First Branch Forecast: January 18, 2021

THE TOP LINE
The insurrection is not over. The likelihood of violence at federal and state capitals across the country and ongoing organizing by white nationalists means the danger of immediate political violence has not passed even as the national guard and local police forces are on high alert. Meanwhile, the Twitter pundits who tittered that the sacking of the Capitol Building was a mere beer hall putsch have come to acknowledge the attackers were better armed, better organized, and more dangerous than they had ever guessed — and came within moments of decapitating the legislature and murdering the presidential line of succession.

Too many officials in the Republican party, meanwhile, are still giving aid and comfort to the enemies of democracy. Only ten House Republicans voted (232-197) to remove Donald Trump from power. Outgoing Sen. Majority Leader McConnell rebuffed Sen. Schumer’s request to immediately reconvene the Senate, ensuring a removal vote cannot happen while Trump is in office. Sen. McConnell, a political Von Hindenburg who used Trump’s popularity with the base to move his ultra-conservative political agenda, has found his party’s beholdenness to the feckless aspiring autocrat is now imperiling corporate support for his party and slightly slowing the revolving door. Consequently, Sen. McConnell belatedly hinted his openness to Trump’s removal in order to restore corporate support, which is (also belatedly) being cut off to the party and major conservative groups as donors realize the danger to their brands. There’s talk that some Republicans voted against removing Trump out of fear for their physical safety, although many likely were focused on their political well-being; meanwhile Sen. McConnell is using the Trump removal effort to hinder the incoming Biden administration.

The big lie, “stop the steal,” nurtured by many Republicans, is an inversion of reality: the real fraud is the decades-long voter suppression efforts that arise from gerrymandering and efforts to disenfranchise minority, younger, and less wealthy voters. We know this, in part, because we have the secret files of the guy who led this effort. Voter purges, witness intimidation, ID requirements, and gerrymandering are rooted in Jim Crow practices and a long history of American violence aimed at subverting our political institutions. Those who wish to argue #bothsides on this matter need only to consider the 138 House Republicans and 7 Senate Republicans who voted — in the midst of the sacking of the Capitol — to exclude votes by the state of Pennsylvania in determining the presidential winner. The 8 Senate Republicans who voted to ignore the election — Sens. Cruz, Hawley, Hyde-Smith, Kennedy, Lummis, Marshall, Scott, and Tuberville — surely have fellow travelers among their colleagues, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is actively working to undermine Trump’s removal. In the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s former boss and mentor, Rep. Bill Thomas, went on TV to excoriate Rep. McCarthy, calling him a “hypocrite” for supporting “the phony lies the president perpetuated.”

There is a direct line between Charlottesville and #bothsides to “stop the steal” and sedition. Members of the mob had maps, weapons, two-way radios, military and police training, and some say they had inside help… including, potentially, from Members of Congress. We can see they were encouraged — some would say incited — to violence: the unhinged rantings of a handful of particularly vocal Qanon-friendly House and Senate Republicans were buttressed and often echoed by leadership. The willingness to physically contest even the most simple rules, such as mask requirements and gun prohibitions on the chamber floor, suggest some members inside Congress are engaged in agitprop, looking to the mob to elevate their political fortunes.

The city on the hill. And so on Wednesday, Pres.-elect Biden will take the oath of office, surrounded by 1,000 supporters, ringed by 20,000+ security personnel, and that morning Trump will flee the crime scene. Various Inspectors General and congressional committees are spinning up investigations of what happened — we joined a panel discussion on this topic on Friday — and the work to repair our democracy will begin even as 7 in 10 Republicans believe his election was fraudulent and those out of power plot for 2022, 2024, and beyond. For our part, we will continue to focus on improving Congress’s ability to do its job, government accountability, and rebuilding our democracy.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast: January 18, 2021”

Capitol Police Fire Arm Regulations

The Capitol Police Board has regulations governing firearms, explosives, incendiary devices and other dangerous weapons which specify that no person shall carry any firearm inside the chamber or on the floor of either House.

