Republicans Say Changes to ‘Motion to Recommit’ Will Silence Minority

January 6, 2021 Updated: January 6, 2021

House Republicans accused Democrats on Jan. 4 of silencing their constituents’ voices with changes to the House rule that had enabled the minority party to offer amendments to bills through motions to recommit (MTRs).

In a speech on the House floor on Jan. 4, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the alteration of the MTR is another step toward stifling free speech.

“These changes will stop American voices from being heard, primarily by revoking the motion to recommit, the minorities’ long-term right to offer the last amendment to the legislation,” he said.

“That is what the MTR is all about, for our constituents if taken away, means freedom of speech is silenced and good ideas are stifled,” McCarthy added. “While House Democrats have slowly chipped away at this right in the past, today’s vote truly represents the nuclear option.”

The new rules package takes away the minority’s ability to offer MTRs to alter bills on the floor, which they were able to do eight times during the last Congress.

According to congressional archives: “After the third reading of a bill (or resolution), but before the Speaker orders the vote on final passage of the bill (or resolution), a motion to recommit the bill, either with or without instructions, to the committee which originally reported it is in order. This motion is traditionally the right of the Minority and gives them one last chance to amend or kill the bill.”

But with the gutting of the MTR, the minority would only be able to use the motion to send a bill back to the committee without instruction, which makes it easier to oppose by the majority party.

McCarthy said the MTR was there to protect the minority but that eliminating it fits with a “dangerous trend.”

“It began in our schools on college campuses where our students are taught the absurd notion that free speech is about privilege and power, and not open debate and rational deliberation,” McCarthy said.

“Then it jumped to the mainstream media and social media giants who use their power to protect their liberal friends and censure conservatives, including during the last election and throughout the pandemic,” he added. “And now with today’s vote that same socialist ideas have found their way onto the floor and into the rules of the U.S. House of Representatives, which will shape every law this chamber tries to make in the next two years.”

House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (R) (D-Md.) during a press conference calling for gun control legislation at the U.S. Capitol
House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) during a press conference in a file photograph. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Rules Committee ranking member Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said: “When we were in the majority, you got 45 percent of all the amendments made in order in the Rules Committee. Republicans got 38, the remainder were bipartisan. Last time you got two-thirds of the amendments. We got 18 percent, and the remainder were theirs.”

He added: “When you’re removing the MTR on top of not giving us very many amendments to begin with, we look on that as an effort to limit our ability to participate openly and effectively in the debate. This rule package moves us in another direction.”

Democrats passed the changes to the MTR as a part of the new rules package, with the more progressive Democrats wanting to remove it entirely.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) fired back at McCarthy and Cole saying the MTR has been used for political purposes and not for substantive changes to legislation.

Hoyer said on the House floor on Jan. 4: “The only thing being taken away is their gotcha opportunities and ours. Now in the majority, you don’t have the motion to recommit, I get that, but we may be in the minority at some point, don’t give it back to us. Because it’s a political game that undermines the integrity of this institution.”

In addition, a Rules Committee press statement said the MTR rule change will “preserve and reform the motion to recommit so this tool meant to improve bills is no longer used to hijack the legislative process for political gamesmanship.”