In a short pro forma session on Tuesday, House Democrats blocked a Republican-sponsored bill that would put new obligations on the White House and military leaders as the Afghanistan crisis continues to unfold.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), requires the White House and military to send daily reports to Congress on the number of Americans trapped in Afghanistan. It also commits U.S. troops to Afghanistan until every American who wants to leave has been able to escape the country. It would also urge the president not to recognize the Taliban terrorist organization as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.
Last Thursday, 13 U.S. troops died in an attack claimed by the terrorist organization ISIS-K, the highest American death toll in over a decade.
On Tuesday, the House met in the first session since these deaths in Afghanistan; legislative business is usually not conducted at pro forma sessions. Still, in the wake of the deaths in Kabul, some members of the House GOP caucus made a desperate bid to use the session to consider Gallagher’s bill.
Democrats silently shot down the motion by refusing to recognize Republicans to speak about the legislation. Over loud objections, House Democrats quickly adjourned the meeting.
This was the bill’s second failure in the House.
On Aug. 24, the House met in an emergency session to vote on two pieces of expansive Democratic legislation: Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) $3.5 trillion budget resolution and Rep. Terri Sewell’s (D-Ala.) “John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”
Early in that session, Gallagher put forward a motion to suspend considerations on these pieces of legislation and to instead consider his bill. Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) quickly shot the proposal down, explaining that acceding to this request would “hand the floor over to the Republican conference,” an unacceptable move given the “extremely important” legislation on the House docket for the day.
Democrats later pushed forward party-line votes on both pieces of legislation, a move that drew the ire of Republicans. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made a fiery speech excoriating Democrats for shooting down Gallagher’s bill at the first session of Congress since the fall of Kabul to Taliban terrorists.
In a brief press conference after the pro forma session Tuesday, Gallagher and other Republicans discussed this second failure of the bill.
Gallagher first referenced the House’s emergency meeting on Aug. 24, saying “Just last week we had an opportunity to come together as Democrats and Republicans, and pass a bill that would have prevented the administration from withdrawing troops on the arbitrary August 31 surrender date until we had gotten all of our Americans out.”
He continued: “Behind closed doors, this is exactly what many Democrats said they wanted. They pushed back on the administration, they begged and pleaded the president to abandon the Taliban’s surrender day.”
In fact, many Democrats—especially those in vulnerable seats—have distanced themselves from the president in recent days. Several Democrats across various congressional committees promised to investigate the administration’s failures in Afghanistan and pushed to extend the withdrawal deadline. But despite this positioning, Democrats rejected Gallagher’s bill to push the withdrawal date forward indefinitely until all Americans were out safely.
With this rejection, the future of Gallagher’s bill is uncertain, leading Republicans to strategize a path forward for the bill.
McCarthy said at the press conference that in light of Democratic opposition to the bill, the House GOP would consider using a discharge petition. A discharge petition is a U.S. parliamentary procedure that can expedite the consideration of a bill by immediately moving it out of committee and onto the floor for a vote.
There are some hurdles that GOP leadership would have to overcome before moving the bill on, however. For one, a discharge petition must get 218 signatures to advance; because the GOP only controls 212 seats, advancing the petition would require that at least 6 Democrats sign on with Republicans.
But even if the bill got through the House with this technique, it would still face stiff opposition from Democrats in the Senate, who may kill the bill with a filibuster.