The full regulations can be seen in the following image, which has been transcribed as text at the end of this article.

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U.S. Capitol Police: Past, Present and Future Panel Discussion Set for Friday

The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has thrust the U.S. Capitol Police into the spotlight. They failed to adequately protect lawmakers, staff, essential workers, and journalists against a mob-led insurrection, despite an abundance of resources. 

Demand Progress and the Article One Coalition are hosting a webinar with congressional experts who have covered USCP for years to discuss its opaque history and how Congress must reform the USCP. 

Continue reading “U.S. Capitol Police: Past, Present and Future Panel Discussion Set for Friday”

First Branch Forecast: January 11, 2020

We are overwhelmed and you are too. If you are feeling like you need to talk to someone, call the national suicide helpline at 800-273-8255. You can call even if you are just feeling powerful emotions. It’s perfectly okay to do so. Congressionals can reach out to the Office of Employee Assistance (there’s a recent Dear Colleague with contact info).

Seriously, friends. I’ve seen the faces of the journalists and the staffers who are on the hill — and those who watched in horror from elsewhere. You look just like those of us who were on the hill for 9/11 and the anthrax attacks. I can see it in the flat affect. Do not try to power through. Do not wait because you think someone else needs help more. Do not push it aside even if you were not there in person. It’s okay to find someone to talk to. Tell them I sent ya.


THE TOP LINE

A mob whipped up by President Trump, abetted by his allies in Congress and fed with years of lies, sacked the U.S. Capitol. The well-armed insurrection, which included former members of the military, current local law enforcement, and white nationalists, resulted in a handful of deaths and a near miss in an effort to decapitate the Legislative branch. The noose and gallows erected outside the Capitol building makes clear what would have happened had they managed to capture members of Congress.

The House will impeach Donald Trump because a futile effort to get his hand-picked cabinet enablers to invoke the 25th amendment is destined to fail. Senator McConnell is trying to prevent the effort, claiming it will waste a lot of time in the Senate, but that’s just nonsense. Sen. McConnell had no problem speeding through impeachment in 2019. There are no material contested facts now. Any delay would be the height of foolishness.

Accountability. Just this past Monday, a week ago today, in response to calls for impeachment, House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries said “We’re not looking backwards, we’re looking forward.” If only he could have looked forward to Wednesday (or learned from history, where politicians have made the exact same mistake). Friends, accountability is always backward looking. A key job of Congress is accountability! How many committees are focused on oversight? You must learn from the past, hold people accountable, and fix the problems — and only by doing that can you stop those bad things from happening again. In Rep. Jeffries’ defense, he was taking the party line from his leadership, even as the rank-and-file knew that you can’t move on until you clean up the current mess.

Unity. We are hearing the old chestnut that America needs to unify — the siren song of those who want to evade accountability. Despite the catastrophic events, six GOP Senators and 138 House Members voted to object to the state election certifications, which were not in doubt by any fair minded person. A snap poll suggested that 45% of Republicans “approve of the storming of the Capitol building.” If Sen. McConnell had a majority in the Senate, and thus the ability to block measures from going to the floor, what would be the consequences for Pres.-elect Biden’s nominees or any substantive legislation to redress what has happened? Unity can only come after doing the right thing, which starts with impeachment and removal.

No one could have seen this coming? Nonsense. While few in the press (except Roll Call) paid attention, we’ve been focusing on problems with the Capitol Police since 2018. In a July 2019 document outlining our questions for the USCP, we raised the concern that “resources are being deployed away from protecting the Capitol, which could create security vulnerabilities.” There are major structural problems with how Congress manages itself that go far beyond the USCP — as readers of our newsletter know — and in the USCP context, they are compounded by a lack of transparency and accountability. We applaud Chairs Ryan and Lofgren and RM Davis for taking this seriously before it was front-page news, but even they, champions that they are, were limited by political realities outside of their control. Maybe that will change. We stand ready to share what we have learned and observed with any committees of inquiry and with the press. But we will tell you this now: while Congress is woefully underfunded, the problem for the USCP was not insufficient resources. (By the way, if we were to identify entities that have performed badly over the years, the USCP’s Public Information Office is simply the worst we have ever encountered in government, and that is saying something.)

