The conservatives strike back: House floor fight imperils popular bills

In some ways, the GOP’s tactics are an escalation of how hard-line conservatives have exercised their power for years — making it more painful for those in the majority to operate, whether it’s Democrats or their own party in charge. But Democrats warn that this latest gambit from the right could erode one of the last vestiges of bipartisanship in the House, where relationships have already deteriorated in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 riot.

And Democrats argue that attempting to force House votes late into the night for little purpose other than agitation could dramatically slow the chamber’s work for years to come.

House suspension bills, which are popular measures that get limited debate, “are, frankly, the one item that we have left that we have dealt with on a bipartisan basis,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters Tuesday. “We obviously have significant partisan differences … but I am trying to preclude that from adversely affecting a bipartisan procedure that works well.”

While rank-and-file Republicans are spearheading the latest effort to torpedo the floor schedule — which has claimed some of the GOP’s own bills, including a measure to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Capitol Police after the insurrection — even some GOP leaders say they empathize with the overall mission.

Top Republicans are particularly incensed that Democrats altered the House’s “motion to recommit,” one of the few procedural tools that the chamber’s minority can wield. The GOP used that motion successfully a number of times in the last Congress to force last-minute changes to legislation on the House floor.

“I think it’s a legitimate approach for members of the minority to take,” said GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). “The majority needs to understand we are not interested in a situation where they have taken away so many rights of the minority and they expect things are going to operate smoothly.”

“It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that this is going on,” she added.

Yet some Republicans, while sharing their colleagues’ frustrations, are reluctant to use bipartisan bills as leverage in a procedural showdown. Hoyer said that “there’s a lot of disagreement and anger and disappointment on both sides” with the GOP’s delay tactics. And House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) made clear Tuesday that the plan to object to routine votes did not come from Republican leadership.

Hoyer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are in talks about finding a path forward and plan to speak later Tuesday on the issue. Hoyer also spoke with Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a conservative who has become a master of procedural delays on the floor.

Roy was among the Republicans who threatened to force recorded votes on 13 suspension bills Monday evening, which would have taken all night given the House’s new pandemic-era procedures — which are themselves another source of frustration among the GOP. Hoyer was forced to pull the bills from consideration under suspension, a fast-track process that requires two-thirds support to pass the House. The majority of those bills also didn’t go through the committee process.

“Right now, this place is completely dysfunctional,” Roy said. “Why are we pretending like we’re greasing the skids here to help anybody move these bills on one particular day or another? We need to have a serious conversation about the things that are fundamentally broken about the institution.”

Republicans are still weighing whether to continue Monday night’s protest, forcing the chamber to convene for even the most mundane bills and potentially turning all floor proceedings into a Senate-like slog. The ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus held a virtual meeting Monday evening to discuss their strategy on the matter; Republicans also discussed it during a conference meeting Tuesday morning.

Later on Tuesday, dozens of GOP lawmakers mounted another disruption by lining up on the House floor to seek unanimous consent on a bill requiring schools to have a reopening plan if they receive federal pandemic aid. That move briefly delayed a procedural vote on the coronavirus relief package.

“There’s a lot of frustration in the conference to see the 45-minute votes that turn into hour-long votes,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), a member of the Freedom Caucus. “We should be leading the way towards how to go back to full functionality. Instead, they’re still dragging.”

Democrats, meanwhile, argue that they hold the majority — albeit, a slim one — and have every right to run the House as they see fit, especially amid the pandemic. Conservative complaints about the House’s lack of transparency or open process long predate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reclamation of the speaker’s gavel in 2019.

Many Democrats also point out that the current floor stunt follows their decision to strip controversial Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) of her committees for her record of incendiary comments. Her involvement in the current GOP maneuver on the floor strikes those lawmakers as little more than attention-seeking.

“She needs to find a hobby other than engaging in unproductive activity and miring herself in conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries told reporters, referring to Greene. Jeffries warned that Republicans’ tactics would only end up delaying bipartisan bills they support: “My grandmother used to say to me, be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.”

With tensions still high in the Capitol, Republicans aren’t alone in threatening to take down suspension bills.