House GOP hashes out internal rules with McCarthy Speakership on the line

House Republicans started consideration of internal conference rules change proposals on Wednesday, a major priority for right-wing members who have withheld support for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to be Speaker.

Several of the proposals were introduced by members of the House Freedom Caucus, which released a list of rules change demands for the GOP Conference and the House as a whole over the summer that aim to empower individual members and strip away at that of leadership.

But on Wednesday, several of the priorities were dismissed or thwarted – resulting in frustration from those already withholding support from McCarthy. 

“I don’t think those of us who are seeking to change how Congress operates felt like the leadership was supportive of that,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), who has withheld support of McCarthy for Speaker, said after the meeting.

“It was clear that the conference leadership had lined up opposition to go to the mic to talk to – to talk against every rule proposal, every change that we put forward, or just about every one,” Good said.

Good’s amendment that included a requirement that appropriations bills receive support from a majority of Republican conference in order to make it to the floor – a version of a “majority of the majority” rule requested by the House Freedom Caucus – was not approved, he said.

The House GOP nominated McCarthy to be Speaker on Tuesday, 188 to 31 over a protest challenge from Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), former chair of the House Freedom Caucus. But the true election comes on the House floor on Jan. 3, and McCarthy will be able to spare just a handful of GOP defections – far fewer than 31 – to get the 218 votes needed to become Speaker. Conference and House rules are a factor for many of those withholding support for McCarthy.

The conference also adopted an amendment that puts a dagger in the Freedom Caucus’s request to restore any member’s ability to make a motion to vacate the chair, which would force a recall vote on the Speaker.

That procedural move made headlines when then-Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a Freedom Caucus co-founder, made the motion in 2015, contributing to a rebellion that ended in former GOP Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) resigning from Congress later that year.

McCarthy has previously indicated opposition to allowing any member to make the motion alone, and on Wednesday, the conference adopted an amendment that makes it the position of the GOP Conference to only allow the motion to vacate the chair unless a majority of the Republican conference agrees. If put in the conference rules in a GOP majority, it would also prevent Democrats from unilaterally making the motion to vacate without GOP input.

That amendment was led by Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), who McCarthy made ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, and who confirmed its adoption on Wednesday.

But not all proposals have been shut down. The spirit of a Freedom Caucus request to increase the number of regional representatives on the House GOP steering committee, the body of around 30 members that control committee assignments and chairmanships, is addressed in new regional maps. Increasing that number would dilute the power of McCarthy and other elected leaders.

McCarthy said after the meeting that the new maps increase the number of representative regions from 13 to 19.

“The regional maps we just did, pushing the power further down to more regions, more to the conference itself,” McCarthy said, which “dilutes the power greater to the members” on the steering committee.

The House GOP considered the first 12 of the 24 conference rules amendments up for consideration on Wednesday. The remaining amendments, and some from Tuesday that were postponed or pulled for reevaluation, will be considered when Congress returns after a Thanksgiving recess.

A measure to ban earmarks, which were brought back this Congress as “community project funding” after a decade-long ban, was postponed for consideration until after Thanksgiving, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) told reporters, and may be adjusted. The Freedom Caucus has called for a ban on earmarks.

Any bending from McCarthy on rules change requests, though, may not be enough to win over his skeptics.

“The game has moved beyond simple rules changes. The rules are important, I think empowering a broader cross section of the membership is important,” said Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.). “What it is about more, now, is whether somebody can seize the initiative to come up with a creative approach to sort of recalibrate how this place works, in hopes of moving off the status quo and making it effective for the American people.”

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said that while conference rules are important, there are bigger considerations. 

“What are we going to do? Who decides what’s going to go to the floor? Who has a say?” Roy said. “That’s the bigger stuff that we still have to talk about, and we’re not having those conversations yet. So there’s a whole hell of a lot of work to do for someone who gets to 218.”

The several conference amendments that passed on Tuesday were adopted by voice vote.

In addition to passing the measure neutering the motion to vacate the chair proposal, the conference also passed an amendment from Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) that prohibits members of the House GOP Conference steering committee from sitting on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s executive committee – with an exception for elected members of the House GOP conference.

Another from Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), who is in House GOP leadership as chair of the Republican Policy Committee, would prohibit a bill from being considered under suspension of the rules – a process intended to streamline non-controversial measures and needs at least two-thirds support of the House to pass – if the cost estimate exceeds $100 million. The amendment was revised down from an original $250 million threshold.

It also passed a measure aimed at opening up the Capitol grounds and access to the House floor in spite of health guidance from Congress’s Attending Physician, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.). That pushes back on tour restrictions, mask mandates, and other measures that were instituted due to COVID-19.

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