First Branch Forecast for January 18, 2022

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Welcome‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌First‌ ‌Branch‌ ‌Forecast,‌ ‌your‌ ‌regular‌ ‌look‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌Legislative‌ ‌branch‌ ‌and‌ government ‌transparency.‌ ‌Tell ‌your‌ ‌friends‌ ‌to‌ subscribe.

THE TOP LINE

It’s Tuesday, Lemon. The House is back today after the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday with an apparently light floor schedule; the Senate canceled recess to try again to move voting rights legislation with debate on Tuesday and a cloture vote on Wednesday, hopefully all members will be healthy, present, and prepared to take a stand for democracy. This week’s committee schedule looks quiet, but we’ve got our eyes on Wednesday’s intriguing House Rules hearing on using budget principles to prepare for future pandemics and disasters and Thursday’s ModCom hearing on the status of the committee’s recommendations for making Congress work better for the American people (witnesses have not been officially announced).

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First Branch Forecast for January 10, 2022

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Welcome‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌First‌ ‌Branch‌ ‌Forecast,‌ ‌your‌ ‌regular‌ ‌look‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌Legislative‌ ‌branch‌ ‌and‌ government ‌transparency.‌ ‌Tell ‌your‌ ‌friends‌ ‌to‌ subscribe.

THE TOP LINE

This week. The House is back Monday evening with a quorum call to start the second session of the 117th Congress; the Senate is back on Monday as well. The floor and committees look fairly quiet, but watch out for Tuesday’s Leg Branch Approps hearing with 3/4s of the Capitol Police Board and a Senate Judiciary hearing on domestic terrorism; a Wednesday House Defense Approps subcommitte hearing on the negative consequences of the CR on defense readiness and a SSCI hearing on a DHS intel nominee. Senator Reid will lie in state on Wednesday — the Nevada Independent summarized his life and linked to video from this weekend’s services

Trump insurrection. Last week was the one year anniversary of the Trump insurrection. Many of those criminally responsible are at large and uncharged; those who are politically responsible continue to downplay, deny, or shift responsibility — or counterprogram with misinformation. We will not pass over those who remain silent with the purpose of evading responsibility and encouraging the media to move its attention elsewhere. You can tell a lot by those who skipped out on the commemoration. The denial and downplaying of these terrible events have particular relevance for those on the hill. If you are a staffer and have not yet done so, please respond to the Congressional Progressive Staff Association’s survey on your attitudes toward the congressional workplace one year after January 6th. 

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Make U.S. Capitol Police IG Reports Publicly Available Online

Federal inspectors general routinely publish their findings online. This helps hold federal agencies to account by creating public and internal pressure to address the concerns raised by the IG and creating a record should they fail to fix problems. However, the Capitol Police Inspector General is one of a handful of IGs that withholds their reports from the public. On Monday, Demand Progress wrote to the committees that oversee the Capitol Police to request they direct the Capitol Police Inspector General to publish its final reports online.

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First Branch Forecast for January 3, 2022

Welcome‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌First‌ ‌Branch‌ ‌Forecast,‌ ‌your‌ ‌regular‌ ‌look‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌Legislative‌ ‌branch‌ ‌and‌ government ‌transparency.‌ ‌Tell ‌your‌ ‌friends‌ ‌to‌ subscribe.

January’s 6th’s anniversary is this Thursday and so far no one of significance has been held accountable for the Trump insurrection, Republicans blocked a 9/11 style commission, the Select Committee will turn into a pumpkin at the end of the year (as will any contempt prosecutions, should we get that far), and the media still is talking about “partisan divides.” Trump will counterprogram the commemoration, likely to repeat the big lies that deny his election loss, assert the sacking of the Capitol was a peaceful protest led by good people, and falsely claim election fraud (as a basis to rig the elections going forward) — all of which we can expect to see winked at by congressional leadership and amplified by the press. The far right will use the attention to portray themselves as the victims — they (ironically) like comparing themselves to Jewish victims of the Holocaust — and will use their “victimhood” as a basis for further violent actions. Regarding the select committee, intended as an accountability mechanism: “Our legacy piece and final product will be the select committee’s report,” with an interim report expected this summer. That’ll show ‘em. Can we at least stop calling it “January 6th” and use a more accurate descriptor, like the “Trump insurrection?” We appear to be at the end game for efforts to arrest our democratic decline — a draw is tantamount to a loss.

