May 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

House Democrats quietly fueled end-run around GOP leadership

House Minority Whip Katherine Clark, wearing a green blazer and white blouse, standing in front of a "House Democrats" backdrop.

House Minority Whip Katherine Clark. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

House Democrats quietly helped propel a GOP-led discharge petition to success, marking the first time in nearly a decade the maneuver has worked.

Why it matters: Democratic leaders made a concerted effort to get their members to sign on, according to several senior Democratic sources. It comes after several efforts to force votes on their own bills fell short.

  • House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) urged her colleagues to sign the petition at a closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting on Wednesday, one of the sources said.
  • It's the first time since 2015 that such a petition has gotten the 218 signatures needed to force a vote.

Driving the news: The discharge petition, introduced by Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), forces a vote on Steube's bill to provide tax relief to victims of natural disasters.

  • The legislation was part of a broader, bipartisan tax package that passed the House in January but has stalled in the Senate.
  • Around two dozen House Republicans signed onto the discharge petition, but the rest of the 218 signatures came from Democrats.
  • Nearly 70 of the signatures are from Democrats who signed on the day Clark spoke to the closed-door caucus meeting.

What they're saying: "I am grateful for the motivation and support of 217 of my bipartisan colleagues as we join forces to deliver tax relief for Americans all across the country," Steube said.

  • "In the 30 years of public discharge petitions, this petition is only the third to succeed. That's a testament to how important this issue is for ALL of our constituents."

What we're hearing: Democrats said genuine support for the substance of the legislation drove their signatures – but they also see bypassing GOP leadership as an opportunity to flex their legislative muscle.

  • "This Congress—under Republican leadership—has been completely chaotic and unproductive," Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) said. "In stark contrast, Democrats have shown up repeatedly as the adults in the room."
  • One senior House Democrat said of the party's thinking: "Number one, [we wanted] to force the issue, and secondly, it's just another example of how Republican leadership is not really in the 'majority'."

Between the lines: House Republicans have long had a policy of not signing onto discharge petitions with Democrats to avoid handing over control of the House floor.

  • In large part, that has succeeded — the one exception being a foreign aid discharge petition pushed by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus that fell far short of 218 signatures.

The bottom line: If House Republican leadership does not put the bill on the floor, Steube will be able to call it up for a vote in seven legislative days.

  • After that, the House will have to vote on the bill within two legislative days.
  • "I look forward to swift passage of my legislation on the House floor and urge expeditious consideration in the Senate," Steube said.
  • A spokesperson for House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) did not respond to a request for comment.

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