Horowitz: Why the GOP vote on House rules is more important than the election

News & Politics

November 8 is no longer the most important date on the calendar for conservatives. It’s the day after Election Day, along with the ensuing weeks, that will determine whether the incoming House majority fails like the previous eras of GOP control or whether it ushers in a new day in Washington.

At present, the outcome of this election is locked and loaded. Republicans will almost certainly win back the House, but even in the likely scenario they also win the Senate, they will not have 60 seats, nor will they have the presidency. Now it’s just a matter of which seats they win and exactly how many. In other words, whether this tyrannical government is stopped in its tracks is going to rest solely on the resolve of the House Republicans to hold the line on the issues that matter, in the way they matter, at the time and points of leverage that matter. This will all be determined in the week following the election, when the House Republicans vote to elect leadership and adopt the rules package governing the House next year. This is where conservatives need to pay attention, because absent any fundamental changes to the way House GOP leaders do business, the Republican House will be no better than during the John Boehner and Paul Ryan eras.

In September, the House Freedom Caucus submitted a list of proposed rules changes to the current conference leadership so that the new conference can vote on them before selecting leadership for the incoming Congress during the freshman member orientation conferences scheduled for the week after the election. Taken as a whole, these rules are designed to decentralize power, empower individual members to push initiatives and leadership positions, and ensure that conservatives don’t get steamrolled by McConnell and McCarthy working together on the most important issues of our time while ignoring conservative priorities. Thus far, Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Scott Perry (R-Penn.) has not received a response from leadership on the proposals.

Here are some of the most important proposals in my opinion:

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  • Adopting the rules package before selecting leadership: The first proposal is actually a rule on the rules, which provides the leverage to make all the other rules changes. Under the current conference rules, unless amended, the conference will first conduct leadership elections the week of Nov. 14 and then likely adopt a rules package the next day. This allows leaders to jockey for positions and then betray the conference on the rules package a day later after securing the positions of speaker and majority leader. The Freedom Caucus is proposing that the current conference adopt an amendment that the incoming conference first vote on the rules package before selecting leaders. This will force the front-runners to take a stand on the issues and show the incoming members they intend to change the way the House does business.
  • Majority of the majority rule: So, what are some of those changes they seek in the rules package? The most important one is adopting a rule that leadership can only support a bill on the floor that has the support of a majority of the elected Republicans. This is extremely important during the critical budget bill votes. During Trump’s presidency, leadership often screwed over conservatives by passing unpopular bills with majority Democrat support. This allowed most Republicans to “hope yes, vote no,” get the bad bill passed, but rely on Democrats to do the dirty work. Requiring a majority of the majority will either stop these bills in their tracks and provide us with the leverage to fight for our priorities on the budget bills, or expose the undocumented RINOs by forcing them to publicly vote their conscience so they can be tagged for defeat in future elections.
  • Selecting chairmen from the committee members: We all know that leadership is very careful about the GOP image and will not conduct hearings on issues leaders believe are untouchable. The way they enforce this discipline is by hand-picking the chairmen directly or through their leadership-dominated steering committee. The Freedom Caucus is proposing a simple way to decentralize leadership by having the members of each standing committee choose their respective chairmen. This way, if the members want to delve into issues that leadership is afraid of, they can select a chairman who will follow the truth, not politics.
  • Allowing an open amendment process: Under both parties in recent years, most important bills were brought to the floor under rules that shut off the ability of average members to force votes on amendments. This way, many of our priorities won’t even get a vote and Republicans can continue to pretend they stand with us on important issues while ensuring they never see the light of day. One proposed rules change would force a vote on any amendment that has 10% of the conference signed onto it. That would require roughly 23-24 members to support it. This is the way we can force votes on ideas like a full ban on transgenderism in federal funding, a moratorium on immigration, or terminating immunity for vaccine companies – all ideas leadership would never bring up for a vote.
  • Motion to vacate the chair: What is the deterrent against the next speaker following in the path of the previous fraudulent GOP leaders? Well, the new Congress has taken away the potent tool of allowing any member to call a vote to “vacate the chair,” which essentially could lead to deposing the speaker. The Freedom Caucus is calling on the conference to restore that prerogative to empower individual members to hold leadership accountable.
  • Read the bill: It is precisely the largest, most consequential bills that both parties have been slamming onto the floor within hours of the scheduled vote. The new rules proposal would require the bills to be posted five full days before any vote, and any waiver of that rule would have to be approved by two-thirds of the House members, not just the Rules Committee.

These proposals and more were laid out in a pamphlet being distributed by the Freedom Caucus to GOP House candidates so that they know what to expect immediately after the election. Unless these members are vigilant and their constituents remain engaged, the entire conservative leverage could be lost within a week after the election.

Taken in totality, these rules would ensure that this time the GOP House actually fulfills its electoral mandate. If Kevin McCarthy is serious about changing the direction of the Congress, he would embrace rather than ignore these proposals.

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