- The Washington Times - Monday, January 4, 2021

House Democrats took steps Monday to protect their thin majority by changing the chamber’s rules to make it harder for Republicans to force tough votes.

The new set of House rules also embraced gender-neutral terminology, sparking further ire from their GOP colleagues.

The package passed in a party-line vote — demonstrating that although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s majority is tenuously small, it is still tough for the Republican minority to prevail.

The new rules make it more difficult for the GOP to wreak havoc with a procedural maneuver known as a “motion to recommit,” which allows the minority to force at least one vote to amend legislation.

The motion to recommit most often is used to score political points, such as adding restrictions on undocumented immigrants to a Democratic gun-control bill.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the rule change an attack on free speech.

“For our constituents, taking [the MTR] away means freedom of speech is silenced, and good ideas are stifled,” the California Republican said. “Today’s vote truly represents the nuclear option.”

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, Pennsylvania Democrat, said motions to recommit are about politics and not about making legislation better.

“Every motion to recommit has been a poison pill,” she said.

The new rule would allow Republicans to bring up a vote on a motion to recommit, but they can only to refer it back to a committee — not on specific language to attach to the bill. The majority party usually can fend off these motions with ease, but Republicans successfully chipped off enough Democrats to pass eight of their amendments in the last Congress, putting vulnerable members in difficult positions each time.

The GOP rarely lost when they were in the majority.

Anthony Madonna, a political science professor from the University of Georgia, said the changes to the motion to recommit is by far the most significant change in the rules package, though he noted the House has seen its share of controversial changes in the past.

“You’re losing these votes. Your moderates are worried about that attack ad that’s going to run in the district,” he said, noting that the rules themselves will not affect voters much.

Republicans still will have a few other avenues to cause procedural headaches for Democrats and force vulnerable members into a rhetorical corner, even if they aren’t as explicit as the motion to recommit.

Still, the change gives Mrs. Pelosi’s team a firmer hold on what happens on the House floor, Mr. Madonna said.

Republicans also criticized the Democrats’ attempt to make Congress more “woke” by stripping gender-specific language from the rules.

In certain official texts, familial relationships, such as mother or father, are replaced with “parents” and positions such as “chairman” are changed to simply “chair.”

Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrats, said the rules were expanded before to include women when once they referred only to men.

He said Republicans were blowing the changes out of proportion.

“I heard someone say what this means you can’t refer to yourself as a mother or father or sister or daughter on the floor. That’s ridiculous,” he said on CSPAN. “That this is one of the legacies of Trumpism. You know when you don’t want to talk about crushing the coronavirus or dealing with the economy you make things up.”

However, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Missouri Democrat, provoked a backlash from conservatives on social media by concluding his opening day prayer with “amen and a-woman.”

Mr. Cleaver did not specify why he changed the traditional ending, which means “so it be.”

“I’m a proud father. I’m an extremely proud son. … First we take your speech away. Then we take what you can say,” Mr. McCarthy said. “The fact that this is the Democrats’ first course of action as a majority in the new Congress speaks volumes to what the lengths they will go to, to silence the people’s voice.”

The Democrats’ liberal wing scored a victory with a new rule allowing the Budget Committee chairman to waive PAYGO standards — which require any new spending to be offset somehow — for bills related to the coronavirus pandemic or climate change, making it easier for them to push big-ticket items like Medicare for All or the Green New Deal.

The package also includes new rules barring former lawmakers convicted of a corruption-related crime from the floor, ramps up consequences for revealing whistleblower identities, and extends subpoena powers for committees to include former presidents, vice presidents and White House staff.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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