House GOP promises to probe COVID-19 origins, ax proxy voting, magnetometers

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(WASHINGTON) — With the 118th Congress set to begin Tuesday, House Republican leaders are out with their proposed rules for the new legislative session.

In what marks a substantial concession from Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican vying for the speakership, the rules package would allow just five Republicans to force a vote on ousting a speaker. For a Congress with at least a handful of “Never Kevin” Republicans, that provision means McCarthy’s potential speakership could be short-lived.

Republicans, who will gain the majority with a thin margin over Democrats, are poised to hit the ground running by restoring the chamber to pre-COVID order. In a “Dear Colleague” letter Sunday night saying “Congress is broken and needs to change,” McCarthy said he would immediately halt proxy voting in the House.

Committee chairs would have limited authority “to allow [non-governmental] witnesses to appear remotely at” proceedings under the new rules.

GOP leaders would also remove entry magnetometers, create a new select committee on the alleged “weaponization” of the DOJ and FBI, and more, per the new rules.

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But for those changes to take effect, the House will need to pass the Republican majority’s rules package in what will be the chamber’s first order of business after electing a speaker, a process that could take longer than usual when Congress convenes Tuesday.

In what might be one of the most visible changes after the House approves the rules, McCarthy said he would promptly order magnetometers removed from outside the chamber. The Democrat-controlled House installed the devices at the chamber entrances in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack to prevent weapons from being brought to the House floor.

They quickly became a lightning rod for some Republican lawmakers who would protest the additional security measures by walking around them altogether. Violators — like Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert, Andrew Clyde, and Jim Baird — faced fines of $5,000 to $10,000.

And the rules would create new select committees on everything from COVID-19 to U.S.-China competition and what Republicans claim is “the Weaponization of the Federal Government.”

The Select Committee on the Coronavirus Pandemic would make a significant item on many Republicans’ wish lists a reality. According to the proposed rules, the committee would investigate COVID’s origins, “the impact of school closures on American children,” and the development of vaccines and corresponding federal mandates.

House Republicans are targeting President Joe Biden directly in at least two areas with their new rules. The package would allow the House to consider stripping the Internal Revenue Service of additional resources Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act made available to the agency last summer.

Additionally, the chamber would consider preventing non-emergency drawdowns from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a tool the Biden administration has regularly used amid rising gas prices in recent months.

Other federal employees could soon become targets of a GOP-controlled House. The proposed rules package would allow legislation to zero out a government official’s salary, cut specific government programs, or even fire specific federal employees. For a Republican Party with some members who championed the #FireFauci movement, this rule is a notable inclusion.

The House Committee on Ethics would face reform under the proposed rules, too. If the chamber passes the proposal, the committee would need to establish “a process to receive complaints directly from the public.”

That could be notable in the context of GOP Rep.-elect George Santos, who faces allegations that he fabricated much of his background. If Republican leaders do not refer him to the committee themselves, the public could lodge complaints against him, per the proposed rules.

The rules also permit the House speaker to recognize any member to read the Constitution aloud on the House floor until the end of February. It is a notable provision for a Republican leader who, in November, vowed his members would “read every single word of the Constitution aloud” on the first day of the new Congress.

Responding to the House GOP’s rule package, Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said, “It is disappointing, but not surprising, that House Republicans have put forward a rules package that undermines mainstream values and furthers an extreme agenda.”

ABC News’ Lauren Peller contributed to this report.

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