WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Wednesday that every member of the House and Senate would get to add amendments to the Republican health care bill, news that was welcomed by Democrats eager to make changes of their own. But Rep. Pete Sessions, who heads the committee that will make that decision, slammed Spicer’s suggestion on Wednesday, saying the press secretary should stay out of “my business.”
A meeting on Wednesday afternoon of the House Rules Committee, which decides how legislation will be treated on the floor and whether it can be amended, grew testy after Democrats brought up Spicer’s comments from earlier in the day.
Asked about the process for getting members on board with the health care bill that’s already faced backlash from some conservative Republicans and outside groups, Spicer told reporters, “Every member of the House and the Senate will be able to have their opportunity to have amendments offered through the committee process and on the floor.”
Some Democrats interpreted this to mean that an “open rule” would be approved by the Rules Committee, which would allow all members to offer their own amendments to change the health care bill once it gets to the House floor. This determination that has not yet been made by Republicans on the committee, but the prospect — and Spicer’s comments — thrilled Democrats.
“We are very excited to hear this news,” Rep. Louise Slaughter, the committee’s ranking Democrat said during Wednesday’s committee hearing. “That translates to an open rule, might be the first we’ve had.”
Rep. Jim McGovern, another Democrat, later put the question to Sessions, saying: “Under your definition of ‘every member’ would Democrats be included in that?”
Sessions was quick to shoot down the idea. “That is in an entirely different article of the Constitution and I appreciate him providing this,” Sessions said of Spicer, adding that he and the White House had not discussed the procedure for the health care bill at all — much less whether Democrats and Republicans would be able to amend the bill when it comes up for a vote in the full House.
Pressed further on whether Spicer was “wrong” to say so, Sessions grew brusque. “You know what, I will just point blank say that I would encourage Mr. Spicer if he thinks he’s going to start talking about my business to just give me a darn call.”
Sessions’ statement was followed by five full seconds of complete silence.
“I’ll pass that on,” McGovern said, as the room burst into laughter.
Rep. Pete Sessions responds to Sean Spicer's comments on the process for adding amendments to the GOP health care bill.
Sessions went on, saying of Spicer, “I try not to get in his business and I don’t appreciate him getting in my business. … I’m just saying he [can] be in his lane and I can be in my lane, but he’s in my lane now.”
The Rules Committee chairman added that anyone would expect him to say that, and that he thinks Spicer is “an awesome guy” and called him “my friend.”
“I just wish he’d call me and talk to me if he wants to do these things. Fair game? Fair to me,” Sessions said.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sessions’ remarks or whether the administration will push for an open rule allowing all members to amend the health care bill on the House floor, as Spicer suggested.
When asked to clarify, in general, whether Sessions opposes an open rule to allow amendments to the bill on the House floor, or whether he merely objected to the way Spicer handled the situation, a spokesperson emailed BuzzFeed News: "The Chairman appreciates the input from our friends in the executive branch but the House will determine the appropriate rule for consideration of the bill."
Sarah Mimms is a deputy editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Sarah Mimms at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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