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House Democrats eye changes to minority's main legislative tool

By Lindsey McPherson, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — House Democrats across the political spectrum want the rules package for the 117th Congress to change the power of one of the minority's only legislative weapons.

The motion to recommit, or MTR, is a vote afforded to the minority on most bills that allows them to offer last-minute changes.

The MTR has been used in the past as a procedural vote to kill legislation by sending it back to committee, but in recent years it has become a substantive vote that would actually amend the bill if adopted. In either scenario it is mostly used as a political messaging vote in which the minority tries to trap the majority into going on the record on controversial policies.

"It's turned into a joke," Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., said. "It's something that both sides use for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to play gotcha for the elections."

House Republicans in the 116th Congress have won eight MTR votes, mostly with amendments that moderate Democrats were afraid to vote against.

For example, Republicans successfully used an MTR in February 2019 to add language to Democrats' priority gun safety bill expanding background checks to require the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to be notified if an undocumented immigrant tries to buy a gun.

 

Democrats have floated a variety of ideas for changing the MTR, such as returning it to a procedural vote that does not amend legislation on the floor, raising the threshold for adopting the motion or getting rid of it altogether.

Republicans, unsurprisingly, oppose the changing the MTR. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy accused Democrats of trying to "overturn centuries of precedent just to protect their own political futures."

"These rumored changes are a disgrace and would forever tarnish the institution in which we serve," the California Republican said in a statement.

But even institutionalist House Democrats like Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer believe the MTR could use some retooling. While leadership has not made any decisions on how to proceed, Hoyer personally prefers to keep the MTR in an altered form over eliminating it.

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