- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

House Democrats want to change rules that allow Republicans to modify bills on the floor — a tactic the GOP has used several times, including a maneuver this week to insert a shield law for “John Doe” passengers to report potential terrorists without fear of legal reprisal.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, threatened to change the rules during a press briefing Tuesday, just hours before Republicans used the procedural motion to recommit the Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007 back to committee to include the protective language.

The effort passed on a vote of 304-121, with 105 Democrats siding with all 199 Republicans.

“House Republicans are successfully offering solutions on the House floor that are winning bipartisan support and addressing problems the American families are concerned about,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said yesterday. “Democratic leaders are trying to shut it down.”

According to a report in CQ Today, Mr. Hoyer will spend the upcoming two-week recess crafting changes in the rules so Republicans can no longer blindside the majority with motions to redraft legislation.

“We don’t think that’s appropriate,” Mr. Hoyer said. “We don’t think that serves the legislative process, and we’re going to address that.”

If the rule is not changed, Mr. Hoyer said, “we are going to be, on every bill, open to an amendment that is totally unrelated to the substance of the bill.”

Republicans say Democrats are desperate to change the rules because they have successfully passed seven of 19 motions to recommit with support from rank-and-file Democrats.

“House Democrats can expect a vigorous fight from House Republicans and a lot of criticism from the American people,” Mr. Boehner said.

Republicans also have used the motions to prevent illegal aliens from voting in union-organizing elections, and to protect U.S. military recruiters from discrimination by federally funded colleges and universities.

“Perhaps before they game the system by changing the rules to their liking, the Democrat leadership should ask its own members why they are voting in droves for our proposals,” Mr. Boehner said.

The motion to recommit on Tuesday was based on a bill introduced last week by Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican, to protect “John Does” or passengers targeted in a lawsuit filed by six Muslim imams earlier this month in Minneapolis.

The language will ensure that any person who voluntarily reports suspicious activity that could be a threat to transportation security will be immune from civil liability for the disclosure.

“If we are serious about fighting terrorism, if we are serious about protecting Americans and asking them to help protect us, then we must pass this motion,” Mr. Pearce said in support of the motion.

The proposal caught Democrats by surprise.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, complained that he had received the proposed language only minutes before his limited time for debate.

Mr. Thompson was booed several times by Republicans as he defended the imams’ right to sue.

“The point that I’m making, while this motion to recommit might be well-intended, it has unintended consequences on a lot of people — people who for religious or other reasons might look different,” Mr. Thompson said.

“We should be tolerant and tolerance doesn’t mean singling people out or having them arrested for no apparent reason other than the fact that they look different,” Mr. Thompson said.

After four calls from the speaker’s chair for the House to be in order, Mr. Thompson bellowed above the noise, “Madam Speaker, I accept the motion to recommit.”

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