- - Friday, February 5, 2021

House Democrats, joined by about a dozen unthinking Republicans, on Thursday voted to do away with the committee system and change the way the House of Representatives has operated since its inception.

The reason for this seismic shift? They wanted to seek temporary political advantage over Republicans by compelling them, however briefly, to support free speech even for people — like QAnon — who may be unappetizing to some.  

By voting to strip Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia of her committee assignments, the House continued its long, terrible spiral toward oligarchy and irrelevance.

The vote was ostensibly designed to punish Ms. Greene for statements she had made prior to becoming a member of Congress. Hold that thought for a moment; we’ll come back to it.

The real import of the vote is that the majority party in the House — Democrats for now — for the first time in living memory decided who would represent the minority party on House committees. They made this decision entirely on the basis of a lawmaker’s words rather than actions.

Now that the precedent has been established, it is easy to imagine that majority parties in each Congress will use it to deplatform members of the minority who are too out there (think Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York), too prone to incite violence (think Rep. Maxine Waters of California) or too effective (still working on that example).

Additionally, by drawing on statements from Ms. Greene before she joined Congress, the Democrats have widened the ability to use any speech or expression from anyone’s life against them once they become members.

Both elements of this approach — the majority determining who will sit on what committees and the ability to use anything a lawmaker has ever said or written — will naturally result in far fewer people wanting to run for Congress.

Because parties will have an incentive to remove the most effective members of the other side from their committee positions, it also will eventually mean the end of the committee process in the House.

After stripping committee assignments become commonplace (give it about 10 years), only the most anodyne and least effective lawmakers will be allowed to sit on committees at all. That guarantees that the committees will be even more reliable rubber stamps for leadership.

Add in the pathologies associated with proxy voting, which include the notion that you can be a member of Congress without actually showing up to vote, let alone discuss issues, and it easy to imagine a Congress — with either party in the majority — run exclusively by leadership and its staff.

That’s great, unless you believe in representative government, which requires presence, thoughtful deliberation and debate, the chance for meaningful amendments, and the notion that local and regional attachments in some instances may be more important than partisan affiliation.

More troubling, Congress is now on record as determining that some speech is unacceptable — in this instance, political speech that is not criminal and protected by the First Amendment. In so doing, lawmakers who voted to strip Ms. Greene of her committee assignments violated their own oaths of office. They also have helped create a world in which political speech — the actual professional currency of members of Congress — is diminished. 

If you place speech that you don’t care for out of bounds, you simply encourage the underlying sentiments to find other outlets. Those other outlets usually and unfortunately include violence. Free speech is important precisely because it ventilates sentiments and attitudes and thereby reduces their capacity to larger harm to the polity.

Finally, it is worth remembering that this same House of Representatives started an impeachment process about a month ago, specifically to defend the integrity of the vote. Yet last week they partially disenfranchised the voters in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District by preventing their representative from participating in the work of Congress in its committees.

Either voters count — all of them — or they don’t. Just like the former president, House Democrats should not decide which voters they like and which they don’t, which are worthy of their respect and which are not.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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