House approves rules package for new Congress

The House adopted a new set of rules for the 117th Congress in a 217-206 party-line vote on Monday, with provisions to extend remote voting during the pandemic, protect whistleblowers and limit the minority’s ability to amend legislation on the floor. 

Until the House voted to adopt the rules package, members had a limited ability to use the changes implemented last year to accommodate attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic and could only cast votes in the new session of Congress that began on Sunday if they were physically present in the chamber. 

That led to the Capitol physician approving the installation of a Plexiglass box in the visitors’ gallery overlooking the House floor for a handful of members who had tested negative for COVID-19 but were supposed to be quarantining due to possible exposure. Now that proxy voting has been renewed, any House member can again authorize a colleague to cast a vote on their behalf if they are sick or cannot travel.  

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The package includes language that would make significant changes to the motion to recommit, a procedural tool used by the minority party to alter bills at the eleventh hour on the floor. Instead of amending legislation ahead of the final vote, bills would be sent back to committee. 

Republicans — who have successfully utilized the motion to make vulnerable Democrats take hard votes and highlight divisions within the Democratic party over the last two years — slammed the move as a power grab and an attempt to silence debate. 

"The Democrats just destroyed over 100 years of representation in Congress. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Dole to lie in state in Capitol Rotunda House to vote on Uyghur bill amid diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympics MORE wants to silence YOUR voice and consolidate what little power she has left," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyPressure grows to remove Boebert from committees Senate leaders face pushback on tying debt fight to defense bill News reporting in an age of rampant mendacity MORE (R-Calif.) said in a statement.  

GOP lawmakers unsuccessfully offered motions on the floor in an attempt to postpone the consideration of the package and refer it to committee, delaying its adoption. House GOP leadership also encouraged members to vote against the previous question to allow them to amend the package to restore the motion to recommit ahead of the vote on Monday. 

But proponents of the move argued it’s a necessary step to ensure members know what they are voting on instead of having to review a proposed amendment at the last minute.  

House Rules Committee Chairman James McGovernJames (Jim) Patrick McGovernHouse progressives urge Garland to intervene in ex-environmental lawyer Steven Donziger's case House progressives call on Biden to end all new fossil fuel permitting EPA closer to unveiling plan for tackling 'forever chemicals' MORE (D-Mass.) maintained that the motion to recommit “can no longer be used to hijack the legislative process for political gamesmanship.”

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Other changes in the package include a compromise between centrists and progressives that allows the House Budget Committee chair to eliminate the pay-as-you-go budgetary rules — which require offsets for deficit-increasing legislation — on bills involving health or economic relief related to the pandemic or combating global warming. 

Democrats also sought to prioritize diversity efforts in the rules package.

One provision orders the use of gender-neutral language in the House rules, including pronouns and references to familial relationships like father, son, mother or daughter.

“We made this change for the sake of inclusion, not exclusion,” McGovern said. 

In that vein, the name of the Office of the Whistleblower Ombudsman will be changed to the Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds.

Republicans decried the change as unnecessary.

“This is stupid. Signed, - A father, son, and brother,” McCarthy tweeted.

 

Also under the new rules, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion will be made permanent to help House offices with recruiting and hiring a diverse workforce, as well as survey diversity and issue a status report each session. 

Democrats also added numerous provisions to the rules package to protect whistleblowers and crack down on lawmakers spreading misinformation, including manipulated photos or videos known as “deepfakes.”

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The House Ethics Committee will be required to issue a report by the end of the year on any recommended amendments to the code of official conduct to address instances in which members or staffers share images, videos or audio files that have been distorted and meant to mislead the public.

It will now be a violation of House rules for a lawmaker or staffer to publicly disclose the identity of a whistleblower who provides Congress with information about alleged wrongdoing in the executive branch. Members will also be barred from retaliating against people who provide information to the House Ethics Committee or Office of Congressional Ethics, which investigate lawmakers’ alleged wrongdoing. 

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOn The Money — Build Back Better takes a 'Byrd Bath' Schumer steps on the gas to move Biden agenda Hoyer says Dec. 15 is drop-dead deadline to hike debt ceiling MORE (D-Md.) in particular advocated for the rules change after numerous GOP lawmakers pushed to reveal the identity of a whistleblower at the center of the 2019 impeachment inquiry into President TrumpDonald TrumpMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 Trump endorses David Perdue in Georgia's governor race MORE’s efforts pressuring the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into Joe BidenJoe BidenMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Dole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 MORE, now the president-elect.

It was the proxy voting, though, that got immediate attention on Sunday.

In addition to a handful of members in both parties casting votes from the Plexiglass box on Sunday, Rep. Gwen MooreGwen Sophia MoorePentagon 'aware' of reports Wisconsin military base's struggle to feed, heat Afghan refugees Wisconsin GOP quietly prepares Ron Johnson backup plans Pelosi picks Democrats for special panel tackling inequality MORE (D-Wis.) said she received clearance from the Capitol physician to participate in the election for Speaker despite announcing last week that she tested positive for COVID-19. Moore said that she had quarantined for two weeks but acknowledged to a reporter that she had not received a negative test.  

Republicans filed a lawsuit after Democrats began implementing proxy voting last May and have largely declined to use the system. But a handful of Republicans — who were mostly retiring from Congress — ultimately warmed to proxy voting and authorized Democrats to vote on their behalf. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the rules package included language to expedite certain bills once they garner 290 cosponsors in the House.