THE TOP LINE
Appropriations. House and Senate appropriators have moved their bills faster than usual, but time is running out. Only eight legislative days remain for the House and sixteen days for the Senate to reach agreement and enact them before the fiscal year starts on Oct. 1. The action will be on the floor, in the House Rules committee, or between the chambers. The House will vote on Tuesday on a motion to instruct conferees on the Defense Dept. bill and on Thursday on a conference report to accompany the Leg Branch minibus.
Kavanaugh. Sen. Grassley will convene 3-4 days of hearings on Kavanaugh’s SCOTUS nomination on Tuesday even while the Trump administration is holding back more than 100,000 pages of his Bush administration records on the flat assertion of presidential privilege.
— Sen. Leahy pointedly asked in mid August why committee Republicans backed off requesting documents after a private meeting with White House Counsel Don McGahn.
— Former White House Counsel John Dean, who was the first Nixon administration official to accuse the president of involvement in the Watergate cover up (and served four months in prison), will be among the witnesses and will speak about the abuse of executive power.
— Kavanaugh will not commit to recusing himself from cases involving investigations of Trump, ABC news reported.
— CRS just published a new report on the legal limitations and practices of questioning Supreme Court nominees, and a mini-report on access to government records relating to Kavanaugh.
My fellow Americans. Sen. McCain’s farewell letter was front page news, in which he expressed the sentiment “believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here.”
— The rotunda was designed for the people, Chad Pergram wrote in his explanation of why Congress chose that room for 30 honored dead to lie in state.
— Warts and all. When Oliver Cromwell, who helped overthrew King Charles I and dominated England for 18 years, commissioned Peter Lely to paint his portrait, he instructed that he be depicted as he was, not in the flattering light typical of the time. In that spirit, Amy Silverman of the Phoenix New Times wrote about the complex man that was Sen. McCain.
— And now? With Sen. McCain’s passing and the retirement of more independently-minded Republicans, the Financial Times wondered whether the Senate will be left with Stepford senators?
— Constituent services? When members leave congress, the services they provide to constituents do not automatically transfer to the new member. Personal office records are owned by the departing member, and without their help and the permission of each constituent — who often does not know an intervention is required — any pending requests and documentation will fall through the cracks.
— A very tough week. Roll Call’s Alex Gangitano spoke with former Sen. Kennedy’s staff on what it’s like when your senator dies.
House Dems vow to remake the chamber’s rules should they return to power, the Hill reported. As a preview of coming attractions, we will be releasing recommendations to reform the rules of the House.
Senate Democratic staff diversity. Casey Burgat took a deep dive into demographic data released by the Senate Democratic diversity survey, and found “despite only six of the 49 Senators being racial minorities themselves, the average Democratic Senate office is 9.6% less white than their respective state population.”
— Which Democrats have a pronounced over-representation of white staff? Sens. Mazzie Hirono (+12.6%), Chris Coons (+9.8%), and Dianne Feinstein (+6.6%). By comparison, Sen. Schatz is at +2%, Sen. Carper is at -15%, and Sen. Harris is at -24%, which suggests that Feinstein has an enormously racially non-diverse staff compared to her California senate colleague — differing by 30 percentage points — and the state she represents.
— Senate Republicans do not conduct a similar study, at least as far as we know, although a somewhat less granular staff demographic study was included in the 2019 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill, which has not yet been reconciled by the chambers.
Reboot Congress. The Lincoln Network is holding its 5th Annual “Reboot Congress” conference on Sept. 20-21 in San Francisco, and I’ll be on a panel on helping Congress to understand technology, with luminaries like Travis Moore (Tech Congress), Zach Graves (Lincoln Network), and Jean Bordewich (Hewlett Foundation, formerly Senate Rules Committee.) If you’re in town, come join the conference; I’ll be on the left coast all week.
LEGISLATIVE PROCESS AND POLITICAL SCIENCE
Committee chairs? With half of the current Republican House Committee chairs leaving office, Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson previewed the candidates seeking to fill the committee leadership spots. Fortunately, House Republicans publish their conference rules online, so it’s possible to understand how this process might work; unfortunately House Democrats have not released their caucus rules to the public.