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast: January 11, 2020”

A Primer on the Capitol Police: What We Know From Two Years of Research

Today armed Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an apparent and temporarily successful effort to disrupt the vote to certify the 2020 presidential election results. Members, staff, and journalists were forced to hide throughout the terrifying ordeal and many took to Twitter asking the fundamental questions: Where are the Capitol Police and how could this happen?

The U.S. Capitol Police is the security-force/police-department hybrid tasked with keeping Congress safe and open for business. The little-known department has a budget that exceeds $515 million for FY 2021— constituting almost 10% of Legislative branch funding — and nearly 2,450 employees, around 2,000 of whom are sworn officers. The size of the Capitol Police’s budget can compete with major municipal police forces such as San Antonio’s, which is responsible for a population of 1.5 million, and USCP’s workforce size eclipses that of major city departments like New Orleans and Miami. Notably, their extended jurisdiction covers less than 2 square miles, and there are many other police and security forces in Washington, D.C.

How is the department using those resources to enforce the law and protect the Congress? It is difficult to say because the Capitol Police are infamously opaque. Only in response to significant outside agitation did we obtain any details about their operations. For example, the department started posting weekly arrest summaries in December 2018, following prodding from civil society and congressional overseers. These summaries are among the limited information the department shares publicly — although we have reason to suspect they are not complete, among other shortcomings

Continue reading “A Primer on the Capitol Police: What We Know From Two Years of Research”

Your Guide to 117th Congress House Rules Proceedings

The House Rules package for the 117th Congress has been approved and all the juicy details are in Monday’s Congressional Record. Don’t have time to comb through the 50+ dense pages? We’ve got you covered with a handy index of what’s included:

Resolution adopting the rules of the House for the 117th Congress H. Res. 8H13
Vote to tableH18
Vote to refer to a select committeeH19
Section by section of the changes H. Res. 8 will make to the standing rulesH23
Vote on Rep. Cole amendment H34
Vote on motion to commit to a select committeeH35
Vote on the resolutionH36
Election of Members to certain standing committees H36
Fixing the daily hour of meeting for the first session of the 117th CongressH37
Consent to assemble outside the seat of Government H37
Authorizing Speaker, Majority Leader, and Minority Leader to accept resignations and make appointmentsH37
Granting Members permission to extend remarks and include extraneous material in the Congressional RecordH37
Making morning-hour debate in orderH37
Appointment of Members to House office building commissionH37
Reappointment of individuals to the US-China Economic and Security Review CommissionH37
Appointment of Members to act as Speaker Pro TemporeH38
Clerk designation of deputies with signing authorityH38
Sergeant at Arms notification of ongoing public health emergencyH38
Speaker designation of “covered period” for covid emergencyH38
Chair Announcements on 
1. floor privileges
2. introduction of bills and resolutions
3. unanimous consent requests for the consideration of legislation
4. 1-minute speeches
5. recognition for special order speeches
6. decorum in debate
7. conduct of votes by electronic device
8. use of handouts on the House floor
9. use of electronic equipment on the House floor
10. Use of the Chamber
11. Conduct during a covered period
H38
Regulations for use of deposition authorityH41
Remote committee proceedings regulationsH41
Remote voting by proxy regulationsH42
Executive CommunicationsH43
Public Bills and ResolutionsH43

House Rules for the 117th Congress

The House of Representatives adopted a new rules package on Monday. Here is the text of H. Res 8, a section-by-section summary, a press release that highlights some of the major changes, and a decent overview of activities of the House Rules committee. We have put together a guide to rules reform proposals over the last decade, and, as you know by now, we have advocated for a number of improvements and closely followed the Member-day hearing. Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson has a good high level summary of the contents. Please note: the House made minor changes to the draft rules, previously called H. Res 5, between Sunday and Monday.

