The minority party in the U.S House of Representatives has few tools with which it can influence debate and vote outcomes. They do have some tactics that can create significant mischief, though. And that mischief can lead to big headaches for the majority.
House Republicans are pushing legislative devices known as “discharge petitions.” If a petition gets 218 signatures, the issue must be brought up for a Floor vote. The Washington Times has an article on Republicans’ efforts and spoke with Congressional Institute President Mark Strand about these tactics, which are generally designed to embarrass the majority party with more than a touch of politics.
Two petitions currently circulating deal with the Green New Deal and legislation that would protect babies who survive abortions. From the article:
The born-alive abortion petition has done better, speeding to 199 signatures, including three Democrats, within a week of its introduction by Mr. Scalise on April 2.
“I think that there’s a strong chance that it can get the signatures needed,” he said. “It’s gonna be really hard for somebody to explain while they’re not willing to sign the discharge petition if they claim to be pro-life.”
But it hasn’t attracted any new signatures in more than a month.
Mr. Strand said that’s a typical pattern for discharge petitions, though he said the numbers could still grow given the salience of the issue. “It’s good politics but it also has a good chance of passage, simply because they can put pressure on more moderate Democrats to sign,” he said.
Discharge petitions are fraught with politics, and House Republicans have a complicated history with them. Last year, a bipartisan group nearly forced the GOP to put legislation with immigration amnesty up for a vote. Two decades ago, a successful discharge wound up resulting, eventually, in the McCain-Feingold Act, campaign finance legislation that has been to the U.S. Supreme Court and still rules the political landscape.
A third petition that could be making the rounds soon would “force a vote on a bill to renew military and financial assistance to Israel, while giving states and localities the legal green light to refuse to do business with individuals and organizations who subscribe to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement working against Israel,” according to the Washington Times. Strand addressed that in the article:
Mr. Strand predicted the anti-BDS petition will have momentum because many Democrats are looking for ways to distance themselves from remarks made by freshmen Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.
“There are a whole bunch of Democrats in districts that really need that bill to pass because of actions taken by one of their colleagues,” he said. “For so many years, the Democratic Party was so solidly pro-Israel that this sort of snuck up on them that there’s this progressive movement that wasn’t.”
Another legislative tool that Republicans are wielding with great success is the motion to recommit. This is a final chance given to the minority party to amend legislation. The Congressional Institute has a paper on this device. Read the paper here. Read a blog post on the motion to recommit here.