The addition of Republican Reps. Chip Roy (Texas), Ralph Norman (S.C.), and Thomas Massie (Ky.) to the House Rules Committee — one of the concessions from Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that helped him secure the gavel — means that the frequent antagonists of leadership have the opportunity to create significant barriers to getting legislation to the House floor.
But the three say that if they use their leverage, it will be to enforce the kind of open-process demands that fueled resistance to McCarthy in the drawn-out Speakership battle.
“We just need to make sure that we’re applying the rules, the germaneness rules, the, you know, single-subject rules, and then figure out how that’s all gonna get down to the floor under the right rules. Is it going to be a structured rule, an open rule?” Roy said.
Lawmakers got their first taste of a more open rules process last week with a modified open rule on a bill to limit the president’s ability to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Any member could submit an amendment for the first time in seven years. More than 140 amendments were submitted, and 56 of them got votes in fast-moving marathon floor sessions over two days.
“We’re actually being the people’s house,” Roy said.
The House Rules Committee gets final say over legislation before it heads to a final vote, crafting the process that governs consideration of each bill and how much input members can have on the floor. It was central to the group of 20 hard-line conservatives who pushed the Speakership election into a historic four-day saga over demands for rules change demands and policy priorities.
One of the concessions from McCarthy, according to a person familiar with the deal, was to name three House Freedom Caucus or “Freedom Caucus-adjacent” members to the Rules Committee. Massie is not a member of the confrontational conservative group like Roy and Norman but frequently votes with them.
Roy said repeatedly during the Speakership fight that he was not necessarily pining to be on the Rules Committee, which will require more time in Washington and away from his family, but was willing to do so if it meant ensuring the panel did not waive process agreements — like single-subject bills and a rule requiring 72 hours from release of final bill text to a floor vote — as had become commonplace.
Lawmakers frequently bemoaned spending bills — thousands of pages long — being released just hours before a final vote, ushered through the Rules Committee with waived rules and not open to amend on the floor.
With nine Republican members to four Democratic members set to be on the panel, the three together could derail bills if they do not conform to their standards — “veto power,” as Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) put it in an MSNBC interview last week.
Rep. Jim McGovern (Mass.), the top Democrat on the panel, summed up the tricky dynamic in a one-word tweet: “Yikes.”
Republicans on the Rules Committee held their first meeting on Thursday, during which Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) laid out the committee’s processes for the new members.
“I don’t see it as us against them,” Norman said. “Guy Reschenthaler” — a Pennsylvania Republican also on the committee — “is a straight thinking, good guy. Tom Cole, I think he’s a veteran who’s done this a lot longer than we have.”
The threat of the three defecting could itself prevent Republican leadership from attempting what Massie called “creative” rules.
“There’s a few rules in the past that were a little too creative that I already expressed displeasure with before joining the committee,” Massie said. “If there was any doubt, they know where I stand on some of the shenanigans that have happened over the last 10 years.”
He mentioned a 2018 instance where a rule for the must-pass farm bill included language preventing a vote for the rest of a year on any war powers resolution limiting U.S. involvement in Yemen.
But the libertarian-conservative Massie, who has often been a lone “no” vote on floor measures, says that he does not plan to use his position on the Rules Committee to try to sway policy or final outcomes.
“I’m ready and fully prepared to vote for rules on bills that I’ll be a ‘hell no’ on the bill when it gets to the floor,” Massie said.
Norman, though, said that he could foresee using his influence not only to enforce structural rules but also to get more favorable policies. One of Norman’s major sticking points during the Speakership battle was wanting the House to pass a plan to balance the budget in seven to 10 years.
There could be times, though, when the three hard-liners are asked to be flexible on House rules.
Congress this year must deal with a looming debt limit deadline in early June, as well as measures to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, the farm bill and annual government spending. And it has a history of waiting until the last minute to strike a deal and take action.
“My default position is going to be a better be damn good thing like, you know, a 9/11 attack or something, If you’re going to be waiving the 72 hours. We cannot start that game,” Roy said.
But, Roy added, he will “never say never.”
“We will not accept, as an example with the omnibus 4,155 pages long, getting it the night before,” Norman said.
“There’s something that’s pretty simple that’s got some urgency to it, then present it, and then let us make the judgment call,” Norman continued. “But in Washington, D.C., a lot of things proposed as urgent that are not urgent. It’s kind of like, beauty’s in the eyes of the beholder.”
Mychael Schnell contributed.