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Legislative Process 101—Motion to Recommit

At the start of the 117th Congress, House Democrats adopted new rules for the House of Representatives, which included reforms to the Motion to Recommit (MTR). Republicans had spent the previous 2 years using the MTR in bad faith to force “gotcha” votes to divide Democrats and undermine progressive bills. While Indivisible’s preferred solution was to simply get rid of the MTR all together, the new reforms are an important step in the right direction.

The House Democrats have gotten rid of “the motion to recommit with instruction.” Essentially this means that the minority party cannot throw hidden amendments into the bill and send it to be voted on without first sending it back to committee. Here’s everything you need to know about motions to recommit and this important procedural victory won by progressives in the House.

How was the motion to recommit used before the change?

A motion to recommit was often used as the last chance for Members of Congress (MoCs) to stop or amend a bill before it gets a final vote on the floor of the House. The minority party is given the opportunity to offer this motion as the final step before a vote on passage, which in practice means that the majority party may not know what’s in the motion until minutes before they have to vote on it.

The motion enables legislators to either 1) send a bill back to the committee of jurisdiction (if it is a “straight” motion), or 2) amend the bill without sending it back to committee (if it is a MTR“with instructions”). It is rare for these motions to pass, since they are typically offered by the minority party to try to stop the majority from achieving final passage.

But Republicans quickly figured out how to weaponize this procedural maneuver against Democrats. Their strategy? Pick an issue they think will divide Democrats, throw it into a last-minute MTR, and peel off just enough Dems to successfully water down an otherwise progressive bill with something problematic

What are some recent examples?

The Republicans have used motions to recommit in this Congress to add divisive or counterproductive language to progressive bills that they know will pass. For example:

  • Before the vote on H.R. 8, which expands background checks to close gaps like the gun show loophole, Republicans (along with 26 Democrats) voted to add language that required reporting to ICE when undocumented immigrants attempt to purchase firearms—an attack on immigrants that won’t do anything to keep our communities safe.

  • As part of the historic resolution to end US support for the unauthorized war in Yemen, House Republicans introduced a motion to recommit with language irrelevant to the underlying bill about confronting anti-Semitism. While Democrats of course supported the substance of this motion and thus unanimously adopted it, it had the effect of stripping the resolution of its special privileged status and causing an unnecessary roadblock that will require an extra House floor vote to fix, which may obstruct the resolution’s final success.

What does the rules change mean for us and why do Democrats need to go further?

Under the new House Rules of the 117th Congress, the harmful MTR with instructions is eliminated, which before created an extremely limited time to read and understand the text of MTRs and were almost always political tricks orchestrated by the minority party. Moving forward, a motion to recommit will be a simple, non-debatable procedural vote to send a bill back to committee. This is an important victory on the path to rebalancing power for progressive. For more on how progressives won this key victory, learn about the progressive voting bloc here.