GOP adopts House rules, its first legislative victory after messy start

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House Republicans adopted a sweeping rules package Monday night, despite frustrations within the conference over private agreements GOP leadership made with the 20 conservatives.

Only one House Republican, Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas, voted against the rules package released by Speaker Kevin McCarthy — a victory that allows the new House majority to officially begin organizing after a nearly week-long delay.

And it’s the kind of political win that McCarthy and his allies sorely needed after the messy roller-coaster of the past week. House Republicans have worked to pull themselves together this week, teeing up their first major legislative vote on a bill that would repeal the funding for 87,000 new IRS agents while also settling a handful of contested committee gavels. The party will name the final panel head, over the House Budget Committee, later Monday night.

GOP lawmakers were keen to move on from last week’s theatrics, which culminated in a 2 a.m. speaker vote on Saturday morning. But it was clear the tensions hadn’t yet entirely faded.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), a member of the GOP’s steering committee, had stunned his colleagues by announcing he would step down from the panel after his confrontation on the floor Friday night with conservative rabble-rouser Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). But by mid-afternoon Monday, Rogers — who also chairs the House Armed Services Committee — had reversed course, telling POLITICO that both party leaders and rank-and-file members had urged him to stay on the panel and he planned to remain for the rest of the term.

Rogers’ switch is the latest glimpse at the dishevelment that continued to consume the House GOP even after the chamber elected McCarthy as speaker in Saturday’s early hours.

And allies of McCarthy also sought to make the case that the plan they established was one the party could get behind, even if some openly voiced opposition to lowering the threshold so only one member of either party could move to depose the speaker.

“This is a good rules package. Given the excitement of last week, members have had questions, but the comfort level has increased and we are in a good spot,” Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), chair of the Republican Main Street Caucus, said before the vote.

The vote on the rules package marked McCarthy’s first legislative challenge, but proved he was capable of holding his divided conference together as Republicans worked to adopt a resolution that would govern how the House operates for the next two years. The package included basic rules on decorum and legislative action, but changes to the agreement became key bargaining chips as McCarthy worked to flip his conservative opponents last week.

Some of the concern was centered over defense spending. Gonzales had said he would vote against the package in part because of potential ramifications to national security spending. It was a major concern roiling the GOP, though it’s not formally enshrined in the rules package. Defense hawks fear that McCarthy’s commitment to balancing the budget within a decade — which will require holding down spending levels to the fiscal year 2022 levels or lower — will cannibalize the Pentagon’s budget.

And Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) had said she wanted more details on what handshake deals McCarthy made with his doubters last week that aren’t in the official text, but her office on Monday confirmed she would support it.

The roughly 55 pages of proposed rules are highly procedural, yet critical to the inner workings of the House. The measure will govern how party leaders bring bills to the floor and how to ensure transparency for rank-and-file lawmakers. One of the biggest focuses for Republicans has been over a motion to depose the speaker — the same tool that conservatives effectively used to topple former Speaker John Boehner in 2015.

As part of his speaker tradeoffs, McCarthy agreed to make it easier for members to attempt to oust him — empowering just a single lawmaker to force such a vote. And his allies worry it could be a serious threat to McCarthy as his conference takes power this year with one of the slimmest margins in House history.

Meanwhile, Republicans were also selecting contested committee heads Monday. In the most high-profile gavel race of the new majority, Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) has emerged as the conference’s pick to lead the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Smith first arrived in Washington back in 2013 and was the top Republican on the House Budget Committee last Congress. He bested Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) on the second ballot after Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) dropped out following the first round of conference voting.

And in another closely watched chairmanship battle, Republicans picked Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), a conservative Freedom Caucus member, over Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) to lead the Homeland Security Committee.

Green, who first came to Congress in 2019, said he would place some staff members permanently on the southern border in part to provide “real-time updates” from Customs and Border Protection.

Contenders for those gavels made their pitches during a lengthy meeting of the House Republican Steering Committee, a group with representation across the conference that chooses panel leadership posts.