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All Non-Confidential CRS Reports Should be Available Online

The public does not have access to a comprehensive database of non-confidential Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports. Recently, Demand Progress, American Enterprise Institute, and Free Government Information, and a coalition of 39 other organizations and 21 experts on Congress, including many CRS analysts, wrote to Representative Zoe Lofgren and Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Chair and Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on the Library, requesting they direct the Library of Congress to publish all non-confidential CRS reports online.

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First Branch Forecast: ModCom, PODA, PACER, + USCP 12/13/2021

Welcome‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌First‌ ‌Branch‌ ‌Forecast,‌ ‌your‌ ‌regular‌ ‌look‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌Legislative‌ ‌branch‌ ‌and‌ government ‌transparency.‌ ‌Tell ‌your‌ ‌friends‌ ‌to‌ subscribe.

THE TOP LINE

Bonus week. The Senate is in today; the House is in tomorrow, with the ominous last vote predicted at “???” We’ll see both chambers vote to raise the vestigial debt ceiling thanks to legislation waiving the filibuster that apparently didn’t cause the demise of democracy or an end to the world’s greatest deliberative institution. Also on the Senate docket is a more pro-militarist version of the NDAA than usual, shepherded by the Armed Services committees outside of regular ordersans 1991 + 2002 AUMF repeal, sans independent protection for victims in sexual harassment cases, and with a $25 billion bump above what the Pentagon requested, equivalent to 50% of the cost to vaccinate the world against COVID. The House will ponder holding Mark Meadows in contempt and adopting legislation on Islamophobia. In committee: the Jan. 6th committee is expected to report out a contempt resolution on Meadows; the Coronavirus committee will consider the need to accelerate vaccinations — say, what about that extra $25 billion? Not listed on Congress.gov, but apparently happening: a Thursday House Admin hearing on the Smithsonian. There’s also a ton of nomination proceedings.

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Put Senate Bills and Amendments Online Before Votes

The public does not have real time access to bills and amendments as they are considered on the Senate floor. This week, Demand Progress, Lincoln Network, and a coalition of 41 other organizations and 15 experts sent a letter to Senate leadership requesting the Senate publish bills and amendments online while they are still under consideration.

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First Branch Forecast: Police, PODA, and the Courts 12/06/2021

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This week: the Senate is in today; the House is in on Tuesday. Congress cleared a CR that funds the government through February 18th so this week expect a debt limit vote, NDAA consideration, and likely the Protecting our Democracy Act (PODA). Watch as the House’s suspension list becomes ridiculously long. In committee, Senate Rules will look at the Capitol Police on Tuesday; House Rules will consider which of the 57 amendments to allow for the Protecting Our Democracy Act on Tuesday; Senate Judiciary will mark up a bill modernizing PACER on Thursday. ICYMI, the 2022 House Calendar is out.

A cranky note: appropriations are how Congress dictates priorities, so the ongoing use of CRs and the threat of a long-term CR is no less than an abdication of the responsibility to govern and an undermining of congressional prerogatives. It’s not the “Trump” or “Biden” spending bill, but Congress’s.

Capitol Police. In advance of Tuesday’s USCP oversight hearing, today we are releasing model public records request regulations (announcement) (regs). We got tired of waiting for the Capitol Police to implement Congress’s instructions to create a FOIA-like process — the agency is notoriously opaque — so our resident experts on FOIA and Congress spent the last few months drafting model regulations to (1) show that it’s possible and (2) create a standard to judge the USCP should they act. Perhaps it will liven up Tuesday’s hearing with the USCP IG.