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Forecast for January 3, 2021

THE TOP LINE

Welcome back, Congress. It’s like you never left. Did you miss us? If so, make sure you subscribe (and tell your friends.) Our back issues are here.

Tick Tock: On Friday (Jan.1), the Senate overrode the NDAA veto (even as Sen. McConnell killed the boost to COVID relief), and today the House and Senate convene for the 117th Congress. The House is expected to adopt its rules on Monday; the Georgia elections, which decide control of the Senate, are on Tuesday, as are the House’s consideration of several good government bills on suspension (including the Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act); the House and Senate (in joint session) will count the electoral college vote on Wednesday.

So what exactly is a continuing body? The Senate considers itself a continuity body and the House does not. What this means, in part, is that the House must re-establish its rules and committees at the start of each Congress, but the Senate doesn’t. And yet, the House somehow has common-law rules that guide some of its day-one procedures and began operating today, but some Senate committees cannot operate because they are missing their chairs and have yet to reach an operating agreement (pending the results of upcoming elections). Weird.

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Forecast for December 28, 2020

You shouldn’t be at work and neither should I. But since we’re here, this is the latest on the decline and fall of the American republic. Happy holidays!

THE TOP LINE
The COVID/Omnibus bill has been hung up by Pres. Trump and the circumstances could mean a government shutdown lasting two weeks or more… and there’s little Congress can do. Update: As of 8pm Sunday, Pres. Trump has now signed the bill, apparently flipping his position, albeit with the result of undermining a week’s work of unemployment benefits for millions of people.

New Congress? The House of Representatives will convene on Sunday, January 3rd, when it will adopt rules and vote on the Speaker. The Senate will also meet, but absent the results of the Georgia elections — set for January 5th, although it may take time to certify the results — it will likely do little.

Who is going to object to the electoral college vote? The counting of that vote is set for January 6th. Here’s a letter from 18 House Republicans suggesting they will object. CRS has a report on counting electoral votes by Congress.

Continue reading “Forecast for December 28, 2020”

Forecast for December 21, 2020

THE TOP LINE

You gotta be kidding. We prep this newsletter during the week and finalize it over the weekend. Alas, there’s no way we could possibly evaluate what is in the appropriations + COVID bill(s) for you — and there’s no way most Members of Congress could know what they’re voting on, either. It looks like the negotiations took so long Congress will do a 24-hour CR for when the 2-day CR elapses Sunday at midnight. Details will leak out after House leadership informs members as to its contents (which, as of this writing, are sparse.)

There’s no way members of the House or Senate will have any idea of the details of what’s inside the bill (except, in broad strokes, what they’re told), they won’t have enough time to figure it out, and, even if they understood its contents, the political circumstances mean they won’t have the opportunity to amend or object. This is business as usual for leadership-controlled brinkmanship. Create an artificial cliff (like the end of a CR), wait until it is about to expire, put a holiday break on the other side, and jam a bill through.

COVID RELIEF? This entire COVID relief process has been madness. And the Washington Post’s report that White House staff talked outgoing Pres. Trump from proposing $2,000 stimulus checks while House Dems negotiated themselves down from $3T to less than $1T is ::chef’s kiss::. Political analysts suggest the main reason Sen. McConnell finally was willing to entertain any relief legislation was to avoid undermining elections in Georgia, in which Republican control of the Senate is at stake. If we were in Congress, it would be inappropriate to speculate on motives, but we are not. Our guess is Senate Republicans will block any future relief measures, at the strong encouragement of Sen. McConnell, banking on his belief that making things worse for Americans means that Pres.-elect Biden will get the blame.

Like an iceberg. The process by which Members are selected for committees is one of the most important — and opaque — processes in Congress. As that has been happening right now, we explore it down below.

Rules, rules, rules! We are very excited to see what emerges out of the House Rules Committee process, which will generate new rules for the 117th Congress. By now you know we have our wish list. We suspect our friends on the Rules Committee will be working right up until the deadline to get everything drafted. (Good luck!) While we’re at it, are any changes in store for the Senate?

Continue reading “Forecast for December 21, 2020”