McCarthy offers concessions with House Rules package

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) offered some key concessions to his detractors in a House Rules package released by Republicans on Sunday, but it is still far from clear whether the moves will help him lock up the votes necessary to become Speaker on Jan. 3.

The compromises include allowing a move to “vacate the chair” — a move to force a vote on ousting the Speaker — with the approval of five Republican members, rather than a threshold of at least half of the House GOP Conference that Republicans adopted in an internal rule in November. 

The chamber is also set to create a House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the “Weaponization of the Federal Government,” an apparent recognition of a request to increase scrutiny on the Biden administration and intelligence agencies.

In a letter to GOP colleagues, McCarthy — speaking as “Speaker-Designate” — also addressed a request from conservatives to have more representation on committees.

“I will use my selections on key panels to ensure they more closely reflect the ideological makeup of our conference, and will advocate for the same when it comes to the membership of standing committees. This will facilitate greater scrutiny of bills from the start so they stand a greater chance of passing in the end,” the letter from McCarthy said.

The moves, though, have yet to move any of those whose resistance threatens to keep McCarthy from the gavel.

“I think what he’s trying to do is the bare minimum that he needs to try and get to where he can get the votes. And that’s not indicative of somebody that really wants to embrace new ideas, reject the status quo and unify all members in the conference,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the chair of the House Freedom Caucus who has not committed to voting either for or against the GOP Leader, said on Sunday.

House Republicans held a New Year’s Day call on the Rules package on Sunday afternoon. After the call, a group of nine hardline conservatives released a letter saying that McCarthy’s response does not adequately meet their standard for the motion to vacate the chair, and said he did not address a request for leadership to not work to defeat conservatives in open primaries.

“At this stage, it cannot be a surprise that expressions of vague hopes reflected in far too many of the crucial points still under debate are insufficient,” the members said in the letter.

But they also added: “The progress made thus far has been helpful and should guide our thinking going forward.”

Members signing the letter included Perry along with Reps. Chip Roy (Texas), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Dan Bishop (N.C.), Andy Harris (Md.) and Andrew Clyde (Ga.) and Reps.-elect Anna Paulina Luna (Fla.), Andy Ogles (Tenn.) and Eli Crane (Ariz.). That group notably does not include the five members considered to be “Never Kevin” opponents: Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Bob Good (Va.),  Matt Rosendale (Mont.) and Ralph Norman (S.C.).

McCarthy needs a majority of all those voting for a Speaker candidate on Jan. 3 to secure the post, and in a slim 222 to 212 majority, he can afford to lose only four GOP votes. A vote on the Rules package will happen only after the House elects a Speaker.

The Rules package also includes changes to rules regarding fiscal procedures, pandemic-era remote work, a review of ethics procedures and more.

Compromise on Vacate the Chair

A major issue for those withholding support or opposing McCarthy for Speaker of the House has been restoring any member’s ability to make a move to “vacate the chair,” which would force a vote on removing the Speaker. 

The procedural move, which conservatives say is a check on the Speaker’s power, made headlines when then-Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) made the motion in 2015, contributing to a House Freedom Caucus rebellion that ended in former GOP Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) resigning from Congress later that year. But when House Democrats took the majority, they allowed only the party leaders to make the motion.

House Republicans adopted a rule that allows the motion to be brought up if half the conference agrees, but McCarthy detractors want the required number to be lower.

After many negotiations, the proposed GOP Rules package lowers the threshold to bring up the move to five GOP members.

Perry, though, expressed disappointment at the proposal.

“Leaders like [former GOP Speakers] Paul Ryan [Wis.] and John Boehner, and everyone before them, were fine to work under those provisions. And now, suddenly, in 2022, the guy that wants to be Speaker wants to double down on what [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] put in place and actually make it less accountable than even she did,” Perry said. “That doesn’t seem to be indicative of unity, and it doesn’t seem to be indicative of a person that’s asking his detractors to trust him.”

Select panels to target Biden administration, COVID origins, China

Republicans will bring a vote to form a select subcommittee on “Weaponization of the Federal Government” under the House Judiciary Committee.

The creation of the select subcommittee is a response to a request from GOP members who have withheld support for McCarthy to form a “Church-style” committee to investigate alleged government abuses, in reference to a 1975 Senate select committee named for former Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) that investigated intelligence agencies.

In his letter to colleagues, McCarthy used the same language, praising creation of a “Church-style Select Committee focused exclusively on exposing the weaponization of government against our citizenry, writ large.”

The committee is expected to have the same general structure as typical select committees, which means it has no individual subpoena itself. But the full Judiciary Committee, to be chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), does have subpoena authority and is expected to aggressively target the Biden administration.

Republicans are also keeping the select committee on the coronavirus pandemic under the House Oversight panel, but changing its charter to focus on the origins of the virus as well as the impacts of shutdowns. Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) is set to be chair of the full Oversight Committee.

Republicans are also set to vote in the first two weeks of the Congressional session to create the Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party. McCarthy has announced Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) as his pick to chair the panel. 

Restoration of fiscal measures and new inflation analysis

Republicans are bringing back the Holman Rule, which allows members to propose amendments to appropriations bills that cut the salaries of specific federal workers or funding for specific programs down to $1, effectively defunding them. Some Republicans have suggested using the rule to defund certain investigations and officials in the FBI and Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security or officials who were involved in COVID-19 policies. 

The hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus had advocated to bring back the Holman Rule since the summer. It was also in the House Rules the last time there was a GOP majority in the 116th Congress.

In a new move, Republicans will direct the Congressional Budget Office to analyze the inflationary impact of legislation in addition to the budgetary impact — an issue that Republicans repeatedly hammered amid the inflation rate hitting a four-decade high in 2022.

The package also restores some longtime fiscal rules that Democrats removed, such as a three-fifths supermajority threshold to increase federal income taxes.

The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation will also be directed to use “dynamic scoring,” a method that considers a bill’s impact on macroeconomic changes in the economy when evaluating its budgetary effect. Republicans previously used dynamic scoring to bolster their argument that tax cuts would not be a detriment to the economy because they would boost economic activity and therefore increase tax revenue.

“PAYGO,” the “pay-as-you-go” rule that requires legislation that would increase mandatory spending to be offset with spending cues or revenue increases, will be replaced with “CUTGO,” a “cut-as-you-go” variation first instituted by Republicans in 2011 that requires increases to be offset with equal or greater mandatory spending decreases. Both parties have frequently waived the rule to pass legislation in the past.

End to pandemic-era remote work rules

Gone are proxy voting and remote work rules instituted due to COVID-19, as well as fines for mask mandates. Members will no longer be able to participate in hearings remotely via videoconference, and only select non-government witnesses will be able to testify to committees remotely if they are unable to travel to Washington.

The House Sergeant at Arms sent a memo to House staff last week announcing a return to pre-pandemic norms of open public access to House office buildings and tours starting on Tuesday.

Procedural and ethics measures

In a blow to efforts from progressive staff to form labor unions in Congressional offices, which were approved in a House resolution in 2022, the Rules packages will “eliminate Democrats’ creation of House staff labor unions so that Congressional staff are accountable to the elected officials they serve,” a highlights summary of the rules said.

It also directs the House Ethics committee to adopt a process to accept complaints directly from the public, rather than having to go through the Office of Congressional Ethics (which will remain in place). The Ethics panel is also directed to conduct a bipartisan “comprehensive review” of House ethics rules and regulations.

The rules also fulfill another request from House conservatives to require at least 72 hours from the release of bill text before a final vote.

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