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Dec 1, 2023, 5:59am EST
politics

In the new House, anyone can control the floor

REUTERS / Elizabeth Frantz
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The News

For the second time in three weeks, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. threatened to force a vote on the House floor over impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

She decided to hold off this time, but only with a commitment from leadership to pursue the measure in committee. And she had leverage over them: Because impeachment resolutions are “privileged,” they strip leadership of its power to neatly schedule votes they’re sure will pass, or at least advance the party’s interests, on the House floor.

These privileged resolutions, once rare, have given individual members far more ability to control the House floor in recent months.

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As it happened, the House spent Thursday debating yet another privileged resolution — to expel Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y. — that New York Republicans had already brought to the floor once before and Democrats had brought once before that. Santos, aware of the rules, threatened to force another expulsion vote himself against Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y. on what (he predicted) would be his last day in office.

Earlier this month, Greene forced a censure vote, another privileged category, against Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., which helped push leadership to greenlight a competing resolution that later passed. And it took just one of her colleagues — Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. — to bring forward the privileged “motion to vacate” resolution that ultimately toppled Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Greene said her own interest in employing privileged resolutions was borne out of necessity. When Democrats voted to remove her from committees in the previous Congress, effectively making her a gadfly, she took it as a moment to “sit around on the House floor and learn how this place works.”

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”I learned recorded votes are extremely important,” she told reporters. “I learned the rules committee can be useful, but privileged resolutions are a place to accomplish something to make the American people aware of the dirty little tricks actually happening here.”

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Kadia’s view

What happened Thursday was the new normal in Congress. There’s no such thing as a House backbencher anymore as individual members find ways to force votes and even topple a speaker.

It fits into a broader trend of Republican members showing more willingness to buck leadership across the board, from tanking once-routine committee votes to rejecting their conference’s chosen nominees for leadership positions. The resolutions are another easy way for them to push back against what they see as an overly top-down House.

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But while the shift has empowered members to exert more influence over day-to-day operations, some members are worried that it’s sowing disorder.

”It’s a disaster,” Rep. John Duarte, R-Calif. told Semafor. “It’s being abused.”

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. shared a similar sentiment: “It’s kind of a chaotic situation we have going on, and you know, we’ve got to figure it out,” he said.

Privileged measures that were once considered rare, even history-making, like censure or impeachment have become less taboo to bring up. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas joked that he was looking into a privileged resolution “extending hunting season by two weeks,” but that the arms race was a serious matter.

“What I’m getting at is that everyone has opened up a Pandora’s box,” he said. “When does it end?”

It’s possible Congress might eventually adjust in response. Already, many Republicans want to raise the threshold to bring forward a “motion to vacate” resolution against a speaker. There could eventually be pushes to raise them for other privileged resolutions as well.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. called this session’s rule changes an “experiment” and suggested that whoever wins the majority in 2024, there will be some changes, especially if Democrats are in power.

“If you’re a Democrat, and you’re looking at what happened to Republicans, no way you’re gonna put up with that shit,” he said.

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Room for Disagreement

For some members, changes empowering them this Congress were effective at holding leaders accountable to the entire conference. “Motion to vacate worked pretty well,” Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., a House Freedom Caucus member who pushed for the rule empowering a single member to force a vote to oust the speaker.

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The View From the Senate

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, known for disrupting the status quo and going around leaders with procedural moves — he held up dozens of President Biden’s State Department nominations — acknowledged the daunting task for the new House Speaker Mike Johnson. “He’s smart, he’s principled, but the job in which he’s serving is incredibly difficult with a razor-thin majority and the analogy is frequently invoked of herding cats and in some ways, that’s not fair to the cats,” he said.

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Notable

The environment in the House has pushed some members to retirement. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., a member of the House Freedom Caucus, called the shenanigans “stupid” in a Punchbowl News interview. “Impeach that person, censure that person, it’s all political, so members can go raise money and talk tough back home.”

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