Somewhere in the Capitol, in the clutches of at least some GOP lawmakers, there’s a secret three-page addendum to the new House rules package that went into effect Monday night. It’s just that not every member can read it—and it doesn’t seem to require a vote of any kind.
Reportedly, the “addendum”—as it’s simply become known—outlines the concessions House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) made to his defectors in order to win the speaker’s gavel. Punchbowl News reported Monday that the addendum included promises for three seats on the Rules Committee for Freedom Caucus members, freezing spending at the fiscal 2022 levels, some sort of agreement on debt ceiling demands, committee assignments, and more.
And yet, the public, House Democrats, and seemingly most House Republicans have yet to see the addendum.
Far from being online or passed around to congressional offices, there was a growing dispute that the addendum even exists—like a more boring, bureaucratic version of National Treasure.
On Monday night, before Republicans voted on their package of rules governing the House, Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) said he wasn’t “at liberty” to discuss whether or not he’s seen the three-page document. But Johnson also said “there’s pretty widespread understanding of the context of it” and that “leaders make those sorts of commitments and have those kinds of conversations with members literally every single day.”
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), on his walk to the Capitol Monday night, said he had some questions about the addendum, but he still expressed general confidence in the package.
“I just don’t like surprises,” the Montana congressman—and former Interior Secretary—said.
Asked if he could say anything about the reported three-page addendum, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), a close McCarthy ally, let out a loud guffaw—“Ha!”—before continuing to walk forward, ignoring the question and turning to another reporter instead.
Others suggested there wasn’t an addendum at all.
“There’s no additional addendum to the last package. Not to my knowledge, that’s for sure,” Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA), one of the members who negotiated with McCarthy for additional concessions, told The Daily Beast roughly an hour before the rule vote Monday.
At least one member, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), appeared to confirm to Axios he’d received the document, but couldn’t say whether other members had.
One senior aide to a House Freedom Caucus member—falsely claiming to be “a senior HFC aide close to the talks”—told The Daily Beast there is no addendum. While an actual aide to the Freedom Caucus confirmed there is an addendum of some sort. The aide declined to share the document.
For many lawmakers, there’s a certain irony to the secret addendum. McCarthy’s defectors during the 15-ballot speaker vote framed their demands as a matter of transparency—as a matter of process and principle. Their issues with McCarthy, they claimed, were more about cleaning up the broken legislative process—giving members more time to understand what they’re voting on and more opportunities to shape legislation themselves—than it was about McCarthy himself.
But these same members seemed thoroughly uninterested Monday night in allowing the rest of the House GOP conference, or the public for that matter, to review the concessions they extracted from McCarthy.
Democrats immediately seized on the hypocrisy, using the uncertainty and opaqueness of the agreement against Republicans to claim that the addendum was actually part of the House rules package that members were voting on Monday night.
“I’m on a plane right now headed to D.C. to vote on the GOP rules package. But Republicans have a secret 3-page addendum they haven’t shared. So much for their rule to ensure Members see things 3 days before voting!” Rep. Debbie Wassserman Schultz (D-FL) tweeted.
“She talked about this being the most open and transparent rule ever,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MD) said on the House floor Monday evening, speaking to Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL). “Maybe the gentlelady can share with us the secret three-page addendum that we’re reading about, because none of us have seen it. So much for transparency.”
Asked if Democrats had learned anything more about the addendum by late Monday night, House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguillar (D-CA) simply told The Daily Beast he “wouldn’t be the person to ask.”
“We haven’t seen—I haven’t seen—anything,” he said.
After weeks of grueling negotiations between McCarthy and his defectors, there is a general understanding of what the now-speaker conceded. He caved on the controversial motion to vacate, allowing just one member to force a vote on removing a speaker. And he re-instituted the Holman Rule, which allows Congress to individually fire or control the pay of federal employees. And he made a bunch of handshake promises about opening up the process to allow members to offer amendments to legislation.
But secret agreements, even unofficial ones, arguably have a place in the House rules package. And keeping the deals quiet goes against the very reforms these Republicans seemed to be pushing for.
Only one House Republican, Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX), ultimately voted against the rules package Monday, citing concerns about the motion to vacate change. Others—although displeased with the process—ultimately went along.
Rep. Blake Moore (R-UT), a more moderate member of the Republican conference, noted Monday he didn’t love every facet of the final rules package, but he said he was still “pretty confident” in it. He’d heard word of the alleged addendum and wanted some answers.
“I just know there’s a lot of rumors going around, and I just haven’t had a chance to talk to our whip team or leadership,” Moore said. Asked in a follow-up if he was hoping to get some clarification before the Monday night vote, the congressman said, “My legislative director sure is.”
But still, it wasn’t enough to waver his support.
“I don’t feel that I’m being hoodwinked at all,” he said.
Meanwhile, Freedom Caucus members didn’t seem to feel hoodwinked either.
Typically, members of Congress would want to advertise the agreements they secured from their leaders—if not to credit claim then to at least ensure that others know of the deal so leadership can’t go back on it.
But in this case, with conservative holdouts securing so many concessions from McCarthy that Rep. Matt Gaetz said he “ran out of stuff to ask for,” they seem to be more worried about moderates balking than McCarthy going back on his word.
Besides, if McCarthy doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, it’d only take one Republican member to call for a vote to remove him.
Matt Fuller contributed to this report.