Forecast for December 31, 2018. Party Like It’s 2019.

TOP LINE

And we’re (almost) back. The 116th Congress starts on Thursday.

It’s common for members to introduce legislation on the first day (237 bills were introduced in the House on day one in the 115th). But — and this is unusual timing — it looks like the House will pass an appropriations bill to end the partial government shutdown on day one. Sen. McConnell said he won’t hold a vote on a plan Trump won’t sign, which presumably includes an identical version of the bill the Senate recently passed. In light of this, House Dems might as well pass a bill that reflects their values and splits the Republicans. 

— Whose fault? The New York Times wrote about how the shutdown suggests a congressional abdication of its responsibility. Oddly, they didn’t mention Sen. McConnell, who is a key player and has the power to end this charade. Matt Glassman has a smart analysis of the politics of the situation

Speaker-designee Pelosi released a letter Saturday night lauding the Rules package, which will include a select committee on the modernization of Congress, something many advocates have worked to advance. More on the rules package below.

It would not be surprising if House Dems highlighted H.R. 1, their omnibus Democracy Reform legislation that contains major voting, ethics, and money-in-politics reforms, although the sequencing will be tricky to get media coverage.

CRS has a guide to House and Senate proceedings on day one. The House will begin with a quorum call, election of the Speaker, member swearing in, notifications of party leadership appointments, election of House officers (H. Res. 1), debate and vote on the House rules package (H. Res. 5), and announcement of committee leadership.

More detail? Here’s a transcript of what happened in the House on day one of the 115th Congress — it’s worth a skim. (The Senate, as a continuing body, doesn’t need to adopt rules.)

RULES RULE

Adoption of the House Rules package — which contains more than the House rules — is perhaps the most important thing the House will do on day one, even more important perhaps than the choice of Speaker. The House Rules allocates power between individual members, committees, and leadership, sets forth the rules of the game — and is largely written by one of the factions. The change to Democratic control in the House points to significant changes in the House rules, akin to what happened when Republicans took control in 2010.

Draft House rules? We have yet to see a draft of the House rules as of the time of this writing. The closest we’ve seen in public is the summary of draft rulespublished by the Washington Post in mid-November. We expect there will be significant changes. You can find the rules and rules packages for the last few Congresses here. Here are our recommendations for improving the House rules: report and draft legislative language.

Transparency? Prior to the start of the 115th Congress we called on leadership to release the draft House rules package 3 days in advance and explored why they published bills online but not the House Rules. (Short version: the 3-day rule doesn’t apply to simple resolutions but it does apply to traditional legislation.) This led to House Republicans getting into a lot of hot water when they tried to surreptitiously kill off the Office of Congressional Ethics via a rules change.

Party Rules. I’m speculating now, but I suspect that House Dems will meet on January 2nd to adopt their caucus rules and finalize the contents of their House rules package. Given Rep. McGovern’s effort to receive input from many quarters, it’s likely staff will be busy working on the House rules language up until the last second. Republicans adopted their conference rules in November and published them online. Democrats likely are still working out the contents, and media reports suggested that term limits for leadership will be voted on no later than Feb. 15. Democrats traditionally have not published their caucus rules, but they should. Here’s a compilation of historic party rules. (Let me know if you have more.)


COMMITTEE SHUFFLE

Committee Leadership and Membership. We already know most of the incoming committee leadership in the House and the Senate, covered in previous newsletters.

But some news: Minority Leader-designee Kevin McCarthy appointed Rep. Tom Cole as Rules Committee ranking member and Kenny Marchant as Ethics Committee ranking member.

Climate Crisis Committee. Speaker designee Pelosi made it official that she’s appointing Rep. Castor to head the Climate Crisis Committee; Castor had received more than $60k from oil and gas industry PACs, although she now promises not to take any more money from “the fossil fuel industry,” rejecting a similar litmus test for other appointees to the select committee. Critics say the committee amounts to a greenwash, lacking the ability to legislate, issue subpoenas, and members committed to its mission; supporters say it strikes a balance with pre-existing committee jurisdictional arrangements.

“A” Committees. Progressives got a commitment from Speaker-designee Pelosi to make sure major committees are populated with a proportionate number of progressives. However, the Huffington Post reports possible political capture and diversity problems with appointments to the 8 spots on the Ways and Means Committee, who will be selected by the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. (HuffPo says anonymous staff vigorously disagree with this characterization.)


STAFF

House ClerkCheryl Johnson will be the new Clerk for the House. For the last decade she was director of Government Relations at the Smithsonian, and was a House staffer previously. She is succeeding Karen Haas, who was the 34th and 36th Clerk of the House.

House CounselDoug Letter will become the General Counsel for the House of Reps. He had served as Director of the Civil Division Appellate Staff at the U.S. Department of Justice for 40 years, and most recently was a senior litigator at Georgetown. As a very smarter observer of Congress pointed out to me, it will be interesting to see where and how the House decides to enter into litigation. (We’ve pointed out previously that some transparency around the BLAG would be welcome.) Letter succeeds Tom Hungar.

Paying Interns. Audrey Henson, of the non-profit College to Congress, told her story of the inequities that arise from unpaid congressional internships. The work of her organization and Pay Our Interns, led by Carlos Vera, have drawn attention to how this affects the staffer pipeline.

Staffing up. CNN has an unsurprising and comprehensive article on efforts by House Dems to staff up. Those new staffers should read CRS’s new report on “Congress’s Authority to Influence and Control Executive Branch Agencies.”

Bring back OTA? Politico digs into the politics around a revived Technology Assessment Office and how it can improve Congress’s tech smarts.


POLITICS

The Lake Wobegon Congress. R Street and Brookings report that the incoming House will be the best educated in history and the least politically experienced.

Politico gave a wet, slobbering kiss to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, tapping him as Pelosi’s anointed heir. The article mostly is a mad libs of political tropes, and it didn’t answer any questions it prompts: why is Jeffries viewed as more moderate and where does he diverge from his colleagues? What has he accomplished or hope to accomplish? What is his view on how the House should operate and the role of the Speaker? I don’t have an opinion on Jeffries, but I’d be interested in an analysis of his votes.

NC-9. No one will be seated as the Representative from North Carolina-9, according to Majority Leader-designee Hoyer. The Washington Post reported North Carolina dissolved its elections board without certifying the results and there’s investigations into criminal activities. There are allegations that “absentee ballots were manipulated and falsified.” How does this all work? CRS has you covered.


ODDS AND ENDS

It’s a trend. We now have a second news story highlighting the executive branch expertise of a member of Congress (Rep.-elect Shalala), while containing somewhat unsubtle put-downs of freshmen. Both were published in the NY Times. How about a story highlighting the prior legislative experience of incoming members? Or how prior executive experience may create an unduly deferential mindset? 

Ilhan Omar. The NY Times profiled Rep.-elect Omar, but reduced her congressional policy positions to a single clause of a sentence 16 paragraphs into the article while focusing on her as “Washington’s most glorified and vilified newcomer.” 

Representative-to-lobbyist pipeline. The Hill examines the recruitment driveby K street to snap up outgoing members of Congress, so they can earn more money and influence the institution where they used to work. 

Capitol Police. ICYMI, the Capitol Police will finally start publishing some information about who they arrest. 

TIPS

Congress calendar? Interested in a unified House and Senate committee meeting calendar? GovTrack has you covered. Later on in 2019 Congress.gov will publish a unified calendar, but we don’t know when.


CALENDAR

Lawmakers return to Capitol Hill on January 3rd to start the 116th Congress. Here’s the 2019 calendar for the House and Senate.