Back to the drawing board. A U.S. district court ruled that North Carolina’s gerrymandered congressional districts are unconstitutional. While the state is split 50:50, Republicans hold 10 of the 13 seats. One possible solution to gerrymandered districts nationwide is the Fair Representation Act (HR 3057) that would, for states apportioned six or more seats, “move US House elections into multi-member districts drawn by independent redistricting commissions and elected through ranked choice voting.” This may make representatives more closely mirror the interests of their constituents and improve the district-drawing process.
Get your nerd on. The most recent issue of the Wayne Law Review contains a Smörgåsbord of delicious articles on reforming and strengthening Congress, from defining and measuring congressional oversight to exploring executive privilege to the atrophying of CRS to congressional law enforcement.
Trouble with clearances: Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer and current Democratic congressional candidate, accused a Republican super PAC of improperly obtaining her security clearance application and leaking it to the press. Apparently, the Postal Service released the full, unredacted file, including her SF-86 (questionnaire for national security positions), which should not be released without either her permission or proper evaluation of its contents.
— How did this happen? Kel McClanahan, a noted national security lawyer who is an expert in FOIA and the Privacy Act, details the errors and missteps. He also cleans up misunderstandings about the SF-86s, explaining that they are subject to FOIA and the Privacy Act and that some information can be released to the public.
— More than 30 intelligence and military veterans are running for Congress this fall, including Spangenberg. The release of private information from security clearance applications creates political risks, but also can raise personal safety concerns.
— Incidentally, veterans are overrepresented in Congress. 102 members of Congress, or 19%, are veterans, according to CRS. This is a decline from 1972, when 73% of members of Congress were veterans (47% of adult men were veterans then). Compared to general population, veterans are overrepresented, as only only 7% of the U.S. adult population are veterans. With over 400 veterans are running for Congress this cycle, that gap may widen in the 116th Congress. It would be interesting to understand how this has affected policymaking preferences.
— Rep. Maxine Waters was the intended victim of a document forged under her letterhead that was published online by her Republican opponent; the FBI will meet with Omar Navarro next week, the LA Times reported. The article noted “misusing a government seal or posing as a government official is a federal crime.”
Rep. Joe Barton’s legal defense fund helped pay his public relations bills after a conservative activist published a nude photo he sent her; he was married at the time.
Aaron Schock’s prosecutors have been replaced by the Justice Department, but didn’t say why.
The Office of Governmental Ethics is toothless because it must rely on other agencies to enforce its rules, according to POGO.
Republicans compiled a list of 52 investigations Democrats could conduct if they win back the House, based on 52 subpoena requests Democrats asked Republicans to issue that were turned down. Topics range from the Muslim ban to cabinet secretary misuse of funds and non-secure private email accounts.
Sen. Schumer is under fire for not resisting Trump’s federal judiciary takeover including fast-tracking Senate nominee votes and failing to unify the caucus against Kavanaugh. 60 federal judges have been confirmed by the 115th Congress according to the Administrative Office of the Courts, including 26 appellate judges and a Supreme Court justice; it was only 53 last week.
— Many progressive groups have long demanded Senate Democrats do everything they can to stop unqualified and far-right nominees from going forward. Even Demand Justice Executive Director Brian Fallon, a former a Schumer spokesman turned Hillary Clinton campaign press secretary who told the Washington Post on August 10 that “there were too many Democrats who decided out of the gate that [Kavanaugh] was an unwinnable fight,” is calling for party unity in opposition to the nomination and attacking the confirmation deals.
— A few more questions. Former House General Counsel Mike Stern has a three non-partisan questions for Kavanaugh on congressional powers based on Kavanaugh’s writings. For example: does he believe that Congress has investigatory powers at least as strong as those possessed by the special counsel?
CIGIE around the US. The Council of the Inspectors General announced events around the country celebrating 40 years of IGs. The Carter Center in Atlanta will host an event on Oct. 12, and the University of Chicago will host an event on Nov. 13.
#NOpenGov. The government’s fourth national action plan on open government is due on August 31, but as Alex Howard wrote in Federal Computer week, “there’s been no public activity around the plan since the [June] workshops nor disclosure of private development or drafting” of the plan — and this is after the administration pushed it back a year.
Disseminating and presenting federal government information is the topic of a new 63-page Library of Congress Federal Research Division report (PDF) commissioned by the GPO. James Jacobs of FreeGovInfo called the report “required reading.”
— Regarding dissemination, the report found “GPO’s reporting mechanism for digital content, the Document Discovery submission form, relies on voluntary manual entry — a method that is not easily scalable and lacks accountability.”
