Rules in Review: My Work as Chairman of the Rules Committee During the 116th Congress

Rep. Jim McGovern
10 min readJan 3, 2021

We started the 116th Congress inheriting a Republican-led government shutdown; the first time a shutdown began in one Congress and was passed to the next. We ended in the midst of a global pandemic the likes of which our nation hasn’t seen in more than 100 years.

Despite these challenges, we delivered on behalf of the American people.

Our Democratic Majority delivered on the promises we made. We passed legislation to lower prescription drug costs, confront the climate crisis, combat gun violence, reform our criminal justice system, protect coverage for pre-existing conditions, promote equality, and clean up our politics. Rather than shrink in the face of the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Rules Committee spearheaded a temporary rules change permitting remote voting and virtual committee proceedings. We successfully balanced public health concerns with the imperative to carry out the people’s work.

As Chairman, I am incredibly proud of the role that the Rules Committee played in making our success possible. We could not have done this without our Ranking Republican Member Tom Cole, whose dedication to working together despite policy disagreements is an example for all.

In the 116th Congress, the Rules Committee had many late-night meetings and early mornings on the House Floor. As you’ll read in this report, the committee processed more than 7,500 amendments, and made in order for debate on the House floor more amendments than in any other Congress in history. We also held committee and subcommittee meetings on everything from Medicare for All and human trafficking to climate resiliency and Congress’ Article I powers.

We did it all in a collaborative spirit that reached across the aisle. Even our impeachment hearing was praised by observers as a “masterclass in what civility and respectful disagreement should look like in Congress.”

Throughout, we were guided by the rules package that passed on the opening day of the Congress — the first such package in a decade to pass with bipartisan support. I’m proud of what it allowed us to create: the Consensus Calendar to expedite consideration of ideas with broad bipartisan support; the Diversity Office to make Congress look more like America; and the Select Committee on Modernization, to advance good ideas from both sides that get this House to function better. We also mandated Member Day hearings so that all Members had a chance to be heard across Congress.

We are now preparing a new rules package that will build on our successes and make the next Congress even stronger.

I am proud that because of the changes we made, Congress is once again debating big ideas, even in the face of monumental challenges, in a way that brings integrity back to the House of Representatives.

Our rules package was the first to be adopted by a bipartisan vote in over a decade — and through the work not only of the Rules Committee, but all Members, its reforms made the House more accountable to the American people

The Rules Committee developed a rules package that reflected all corners of the Democratic Majority and the Congress. It modernized the House of Representatives in five key ways:


Aligned Congress’ agenda with the priorities of the American people. This rules package empowered the House to defend the Affordable Care Act’s pre-existing conditions coverage, and set up consideration of H.R. 1, a historic set of reforms to reduce money in politics, and created the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.


Returned to regular order and followed the principle that good ideas should be debated and voted on. This package implemented a real 72-hour rule so Members of Congress have time to actually read the major bills they’re voting on; required bills to have a hearing and a markup before they go through the Rules Committee and to the House Floor; and created a truly bipartisan Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.


Cleaned up Washington and provided real oversight of the Trump administration. These changes prohibited Members and staff from serving on boards of publicly traded companies; provided assistance and training to help congressional offices properly protect whistleblowers; and set a policy that Members indicted for serious crimes should resign from leadership roles and committee assignments.


Prevented Members from using the debt ceiling as a political weapon. This rules package also ended the sham budgetary policy of CUT-GO that pretends that tax cuts somehow pay for themselves, and prevented our Federal lands from being given away for free.


Facilitated an inclusive Congress to better reflect the diversity of the American people. This included banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and creating a first-ever Diversity Office. This also clarified the rules so that Members and staff are officially allowed to wear religious headwear on the House Floor, and required Members to reimburse taxpayers for discrimination settlements.



Under the leadership of Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chair of the Financial Services Committee, the Rules Committee paved the way for the creation of the Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion.

The subcommittee, led by Chair Joyce Beatty (D-OH) and Ranking Member Ann Wagner (R-MO) highlights diversity and inclusion issues across the financial services industry. The subcommittee convened nine hearings and considered 18 bills. As a result of the subcommittee’s work, two bills passed the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress: H.R. 281, the Ensuring Diverse Leadership Act, and H.R. 5084, the Improving Corporate Governance through Diversity Act. The Committee on Financial Services invited three times the number of women and six times the number of people of color as witnesses to its hearings during the first session of the 116th Congress compared to the 113th Congress for the same time period. Chairs Waters and Beatty also released a comprehensive report on diversity and inclusion practices at the nation’s largest banks, held hearings, and issued recommendations on better diversity and inclusion practices at big banks.


