On February 27, Democratic leadership in the House expected to celebrate a legislative victory on gun control legislation, instead, Republicans implemented a lesser-known procedural tool known as the motion to recommit, or MTR.
According to House rules, a motion to recommit provides one final opportunity for the House to debate and amend a measure before the Speaker orders a final vote on passage. While a motion to recommit can easily alter bill text, the majority of MTRs are quickly swept aside by the party in power. Thus, an MTR is more commonly used by the party in opposition to send a political message of protest before a final vote.
In fact, it is extremely rare for an MTR to pass. House Republicans did not lose a single procedural vote to Democrats in their previous eight years in the majority. But something unexpected happened when the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 (H.R.8) was on the House floor.
What exactly happened?
Prior to the final vote on H.R. 8, Republicans offered a motion to recommit pursuant to new language. This change required the notification of Immigration and Customs Enforcement if a background check revealed an illegal immigrant had attempted to purchase a firearm.
It proved to be a savvy move. By weaving a hot button immigration topic into the bill, Republicans managed to sway 26 Democratic members, predominantly from more competitive swing districts, to buck Democratic party leadership and vote for the motion.
The House then passed the measure with the new language in a final vote of 240-190. Eight Republicans joined 232 Democrats in support of the measure, while two Democrats and 188 Republicans opposed it.
Why it Matters
Democratic leadership has struggled to keep rank and file members in line on procedural votes. The setback on H.R. 8 was the second to befall the Democrats in February. They do not want this to become a trend.
The successful adoption of the MTR to H.R. 8 has exposed a fault line within the Democratic caucus. Moderate members seek the freedom to vote as they see fit to avoid angering voters in home districts. On the other hand, the more liberal wing of the party has members seething due to the inclusion of the MTR provision that could give more power to ICE, an entity that members have publicly called to abolish.
The bottom line is that the Democrats put themselves in a tough spot, one that could have been avoided. Republicans will likely try the tactic again in efforts to disrupt the majority’s legislative program.