THE TOP LINE
“Why is Congress so dumb?” Rep. Bill Pascrell’s op-ed does a masterful job of summarizing how the self-lobotomization of Congress caused a decline in congressional expertise and empowered special interests. It’s why the new House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress is a big deal and represents an opportunity for Congress to stand up for itself. The last time the Congress looked systematically at its problems, in 1993, committee and party leaders thwarted much of the immediate progress to preserve their own power only to be thrown out at the next election. Perhaps that’s an object lesson for this go-round.
— The committee’s success depends in part on the skillfulness of its leader, Rep. Kilmer, the yet-to-be-named Republican co-chair, and remaining 10 members, all of whom must be savvy about Congress, reflect its various factions, and be able to work together and work with the gatekeepers. Another significant factor is its budget, which must support enough staff and resources for the committee to do its work and will be allocated in March by the House Admin Committee. Finally, leadership must be willing to share of some of its amassed power for the health of the institution.
— That’s not all, folks. While the select committee is one avenue for reform, it is not the only one. Last year’s House Leg Branch appropriations processput specific reforms in motion and could do so again. The House rules package contained significant process reforms and additional rules changes are just a House resolution away. And the House Admin Committee can be a force for good. Members of Congress would be wise to take advantage of all possible avenues for reform.
— On savvy staff: read this, a profile of Joe Donoghue, who spent 31 years in the Senate working for Sen. McCain. There’s shout-outs to a few other congressional institutions.
All about Mitch. When it comes to the shutdown, Sen. McConnell can lead the Senate or follow Trump, but he can no longer do both. Republicans in both chambers are starting to support proposals to reopen the government without the wall and Dems are increasingly aiming fire at Sen. McConnell for thwarting Senate votes. As the defections grow, McConnell’s room to maneuver shrinks.
— Senate Dems are starting to increase the pressure by moving to block all votes in the Senate. They may move (as Matt Glassman explains) to increase the pain for the GOP by forcing them to affirmatively (and individually) vote to keep the government closed. This gets a little tricky, as making a motion to proceed undermines McConnell and Schumer’s power as leaders and empowers the rank-and-file, which is probably the one thing both party leaders want less than a deal to end the shut-down.
— McConnell is in a real bind as he is the most unpopular current senatoras measured by his constituents, “with 38 percent of Kentucky voters approving of his job performance and 47 percent disapproving.” He, like Trump, is up for re-election in 2020, and is likely afraid of de-motivating his base or having Trump take aim at him.
— Meanwhile, Trump may declare a national emergency for border wall funding. The move is unwise and a fundamental challenge to the separation-of-powers arrangement set out in the Constitution
Committees. Senate Approps SubC chairs were announced. Speaker Pelosi announced Ted Deutch as H. Ethics Chair and committee appointments for Appropriations, Energy & Commerce, and Ways and Means.
Speaker Pelosi promised progressives 40% representation on key committees in exchange for support to be speaker, but many progressives found the appointments disappointing. Pelosi counted previously-elected members as Freshmen and counted Progressive-New Dems hybrids as progressives. There’s no litmus test to join the Progressive Caucus — see, for contrast, the Freedom Caucus — which gave her the freedom to maneuver.
— Progressives may gain ground nevertheless, likely gaining seats on on the House Financial Services Committee that oversees Wall Street.
Retreat. House Republicans will hold their conference retreat from Jan. 30-Feb. 1. The House Dem caucus retreat will be from Feb. 13-15.
The CBC is increasing power in the House, and the existence of 5 black House committee chairs stand in stark contrast to when Republican were in power.
The personal is policy. The personal experience and perspective that a Member of Congress had prior to joining office heavily influences what they do — as this UC Riverside analysis of 80,000 FOIA requests illustrates — which is why the addition of “11 freshman representatives with a background in science, medicine, or technology” provides valuable perspectives to the institution. Helping them get there is 314 Action, dedicated to electing STEM candidates.
Staff. Majority Whip Clyburn announced his staff (his director of floor operations and policy director are both former lobbyists, representing CVSand King & Spalding.) Rep. Luján, the No. 4 House Democrat, announced his staff.
A MORE REPRESENTATIVE CONGRESS
Why all the AOC hate?
