Forecast for February 19, 2019. Never Waste an Emergency

THE HOUSE COMMITTEE TASKED WITH MODERNIZING CONGRESS 

has 12 newly appointed members, an initial $50,000 budget (through March), and less than one year to issue recommendations. There’s little doubt that Congress must invest in its own brain power and modernize its technology.

The select committee isn’t Congress’s only hope, as the oversight committees (House Admin + Senate Rules) and leg branch appropriations committees play a major role in modernizing Congress. So too does the House and Senate writ large, as exemplified by the House’s consideration of HR 1 (the voting & ethics reform bill) and HSGAC’s favorable reporting of the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act. What remains to be seen is how Congress will react to Trump’s ’emergency’ power grab; on that topic, it appears Sen. McConnell has dropped his guise as a Senate institutionalist. (More on that.)

Office of Congressional Workplace Rights. During last week’s oversight hearing on the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, Rep. Lowey, who chairs the Appropriations committee, expressed an interest in addressing the lack of a uniform standard for paid family medical leave among House offices. FWIW, we think it should be 3 months and paid out of a non-MRA account. Also of note: the Congressional Accountability Act’s provisions don’t go into effect into June 19, so staff complaining of harassment are stuck under the old system until then; the OCWR will go through a notice and comment rulemaking in April; and a 70 new harassment filings have been received by the OCWR in 2019, with half from the Library of Congress. Finally, the climate survey won’t go out until Q1 or Q2 of 2020.

The Republican-led Senate Rules committee voted to change procedural rules by a 10-9 vote to cut down the debate time on nominations for lower-level positions, i.e. district court judges. To enact the change the Senate may have to go nuclear.

TRANSPARENCY TOOK A FEW HITS 

this past week, most notably with the U.S. Capitol Police violently shoving reporters and blocking them from asking senators questions. This obviously is unacceptable and highlights a dangerous trend with the USCP. We have seen news reporters told they cannot film in hallways (later retracted), the arrests of marijuana protesters based on apparent misstatements by Rep. Andy Harris, and more. Coincidentally, we delivered a letter to the USCP on their refusal to address our reasonable public records requests for arrest info. USCP has 2,200 employees and a $450m budget, which is funded at a higher level than all House committees put together.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, after one month, two civil society letters, and twounflattering news stories, belatedly and tersely responded to requests for the Democratic Caucus to publish its rules, saying on February 7th “the issue will be presented to the Democratic caucus in short order.” The caucus met on Feb. 13th and there’s no word whether the issue was presented, who presented it, or the outcome. It could be the matter is delayed for a month like the vote on leadership term limits, which was supposed to take place in February. But so far it’s been radio silence.

Rep. Adam Schiff blew past House rules and congressional norms when he held the House Intelligence Committee’s organizing meeting in secret session — House rules require meetings be public unless there’s a public vote to close the proceedings. A coalition warned Schiff in advance to hold the session in the open, but his office did not respond. If Schiff’s going to go after Trump for breaking the rules, he would be wise to follow them himself.

GOP senators may change internal conference rules to clarify when members can be removed from a committee position or a chair position. The question has come up frequently over the past few months for their House counterparts. Oddly, Senate Republicans publish their conference rules but Senate Dems don’t publish their caucus rules.

Are earmarks back? There’s a quiet campaign to make it so, although I must note that (1) they’re not really gone; (2) they empower leadership over the rank-and-file and encourage members to obstruct; (3) any return to earmarks should indicate who requested it, which appropriators may not like as a precedent for other provisions stuck into their bills.

WORKING ON THE HILL HAS NEVER BEEN EASY

, but it may be unusually hard in Sen. Klobuchar’s office, who was tagged in national media for mistreating her staff and having among the highest turnover rates in the Senate. Left unmentioned is her advocacy for passage of the Congressional Accountability Act. The defense that she’s a tough boss that demands a lot from her staff is no justification for being “habitually demeaning and prone to bursts of cruelty.” If true, hopefully the outcry is a wake-up call. Her staff annual turnover rate, at 35%, is almost twice the Senate average of 19%.

Sen. Schumer’s general counsel, a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist, won’t name 19 of 20 of his former clients. This may raise significant conflicts of interest arising from Sen. Schumer’s naming of commissioners to agencies that would impact Goldman Sachs’s clients. Also, he should never have been hired if he’s unwilling to disclose this info.

Sen. Richard Burr, who officially joined the Trump campaign as a national security advisor, is overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the Senate. What does this mean for the Senate?

Interns. House offices are awaiting House Admin guidelines so they can access funds for paid interns; Sen. Warren is the most generous employer of paid interns.

A lost cause. Rep. Drew Ferguson threw his staff under the bus for his office having a biography of Robert E. Lee displayed in his office and open to a page highlighting Confederate ideology.

QUICK HITS

The Presidential Library Donation Reform Act (PLDRA), H.R. 1063, a bill that would expose potential conflicts of interest or misconduct around fundraising for presidential libraries, passed the House.

The Electronic Court Records Reform Act was introduced last week, which would make federal court records free on PACER.

OMB issued guidance to executive branch agencies on how to make their FOIA systems interoperable with the national FOIA portal on FOIA.gov.

Rep. Hollingsworth introduced a bill to ban members of Congress from lobbying for life.

A FINAL WORD. You’ve probably noticed this week’s edition is comparatively short and that we didn’t publish last week. It’s not because there isn’t plenty more to say. (Like capitol police arrests, new CRS reports, upcoming hearings, the passing of Reps. Dingell and Jones, and moving legislation.) We enjoy writing the newsletter, doing original research, and connecting the dots. At last count, there’s more 520 people subscribed, and our analytics suggest that the majority of you actually read the damn thing and engage with the content. Thank you for your interest!

Our team focusing on congressional capacity is tiny, however, with fewer than two full-time people and 60-70 hours a week we can spread across all our projects. (And there’s a lot of projects!) We’ve been putting 20 hours weekly into the newsletter, and have to dial that back somewhat so we can accomplish our other tasks. Should circumstances change we’ll bring it back in full, but for now you’ll get a more idiosyncratic version. Let us know what you think as we work out the details.