WASHINGTON – In the wake of elections that weakened Republicans’ hold on Congress, Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium, has renewed his effort to impose some discipline on party members in the House.
A letter drafted by Ehrlich and signed by 151 GOP colleagues urges party leaders to take loyalty into account when parceling out powerful committee posts in the future.
Ehrlich said it was sparked by his frustration at high-ranking party members who voted against the party on key procedural issues in the past.
“A bunch of us had just noticed that time and time again, people in leadership around here were voting against their own leadership on procedural matters,” Ehrlich said. “You cannot have a majority if that’s the case.”
Ehrlich said his letter was not intended to punish any one member but is aimed at getting Republicans to work together more, after elections whittled their majority in the House from 22 to 12 seats.
“With a narrow margin, you cannot afford a lot of resentment,” Ehrlich said.
The letter was signed by roughly two- thirds of the House Republicans, but the Maryland delegation was divided on the issue. Ehrlich said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R- Frederick, signed the letter, but Reps. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, and Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, did not.
Gilchrest said he balked because a member needs to be able to vote his or her conscience.
“It really takes away from a member’s ability to be a responsible advocate of what they believe,” he said. “Overall, it really takes away from the democratic process, rather than enhances it.
“The best thing we can do to unite the conference is to put first, the nation’s business,” Gilchrest said. “There are always going to be disagreements, but that’s democracy.”
He said the proposal surfaced a few months ago in a letter to the steering committee that urged Republicans in leadership positions to support the conference on substantive procedural motions and abstain from actions that could cause dissent.
Ehrlich said his letter aims to encourage future steering committees to take a representative’s votes on procedural issues into account when making committee selections. The steering committee met this week to make committee assignments for the next Congress.
Ehrlich said that supporting the conference on procedural motions is not a lot to ask of Republicans who “enjoy a privileged position” within the party.
He said the letter was meant to tell the steering committee, “Hey, obviously two- thirds of the conference feels this way, so take note, when you’re casting your votes today, take note.”
Ehrlich, who just won election to a third term, said that when he was first elected to the House, there were no guidelines for party members. That environment makes it very difficult for the leadership to move bills, he said.
“One day … I went home and said I can’t take it anymore,” Ehrlich said. “There’s a denigration of the committee system, there’s a denigration of guidelines as to how members are supposed to act.
“There needs to be a modicum of discipline and standards and expectations,” Ehrlich said.