Welcome to an abbreviated First Branch Forecast.
Today we release a new report on the House Inspector General — yes, the House has an IG. Among our findings: the House IG used to publish its reports online, but nearly all reports were taken down and there’s little public accounting for the IG’s work. What’s in them?
IT’S MY HOUSE AND MY RULES
Rep. Pelosi’s mathematical path to Speaker is becoming harder, with 15 Members standing firm against her. (Here’s the whip list.) This is driving dealmaking on caucus and chamber rules, where Pelosi is considering supporting term limits for Committee chairs to pick up votes, something the CBC strongly opposes because its members would be disproportionately affected.
Committee chair term limits are a mixed bag. On one hand, limits can gracefully force out the deadwood and create a spot for new members to gain visibility and take leadership roles. On the other, limits empower party leadership at the expense of committees and weaken the expertise of those leading committees.
House Republicans had proposed a system where committee members elect their chair, which would address the above concerns. However, it would put the chairmanship at the political center of Dems on the committee, which could be a non-starter as some committees have a preponderance of pro-corporate Dems.
This is a proxy fight over the Speaker’s ability to dominate the majority party and the absence of turnover at the top.
What else should they be considering? When the Dem caucus meets this week, hopefully they’ll be thinking about our newly released legislative language for the House Rules, containing 33 fleshed out proposals.
Paying congressional staff appropriately got a visibility boost after AOC — can we call her that? — tweeted “Congress of ALL places should raise MRAs so we can pay staff an actual DC living wage.” She later added that she’ll pay her interns $15/hour. Of course, the great folks at Pay Our Interns lobbied this past Congress for dedicated funding for interns — $8.8m in the House, $5m in the Senate — which is an amazing start, but as is obvious to everyone, not nearly enough.
— The Washington Post’s excellent story notes that Sen. Schumer and Rep. Ryan do not pay some of their interns. (Schumer’s office says the job announcement was a clerical error.) Some offices pay a stipend that can be a few bucks an hour or even less, allowing them to check off the box of paid interns while defeating the purpose of opening up internships to the less wealthy. This matters because internships are the pipeline to getting hired.
— We’ve proposed a House rule (see item 29) requiring virtually all interns be paid at the prevailing minimum wage, with the funds drawn from a separate account administered by the CAO, so that wages for interns do not compete with other office priorities.
— One reason why congressional offices rely on interns is because they do not have enough staff, with the number of personal office staff frozen at 18 since the late 1970s. We think the number of staff should be increased, which we proposed in yet another House rule (see number 33).
Congressional staff diversity remains a huge problem on Capitol hill, and a new letter organized by Joint Center called on Congress to diversify hill staff.
Economic diversity of Members is a big deal, too, with HuffPo looking at the challenges that non-super-rich people have in running for Congress.
NEW MEMBERS, OLD PROBLEMS
Harvard Institute of Politics’ training for new Members of Congress came under heavy fire as it became apparent that the word “bipartisan” in its title referred to the attendees and not the content, which had an apparently undisclosed pro-corporate slant. (Here’s the agenda.)
— IOP is no stranger to controversy. You might remember IOP fellows Sean Spicer, known for banning media outlets who criticized Trump, and Corey Lewandowski, who assaulted a reporter and mocked an immigrant child with Down Syndrome.
— Here’s how the training is described on IOP’s website: the “Program connects new U.S. Representatives with practitioners and academics, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Harvard experts, former Obama and Trump White House aides and Fortune 50 executives.”
— The event was co-sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think tank), the Center for Strategic International Studies (a “centrist” think tank with a Board of Trustees that’s a Who’s Who of the Defense Establishment, like Henry Kissinger), and the Congressional Institute (a right-leaning think tank “run by Republican lobbyists“). As HuffPo noted, Harvard funded the entire event, and there was no analogous left-leaning group involved in suggesting speakers.
— As Stan Lee once said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” There’s a good chance that incoming members may look for alternatives to Harvard’s IOP program, seeking a wider variety of viewpoints and fewer corporate entanglements. While the concept of a bipartisan retreat is sensible, the focus presumably should be on the legislative branch’s role as a check on executive branch power and a co-equal branch of government.
— Access to members-elect as they get their footing can be an incredibly powerful influence on their future behavior. These convening become problematic when they appear to be about facilitating the access of wealthy interests to the newly elected.
Rep. Pocan talked about attending the training in 2012, which included a presentation from “No Labels.” He quit the Problem Solvers Caucus when No Labels, which supported the caucus’s formation, wouldn’t say where their money comes from. Pocan described the group as “more about finding more centrist, more corporate and more special interest-focused things to do.”
If you’re finding all the terminology Orwellian, here’s a cheat sheet. No Labels, the right-leaning corporate-friendly think tank and affiliated political action committee that named Donald Trump a Problem Solver in 2016, helped create the Problem Solvers Caucus, which by one account doesn’t solve any problems. The Reformers Caucus is a bipartisan effort supported by Issue One that focuses on reducing the influence of money in politics, and is affiliated with the Rebuild Congress Initiative, where a team of expert negotiators from Harvard help members find common ground. A third effort, coordinated by Demand Progress (uh, hi!) doesn’t have a fancy name, but has been endorsed by a bipartisan range of organizations and experts on Congress and has the nifty website GetTheHouseInOrder.com.
How to survive in Congress? One of the conveners of the Harvard event, the Congressional Institute, has a practical resource on Congress that Members and staff should consider reading, available on your mobile devices. We’re more than a little skeptical of Harvard’s approach, but think good thoughts about CI’s Mark Strand and the work that they do.
Marci Harris has advice on how Members can stay connected once in office.
Rep. Jenkins set up a lobbying firm while she still serves in Congress.
Rep. Garrett, who OCE said forced his staff to perform unofficial work and personal errands, remains under review by the House Ethics Committee that has not reached a conclusion and obviously won’t reach one before Garrett’s term ends in a few weeks. Garrett admits in a statement that he refused to cooperate with OCE, which is why we believe OCE should have subpoena power — see our Rules recommendation #18.
While the Senate stalls, Dems may do their own sexual harassment fixes.
Incoming Rep. Spano admitted accepting large personal donations during the campaign, violating federal law.
The trial of Rep. Hunter is set for Sept. 2019; he allegedly used campaign funds for his personal life.
The N.C. congressional election increasingly looks marred by fraud.
Sen. Harris aide resigns after $400k harassment settlement emerges.
- The clock is ticking: two weeks until the CR runs out.
- Will Dems revive OTA? Fmr. SecDef Carter suggests it could help unite Congress.
- Judy Schneider, CRS expert extraordinaire, was honored for 40 years of service.
- Dems look to ban guns on Capitol Hill.
- Crazy ole Rep. McDonald built his own surveillance apparatus and was a nexus for wackos and authoritarians. This is a great read.
- The NRCC was hacked, of course, but didn’t tell the rank and file.
- FYI Scott Fairchild named DSCC ED.
- Voting in Parliament: what it’s like.
- You think you have problems? UK Ministers facing contempt vote.
- Former House Counsel Mike Stern drops a broad hint on contempt powers.
The House and Senate are in session this week. Here’s the House’s committee calendar, the Senate’s committee calendar, a unified calendar from GovTrack, the House floor weekly schedule, and the Senate floor schedule.
On Tuesday, watch for a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Google data collection and a Senate Banking hearing on SEC Oversight.
On Wednesday, there’s an OGR hearing on FITARA, a Senate Judiciary hearing on Chinese espionage, and an Armed Services hearing on security clearances.
On Thursday, HPSCI is having a full committee business meeting that has some weird items on the calendar.