— The freshman Congresswoman navigated uncalled for challenges ranging from tabloids offering her boyfriend’s family money for “stories” to the Daily Caller (which is financed by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson) publishing a fake nude photo of her. (It could give rise to a defamation claim.)
— The New Yorker has a fantastic piece highlighting how and why AOC speaks in an unbridled way that contrasts strongly with her colleagues. Untraumatized by the rise of Reagan Republicans, newer Democrats are adopting the same “civic religion” language that helped Reagan gain ground in the first place, but this time for a progressive agenda.
— According to The Atlantic, Republican politics rely on the narrative of “undeserving minorities receiving unearned benefits at white expense” to divide the working class; the GOP places AOC in this narrative, as a woman of color in an elite space. This doesn’t explain the Dems who are piling on in attacking her, whose reactions suggest in part that they’re threatened by her.
White Nationalist Rep. Steve King doesn’t get why “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” are offensive terms (even as the shoe fits). King now faces potential censure motion from Rep. Tim Ryan and other House Democrats, and a few House Republicans are finally (belatedly) chiming in. AFAICT, only Rep. Amash has been consistent in condemning King. Censure is just a tongue-lashing, and I wonder whether they might kick him off committees. Update: CBC is calling for him to be kicked off all committees and pushed out of the Republican party.
— Were King to be censured, under the Republican Conference rule 28 he would be automatically replaced as ranking member of any committee on which he serves, although the Republican conference could waive this by a majority vote. King chaired the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice in the 115th. Under Rule 1, he could be expelled from the Republican conference by a 2/3 vote.
How cable news made things worse. According to the not-exactly-independent Media Matters, “Cable news (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC) covered Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s ‘impeach the motherfucker’ comments 5 times more than they covered Rep. Steve King’s embrace of white supremacy. Fox News had *74* times more coverage of Tlaib than King.” WTF.
Senate Finance Chair Chuck Grassley is examining his authority to obtain Trump’s tax returns. Rep. Neal, his Democratic House counterpart, explicitly said he’s not going to obtain Trump’s returns right now, which is fairly astonishing given the election and the last two years.
BTW, Rep. Neal took thousands of dollars from corporations known for dodging taxes, while branding himself as a crusader against corporate offshore tax avoiders. For example, GE, which held $82 billion in untaxed profits overseas, gave Neal $76,500 over his career, plus an additional $10k to his leadership PAC during every election cycle since 2008.
Senator Doug Jones asked the FEC to investigate a misinformation campaign he may have (unknowingly) benefited from during the 2017 Alabama special election.
House Oversight has a hearing on the books for H.R. 1. House Republicans are complaining that they weren’t consulted in the drafting of the legislation, which is a little weird because it’s going to be the subject of committee hearings.
The president of the NAACP called on Senators to conduct proper oversight of judicial nominees, as Trump has not nominated a single black woman to any court and has only nominated three black men. Others have raised concerns with the nominees, especially with the demise of blue slips and confirmation of judges the ABA says are unqualified.
Don’t trust DOJ OLC opinions. That’s the message according to a former OLC adviser who wrote how their opinions were often a fig leaf that supported unsupported administration claims. Many OLC opinions are not available to Congress or the public — we don’t know how many — even though the government uses them to interpret laws enacted by Congress and declines to prosecute administration officials who follow DOJ’s legal advice.
DOJ is trying to delay Acting AG Whitaker’s testimony to the House.
Politicians are all but running through the revolving door as one Congress ends and another begins:
— Former Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lamar Smith joined Akin Gump, one of the most profitable lobbying firms, just days after the end of the 115th Congress.
— Senator-turned-lobbyist-turned-Senator-turned lobbyist Jon Kyl refused to disclose 9 secret clients he lobbied for in 2017 and 2018 on his mandatory Senate financial disclosure form. Some say Kyl just came back to the Hill to update his rolodex. You can find him at Covington & Burling. He is the Oksana Baiul of lobbyists, having performed a triple lutz through the revolving door.
— Matt Schlapp, a Washington lobbyist and chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference, is considering a bid to replace retiring Kansas Senator Pat Roberts.
