Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Thursday said he is tasking a bipartisan group of lawmakers with writing a code of conduct for House members, after representatives of both parties expressed concerns about removing members from congressional committees.
His announcement came minutes after House Republicans voted to kick Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) off the Foreign Affairs panel as a rebuke for previous comments that were labeled by some Republicans as antisemitic. The vote was 218-211 along party lines with one lawmaker, Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), voting “present.”
“I’m going to put a group of Democrats that [House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)] will select and a group of Republicans, and we’ll work to come and clarify the rules and pass something for not only this Congress but future Congresses as well,” McCarthy told reporters during a press conference.
The House already has a code of conduct included in its rules, though the terms are vague, largely focusing on financial regulations. It also says members must “behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.”
The terms do not, however, cover areas like antisemitism or threats of violence against colleagues, which were the focus of previous efforts to strip members of committee assignments.
Thursday’s vote was the third time in two years that the House opted to strip lawmakers of committee assignments — Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) lost their assignments in 2021 after promoting violence against Democrats. And last week, McCarthy unilaterally blocked Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff (Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (Calif.) from serving on the House Intelligence Committee.
Unlike the Foreign Affairs Committee, which required a vote from the whole House to boot Omar, McCarthy as Speaker has the ability to block members from the Intelligence Committee.
In the lead-up to the vote on Omar, both Democrats and Republicans said they were opposed to the practice of stripping members of their committee assignments. A number of lawmakers accused McCarthy of engaging in a “tit-for-tat” by moving to kick Omar off the Foreign Affairs panel just because Democrats did the same to Greene and Gosar in 2021.
Three Republican lawmakers — Reps. Victoria Spartz (Ind.), Nancy Mace (S.C.) and Ken Buck (Colo.) — initially came out against the effort for various reasons, but McCarthy got them on board after offering them commitments regarding the process of booting lawmakers from panels.
Spartz pointed to added due process language in the resolution, Buck said McCarthy suggested he was willing to reform the process for kicking members off committees and Mace said the Speaker offered her a “commitment” that there would be a fix to rules that would refer members to the House Ethics Committee before a resolution is drawn up to strip them of their committee assignments.
McCarthy on Thursday said two of those lawmakers — Mace and Buck — will be part of the bipartisan group tasked with writing a code of conduct. The Speaker also said he asked Jeffries to “select a couple of members along with himself” for the group.
“I don’t know the definition exactly what all that’s going to mean. I think that should be clear. So if there is a concern, it’s not tit for tat. But I think in moving forward, every single member of Congress has a responsibility to how they carry themselves,” McCarthy said.