THE TOP LINE
The House adopted the most transparent and open rules in my lifetime and by a huge bipartisan majority created a Select Committee on Modernizing Congress. There was a little kerfuffle over Pay-Go and a few surprise votes. More below.
The shutdown continues even as the House passed two approps bills that Sen. McConnell refused to bring to the floor. (It’s notable that the bills were available online for 72 hours!) Eight Repubs in the House voted for it and two Senate Repubs said that they would if given the chance. Dems will try again this week with stand alone bills, and accuse McConnell of being complicit in the Trump shutdown. McConnell is trying to prevent his conference from splitting, but he is creating a crisis by doing so. Senate Dems might slow things down in the Senate to increase the pressure.
House Dems introduced HR 1, a major ethics, voting rights, and campaign finance reform bill. It’s not up on Congress.gov, but you can read it here. The Dems had a major press event that you can watch here, and Vox has a decent summary.
The Democratic House rules package passed last week, despite objections and a few defections over a Pay-Go measure. Confused about what Pay-Go is and why it mattered? Matt Stoller’s got you covered. By the way, House Dems subsequently introduced a bill to repeal Pay-Go — 3 Dems defected on the Rules vote because of it — which suggests that efforts to move the Overton Window and thereby end Pay-Go is succeeding.
What’s missing? A lot, actually. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about our recs on reforming the House rules. While many of the items were adopted (thanks!), some were adopted only in part, and others were passed over. There’s a lot of reasons for this. Some couldn’t be accomplished only through the rules, or there were resource questions, or issues of doing too much at once. Some of these matters will be kicked to the Select Committee on Modernizing Congress — yes, this is a big deal — and others will pop up in the work of the work of the Committees on Administration, Ethics, Rules, and Legislative Branch Appropriations. Congress wasn’t rebuilt in a day, after all.
The House established the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress last week in a bipartisan vote (418-12). The 12 person committee, created as part of the rules package, will have to work quickly and cohesively: a final report is due at the end of the year and all recommendations need approval by two-thirds of the committee’s members. The committee will have 6 Dems and 6 Republicans, with at least 2 from the Rules Committee, 2 from House Admin, and 2 freshmen.
— The committee is tasked with studying options for modernizing Congress. Specifically: rules to promote a more modern and efficient Congress; procedures, including the schedule and calendar; policies to develop the next generation of leaders; staff recruitment, diversity, retention, and compensation and benefits; administrative efficiencies, including purchasing, travel, outside services, and shared administrative staff; technology and innovation; and the work of the House Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards.
— Rep. Derek Kilmer, chair of the New Democrat Coalition, will lead the panel.
— The rules package also included plans for the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. The committee, which will be led by Rep. Castor, won’t be as strong as it could be.
For the first time, the GOP appointed two women, Blackburn and Ernst, to the Judiciary Committee.
House Rules Committee: Speaker Pelosi announced the following members will serve as the committee’s Democratic members: Reps. Hastings, Torres, Raskin, Scanlon, Morelle, and Shalala under the chairmanship of Jim McGovern.
House Administration Committee: Speaker Pelosi announced Rep. Zoe Lofgren will serve as the Chair of the House Administration Committee. Unless Rep. Raskin stays on the committee — he was just announced to join Rules — all the Democrats may be new.
Senate Republicans released their committee assignments last week.
WAIT FOR THE TONE
Tone policing was the order of the day after Rep. Rashida Tlaib told supporters at a (private?) event that she had told her son that bullies like Trump won’t win and “we’re going to go in there and we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.”
For the civility police: There’s a Politico trend story from 2017 on the increasing use of the F-bomb by politicians. Short version: mores changes and it gives street cred. If you feel bored, Google the history of cursing by politicians, and don’t forget that VP Dick Cheney told Sen. Leahy on the Senate floor to “go fuck himself” and later gave an interview saying that it was the best thing he ever did. Also, remember that bad actions speak louder than bad words.
For the anti-impeachment police: 60% of Americans think Trump should be impeached or censured. If you read the impeachment resolution for Bill Clinton, we’re not exactly talking about a high bar and there’s lots of reasons (and legislative language describing those reasons) to think Trump’s committed sufficient offenses for removal. This isn’t beyond the political pale.
Deus ex Mueller: Democratic leaders are hoping that Mueller’s investigation will smooth the political way for impeachment, which is why they are pushing back on tone and substance. However, the House has a duty, independent and broader than Mueller’s probe, to investigate Trump’s conduct and it’s not unreasonable for members of the House to bring it up. The big difference here is that some Dems are joining the firing squad to tamp down calls for impeachment.
Plumbers. The FBI secretly established a new unit to uncover reporters’ government sources, according to CJR. The document, designated secret, revealed that the FBI will pursue the release of unauthorized material (the release of which is not a crime)
Office of Whistleblower Ombudsman. The House rules created this new office, which will assist members in handling whistleblower complaints. More to come.
LEGISLATIVE PROCESS, CAPACITY, POLITICS, & POLY SCI
Former Sen. Harry Reid had some criticisms of Sen. Schumer’s proclivity for cutting deals in a New York Times piece last week. The former Dem leader was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer late last year.
Underrepresented on Capitol Hill: A new Pew report on religious composition of members of Congress finds Christians tremendously over-represented (88% of members versus 71% of US adults) and atheists/agnostics tremendously underrepresented (0.2% of Congress versus 23% of adults). If you look by party, all but 2 of the 252 members of the congressional GOP identify as Christians, with 70% of them Protestants. Democrats are significantly more diverse.