— Disgraced Former Rep. Blake Farenthold resigned from his lobbying gig, which he started less than two months after leaving Congress amid an ethics probe, because of a lawsuit over his hiring. He still hasn’t reimbursed the government for his office’s harassment settlement. Now that he’s no longer a lobbyist, the Ethics Committee should move to keep the ban on his going to the House floor until he pays up (or perhaps longer).
— Roll Call’s Kate Ackley has more on lawmakers and staffers headed to K Street.
The NRA apparently broke the law by coordinating advertising with three high-profile Republican Senate campaigns in last year’s midterms. Outside groups can’t share election information with candidates they support, in this case, Sens. Josh Hawley and Richard Burr and former Sen. candidate Matt Rosendale. The NRA’s also embroiled in the Russian espionage controversy.
The GPO now has an acting IG, James Ives. GPO is been in the spotlight for allegations of nepotism and cronyism. Will the House IG investigate congressional staff who pushed the GPO into inappropriate hires?
LEGISLATIVE PROCESS & POLY SCI
The UK parliament is asking for citizen input on policy: A House of Commons select committee has asked people to write essays about what should be included in draft legislation.
— A conference on opening up parliament, hosted by the Political Studies Association, will explore interesting transparency issues such as MPs engagement with e-petitions and evidence practices in the House of Commons.
What’s Congress’s problem? Lack of bipartisanship, according to John Haskell. He is a well-respected academic and former CRS analyst, but I found it impossible to give any credence to his analysis. He fundamentally misapprehends the nature of the players and that bipartisanship should be understood as a political tactic, not a policy good in of itself. (Indeed, polarization is the historic norm, as Matt Glassman points out.)
— So long as the rank-and-file are forced to follow behind their party leadership, that leadership will use divide-and-conquer tactics to keep the Congress from working its will. Moreover, we cannot ignore the drift in party positions, especially as Republican party leadership has moved significantly to the right of the political center and held on to power because of structural inequalities in our political system that they have worked to reinforce.
— Sorry to digress, but this article right here is the best 1,000 word summary of what’s happening with Democrats right now. It concludes that America’s left is turning into a factory of ideas as the Clinton-Obama era ends, done in by Donald Trump and the Democratic party’s own mistaken assumptions.
NC-9? Big questions about what happens next.
The Open Government Partnership placed the United States under reviewafter the Trump administration missed key deadlines.
The US Capitol Police Department is continuing to post arrest information, but as PDFs. We have concerns with the data. The 8 arrests posted this week primarily concerned alcohol and other drugs. The next report is due out Thursday.
CRS published 93 reports during the ten day period ending January 11th. It plans to publish all “R series” reports by April 2019 (the reports were originally supposed to be published by September 2018) and the remainder by the end of of September. You can find all CRS reports, including the ones they have yet to publish, at everycrsreport.com.
Rep. Tom Malinowski’s official website linked to a fake twitter account; the account has been suspended and Capitol Police are investigating. As a side note, freshman lawmakers can’t use their campaign accounts as their official twitter once they are in office.
Instagram. What are the transparency implications of lawmakers using disappearing stories on instagram? Alex Howard has a smart take. Also, Instagram, as a Facebook company, cannot be trusted with your data and there’s a real policy question of do you want them between constituents and their reps.
20 years ago Hackers went to the Hill to advise lawmakers on cybersecurity. We’re still asking a lot of the same questions today.
Ring a bell? The Architect put out a notice that it’s looking to modernize the legislative call system, i.e., the bells in the clocks. Did you know they use radio transmitters to broadcast a signal that tells the clocks to ring? Maybe they should just publish the info online and incorporate the wonderful app Capitol Bells, used by 300+ members of Congress.
The House and Senate are in session. Here are the bills on suspension this week in the House.
— The Senate Judiciary committee will hold a nomination hearing for AG nominee William Barr at 9:30.
— The House Rules committee will hold its organizational meeting at 3 on the appropriations bill H.R. 268.
— 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.
— The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation is holding an executive session on committee rules at 10.
Down the line
— The Architect of the Capitol is holding an Industry Day / Site Visit on Thursday, January 24th from 1 to 3 at the Russell building related to the project designing, developing, installing, and commissioning a new Congressional Legislative Call System.