some vulnerable Democrats to protect their flank in this way so long as it doesn’t cause the motion to pass.
On Wednesday, the motion passed unanimously.