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A little-known procedural tool called the “motion to recommit” is suddenly all over the news. This is because House Republicans have successfully used the motion twice this year to force politically tough votes on their Democratic colleagues. Now, Democrats are discussing changing the House rules to either modify these motions or get rid of them altogether.

Neither will happen. Why? Because it’s not in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s political interest to restrict or do away with motions to recommit. Hanging onto the carrots and sticks she wields for keeping her members in line is well worth the heartburn she’ll endure over procedural chicanery.

In a majoritarian institution like the House, the motion to recommit is one of the only procedural tools the minority can use to alter legislation before final passage. The motion is offered just before the House votes and, today, either sends the bill back to committee (effectively killing it) or amends the bill before a vote on final passage. If the motion passes, the bill is either killed or passed as amended. If the motion fails, the House moves to vote on final passage of the (unamended) bill.

Because Republicans hold 197 of the House’s 432 occupied seats (there are currently 3 vacancies), they need to convince at least 20 Democrats to cross the aisle for their motions to succeed. Of the 15 motions they’ve offered so far this year, two have passed: One added language condemning anti-Semitism to a resolution reducing U.S. involvement in Yemen, and one altered a bill on expanded background checks to require that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency be notified if an illegal immigrant attempts to buy a gun.

Many House Democrats view these motions as nothing more than procedural attempts to splinter the caucus. For this reason, Pelosi argues that all Democrats should vote “no” on all motions to recommit. “We are either a team or we’re not,” she bluntly told her members at last week’s caucus meeting.

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Marian Currinder
Marian Currinder is a permanent staffer of the U.S. House of Representatives' Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress as of December 2019. ...