Succession. It’s no secret there will be many changes in party and committee leadership in the 118th Congress and that jockeying is happening now. We are intrigued by the American Prospect’s deep dive into Hakeem Jeffries record and leadership style. On the Republican side, an opinion column from a senior fellow at a conservative think tank asks the question of whether McCarthy is suited to be Speaker. There’s also some drama around Elise Stefanik. For our part, we’re still wondering whether Rep. Jeffries will release the rules for the House Dem Policy and Steering Committee and Sen. Schumer will release the Senate Democratic Party Caucus rules.

Also: Our long-awaited recap of the 2021 Library of Congress virtual public forum on public access to legislative information is now available. (The Library has not committed to holding additional conversations with the public; the prior ones had to be requested by Appropriators). And see a new Twitter bot that tracks Leg branch procurements. The bot is how we know, for example, the Capitol Police are ordering 281 units of body armor.

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The Capitol Police Should Issue FOIA-like Regs — Here’s our Model Regs That Show Them How

Today Demand Progress Education Fund released model public records request regulations for the United States Capitol Police Force. If implemented, these regulations would create a FOIA-like process for the Capitol Police, which our multi-year investigation had previously revealed to be particularly secretive.

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First Branch Forecast: Democratic slippage, court accountability, and the mother of parliaments 11/29/2021

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Welcome‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌First‌ ‌Branch‌ ‌Forecast,‌ ‌your‌ ‌regular‌ ‌look‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌Legislative‌ ‌branch‌ ‌and‌ government ‌transparency.‌ ‌Tell ‌your‌ ‌friends‌ ‌to‌ subscribe.

THE TOP LINE

Welcome back. The Senate is in today; the House is in on Tuesday, with the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act on suspension and further appropriations bills possible. We’re curious about House Oversight’s Wednesday hearing into the Future of Federal Work and Thursday’s Senate Judiciary markup that includes a judicial security bill with some concerning language and a much less fraught bill to modernize PACER.

Omicron, which you may know as a planet from Futurama but is now the COVID variant du jour, is the latest (awful) reminder of the necessity of the House and Senate being capable of working fully remotely. Yes, we’ve been making this point for a while. While we’ve seen some progress, proxy voting on the House floor is an imperfect solution and the Senate still has not grappled with the shifts in power that could occur if a single member becomes ill and cannot attend in person. We continue to track all this on ContinuityofCongress.org. On that final point, isn’t it time for the House and Senate to impose both mask and vaccination requirements for persons who work in-person?

ICYMI, there was big news last week on providing clearances for Senate staff. The House Diversity Office released two important new reports on House compensation & benefits and demographics and diversityRep. Gosar was censured and removed from his committees for tweeting a video he made depicting his murder of a House colleague, which he promptly RT’d after his censure. And serial fabulist Rep. Boebert is bucking for attention after she made up a story that suggested a House colleague is a suicide bomber because she is a Muslim.

We’re not sure what to do. There’s a constant stream of unacceptable and bizarre behavior from certain members of Congress that is both an effort to move the Overton Window of what’s normal and an effort to fundraise. We don’t want to ignore it, and thus normalize it, nor do we want to draw attention out of fear of the Streisand Effect. For example, what do you do with Rep. Greene’s introduction of a resolution to give Kyle Rittenhouse a Congressional Gold Medal? Denver’s Channel 9 News has it right.

Democratic slippage. For the first time, the US was listed as a “backsliding democracy” in the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance’s 2020 global democracy report, described as falling victim to authoritarian tendencies. “A historic turning point came in 2020–2021 when former President Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election results in the United States. Baseless allegations of electoral fraud and related disinformation undermined fundamental trust in the electoral process, which culminated in the storming of the US Capitol building in January 2021.”

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