House lawmakers left town Wednesday for Thanksgiving after a GOP revolt that led to defeat of the rule for floor debate on the final two pieces of legislation the chamber was scheduled to consider.
Nineteen Republicans voted against the rule for the fiscal 2024 Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill and separate legislation dealing with frozen Iranian assets.
Combined with all Democrats voting “no,” the measure was rejected on a 198-225 vote, leaving the House with no further business to attend to after dispensing with a series of pending amendments to the fiscal 2024 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill.
GOP leaders weren’t expected to have the votes to pass either the Labor-HHS-Education or Commerce-Justice-Science bills, but they hoped to at least have a full public airing with debate and amendments before heading home for Thanksgiving. It appears they won’t get the chance for that, at least on the latter bill.
The Republican rebellion on Wednesday’s rule comes after House Freedom Caucus and other hard-line GOP members watched as Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., passed a “clean” stopgap spending bill on Tuesday night with the support of nearly all Democrats.
More than half of Johnson’s conference supported the CR as well, but to critics of his strategy, it weakens conservatives’ hand when party leaders have to rely on Democrats and don’t fight for policy concessions.
On Tuesday before passage of the continuing resolution, conservatives nearly derailed debate on the Labor-HHS-Education bill out of pique over the stopgap bill’s contents, but they ultimately agreed to support the rule after huddling with Johnson.
On Wednesday’s rule vote, GOP objectors expressed dual concerns. First, they opposed the Commerce-Justice-Science bill for not going far enough to cut FBI spending, despite 9 percent cuts already baked in. Second, they didn’t like that the rule governing debate on the Iran bill was “closed,” precluding members’ ability to offer amendments.
Those concerns, coupled with their anger over the handling of a stopgap funding measure that didn’t cut spending, led some conservatives to stage a revolt that derailed the fourth House appropriations bill this year.
Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry, chairman of the rebellious Freedom Caucus, said the vote to oppose the rule Wednesday “is a response to our dissatisfaction and our unwillingness to comply and play a part in this failure theater.”
Perry said he and his allies wanted to send a message to House leadership to write bills with lower spending levels and more conservative policies.
“And then we’ll vote for them,” he said. “But don’t act like you’re actually trying to get to a correct spending level, and don’t act like you’re actually going to fight on these issues when you plan to fail.”
On the Commerce-Justice-Science bill, conservatives chafed that it didn’t go far enough to rein in what they characterized as excesses at federal law enforcement agencies.
“We had concerns with C-J-S, that the bill itself didn’t go far enough to defund some of the policies and practices going on with the Department of Justice and FBI, the weaponization of the government,” Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., said.
He added that there was still bad blood left over from last week’s vote on the separate Financial Services spending bill on an amendment from Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., to block funding for a new FBI headquarters building.
Good noted that Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Steve Womack, R-Ark., not only spoke against the amendment but demanded a roll call vote to put members on record. “Why in the world would we give the FBI a new headquarters right now?”
The FBI has said their current headquarters in downtown Washington is in poor condition and would require extensive repairs, while a new suburban location offers greater security.
Perry cited similar issues, as well as a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives rule requiring licensed gun owners to keep their purchase records in perpetuity, which critics say could lead to a national registry.
His specific concerns with the Commerce-Justice-Science bill included “the fact that it doesn’t deal with the unconstitutional gun registry, that it doesn’t deal with the funding of the new FBI building, that the overall funding is just too high with the weaponization of government against the American people.”
Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas, a Freedom Caucus member who also serves on the Appropriations Committee, said he didn’t like that the bill didn’t go through a full committee markup with a chance for panel members to offer amendments there.
“One of the big issues I had is that this bill really skipped the approps process,” Cloud said. He said there were conservative amendments members wanted to offer, including targeting the way the Justice Department collects information, responding to allegations that agents were incentivized to go after “traditional Catholics” and more.
But other Republicans bristled at the hard-line Freedom Caucus tactics, saying they would ultimately backfire in a divided Congress.
“The uber-conservatives that just brought down the rule are ultimately going to make it harder for us to get conservative wins,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., a leader of the Main Street Coalition, which tries to steer a more pragmatic course.
In fact, the bill was already too far to the right for several GOP centrists who expressed unease about cuts to law enforcement agencies, anti-abortion riders and more. Four New York Republicans — Mike Lawler, Andrew Garbarino, Anthony D’Esposito and Nick LaLota were among those voting against the rule Wednesday.
LaLota, Lawler and D’Esposito — the latter a former police detective — represent districts President Joe Biden carried in 2020. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Lawler’s and D’Esposito’s races each a Toss-up, while LaLota’s seat is ranked Lean Republican.
The Iran bill would force the administration to impose sanctions on financial institutions that facilitate Iran’s access to $6 billion in frozen assets held in a Qatari bank. President Joe Biden had agreed to release the funds contingent on the release of hostages, but pulled back after Iran-backed Hamas attacked Israel last month.
Texas Rep. Chip Roy, policy director of the Freedom Caucus, said the bill didn’t go far enough to curb Iran’s power and that amendments were needed.
“What on earth is going on? Israel is under attack, and we’re funding, through the CR yesterday, Hamas through dollars that go to the United Nations,” he told reporters. “That is unacceptable. We can’t do that. We can’t have a closed role and not have a full-throated debate about checking Iran.”
Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., said some lawmakers thought the rule had been “altered” to bar amendments, which they “didn’t appreciate.”
Higgins said he expects a new, open rule will be brought up that will allow amendments. “They’ll fix it,” he said.
Paul M. Krawzak, Aidan Quigley and Ryan Tarinelli contributed to this report.