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House Republicans to Consider Changing the Way They Select Committee Leaders

Proposal is part of a broader Thursday debate over internal conference rules

Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., left, and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., want to change the way the House Republican Conference selects its committee leaders. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., left, and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., want to change the way the House Republican Conference selects its committee leaders. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Update Thursday 5:01 p.m. | House Republicans on Thursday will consider changes to their internal conference rules, with several amendments targeting the process for selecting committee leaders. 

The biggest proposed change comes from Wisconsin Rep. Mike Gallagher, who wants committee members to be able to choose their own chairmen or ranking members. 

His amendment would exclude the Rules, Budget and House Administration committees — the heads of which are appointed by the Republican leader — from the member-selection process. 

Under the conference’s current rules, the Republican Steering Committee, a panel composed primarily of leadership and regional representatives, nominates committee leaders and the full conference ratifies those recommendations. 

If Gallagher’s amendment were adopted, the Steering Committee would still be in charge of assigning members to committees. 

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House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, who’s a proponent of allowing committee members to select their leaders, has an alternative amendment should Gallagher’s fail. Meadows’ proposal would reduce leadership’s influence in selecting committee leaders. 

The North Carolina Republican wants to get rid of an existing rule that would allow the Republican leader’s vote to count as four votes and his deputy’s to count as two votes, so that their combined votes are equal to all other Steering members’ votes.

Meadows also has two other amendments. One would strike an existing rule that allows members who are appointed to the Rules Committee to reserve their seniority on one standing committee they had to leave to join Rules. The other would ensure that if the GOP leader convenes a panel to consider conference rules changes, the members he appoints would be “broadly representative of the diverse perspectives within the Republican Conference.”

Texas Rep. Pete Olson is offering an amendment to prevent committee leaders who reach their three-term limit (an existing conference rule that no one is proposing to change) from leading any of that panel’s subcommittees during the following three Congresses.

Many Republican committee leaders often retire from Congress after reaching their term limits, as five of them did for that reason this cycle. (Three chairmen who were not term-limited retired too). But Olson’s amendment would likely force even more into that decision and thus seems unlikely to be adopted.

Olson does provide a grandfather clause in his amendment that would allow any former committee leader who held subcommittee chairmanships this Congress to continue on in those roles for up to two more terms. 

In an amendment that is blatantly self-serving, Alaska Rep. Don Young is proposing to allow the dean of the House to serve on the Republican Steering Committee when the dean is a GOP member. Young is the dean, the title ascribed to the longest-serving House member. 

The final amendment comes from New York Rep. Elise Stefanik and would require members of elected leadership who decide to run for higher office like governor or senator to vacate their leadership positions after announcing. 

A Republican source said the rationale behind the amendment was Indiana Rep. Luke Messer’s decision to run for Senate while also serving as Republican Policy Committee chairman this cycle. Messer lost a GOP Senate primary in May to Mike Braun, who went on to defeat Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly last week. 

The amendment could be seen as an insurance policy against Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney — who was elected conference chairwoman for the next Congress — using the leadership post as a platform to run against Sen. Michael B. Enzi for his Senate seat again. 

Enzi is up for re-election in 2020. Cheney challenged him when he last ran in 2014 — she was not in Congress at the time — but ultimately dropped out of the race, citing family health issues.

Noticeably absent from the amendment offerings were controversial ones that arose two years ago over restoring earmarks.

At the time House Republicans, who banned earmarks after they won the House majority in 2010, appeared poised to provide a limited restoration of what proponents like to call congressional directed spending. But Speaker Paul D. Ryan urged the members to drop the proposal for further debate, promising a vote in the following months that never happened. 

The reason GOP earmark proponents aren’t offering new amendments this year is likely because they’re not in the majority so wouldn’t have much power on their own to use them anyway. Plus, Democrats seem likely to lift the earmark ban as part of the House rules package for the 116th Congress. 

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