House Republican-led motion to oppose illegal voting falters

March 14, 2019 GMT

House Republicans thought they had another winner last week when they forced a vote on a symbolic measure to oppose allowing immigrants who live illegally in the U.S. the chance to vote in local elections.

Something similar had passed just months ago with the support of dozens of Democrats, and Republicans figured it was a chance to embarrass Democrats with another tough vote.

Instead, just six Democrats defected this time, nowhere near enough to approve the motion in the newly Democrat-led House.

It was the latest skirmish over a parliamentary tactic known as the “motion to recommit,” which is effectively a way for a minority party in the House to force at least one vote on an amendment of their choice.


Usually the majority easily fends off the MTRs, as they are called. But Republicans shocked Capitol Hill watchers and Democratic leaders by winning two such votes earlier this year one on a condemnation of anti-Semitism, and one to report to Homeland Security the names of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally who try to buy guns.

Democrats began a round of soul-searching, with some suggesting rules changes to cut off Republicans’ ability to offer MTRs.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her troops to forget the rules changes and instead suck it up, brave the consequences and vote against the GOP.

She won her first test Friday, but Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer says Democrats aren’t in the clear.

“I think we still need to be aware, we still need to make sure we defeat the MTRs to the extent that we can,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Last week he said Democrats are still pondering their options, including a rules change.

MTRs are more about political posturing than about policy-making.

Republicans offered their motion on immigrants living without permission in the U.S. and gun purchases as part of a broader firearms background check bill. That legislation is unlikely to clear the Senate, so the vote was mostly a chance for Republicans to force the Democrats into a tough position.

Twenty-six Democrats joined the GOP on that vote, putting it over the top.

Meanwhile the anti-Semitism statement was added to a broader bill over U.S. policy toward Yemen. It was adopted without any dissenting votes.

Molly Reynolds, a politics scholar at the Brookings Institution, said the MTR is nothing new, but the number of Democrats whom Republicans have managed to entice to vote for them is surprising.


“The majority party usually works very hard to keep its members in line but sometimes some will break ranks to vote with the minority. But it’s rarely enough to actually get the MTR adopted,” she told The Washington Times. “I’d say that seeing double-digit numbers of majority members voting with the minority is a little unusual for recent years, but that the basic dynamic isn’t new.”

Democratic Reps. Jefferson Van Drew, Josh Gottheimer, Joe Cunningham, and Conor Lamb were among the most frequent to break with their party in the past two months.

Republicans have dealt with defections of their own this year, particularly during the government shutdown, when a number of GOP lawmakers voted for Democratic bills to reopen parts of the government.

The GOP also lost 29 members to a Democratic measure to raise civilian workers’ pay, and 18 members who joined with Democrats on the bill to end the U.S. military’s role in Yemen’s civil war.

Then late last month 13 Republicans joined with Democrats to vote against President Trump’s declaration of an emergency along the Mexican border, which would let him build his promised border wall.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican, voted for Democratic spending plans earlier this year, but backed Mr. Trump on the wall declaration.

“For me, what I voted for was to reopen the parts of government that had nothing to do with the wall fight. I’ve always been in support of the wall,” he told The Times. “The two are complementary, which means I wanted to release as many hostages in this negotiation fight as I could but I think we have a real issue.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik, New York Republican, voted with Democrats on the spending bills and the wall emergency.

“No matter what party is represented in the White House, I will stand up against executive action that circumvents Congress,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “I will continue to negotiate in good faith to fully fund securing the border, and I urge my Democrat colleagues to commit to doing the same.”