The 116th Congress was the most diverse congress in American history. That’s why our rules package established the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. To identify the scope of this institution’s diversity deficit, the House administered a compensation and diversity survey to 10,356 employees of the House, with 51 percent participating (5,290 people). The Diversity Office submitted a diversity plan to direct and guide House employing offices to recruit, train, develop, promote, and retain a diverse workforce to reflect the growing diversity of our nation.


The 116th rules package also strengthened representation by returning voting rights to Delegates and the Resident Commissioner, which a prior Republican-led Congress had stripped away. The five Delegates representing the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico represent over 4.5 million citizens who deserve a voice on the House Floor. In June of 2020, the House also took historic action to establish the District of Columbia as the nation’s 51st state with passage of H.R. 51. This marked the first time that either chamber agreed to give the nation’s capital representation in Congress.


The rules package created a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis tasked with developing climate policy recommendations.The select committee held over two dozen hearings and roundtables on climate policy, taking testimony from dozens of experts. In June of 2020, the select committee unveiled its Congressional Action Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, a 538-page science-based report laying out policy recommendations to create a clean energy economy and a healthy, resilient, and just America. More than 50 of the recommendations were incorporated in legislation that passed the House in the 116th Congress.


The rules package required bills have a hearing and a markup before they go to the Rules Committee for consideration. During consideration of H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held nearly 20 hearings, heard from almost 150 witnesses, filed more than 330 amendments, and debated the legislation for over 20 hours. The new rules also implemented a rule that required text to be available for 72 hours before the bill could proceed to the House Floor for a vote. This was followed nearly 90 percent of the time, even amid a Republican-led government shutdown and the coronavirus pandemic.


Chairman McGovern promised reforms to get committees back to work and get Members debating important policy issues. And he did just that. Following the 115th Congress when Republicans shut out debate a stunning and record-breaking 103 times, Chairman McGovern’s Rules Committee made in order more amendments than any other Congress, sending over 2,700 amendments to the House Floor — 441 on the National Defense bill alone. Of these amendments, more than 700 — nearly 30 percent of all amendments — came from the Freshman class alone.


The rules package created the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. This bipartisan committee held dozens of hearings and roundtables with Members and outside experts to examine innovate ways to move Congress into the 21st Century. The Select Committee developed concrete solutions to make Congress work better for the American people and for Members of Congress. With nearly 100 recommendations in its final report, the Select Committee worked with the Committee on House Administration to pass two key resolutions that pushed many of these recommendations into practice across the House.


Chairman McGovern made good on a promise to move more bipartisan bills to the House Floor. With the new Consensus Calendar, bills with broad bipartisan support were fast-tracked for a vote. Some examples include bills to:

  • Help reduce the visa backlog for high-skilled immigrants (H.R. 1044)
  • Eliminate the “Widow’s Tax” to help the surviving spouses of our servicemembers (H.R. 553)
  • Assist veterans with service dog training therapy (H.R. 4305)


From the rules package to subpoenas, the 116th Congress used every tool to fulfill its constitutional duty to hold the Trump administration accountable to the American people.

Obstructing oversight impairs the ability of Congress to legislate effectively. When the administration refused to comply with subpoenas issued by the Judiciary Committee to former White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II, and Attorney General William Barr, the Rules Committee defended Congress’ power as an independent branch of government. Chairman McGovern authored, and the House passed, House Resolution 430, which authorized the Judiciary Committee to initiate judicial proceedings in Federal court to seek enforcement of these important subpoenas.


By the closing days of the 116th Congress, our nation lost more than 343,000 of our fellow citizens to the Coronavirus, with countless more families suffering economically. Chairman McGovern led the historic effort to ensure this institution could fully function safely during this extraordinary time.

Chairman McGovern authored House Resolution 965, which allowed the 116th Congress to join legislatures across the country and around the world in adapting to remote work. This resolution implemented temporary remote voting on the House Floor and virtual committee proceedings during this pandemic. It also directed the Chair of the Committee on House Administration, in consultation with the Ranking Member, to study the feasibility of using technology to vote remotely in the House in the future. As Chairman McGovern made clear, Congress works best when it works together, face-to-face and side-by-side. This temporary resolution, however, allowed Congress to adapt during the coronavirus pandemic and continue its work for the American people.

The Rules Committee held 14 partially or fully remote hearings and reported 27 measures to the House Floor, including critical legislation such as COVID-19 stimulus packages, the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, and necessary government funding bills.


Rep. Jim McGovern

Dad. Husband. #Worcester born & raised. Chairman of @RulesDemocrats & @CECCgov. Co-Chair of @TLhumanrights. Fighting to #EndHungerNow #OverturnCitizensUnited