In fra­cas over speaker, bud­gets can wait. The nitty-gritty can’t.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY MIKE DEBONIS

When the 40 or so Repub­li­can law­mak­ers re­spon­si­ble for the re­cent up­heaval in the House talk about what it would take to quell their re­bel­lion, they do not nec­es­sar­ily talk about the debt ceil­ing, the fed­eral bud­get or any other de­mand of the party’s en­er­gized con­ser­va­tive base.

They speak in­stead about rule changes, com­mit­tee as­sign­ments and the hal­lowed pur­suit of “reg­u­lar or­der”— a fre­quently in­voked, civics-text­book ideal by which leg­is­la­tion bub­bles up through sub­com­mit­tees to com­mit­tees to the floor to the pres­i­dent’s desk and into law.

“The false, lazy nar­ra­tive is that we want a more con­ser­va­tive speaker,” Rep. Justin Amash (RMich.) told re­porters at a fo­rum of hard-line House mem­bers last week. “But the re­al­ity is: What we want is a process-fo­cused speaker. . . . What we need is a speaker who fol­lows the House rules.”

Those law­mak­ers, most of whom have or­ga­nized into the House Free­dom Cau­cus, are at the core of the lead­er­ship cri­sis af­flict­ing the House GOP, and there are few signs they will re­treat in the wake of Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy’s with­drawal from the speaker’s race.

They want more bills and amend­ments from rank-and-file mem­bers and a gen­er­ally more free­wheel­ing ap­proach on the House floor, as well as an over­haul to in­ter­nal party-man­age­ment rules. And, they say, they are will­ing to use the same lever­age they used against McCarthy (R-Calif.) to get it.

The at­ten­tion of the po­lit­i­cal world on Satur­day re­mained trained on Rep. Paul Ryan (RWis.), who has been touted through­out the Repub­li­can Party as a con­sen­sus choice for speaker and who is re­con­sid­er­ing calls to run. But even Ryan wouldn’t be ex­empt from those de­mands,

some hard-lin­ers say.

“The only way you’re go­ing to bring peo­ple to­gether here in the House is by chang­ing the rules or at least fol­low­ing the cur­rent rules that we have,” Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho) said Fri­day.

The prob­lem with that, other Repub­li­cans say, is that those de­mands would make the House even more un­govern­able than it al­ready is.

“Ev­ery­one tries reg­u­lar or­der, and no­body suc­ceeds at it,” said John Fee­hery, who served as an aide to for­mer speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) “What will end up hap­pen­ing is that con­ser­va­tives will lose, be­cause they don’t have the votes.”

The most fre­quently in­voked breaches of “reg­u­lar or­der” in­clude the spend­ing bills that have kept the gov­ern­ment open for the past four years. Those bills, of­ten writ­ten in cri­sis, have rarely been sub­ject to for­mal com­mit­tee votes and have passed ont he floor with a coali­tion of roughly 50 cen­trist Repub­li­cans plus most Democrats.

But calls for reg­u­lar or­der have also be­come a code for other, deeper frus­tra­tions, which have turned the de­bate about the fu­ture of the GOP lead­er­ship into one that is more about per­son­al­i­ties than pro­ce­dures.

“If you ask the 435 peo­ple in there what reg­u­lar or­der is, you get 435 dif­fer­ent an­swers,” said Rep. Bill Flores (R-Tex.), chair­man of the Repub­li­can Study Com­mit­tee, who agrees that some rule changes are needed.

The pro­ce­dural de­mands, re­gard­less of the se­man­tics, played a sig­nif­i­cant role in McCarthy’s de­ci­sion not to seek the speaker’s chair. In the days lead­ing up to his an­nounce­ment Thurs­day to with­draw from the race, it be­came clear that although McCarthy could cob­ble to­gether enough Repub­li­cans to win a ma­jor­ity in a floor vote of all 435 mem­bers, do­ing so would in­volve mak­ing prom­ises that would make the GOP cau­cus al­most im­pos­si­ble to man­age.

A ques­tion­naire for speaker can­di­dates drawn up by the Free­dom Cau­cus ahead of a Tues­day night fo­rum, first pub­lished last week by Politico, sketched out a se­ries of de­mands: more rankand-file rep­re­sen­ta­tion on the cru­cial Repub­li­can Steer­ing Com­mit­tee; ad­her­ence to the “Hastert rule” re­quir­ing a ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­cans to sup­port any bill brought to a floor vote; an­dan end to re­tal­i­a­tion for op­pos­ing lead­er­ship on pro­ce­dural votes.

