House Republicans are exploring whether GOP members who break with party leadership should be formally held to account — and potentially lose their committee seats or chairmanships — but any change in policy will wait until after the midterm elections, key lawmakers said Thursday.
Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) this week presented a panel of House GOP leaders with proposed rules changes that would force members who spurn leadership to appear before the Republican Steering Committee, which determines committee assignments, to explain their behavior and face possible sanctions.
Among those who would be held to account, according to a steering committee member present for Scott's presentation, would be members who oppose procedural resolutions setting up floor action on legislation, those who sign “discharge” petitions sidestepping the normal floor process, and those who vote against certain designated “leadership priority” bills such as the high-profile health-care and tax bills the House passed last year.
The proposal, first reported by the Hill, picks at old scabs in the House Republican Conference. In previous Congresses, establishment-oriented Republicans bristled when conservative hard-liners threatened to obstruct leadership — leading then-Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to demote several members from key committees. More recently, it's conservatives who have been irate over moderate Republicans — some with committee gavels — who opposed the health-care and tax bills.
Scott has risen on several occasions in closed-door conference meetings to excoriate colleagues who aren't “team players,” according to members who have been present for his remarks. A spokeswoman for Scott did not reply to a request for comment Thursday.
The steering committee member present for Scott's presentation Tuesday, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting, said most of the panel's members were receptive to the proposal but did not want to bring it up before the election.
"The general consensus was, it's a good idea, but the timing of having that debate right now is not good timing,” the lawmaker said. “Most people think we ought to wait and do it as we organize for the next Congress."
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who is retiring after his current term, is not weighing in. Spokeswoman AshLee Strong said the proposal is “something that’ll be discussed in the next Congress."
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is seeking to lead Republicans in the next Congress, also said the matter would be dealt with before the next Congress assembles in January. But asked whether he supported Scott's proposal, he said: “The way he wrote it? No.” He declined to elaborate on how it might be modified to make it workable: “Check with me later. I'll tell you."
McCarthy's reticence could resonate with conservatives and moderates who have both bristled at heavy-handed retribution tactics from GOP leaders. One of the most iconoclastic House Republicans, libertarian Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, tweeted his displeasure Thursday: