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House Republicans Plot Rules Overhaul for GOP-Controlled Government

Changes go beyond penalizing members for shooting video on the floor

House Republicans, led by Speaker Paul D. Ryan, are seeking changes to the chamber's rules. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Republicans, led by Speaker Paul D. Ryan, are seeking changes to the chamber's rules. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A proposal to punish members for streaming video on the House floor will get the most attention, but other parts of a draft House rules package might have more substantial implications for the start of the Donald Trump administration.

The draft rules, circulated to member offices shortly before Christmas, includes language that would allow the sergeant-at-arms to fine members up to $2,500 for breaking the rules regarding photography and recording on the House floor.

Member salaries could be garnished. Offending members could also be referred to the Ethics Committee for disrupting access to the floor or the official microphones.

That is a somewhat belated response to the sit-in on the floor of the House back in June, when House Democrats effectively occupied the chamber to demand action on gun control. The House-run cameras were shut off as the House was not in session, leading enterprising lawmakers to stream the proceedings.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, said Tuesday that Democrats would not be silenced on efforts to combat gun violence.

“Sadly, the first action of the new Congress will be the passage of rules changes targeting Democratic Members who participated in the 25-hour sit-in following the horrific Pulse shooting in Orlando that killed 49 and wounded more than 50,” Hammill said in a statement. “House Republicans continue to act as the handmaidens of the gun lobby refusing to pass sensible, bipartisan legislation to expand background checks and keep guns out of the hands of terrorists.”

The rules change will not apply retroactively to the 2016 sit-in.

“These changes will help ensure that order and decorum are preserved in the House of Representatives so lawmakers can do the people’s work,” AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., said.

But for observers of Capitol Hill, there is plenty more to watch in the proposed rules changes. As is customary, the House is expected to consider its rules on Jan. 3. That differs from the Senate, where as a continuing body a new rules package doesn’t need to win adoption every two years.

The draft House rules package does not include language that would reauthorize a Select Investigative Panel of the Energy and Commerce Committee that has been investigating Planned Parenthood.

When asked about the exclusion, a Republican aide confirmed that the select committee won’t be renewed at the end of the current Congress.

Pending litigation can be carried forward without needing separate authorization from each new Congress as part of one proposed change. The proposal would authorize officials, including the speaker and committee chairmen, to continue with involvement in lawsuits if authorized during an earlier session of the House.

House Republicans will seek to excise requirements that technically say members must stand in order to gain recognition from the speaker or the member presiding in his place. That could theoretically be an impediment to a member with a disability that precludes him or her from rising, but the provision has not been taken literally.

Advocates for federal employees will take heed of a provision that would revive, for one year, an old House rule from the early 1980s that allows members to offer floor amendments to appropriations bills designed to reduce the headcount of the federal workforce within a department or agency, or adjust compensation levels for certain federal workers.

Those amendments on the floor have been deemed to violate restrictions on changing law as part of floor amendments to spending bills, which have generally had a more open and freewheeling process than other legislation.

The experimental return of the old “Holman Rule” would only apply for one year, according to the draft resolution text and a House Republican Conference summary reviewed by CQ Roll Call.

Final text of the GOP proposal typically does not emerge until shortly before House members return from the holiday break, but there will be debate and discussion about several features of the draft.

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