The Free­dom Cau­cus has so far thrown its sup­port be­hind Rep. Daniel Web­ster (R-Fla.), who has based his can­di­dacy al­most en­tirely on a pledge to “push down the pyra­mid of power.” He has high­lighted his ex­pe­ri­ence over­haul­ing the Florida state House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives as speaker in the mid-1990s, where he elim­i­nated sub­com­mit­tees and de­cen­tral­ized con­trol of the floor sched­ule.

“The only way to im­prove the prod­uct is to fix the process,” Web­ster wrote in a short man­i­festo, “Wid­gets, Prin­ci­ples and Repub­li­cans,” that has gained cur­rency among the GOP’s right flank.

Af­ter hear­ing Web­ster speak at the Tues­day fo­rum, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) spoke warmly of his pro­pos­als— such as aban­don­ing the decades-old prac­tice of con­sid­er­ing most sig­nif­i­cant leg­is­la­tion on the floor un­der “rules” that limit de­bate and amend­ments.

“Be­fore we vote on ev­ery bill, we vote to . . . limit our au­thor­ity as rank-and-file mem­bers,” Massie said. “We don’t need rule votes. We have a rule man­ual.”

Repub­li­can lead­ers point out that those pro­ce­dures don’t ex­ist to side­line the Thomas Massies of the GOP con­fer­ence; they ex­ist to side­line the mi­nor­ity party.

Un­der open rules, Democrats could pro­pose em­bar­rass­ing amend­ments cal­i­brated to pro­vide fod­der for ads tar­get­ing vul­ner­a­ble Repub­li­can in­cum­bents — or they could sim­ply pro­pose enough amend­ments or raise enough par­lia­men­tary points of or­der to keep a bill on the floor for days, grind­ing the ma­jor­ity agenda to a halt. The Hastert rule would be­come a dead let­ter.

“You couldn’t han­dle any­thing sen­si­tive if you just opened it up,” said Rep. Pete Ses­sions (R-Tex.), the Rules Com­mit­tee chair­man. “For ev­ery ar­gu­ment that you want to make thatwe ought to get away from some­thing, you ought to re­al­ize there’s a rea­son why we’ve got it.”

The de­mands to tinker with the me­chan­ics of party dis­ci­pline — par­tic­u­larly calls to re­work the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee, which doles out com­mit­tee as­sign­ments and chair­man­ships — are more nu­anced. They re­flect the hard right’s de­sire for more mus­cle in the Repub­li­can Con­fer­ence, but they also re­flect the re­mark­able turnover in the GOP ranks.

More than half of the House GOP ranks — 56 per­cent — has served three terms or fewer, and only one of those mem­bers holds any of the com­mit­tee chair­man­ships or lead­er­ship posts that get ex-of­fi­cio rep­re­sen­ta­tion on the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee.

The hard-lin­ers want more weight given to the rank-and-file on the com­mit­tee by al­low­ing the speaker one vote in­stead of the cur­rent five, in­creas­ing the num­ber of seats al­lo­cated on a ge­o­graphic ba­sis from 13 to 20 and strip­ping com­mit­tee chair­men of their ex-of­fi­cio seats.

In another po­ten­tially rad­i­cal re­form, com­mit­tee chair­men would be cho­sen by se­cret bal­lot of the Repub­li­can mem­bers of that panel — cur­tail­ing the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee’s power to dole out chair­man­ships as a re­ward for fundrais­ing, party loy­alty or se­nior­ity.

Those changes hold great ap­peal for rel­a­tive new­com­ers who pledged to quickly make a dif­fer­ence in Washington.

“We need to change the busi­ness model a lit­tle bit,” said Rep. Curtis J. Claw­son (R-Fla.), a Free­dom Cau­cus mem­ber who has been in of­fice for 15 months. “We’re at an in­flec­tion point, and we have a chance to make real change in how we gov­ern, how we se­lect folks, and it’s get­ting by us.”

Changes to the rules hold less ap­peal for vet­eran law­mak­ers who have spent their con­gres­sional ca­reers play­ing by them, such as Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who has earned sev­eral trusted po­si­tions dur­ing his seven terms, in­clud­ing chair­man­ship of the Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee and the chair of an Ap­pro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee.

If “you want to do well around here, you work,” Cole said Fri­day.

“I’ve never found it that hard to work your­self to where you wanted to go in this Congress. But you do have to work, and, guess what, you don’t just show up and get to rule the world. It takes some time.”

BILL CLARK/CQ ROLL CALL VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho) said Fri­day, “The only way you’re go­ing to bring peo­ple to­gether here in theHouse is by chang­ing the rules or at least fol­low­ing the cur­rent rules that we have.” But chang­ing the rules, oth­ers say, would make theHouse more un­govern­able.

CAR­LOS OSO­RIO/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“What we need is a speaker who fol­lows theHouse rules,” Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said about the speaker race roil­ing the GOP.

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