THE TOP LINE
On Thursday we briefed congressional staff on House, committee, and caucus reform proposals with experts from Issue One, Georgetown, and the Brookings Institution. Incidentally, party rules are very important: for example, the earmark ban and chairman term limits are both Republican party rules. Learn more about how we’d make the House work better in our white paper.
— 19 Problem Solvers Caucus members won’t support a speaker candidate unless they commit to enacting their “Break the Gridlock” House rules package. The package includes proposals like a fast track process for legislation co-sponsored by at least two-thirds of House members and a guarantee that each member gets at least one markup of a bipartisan bill in a committee they serve on.
The House is on recess until after the election, cancelling the two weeks it planned on meeting in October, but the Senate will stick around working on judicial nominations.
We’re pleased to launch Future Congress in partnership with the Lincoln Network (and many others). It’s a hub for efforts to improve science & technology expertise in the legislative branch. We’ll have more, soon.
Trump signed a second minibus appropriations bill that also contains a CR to avoid a government shutdown, at least until Dec. 7. The measure includes full year funding for Defense, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services. Entities funded in the first minibus include Energy, Veterans Affairs, and Leg Branch. Congressional negotiators are hammering out a third minibus for Ag, Interior, Treasury, T-HUD, OPM, and GSA. The rest are on the bubble.
Overhauling the annual budget process will have to wait until after midterms. The bicameral panel, led by Reps. Womack and Lowey, failed to reach an agreement before the House adjourned. While there are conflicting visions for the overhaul, the special committee appears to agree on switching to a biennial budget resolution.
A House panel advanced the Anti-Deficiency Reform and Enforcement Actlast week. The bill prescribes stricter penalties to ensure agencies only use funds as they have been allocated. The party line vote left Democrats describing the bill as a “solution in search of problem,” with an average of 13 ADA violations annually since 2013.
House Administration Committee adopted resolutions on shared employees, in response to with how they were overseen. The text of the committee resolution is not publicly available, although the fact of their adoption is.
LEGISLATIVE PROCESS & POLY SCI
Senators say appropriations bills mark return to regular order, but that depends on what ‘regular order’ means to you. Compared to historical norms, Senators spent 12 fewer days debating appropriations bills and considered 104 fewer amendments during this year’s appropriations process. It’s notable, however, that earmarks weren’t required for the Senate to pass 9 of its 12 approps bills by the start of the new fiscal year.
Lawmakers held fewer town halls than usual during this year’s August recess, even by election year standards. Members held about half as many town halls as they had during the same period in 2014 and 2016, opting for broader public gatherings like fundraisers and campaign events instead.
Exit Interviews? R Street is holding a series of exit interviews with outgoing members of Congress. This first in the series is with Rep. Duncan. (He’s the one the Office of Congressional Ethics said improperly used campaign money for personal expenses.)
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard from Dr. Ford and Brett Kavanaughlast week. The highly anticipated hearing was scheduled in a small room that only accommodates lawmakers, a few staffers, and the witness.
— Republicans on the Senate Judiciary brought in outside counsel,Rachel Mitchell, to question Kavanaugh accuser, Dr. Ford. While the move isn’t unprecedented, it has been reserved for very sensitive hearings like Watergate, The Keating Five, and Whitewater. Hiring Mitchell appears to have been a political move, as she was largely absent from Kavanaugh’s questioning.
— Innocent until proven guilty shouldn’t be the standard for lifelong appointments. A former senate press secretary said as much in an op-ed last week expressing regret over defending his boss’s vote to confirm Clarence Thomas’s appointment to the Supreme Court.
— The Senate Judiciary voted along party lines to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate, but only after the FBI investigatessome of the allegations against him. (How many is a point of contention.)
— Comity in the Senate, at least between Sens. Flake and Coons, may have had an outsized impact on Flake’s decision, as he explained in this Atlantic interview, but so too did grassroots activism where a sexual assault survivor confronted the Senator directly.
— How’d this go down in Judiciary? Buzzfeed has an amazing tick-tock.
— It’s not over. Even if Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate, his misleading testimony now and previously may result in an inquiry by the House Judiciary Committee should Democrats retake that chamber, according to likely future Chairman Nadler who belatedly joined Hank Johnson, the relevant subcommittee chair, and many members of that committee in declaring their intentions.
— Doxxing the Senate. One of the many unsavory aspects of this past week was when someone working in the House started editing Wikipedia pages to include the personal information of Republican senators. No one knows who. Some right-wing commentators immediately blamed a Maxine Waters staffer by name and included her photo from her Facebook page — Rep. Waters’ office has denied it — illustrating that some folks just don’t get it.
Last week the House approved the GREAT Act, or the Grant Reporting Efficiency and Agreements Transparency, which requires agencies to work with OMB to establish governmentwide standards for centralizing data reported by grant recipients on a public website. Currently agencies rely on outdated methods for tracking the $662.7 billion spent annually on grants.
A court ruling exposing dark money in politics may have serious loopholes.The ruling requires politically active nonprofits to disclose certain donors but by accepting money from shell corporations, shifting donations to allied super PACs, and adjusting ads so they don’t quite meet the “political purpose” reporting requirement, dark money will still be able to find its way into politics.
— If all this campaign finance stuff has you scratching your head, CRS just released a report that covers key issues with campaign finance law, recent developments, and considerations for legislation.
Of the 3,500 legislative staff on the Hill, seven have formal technical training, according to an assessment by TechCongress. The group’s founder, Travis Moore, supports calls to bring back the Office of Technology Assessment saying, “technologists act as fact-checkers on interest groups.” We agree.
A 2013 Congressional trip was illegally funded by Azerbaijan’s government, and now the former-president of the non-profit that orchestrated the trip, Kemal “Kevin” Oksuz, has been indicted. Oksuz funneled money from the state-owned oil company to fund the trip and lied about it on a House Ethics Committee disclosure form.
Keith Ellison has called for a House Ethics investigation into the accusations against him. In August, Ellison’s former girlfriend came forward with allegations of abuse. Ellison’s calls are pure theater, as he is not running for re-election, the Ethics committee won’t make any progress on the investigation before Ellison’s term ends, and the Committee doesn’t investigate former members of Congress.
The emoluments lawsuit against Trump will go forward, with a U.S. District Court holding that Democratic members of the House have standing to sue Trump for accepting payments from foreign governments without first getting Congress’s permission. This 2009 CRS report discusses the history of the emoluments clause.
House Democrats won’t raise the threshold for Speaker nomination in their party rules, for now. The caucus may re-consider the proposal, which would’ve required Speaker candidates to secure 218 votes, after the midterms.
The Democratic Women’s Working Group is hoping to boost its influencein the next Congress to match that of the CBC or Hispanic Caucus. It’s unclear though whether rank and file members will succeed in taking control of the group and decentralizing Pelosi’s power.
Rep. Evan Jenkins resigned from his seat yesterday to fill a vacant seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
ODDS & ENDS
Congress just got a little less exclusive, or at least the dining room did. The Members’ Dining Room in the House is now open to all employees of the House and Senate, the Architect of the Capitol, CBO, and the Library of Congress.
The House of Representatives will not reconvene to do any work until Nov. 13. The discussion on this is mildly entertaining. It will hold pro forma meetings.
The Senate will reconvene on Monday, with the first vote at 5:30.