By Melanie Zanona and Manu Raju, CNN
House Democrats have quietly moved to restrict the GOP’s ability to use its limited power in the minority to press for investigations, an effort that has Republicans crying foul as they seek to pressure their foes over the Biden administration’s handling of Afghanistan.
According to publicly available documents reviewed by CNN, Democrats last year began slipping language into House rules that essentially blocks Republicans from using a “resolution of inquiry.” That tool allows a lawmaker to formally request information from the executive branch. Once the inquiry is introduced, the relevant committee is required to act within 14 days or else it can be brought up as a privileged resolution on the House floor.
While a resolution of inquiry has less teeth than a subpoena — and the party in power would have the numbers to prevent it from advancing — it’s one of the few investigative tools that the minority has at its disposal. At the very least, it would enable the minority party to force members of the majority to take a public stance and vote on certain issues in committee.
House Democrats used multiple resolutions of inquiry when they were in the minority during then-President Donald Trump’s first two years in office, using them on everything from Trump’s taxes to Russia, though the requests were rejected by the GOP-led committees at the time.
The rules limiting the procedural tool started in May 2020 — the final year of the Trump administration — as Democrats set new procedures to work remotely amid the covid-19 pandemic. And it has continued in the first year of the Biden administration as the House has returned to business and as conservative Republicans have looked for ways to bog down the floor and committee action.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy warned that Democrats’ moves could “very much” come back to haunt them if they lose the majority.
“It’s one more example of one-party control, trying to control your information, trying to intimidate you, from fining to proxy voting, to who can be on committee,” McCarthy told CNN on Wednesday. “All the actions that are taking place have never been done before in Congress.”
The California Republican did not rule out keeping some of these restrictions in place, should the GOP win back the House in 2022.
“I’m not going to promise one thing,” McCarthy said, “but I’m going to look at everything.”
Democrats say they suspended the use of such resolutions because Republicans began gumming up the procedural works earlier this year with various procedural votes, and they wanted to hamstring the GOP’s ability to disrupt floor proceedings.
“Committees of jurisdictions are fulfilling their constitutional responsibility to provide oversight of the situation in Afghanistan and there are regular bipartisan briefings,” said a spokesman for the House Rules Committee, which is run by Democrats, noting that the House is also voting on bipartisan amendments this week regarding Afghanistan.
“Republicans have consistently tried to disrupt the House floor, demanding votes even on noncontroversial bills that they support,” the spokesman said. “Now, they are demanding even more tools to derail the work of congressional committees. We are staying focused on allowing committees to do their work and passing legislation to provide for the American people.”
But Republicans say it’s just the latest example of how Democrats have chipped away at the minority party’s rights. Earlier this year, Democrats opted to weaken a procedural tool known as the “motion to recommit” after Republicans had successfully used it to force tough floor votes on sticky issues.
The Democratic effort to block inquiry resolutions started six months ago, but some committee Republicans only recently discovered the restrictions as they started to ramp up oversight of the Biden administration’s Afghanistan withdrawal.
“Democratic leadership has suspended a centuries-old House rule that allows for more congressional oversight — all to protect President Biden from scrutiny for the multiple disasters his failed leadership has caused,” Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement to CNN.
He added, “Whether it’s the deadly catastrophe in Afghanistan or the crisis at our southern border, the American people expect Congress to hold the Executive Branch accountable for their mistakes. The Majority needs to lift this indefinite ban on resolutions of inquiry and allow for vigorous oversight.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated when the effort to limit the minority’s procedural tool began. It started in May 2020, the final year of the Trump administration and has continued in the Biden administration.
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