‘If You Lose Control of the Rules Committee, You’ve Lost Control of the Floor’

Rep. Chip Roy, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., right, and Rep. Jim Jordan on the House floor of the U.S. Capitol before a vote. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s move to appoint three rebellious members onto the House Rules Committee will likely be a boon to the most anti-establishment wing of the Republican Party. It’ll also pose a new test of wills for McCarthy and his GOP detractors, particularly when it comes to fraught issues like government funding and raising the debt limit. 

“It puts in the hands of a very small number of people—who weren’t elected to any position within the leadership or in the conference—the power to sink anything that the majority would like to do,” said Brendan Buck, who previously worked for former Republican Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan. “If you lose control of the Rules Committee, you’ve lost control of the floor.”

Two of those three members—Reps. Chip Roy of Texas and Ralph Norman of South Carolina—are members of the Freedom Caucus and initially opposed McCarthy’s speakership but flipped after accepting a still-murky list of McCarthy concessions. Serving beside them will be Rep. Thomas Massie, who generally holds a libertarian line on fiscal policy and foreign affairs. He supported McCarthy throughout his entire speakership battle.

With nine Republicans and four Democrats on the powerful Rules Committee, House GOP leaders will have to continue to appease hardline members on rules governing debate, amendments, and which bills are brought to the floor.

For now, Rules Committee Chairman and fellow Republican Tom Cole is playing down concerns those members will obstruct the legislative process. “He’ll be a great member,” Cole said of Roy in a brief interview Tuesday evening.

Massie is singing a similar tune.“It’s not my goal to be on the Rules Committee and to stop everything that I don’t like,” Massie told The Dispatch Monday. “Even though when you look at it numerically, the composition of the committee, ‘Oh my gosh, three people could stop anything.’ That’s not my goal. For me, I don’t think it would be productive or sustainable for me to do that every week.”

Even Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas, one of the most vehement critics of McCarthy’s detractors, dismissed concerns that the three hardliners will hold up must-pass bills. “These are people who can generally be reasoned with in my opinion,” Crenshaw said Monday of Massie, Norman, and Roy. “I know Roy very well.”

One potential area of controversy is the current debt ceiling standoff between House Republicans and the White House. Now that the country hit its $31.4 trillion borrowing limit last week, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has begun taking so-called “extraordinary measures” to prevent the country from defaulting on its debt. To extend the country’s borrowing limit, House Republicans will have to cut a deal with Democrats. That’s no simple task, given the varying set of demands some conservative members have raised in recent weeks: While some are demanding heavy spending cuts to certain federal programs or balance the budget over a set period of time, others have vowed to vote against any debt ceiling increase entirely. But whatever measures the House approves must make it through a Senate controlled by Democrats plus the White House.

The new makeup of the Rules Committee could shake up that floor fight.

It’s not just Rules where insurgent members won concessions from McCarthy. Freedom Caucus member and McCarthy supporter Mark Green was appointed by the Steering Committee to serve as chairman of Homeland Security, and a number of original McCarthy detractors won seats on high-profile committees. Initial no-votes Reps. Byron Donalds, Anna Paulina Luna, Paul Gosar, and Scott Perry will serve on Oversight and Reform, as well as McCarthy supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was stripped of her committee assignments last Congress after she expressed support for several fringe conspiracy theories online.

Plum committee assignments were just one chunk of concessions McCarthy and his allies granted to his Republican critics in exchange for their support. Others included moving the motion to vacate the chair back to just one member, the same snap-vote margin that precipitated former Speaker Boehner’s ouster in 2015. The Congressional Leadership Fund—a McCarthy-aligned super PAC aimed at electing a Republican majority—also agreed to stop playing in open, safe Republican primaries.

McCarthy also conceded to detractors’ demand for a subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, to be led by House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan and aimed at investigating whether the Biden administration uses the power of the federal government to target political adversaries. Republicans approved the creation of the subcommittee in a party-line vote earlier this month.

No one knows exactly how much the anti-establishment wing of the party will leverage its new power. 

But, in Buck’s view, whoever won the speakership was going to have to barter with some faction of Republicans no matter what. “There was no scenario where somebody else came in and didn’t have to make some of these concessions,” he said. “In some ways, it feels somewhat inevitable after the majority came in so narrow. That doesn’t mean they’re not significant, and that they’re not going to tie his hands in a lot of challenging ways.”

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