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House Dems Ponder Rules Change After GOP Gets Procedural Wins

Do you support changing the rules of the "motion to recommit"?

by Countable | 2.28.19

Before the House passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act (H.R. 8) along mostly party-lines this week, Republican lawmakers enjoyed a rare victory on the floor after convincing 26 Democrats to vote for a “motion to recommit” that requires the gun background check system to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when firearm purchases by unauthorized immigrants are blocked.

How did they do it?

The motion to recommit is a procedural tool that gives the minority party in the House an opportunity to vote on sending a bill back to committee or changing it when they weren't able to offer amendments. Although it has evolved over time, it has existed in some form since the First Congress.

There are two types of motions to recommit, both of which must be “germane” (or related) to the policy being debated:

  • A simple motion to recommit sends the bill back to committee and may instruct the committee on what changes to make.
  • A motion to recommit “forthwith” keeps the bill on the floor and amends the bill if it’s agreed to by a majority on the House floor.

How has the motion to recommit been used successfully?

While they typically don’t succeed (Republicans didn’t lose a motion to recommit vote during their eight years in the majority), so far in this Congress there have been two motions to recommit that were adopted by the House.

The first was a 424-0 vote (with two voting present) on a “forthwith” motion to recommit that amended a bill to withdraw U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen to include language expressing that it’s in the national security interest of the U.S. to combat anti-Semitism around the world. It came about as a way to rebuke anti-Semitic comments made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who apologized and voted in favor.

Wednesday’s motion to recommit caught the House Democratic leadership by surprise, after 26 Democrats joined all Republicans except for one in voting to require the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to notify ICE when unauthorized immigrants attempt to buy firearms. The underlying bill was then passed 240-190 along party-lines with only eight Republicans voting in favor.

The lone Republican who didn’t support either of the successful motions to recommit, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), did so because he opposed the underlying bill in both cases.

What do Democrats want to change?

While some members have called for the motion to recommit's abolition, the House rules require the opportunity to offer such a motion so it's unlikely to be eliminated altogether.

Democratic leaders are considering requiring the minority party to inform them earlier about how a particular motion to recommit will be used.

That’d give leadership more time to try to convince moderate Democrats concerned about controversial votes being used against them in the next campaign to vote with the party, which has proven a point of contention within the caucus.


— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr / Creative Commons)

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