The Congressional Institute
1700 Diagonal Road. #730
Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone: (703) 837-8812

The Sausage Factory

The Motion to Recommit: Preserving Legislative Tools for the Minority in the U.S House

The Minority party in the U.S. House has few tools at its disposal to amend legislation. Republicans in the 116th Congress are increasingly showing a knack for using the Motion to Recommit (MTR) to their advantage – much to the frustration of Democratic leadership.

On Wednesday, Feb. 28, enough Democrats voted with Republicans on an MTR to require notification to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when an undocumented immigrant tries to buy a gun. As Politico reported, the “language was added to the gun bill, spoiling an important Democratic legislative achievement.”

More often than not, Motions to Recommit fail. But another Republican motion condemning anti-Semitism not only passed in the U.S. House, but also caused issues for Democrats in the Senate. More from Politico:

An earlier GOP motion condemning anti-Semitism was successfully attached to a House resolution barring U.S. involvement in the Yemeni civil war. That maneuver, which was backed by every Democrat, later caused parliamentary problems in the Senate and upended Democratic attempts to challenge President Donald Trump’s foreign policy.

The response to these successful maneuvers from Democrats has ranged from thinly-veiled threats to notify progressive activists against fellow lawmakers to suggesting that Members voting with Republicans would be less of a priority for campaign resources.

A motion to recommit is offered directly on the House Floor as one of the last actions before a final vote on a bill. Democratic leaders have suggested changing the rules to require Republicans to present their MTR to the Rules Committee. That change would require the Majority to approve MTRs beforehand and would force the Minority to ask permission on the one amendment guaranteed to them by the House rules.

The U.S. House is a legislative chamber where a determined majority can work its will. Threats against lawmakers who vote their districts over party are unseemly. The Motion to Recommit should be preserved and strengthened.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND ON THE MOTION TO RECOMMIT

The motion to recommit has its modern origins in 1909 when Speaker Joe Cannon, in an attempt to stave off a revolt against his speakership, offered a rules package that reserved to the opponents of a bill the final opportunity to amend the bill through a motion to recommit. A 1932 ruling by Speaker Nance Garner specifically reserved for the minority the right to make the motion to recommit. Democratic majorities during the late 1970s through the early 1990s began restricting this traditional right by passing special rules that denied motions to recommit with instructions. This essentially reduced the motion to recommit to a redundant inverse of the vote on final passage.

Donald Wolfensberger, director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, detailed 83 special rules between 1977 and 1995 where the Democratic majority denied or limited the minority’s ability to offer a motion to recommit with instructions.

Republicans vigorously protested, and when they became the majority in 1995, affirmed the minority’s right (now the Democrats) to offer a motion to recommit with instructions into the House Rules, thus fully restoring this traditional right of the minority.

A LOOK AT HOW THE MOTION TO RECOMMIT WAS SUCCESSFULLY USED IN THE 110TH CONGRESS

The Republican minority in the 110th Congress wielded the Motion to Recommit as a successful legislative tool to force changes to legislative that embarrassed the Majority party. The Congressional Institute has published a paper titled “A Determined Minority” that analyzes Republicans’ success utilizing four legislative and procedural tools:

  • National Security: Motion to Recommit
  • Immigration Reform: Discharge Petitions
  • The Iraq War: The Veto Strategy
  • Energy Policy: Procedural Disruption

Click here to read the paper.

Sign up for email updates