A House bill to scale back National Security Agency data-collection is re-agitating the fractured relationship between Republican leadership and their rank-and-file conservatives, some of whom feel their voices are being silenced in the debate over the bill.
The complaint that conservative amendments are not being given a hearing is also extending to a Senate-approved Iran nuclear bill that will see a House vote later this week. Though leadership aides insist the team has not yet decided whether to allow amendments on the Iran bill, members spoke up in a closed-door GOP conference meeting Wednesday morning, telling leadership that they feel cut out of the process in both cases.
Reps. Jim Jordan and Mick Mulvaney, influential members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, challenged Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team after the House Rules Committee late Tuesday disallowed members from adding amendments to the USA Freedom Act, which reauthorizes Patriot Act programs with some reforms.
"We need to stop that. I didn't have any amendments, but other people did, and they were ruled out of order. You have to be able to participate in the process if you're going to have any ownership of it," Mulvaney said in an interview after the meeting. "Right now, it's still a top-down type of approach. Leadership gets together, they hack out a bill, and it's a take-it-or-leave-it approach. That is divisive."
"There are a lot of folks in there who don't say anything who are upset they are being essentially asked to rubber-stamp other people's decisions," he added.
Jordan told members that since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants a full reauthorization of the Patriot Act programs, it would be in the best interest of the House to make their bill as strong as possible.
Asked about the criticism, Boehner told reporters that leadership had to make the calculation to maintain the integrity of the bill and ensure that it can pass.
"This is a very delicate issue. I know members would like to offer some amendments, but this is not a place for people to bring out the wrecking ball," Boehner said.
House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, who led the panel in blocking amendments, particularly from Rep. Justin Amash, said he has talked to the members and will try to find a way to incorporate the amendments into future debate over Patriot Act programs.
"I was very sympathetic last night to the argument Amash and others were making," he said. "I'm not unsympathetic to privacy rights, because I too share those. The question is then, how you're going to move it forward and work within the team to accomplish it."
Yet it remains to be seen how leaders will proceed on the Iran bill, which seeks to add congressional review to a nuclear agreement being negotiated between Tehran and the Obama administration. The Rules Committee will meet Wednesday afternoon, and if amendments are again ruled out of order, it will further roil the Right.
House conservatives had been pushing to amend the Iran bill, taking up the baton from Sen. Marco Rubio, who tried unsuccessfully to include a measure that would force Iran to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. That and other proposed Senate amendments were strongly opposed by the Obama administration and could prompt a veto threat. But like their counterparts among Senate conservatives, members of the House Freedom Caucus have amendments they would like to add.
Daniel Newhauser is a staff correspondent for National Journal, where he primarily covers the House of Representatives. He was formerly a House leadership reporter for Roll Call, where he started as an intern in 2010 and quickly earned a slot as a beat reporter.
A native of San Antonio, Texas, Newhauser traveled further West to study journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and write for newspapers including the East Valley Tribune and the Green Valley News & Sun.