In a lengthy and insightful essay, noted Holocaust historian Christopher Browning drew ominous parallels between the destruction of the Weimar Republic by the “old right” and what’s happening today. The most gripping section is his analysis of the old Republic, but this section is striking as well:
“If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell. He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could. As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more.”
H.R. 1. This week Sen. McConnell jibed at H.R. 1, the House Democrats’ legislation to protect voting rights, end gerrymandering, lessen the role of wealth in our political system, and improve ethical accountability for elected officials, as the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.” Long time reporter Eliza Newlin Carney explained McConnell’s position this way: “In making the case for Democrats’ bad motives… McConnell comes across as both remarkably out of touch with public sentiment and as incapable of debating the topic honestly.”
Shutdown. As Politico noted, Sen. McConnell “is standing firm in his resolve to not move a muscle on any government funding bill that would not have the president’s approval.” Democrats are advancing Republican negotiated appropriations bills, and some Senate Republicans are speaking out in favor of opening the government without preconditions, leading the Intercept to opine that McConnell is blocking progress to save his reelection.
Trump gave a nothing-burger speech this weekend on a warmed over plan intended to shift blame to Democrats instead of actually reopening government. Trump did not consult with Democrats; McConnell said he would hold a vote Tuesday. MSNBC wonders “whatever happened to Mitch McConnell’s principle of denying a vote on any measure that lacks bipartisan backing?”
Rep. Steve King, a white nationalist who regularly makes racist remarks, was stripped of his committee assignments by House Republicans, but was not stripped of his membership in the caucus nor censured by the House.
— Republicans can kick King out of the conference, so why didn’t they?King isn’t taking responsibility for his actions; in fact, he’s characterized the situation as an attack from the left to destroy him and is using the affair to fundraise. Rep. Louie Gohmert — who likened Obama’s presidency to Hitler’s dictatorship, warned of “terror babies,” and opposes gay space colonies — defended King and ceded floor time so King could explain himself (during which King did not apologize).
— So what else is being done? Lawmakers (including King) voted on a resolution disapproving of King’s actions. The push on several censure resolutions fizzled — the privileged motion was unanimously referred to the partisan-balanced Ethics committee. There is a lot of speculation as to why the referral took place.
Alt-right Holocaust denier and former Breitbart reporter Chuck Johnson came to Capitol Hill last week to meet with Reps. Phil Roe and Andy Harris, who apparently met him in person. The Reps. say they didn’t know about his background and were meeting with him to discuss genomic sequencing, and that staff research into his background was faulty because he gave his name as “Charles Johnson.” Is anyone buying this? Email me.
Rep. Jason Smith yelled “Go back to Puerto Rico!” at Rep. Tony Cárdenas on the House floor last week. Smith says he was shouting at Democrats generally, not just Cárdenas, citing a trip some Democrats took to Puerto Rico, and later apologized to Cárdenas.
PHONING IT IN
Speaker Pelosi asked Trump to postpone the state of the Union or deliver it in writing, citing the shutdown and lack of funding for the agencies that would handle security for the event.
Laura Loomer, an alt-right activist who would charitably be described as a far-right provocateur, hopped the fence at Pelosi’s home and tried to open the door. Loomer is a former employee of James O’Keefe and has describedrecent mass shootings as hoaxes.
Speaker Pelosi has announced assignments for the following committees: HPSCI, Judiciary, Armed Services, Ways & Means, Education & Labor, Agriculture, Financial Services, Foreign Affairs, Transportation & Infrastructure, and Veterans Affairs.
— Retaliation is bipartisan: Rep. McCarthy stripped Rep. Hice of his assignment to HASC for voting for Jim Jordan as Speaker.
Pelosi appointed Rep. Richard Neal as Ways & Means chair. Neal is responsible for writing tax laws, such as those concerning businesses who avoid taxes by incorporating off-shore, and also just happens to have received generous campaign support from those companies on that and other issues. Neal also has declined to request the president’s tax returns, and hopes the president will voluntarily release them.
The OpenGov Data Act is now law. The bipartisan law, passed last Congress and belatedly signed by Trump, requires all non-sensitive government data to be catalogued and made available online in open and machine-readable formats by default. It also established federal Chief Data Officers at federal agencies and a CDO council. (More)
The GREAT Act passed the House; the measure directs the executive branch to adopt a standardized data structure for the information grantees must report to agencies and to publish that information online.
