New Democratic House rules are gender-neutral, curtail GOP's ability to force 'gotcha' votes

New Democratic House rules are gender-neutral, curtail GOP's ability to force 'gotcha' votes

January 2, 2021

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New House rules unveiled by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are completely gender-neutral, strip away GOP opportunities to force awkward votes and preserve lawmakers' ability to carry firearms at the Capitol.

The House's 45-page rules package that will be voted on Monday after the new Congress commences would also continue proxy voting during the coronavirus pandemic, ban lawmakers convicted of certain crimes from visiting the House floor again, and change payment rules on legislation related to the virus and climate change that previously required lawmakers to identify new revenue sources or spending cuts to fund their priorities. 

Pelosi announced the "visionary rules package" with Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., on Friday and said it reflects the values of her diverse Democratic majority.

"Democrats have crafted a package of unprecedented, bold reforms, which will make the House more accountable, transparent and effective in our work to meet the needs of the American people," Pelosi said.

"These future-focused proposals reflect our priorities as a caucus and as a country — including crushing the coronavirus, addressing economic disparity, combating the climate crisis, advancing inclusion, and promoting integrity in government."

FILE: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leads other House Democrats to discuss H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which passed in the House but is being held up in the Senate, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In an effort to be inclusive to those who don't identify as a specific gender, the rules package strips all mention of gender-specific pronouns and terms such as "man," "woman," "mother" and "son."

The Office of the Whistleblower Ombudsman, for instance, is renamed in the rules to the "Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds."

There's nothing in the rules that prohibit members from using gender-specific terms when speaking on the House floor or conducting business.  

House GOP leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., mocked the inclusionary effort as "stupid."

However, progressive leaders in the House cheered the new rules. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said the changes will allow Democrats to "push for a bolder agenda."

Progressives fought for the exceptions of the budgeting rules to open the door for their high-priced legislation, like Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal. Omar also praised the new rule that curbs the ability for the minority party, in this case the GOP, to bring a "Motion to Recommit" to the House floor with language changes to legislation that is about to be passed by the majority. 

These motions have frustrated Democrats because Republicans have presented "gotcha" motions on bills they oppose in an effort to force Democrats to vote on some items they'd like to avoid, one Democratic source said.

For instance, Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., offered a motion to recommit on the House floor in December to landmark legislation that was about to pass to legalize marijuana. Lesko wanted to add language that private sector employers retain the right to test employees for marijuana use. She was able to pick off 11 Democrats for her motion, but it still failed. The overall legislation passed the House.

While Motions to Recommit (MTRs) typically fail and serve mostly messaging purposes to show divisions in the Democratic Party, some have been successful.

In one instance in 2019, the House was on its way to passing a bipartisan gun background check bill. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., offered a Motion to Recommit before final passage to require reporting to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when an undocumented immigrant tries to buy a gun, setting up potential deportation. 

Enough Democrats agreed to the GOP provision to have it inserted in the final bill. Collins still voted "no" on the legislation, which was never signed into law.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks about House Republicans and the election, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The new rules would block Republicans from forcing a vote on specific language changes. They would only allow Republicans to offer a Motion to Recommit to send a bill back to the committee without instructions on language.

McCarthy slammed the changes as a way to silence the minority.

"The Democrats just destroyed over 100 years of representation in Congress," McCarthy said in a statement. "Nancy Pelosi wants to silence your voice and consolidate what little power she has left. Her time is limited."

The new House rules also authorize funding for the House Administration Committee to investigate election disputes underway in Iowa's 2nd District, where Democrat Rita Hart is contesting a six-vote win by Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks. 

In a win for Rep.-elect Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., the new rules do not include a Democratic proposal to ban lawmakers from carrying guns at the Capitol, just like visitors are prohibited from bringing in firearms.

Members of Congress are allowed to have firearms on Capitol grounds, although there are certain places where they can't carry, such as the House chamber, Speaker's Lobby, cloakroom and the Rayburn Room. Boebert, a Second Amendment enthusiast, has been seeking an expansion of where she's allowed to carry — prompting concern from some Democrats. 

RIFLE, CO – MAY 29: Lauren Boebert, owner of the Shooters Grill, has gained national attention for her decision to encourage her staff to carry a firearm during work on May 29, 2018 in Rifle, Colorado. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

A group of Democrats had sought to insert language into the rules package to ban firearms completely by lawmakers, but that proposal did not make the final draft. 

The new Congress will be sworn in on Sunday. The House will vote on whether Pelosi will remain speaker. Her majority is much slimmer, in part due to a record number of GOP women being elected in November.

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