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House Republicans dig out another procedural tool to pressure Democrats

GOP is planning to file discharge petitions on a late-term abortion bill and the Green New Deal

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., is planning to file a discharge petition next week in an effort to force a vote on a bill to provide protections for newborns who survive abortions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., is planning to file a discharge petition next week in an effort to force a vote on a bill to provide protections for newborns who survive abortions. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Republicans, boosted by some early procedural wins this Congress, are planning to try out another tool available to the minority to put pressure on Democrats — the discharge petition.

Discharge petitions can be filed by any member but are most commonly used by the minority party to highlight legislation the majority refuses to bring to the floor. If a discharge petition gets 218 signatures, the underlying measure can then be brought up for a vote over the objections of leadership.

Republicans already have plans to file two discharge petitions, one on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, sponsored by Missouri GOP Rep. Ann Wagner, and one on the Green New Deal resolution, sponsored by New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Discharge petitions are rarely successful because majority members worry about crossing their leadership in signing them. And unlike a vote, it’s not a binary decision; members could simply ignore the petition.

Watch: What Is a Discharge Petition Anyway?

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However, there have been instances when the minority successfully used the tool, like when Democrats in 2015 used a discharge petition to revive the Export-Import Bank. Last year moderate Republicans, in a rare majority-led discharge petition, fell just a few signatures short of forcing their leadership to hold a series of votes on competing immigration bills.

The latest efforts come after Republicans have been using another procedural tool called the motion to recommit, or MTR, to message against Democratic bills. They’ve won two MTR votes so far this Congress, meaning enough Democrats joined Republicans to pass a last-minute GOP amendment to the legislation.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said he’ll file the discharge petition on Wagner’s bill on Tuesday. The measure would provide legal protections for newborns who survive abortions and ensure health care providers exercise standard professional care in cases in which an attempted abortion results in a live birth.

“I hope we get 218 signatures and more,” the Louisiana Republican said. “Frankly, every member of Congress should support that policy.”

Scalise’s discharge petition comes after 23 previous party attempts to bring the born-alive bill up for a vote by offering unanimous consent requests that Democrats have objected to. 

His effort is a traditional use of the discharge petition — a minority party member trying to force a vote on a bipartisan bill that his party overwhelming backs but that majority leadership is blocking.

Three Democrats, Reps. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, Daniel Lipinski of Illinois and Henry Cuellar of Texas, have co-sponsored the born-alive bill. 

Lipiniski said he plans to sign the discharge petition.

“This issue is important enough to me,” he said, noting that supporting the bill “should be a simple choice.”

While he supports the bill, Cuellar does not plan to sign the petition. 

“I don’t want to change the procedures,” he said, seemingly referring to the majority’s ability to control what bills come the floor.

A different tack

Republicans are tacking in a different direction to try to force a vote on the Green New Deal. The GOP opposes the proposal to combat climate change but wants to force a vote on it anyway to put Democrats on record, thinking it will show divisions among the majority.

Georgia Rep. Jody B. Hice, who is leading that effort, said he’ll file the discharge petition as soon as the rule he’s using as a vehicle to bring it up ripens. Discharge petitions cannot be filed until 30 legislative days after introduction of a bill or seven legislative days after introduction of a rule. 

Hice said he expects his rule to bring up Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal resolution to ripen shortly after the Easter recess, and he will file the discharge petition then.

“Ninety-two [Democrats] said they support this,” he said of the members who’ve signed on to the resolution. “The American people need to know where their representatives stand on this radical proposal. And if they put their name to co-sponsor then they ought to have the courage to want to vote for it.”

Ocasio-Cortez said she sees the discharge petition for the political game it is, adding that she would encourage her colleagues not to sign it. The New York Democrat said that while she doesn’t feel personally hurt by Republicans’ attacks — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just forced a Senate vote on the Green New Deal to mock it and put pressure on Democrats — it is insulting to communities affected by the climate crisis.

“These are the plays that they’re making, but it’s not coming from an honest or earnest place,” she said. “They don’t want to solve this problem. And so what they’re doing is they’re treating it as though all of these families whose water is poisoned and whose homes are being washed away is a joke. And they’re wasting time.”

Hice said he’s doing Democrats who support the Green New Deal a favor by providing them an avenue to having a vote on it.

“There’s no doubt Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi does not want to bring it up,” he said.

‘College-style pranks’

Other Democrats who have co-sponsored the Green New Deal also dismissed the Republicans’ plan to file a discharge petition on it.

“The Republicans have every antic and trick in the book, but they don’t want an agenda for America,” Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin said. “They might not love the Green New Deal, but what is their plan to deal with climate change? … Government has got to be about something more than just a series of college-style pranks. They’re lowering the tone of the institution.”

Republicans say they are happy to propose their own energy and environmental policies. That’s why Scalise has launched the House Energy Action Team, or HEAT, a coalition of Republican members he says will “promote the great conservative energy policies” that will result in more jobs, lower electricity costs and a reduction of carbon emissions.

Hice’s discharge petition on the Green New Deal is just one part of the HEAT effort.

Republicans also aren’t ruling out using the discharge petition on other issues they want to call attention to, whether it’s more bipartisan bills they support or Democratic ideas they oppose. 

“That’s one of the tools we have in our pocket as the minority,” Hice said. 

Scalise even suggested there could be other procedural tools Republicans deploy to get their message across.

“I’m sure a lot of our colleagues are looking at all of the procedures available to us as elected, voting members of Congress to advocate for the policies that we know will get America back on track,” he said.

Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said that while he’s glad Republicans are “showing some life in the minority,” Democrats are not going to take the bait on their procedural gamesmanship.

It is not far-fetched to expect Republicans to force more discharge petitions on progressive proposals, like ‘Medicare for All,’ but Pocan said he would urge his colleagues to ignore them.

“I would encourage people to realize that every shiny object usually has a hook in it,” he said. “So don’t take it.”

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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