— The federal government’s web presence includes 6,000 websites containing 32 million webpages and a total of 12 terabytes of data; also 265,000 datasets.
— Among its recommendations: GPO should consider developing a semi/automated notification system for Federal agency product releases to replace its manual Document Discovery submission form.
— Federal legislation exists to make it easier for Congress to find and GPO to obtain mandated agency reports to Congress (HR 4631) by requiring their submission to GPO. Unfortunately, the bill has stalled in the House over an unrelated fight between the Committee on House Administration and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Both of whom voted to report the legislation but House Admin still hasn’t done so.
— If you haven’t heard of the Library’s Federal Research Division, you’re not alone. It’s not part of CRS, but is a fee-for-service unit inside the Library that has existed since 1948. Neither CRS nor FDR should be confused with the Law Library’s Legal Reports, which the Library releases to the public and cover a wide variety of international legal issues.
Senate spending. The Senate published its semi-annual Statement of Official and Personal Office Expense Accounts (the SOPOEA, a.k.a. the Senate’s Statement of Disbursements) for the fourth quarter of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018. While the House publishes a similar document in an electronic spreadsheet format (a CSV), the Senate still publishes theirs only as a PDF, which makes it harder to use the thousands of pages of data tables.
Twitter isn’t the only tech company in Trump’s crosshairs. Last week the President went on an anti-Google tirade, tweeting that the search engine was “rigged” after searching his own name and ‘news’ and being unhappy with the results. The search clearly made an impact, the White House is now ‘taking a look’ at regulating Google.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey will testify before the Energy and Commerce Committee this week on how the companies moderate content and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg reportedly will testify before the Senate IntelligenceCommittee on foreign influence operations’ use of social media — her presence has not been announced on the committee’s website. But with Trump recently knocking social media (subtext: Twitter) for “totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices,” what started as an inquiry into Russian election interference may become something else.
— Fingers crossed this hearing goes better than the last time tech companies testified, which illustrated congress’s lack of technology expertise and fuelled called for the re-establishment of the Office of Technology Assessment.
LinkedIn?? China is using LinkedIn to recruit spies and identify people with clearances, the Financial Times reported. While LinkedIn postings don’t go viral like its social media peers, both the German and British spy services have publicly acknowledged the recruitment efforts.
Instagram??? The Hill reported on an Instagram press release discussing new measures to fight the spread of misinformation, including verification badges, info about accounts with large followers, and 2-factor authentication. (Instagram is owned by Facebook). Surprisingly, Instagram played a bigger than expected role in Russia’s misinformation campaign, according to Fast Company.
Fake photos: Researchers at Dartmouth and UC Berkeley developed a browser plug-in that detects fake photos using a geometric algorithm, Science Daily reported.
Rep. Evan Jenkins may leave D.C. sooner than expected. Although Jenkins lost his primary for the Senate and gave up his House seat, West Virginia’s governor just appointed him to a newly vacant seat on the state Supreme Court. The state’s House impeached the entire state Supreme Court in what appears to be (at least in part) a political purge to make way for conservative members; the Senate must still conduct a trial. Two members had retired earlier in the year just prior to being criminally charged, and a third member just retired; Jenkins was appointed to her seat. He will run for special election to retain that seat after he clears a 20-day waiting period. The seat will be vacant until January.
ODDS & ENDS
McCain Senate Office Building (redux). Google renamed the Russell Senate Office Building after Sen. McCain, and it’s not the first time Google has renamed buildings and neighborhoods. I bet we could think of other people who should be so honored; all you have to do is add the update to Google maps.
Space Jams: Last week NASA released thousands of hours of recordings from the Apollo 11 mission, in case you were wondering what it was like to be the first two people on the moon.
The House reconvenes on Tuesday, with the first vote occurring no earlier than 6:30. In addition to suspension bills, the DOD Approps motion to instruct conferees will be considered on Tuesday, and a possible conference report to accompany the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, 2019 will be considered on Thursday.
The Senate reconvenes on Tuesday, with the first vote at 5:30 on the nomination of Elad Roisman to the SEC.
• Kavanaugh nomination hearing — S. Judiciary at 9:30
• Twitter: Transparency and Accountability hearing, featuring CEO Jack Dorsey — H. Energy at 1:30.
• Foreign influence operations’ use of social media platforms — S. Intel at 9:30. May include Facebook’s Sandberg.