If you don’t live in a member’s district can you still be a constituent? Yes and no,
Year in review: In 2018 the House and Senate confirmed more than 18,700 nominations, stayed in session for over 1525 hours, and enacted more than 175 bills into law according to the Résumé of Congressional Activity. You can see how the 115th measured up against other Congresses here.
The three year wait list for the House child care facility is about to drop to only a year: the facility just added spots for 120 infants and toddlers and will add another 122 spots for preschoolers next year. The change won’t shorten the staggering wait times at other legislative branch child care facilities though, and without affordable child care many Hill staffers are forced to leave for more lucrative jobs to cover costs.
Sen. Pat Roberts won’t run for re-election. Along with Sen. Alexander, that makes two Republicans who won’t return.
MAKING YOUR LIFE EASIER
Follow @CongressRfp, a Demand Progress Twitter account that rounds up all request for proposals from legislative branch agencies including that House, Senate, LOC, GPO, GAO, AOC (the agency not the congresswoman) and more. Our pick of the week? The Library of Congress is hiring a fundraising consultant.
Want to call your (new) member? New member phone numbers are now available.
Read this. Samantha Register, who was harassed by Ruben Kihuen, wrote about the effects on her life of coming forward in a powerful first-person essay. She talked about how hard it was to hire a lawyer, the financial burden, the Ethics Committee’s lack of care for her well being, the loss of her career. How she didn’t know the Ethics Committee report was out until reporters started contacting her.
Rep. Thomas Garrett apparently misused official resources and created a toxic environment for staff; then he stonewalled the House Ethics Committee investigation until their jurisdiction ended when he retired. As a result, the Committee was unable to require him to reimburse the government for the impermissible use of funds. In very understated language, the Committee concluded Rep. Garrett “likely: (1) misused official resources, including official staff time, for his and his family’s personal benefit; and (2) improperly accepted gifts from his employees in the form of personal services for which he provided no compensation.” The report is damning even if merely hortatory.
— Specific categories of possible misdeeds include: carrying groceries, dog sitting, scheduling medical appointments, apartment move, couch delivery, driving Mrs. Garrett, driving Rep. Garrett’s children, oil change and car detailing, IKEA trip, Costco Trip(s), passport assistant for Rep. Garrett’s children, internship and application for Rep. Garrett’s children, babysitting, purchasing gifts, parking lot passes, bringing clothing to Rep. Garrett, cigarettes, scheduling and conducting tours, and wireless router.
— Here’s a just one of many texts that his wife sent to a Chief of Staff: “None of what I asked to be done with the phone was done. Not a fucking thing. I am going to sit down with some of your staff and tell them how fucking disrespectful and STUPIDLY shortsighted they are….”
— The UK has a list of MPs that have privileged access to the parliamentary estate, removing former members from the list indicates they’re persona non grata. The US could adopt a similar list to keep bad ex-members from using their perks.
Divest and disclose? The Project on Government Oversight urged the Ethics Committees to tighten their rules after Sen. Inhofe’s financial adviser purchased $50-100k of Raytheon stock after Trump boosted Pentagon spending, a topic on which the senator had been lobbying the president.
Nepotism and cronyism at the Government Publishing Office: two GPO officials allegedly violated federal laws by hiring unqualified candidates, including one official’s son. Most notable was that a long-time leg branch appropriator apparently strongly pushed GPO to hire a family friend, creating an obvious conflict. NPR published the interim Inspector General report, dated June 2018. The final report is not publicly available; the most recent IG report is from June 2017.
Trump taxes. Incoming Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Neal won’t use his power to release Trump’s tax returns. Instead Neal plans to use public narrative and pressure to get Trump to voluntarily provide the returns. (Yeah, right.)
AG Nominee. The Senate Judiciary Committee set a confirmation hearing for AG nominee William Barr on Jan 15-16. Barr, who served as AG under President H.W. Bush, has previously categorized Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation as “fatally misconceived.”
The US Capitol Police began publishing (some) arrest information — but as a PDF and not a spreadsheet. We found one obvious typo and a few anomalies that we’re digging into. By the way, the USCP does arrest people for smoking or possessing pot; DC allows people to possess small amounts even though it’s illegal under federal law. The next report is due out Thursday.
CRS published 70 new reports on its website over the two week period ending on Jan. 2nd. This brings the total number of reports posted to 1,960.
FedScoop has the details on the TechCongress white paper laying out the rules for IT vendors hoping to work with Congress. Have you seen our new Twitter bot, CongressRFP, that tweets out leg branch contract solicitations?
The Government Publishing Office needs a digital deposit working group according to the Depository Library Council. Digital deposit would ensure GPO digital files get to the libraries (they already do this with paper documents).
ODDS & ENDS
The 116th Congress kicked off last week, Roll Call has some highlights.
Coverage of the cover-ers: a rare photo of the Capitol Hill press corps.
Jurisdictional issues are creating a roadblock for a bike lane near the Capitol.
The Law Library of Congress released its FY 2018 Annual Report.
Several transparency and technology bills are on suspension this week in the House, of which at least two are Republican sponsored. See the IG Access Act, the Federal CIO Authorization Act, and the GREAT Act.
— The House Rules committee will hold its organizational meeting.
— R Street is hosting a panel, “Congressional Reorganization Act 101: Past, Present and Future Proposals,” where they will discuss the bipartisan Joint Committees on the Organization of Congress. The event is at 12pm in SVC 202
Down the line:
— Wednesday, January 16, the Brennan Center for Justice and the R Street are hosting a symposium, ‘Emergency Powers in the Trump Era and Beyond.’ The event is from 9 to 5 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.