It’s notable that both the OpenGov Data Act and the GREAT Act had bipartisan support, as have other transparency or technology-related measures that passed the House in the last few weeks.
LEG CAPACITY, PROCESS, AND POLY SCI
The Fix Congress Committee, my name for the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, has been in the news, with articles on Huffington Post, Democracy Fund, and more. The big question: who will be the ranking member, committee members, and staff?
Impeach or indict? That is the question. Point of Order’s Michael Stern looks to the past for answers.
Anywhere from 50 to 100 members of Congress sleep in their offices, but that may change this Congress. Members say this creates a hostile work environment. And it’s gross. House Admin. Chair Zoe Lofgren said the committee will address the issue.
The Senate posted the chamber’s seating map. It’s kinda interesting.
MONEY IN POLITICS
More than two dozen members of Congress have established leadership PACs, which allow them to raise campaign funds for other candidates.
— PACs are subject to less stringent rules than broader campaign spending, which creates opportunities for impropriety. Reps. Rice, Gallagher, and Kilmer introduced the Political Accountability and Transparency Act to tighten the rules around PAC spending. I’m a big fan of the 2013 MERIT Act, which has lots of good ideas they should consider.
— Sludge has a round of Reps. who rely most heavily on corporate PAC money.
Former Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon’s firm continues to lobby for Saudi Arabia, despite the state-sponsored murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. McKeon attempted to recruit various House Republicans to sponsor H.R. 4603 in the 115th Congress, a Saudi-backed bill. For those with long memories, he was caught up in the Countrywide Loan Scandal.
Rep. Jackson Lee is being sued by a former staffer. The facts are convoluted, but the allegation is that Jackson Lee fired the staffer after the staffer told Jackson Lee’s Chief of Staff that she was going to pursue legal action concerning a rape that occurred during her previous internship at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation by a then-CBCF staffer. Jackson Lee is the CBCF Board Chair and has declined the step down despite the request from CBCF board members, prompting at least one board member to resign. According to Legistorm, Jackson Lee has extraordinarily high staff turnover in her office, placing her in the 98 percentile over 2001-2017.
The woman suing Rep. Cardenas for allegedly sexually abusing her as a teenager made her name public last week. Cardenas claims her father, a disgruntled former employee, is the driving force behind the suit. According to Legistorm, Cardenas’s office turnover in 2018 was in the 92 percentile for highest turnover and has been consistently high since 2016.
The “pecuniary gains” clause of House Ethics rules that prevents members from improperly using their power for personal financial gain is too narrow, according to Roll Call’s Griffin Connolly.
There are no photographs allowed on the Senate floor, but maybe not for too much longer. Inspired by the amazing pictures in the House on the first day of the new session, a rule change would permit photographers to be present. Generally speaking, having independent media taking photos in both chambers would be welcome.
Members on the job hunt on the down low: of the 81 lawmakers leaving the Hill going into the 2018 midterms, Senator Jeff Flake was the only one to file a public disclosure form about his job search.
CRS put up 6 new reports in the 5 day period ending January 15th. All “R” series reports are expected to be posted by April.
Capitol Police reported six arrests in last week’s summary, one of which took place outside Senator McConnell’s office.
A Supreme Court Case may give corporations more power to censor FOIA requests.
The CIA Historical Review Panel has been put on ice and there’s no sign of a thaw.
What happened to @CongressEdits? The account, which tracks Wikipedia edits made on US Capitol computers, is permanently banned.
Was the DNC the target of (another) Russian phishing attack?
The Library of Congress wants you to help digitize its collection. The agency is seeking proposals from commercial and non-commercial entities.
Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) resigned from Congress, just two weeks after being sworn in for his fifth term, to pursue a private sector job. The Democratic Governor of PA will schedule a special election to fill the seat.
Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) is retiring; Jones is on the mend after some health struggles over the last few months. Rep. Jones is an iconoclastic Republican, repeatedly punished by Republican leadership and repeatedly re-elected by his constituents.
ODDS & ENDS
The Chief Administrative Officer is hiring contractors for technology services.
The newest members of the Senate and House Standing Committee of Correspondents are reporters Sarah Wire, Andrew Taylor, and Jonathan Tamari
Down the Line
— Monday, January 28th the House Committee on Ethics is holding senior staff financial disclosure training at 2 in Longworth.