House

Republicans mull new punishments for dissident lawmakers

House Republicans are chewing over a proposal to hold members accountable for not voting along party lines or for  signing discharge petitions - two acts of rebellion that GOP leadership has had to grapple with this year.

Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) pitched the idea on Tuesday to the Republican Steering Committee, where it received a warm reception, but the panel decided to hold off on voting on the resolution until after the midterm elections, according to two GOP lawmakers who were present and a Republican source.

The resolution would require the Steering Committee to review whether changes should be made to a lawmaker's committee assignments if they vote against a rule, which sets the stage for floor debate on legislation and is almost always passed along party lines, or if they support a discharge petition, which is a tool to force floor votes with 218 signatures and circumvent leadership.

And committee chairs could see their gavels on the line if they vote against anything considered a key "leadership issue" under the proposal, according to a GOP source.

The thinking is that chairmen and members who belong to the most coveted committees should be the biggest team players, especially when it comes to tough votes.

"There'd be an ability to say: We believe that if you're on an 'A' committee ... we expect a little more out of folks," Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), a member of the Steering panel, told The Hill on Wednesday. "That would then start the process of saying you can vote however you want, but maybe you should reconsider the committee that you're on."

Shimkus said he appreciated that the resolution would provide an opportunity for the Steering Committee, which assigns fellow lawmakers to congressional panels, to hear directly from members about why they voted a certain way.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), another Steering panel member, said members asked a lot of questions about the concept, but he predicted the issue will heat up in November.

"My guess is it will pop up when we do our organizational meeting after the election," Upton told The Hill.

Scott confirmed on Wednesday that he offered the proposal, but declined to provide any further details.

Earlier this year, Scott stood up during a GOP conference meeting and called on leadership to punish lawmakers who sign discharge petitions or vote against rules, two Republican sources told The Hill at the time.

Scott's push came in response to an insurgent effort from centrist Republicans, who were trying to force a series of contentious immigration votes on the House floor using a discharge petition.

The moderate lawmakers had also threatened to torpedo a rule that would bring a conservative immigration bill from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) to the floor, unless they also got a guaranteed vote on moderate immigration legislation.

There have been other examples of Republicans defying their leadership.

Members of the Freedom Caucus joined a handful of moderate Republicans in May to sink the GOP farm bill, which contained an overhaul of the federal food stamps program that was a top priority for retiring Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). The House ended up passing the measure in a redo vote later in the year.

And Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, was among the cadre of Republicans who opposed the party's initial ObamaCare repeal bill, as well as the GOP tax-cut law.

Republican leaders had weighed stripping Frelinghuysen's gavel over the tax vote, Politico reported last December, but never pulled the trigger. The chairman announced his retirement in January.

While some rank-and-file members have expressed frustration with fellow Republicans for not always falling in line, Ryan is not known to use the same strong-arm tactics as his predecessor, John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Under Boehner, it was not uncommon for members to be punished if they rebelled against leadership.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) had his Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee gavel stripped, and then reinstated, after voting against leadership and failing to pay party dues.

And Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and former Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.) were both kicked off the House Rules Committee, also known as the Speaker's committee, for voting against Boehner for Speaker in 2015. 

Outbrain
View desktop version