Democratic leaders Hoyer and Clyburn need to get their House in order to end Republican poison pills
In 2007, the Democratic House majority saw Republicans weaponize a procedural tactic to thwart their legislative efforts with poison pills. They are doing it again, and succeeding, because two members of the leadership team—Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip James Clyburn—didn’t learn the lessons of 2007 or the eight years they just spent in the wilderness of Republican rule.
What the Republicans did in 2007, and what they managed to achieve Wednesday, is to use the procedural “motion to recommit” to poison legislation. The motion to recommit (MTR) is the minority’s last chance to amend or kill a bill by sending it back to committee before final passage. Republicans use it to make a bill politically unpalatable to the majority and to peel off swing-district Democrats.
On Wednesday, they got 26 Democrats to vote with them to add a provision to their background checks bill that would require notification to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when undocumented immigrants try to buy guns. The motion passed and was added to the final bill, to the glee of Republicans: “Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) delivered high fives on the floor, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) offered fist bumps, and rank-and-file GOP members cheered.”
What happened? By most accounts, Hoyer and Clyburn, who are supposed to be keeping members disciplined and in line, thought it was more important for members to “vote their districts,” as Mariel Saez, a spokeswoman for Hoyer, explained it. One senior Democratic aide said that there was a “lack of coordination between Hoyer, who is responsible for all floor action, and Clyburn, who is charged with lining up votes.” Meaning that, between the two of them, they gave 26 Democrats a pass to vote with Republicans without checking in with one another.
This is supposed to be “protecting” vulnerable members, preventing Republicans from attacking them for voting with Pelosi. As if! Some newly elected Democrats get it. Rep. Katie Hill said about the last time this happened that “Clearly [Republicans] are doing this as a ploy and not because [they] actually give a shit about the issue. […] It makes it hard for those of us who do vote against the [GOP proposals], who are in similarly tough districts.” Fellow California Democrat Rep. Mike Levin agreed. “The way I see it is you’re not going to win or lose reelection on the basis of a procedural vote. […] The opposition [is] going to try to attack us for everything.” Pelosi knows that, and reportedly laid down the law in Thursday morning’s party conference meeting. “We are either a team or weren’t not, and we have to make that decision,” she reportedly said. “The minute you have decided it’s not a parochial vote, that it’s not a procedural vote, they smell blood; they’re on your case for every other MTR.”
That’s exactly what will happen, and Hoyer and Clyburn should know it by now. They saw what happened to the Blue Dogs they were propping up back from 2007 through 2010—they were wiped out by Republicans who never once mentioned that they didn’t vote 100 percent of the time with Nancy Pelosi. Now Hoyer is supposedly pushing a rules change that would require that MRTs be filed with enough time for Democrats to know what’s in them and decide how to whip on them.
Which is bullshit. What Hoyer and Clyburn both need to do is wake up to reality and stop fostering the delusion among supposed moderates that their procedural votes will save them from Republican attacks. They need to be the enforcers they are supposed to be and nip this shit in the bud now. There is never a need for a Democrat to vote with a Republican poison pill, and they have to stop giving the Republicans reason to use them.