Forecast for December 16, 2019

TOP LINE

It’s your jam. For weeks, we’ve been gearing up for leadership to jam members with tons of major votes as they head out the door. This week we will see at least two appropriations minibuses (likely Tuesday in the House), impeachment (Wednesday in the House), USCMA (i.e. NAFTA v2, likely on Thursday), a long list of suspension bills, and more. Of course, the Senate won’t consider impeachment and USCMA until after the holiday. As a bonus, just about everyone we know on the hill is coming down sick. Happy times.

All 12 Members of the Fix Congress Committee co-sponsored a resolution to move nearly 30 committee recommendations forward. More on the Moving Our Democracy and Congressional Operations Towards Modernization (ModCom), H. Res. 756, below.

Congress’s Architect: Senate Rules has a vote on the president’s nominee for Architect of the Capitol, J. Brett Blanton, today at 5:45; the hearing was last week. Chairman Blunt was the only member present last week’s hearing; if confirmed, Blanton will inherit an agency recovering from a series of acting directors and challenges, including repeated incidents of harassment and $100 million cost overrun of a House building rehab.

Is it weird that the *president* officially nominates the Architect? ::nods:: We think so, too, which is why we took a look at the appointment processes for Leg Branch leaders — 30+ offices — and you can read our look at how they’re all chosen. The spreadsheet, and all the data for each position, is here (csv), and it has lots of goodies. We’ll be writing more about this.

Deal or No Deal. Appropriators reached a handshake deal on $1.3 trillion spending agreement for FY 2020, just 8 days before government funding runs out. No CR this time — we can expect all 12 spending bills to come to the floor. How will they come and when? Last report was they’ll be published mid-day on Monday, in at least two minibuses. When they’re out we’ll look at where the 302(b)s landed.

DOJ Inspector General Horowitz will discuss his office’s FISA report with HSGAC Wednesday at 10; the IG report is here. Notable to us, Congress nerds that we are, is why didn’t the House and Senate Intelligence committees catch the systemic failings of FISA warrant process, especially when civil libertarians have been raising the alarm for years? We think the Intel committees are fundamentally broken in their role as public watchdogs, and we have bipartisan recs to fix Congressional oversight of intelligence-related matters.

Impeachment. It’s come to this. The House is expected to vote Wednesday; Sen. Schumer has offered a deal to Sen. McConnell on a Senate trial that would include calling four witnesses, limited document production, start on January 9, and last about a week; and one conservative Democrat will ring and run, Rep. Van Drew, who is switching parties so he can avoid losing in the Democratic primary in the hopes that a vote against impeachment will allow him to strike a deal with Trump to save his (literal and metaphorical) seat. His staff are jumping ship, and we’ll see if House Dems push him out of the caucus before the vote. Oh, and 30+ dems are pushing Rep. Amash as an impeachment manager.

MONEY MATTERS

Power of the Purse belongs to Congress, just ask the Texas District Court judge who ruled against the Trump Administration’s attempt to use $3.6 billion of military funding for border wall construction.

A new Senate bill would trigger automatic CRs if appropriations bills aren’t enacted on time, and it has a lot of baggage that makes no sense to us at all.

IMPEACHMENT

It’s tough being in the minority: the “minority witness rule” allows minority Members on a House committee to be able to call a witness at hearings, with the majority’s acquiescence to a particular witness. Rs have been saying this is grounds for calling their own witnesses throughout the impeachment process. As Casey Burgat explains, it ain’t necessarily so.

When Senators are sworn in, they take an oath to uphold the Constitution, but they take an additional oath during an impeachment trial. Senate Impeachment Rule XXIV provides the text. (“I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: so help me God.”) But at least one Senator said he’s not trying to be a fair juror, and Sen. Majority Leader McConnell publicly stated he is colluding with Pres. Trump on the trial. Woof. Confused about how impeachment will work in the Senate? The Washington Post has an overview.

The House Committee on Rules will meet on H. Res. 755 — Impeaching Donald John Trump — tomorrow, December 17th at 11 in the Capitol, room H-313. Should the House agree to any articles of impeachment, the House (mostly Speaker Pelosi) will choose managers to present the case for impeachment to the Senate.

CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT POWERS

Congress is punishing Trump for obstructing justice, but what about the staff that helped him to do it? As POGO’s Danielle Brian points out, “if, in the interest of speed, the House fails to push harder for testimony and documents…[it] risks diminishing its power to hold the executive branch accountable in the long term.” Hear hear.

The courts and Congressional power: The Supreme Court granted certiorari in the “separation-of-powers showdown between Congress and Trump,” and will opine on whether Trump must turn personal financial records over to the House Oversight committee, as well as whether Trump’s businesses need to turn over financial records to the House Financial Services + Intelligence committees. Appeals courts have already sided with the House in both cases, and SCOTUS probably should have declined to grant cert., as the stay will prohibit a timely resolution. Oral argument isn’t scheduled until March, and a ruling could be months after that.

Bump: Congress has inherent contempt powers it can use to hold bad actors accountable, but they have fallen into disuse. They need to be updated and strengthened to fit the modern context; good ideas include the Benghazi recommendationsMort Rosenberg’s pitch for outside counsel to lead on contempt cases; Mike Stern’s idea of using House rules to clarify deadlines on requests for information; and fmr. Rep. Brad Miller’s legislation, which sets up expedited processes and independence from DOJ.

MORE OVERSIGHT NEWS

What is Congress’s role in national security oversight? The Sidley Austin Forum examined the issue last week. Former White House Counsel Don McGhan gave the executive branch pitch (we’d take his view with a grain of salt).

• Meanwhile, Senator Mike Lee said the lack of congressional oversight in national security is the greatest issue of our time, and we’ve reached a “tipping point.” Sen. Lee said he “felt the Bern” and has been working closely with Senator Sanders because Congress has not used war powers appropriately.

The Library of Congress has the LC Labs, a “place to encourage innovation with Library of Congress digital collections.” They are kicking off a new initiative to understand how to provide access to large data sets.

BUILDING A BETTER CONGRESS

As we mentioned at the top the Fix Congress committee has introduced legislation to advance its recommendations. Well, technically, the Members of the committee are co-sponsoring the legislation since the committee itself does not have legislative authority. The resolution will address staff retention and diversity, House technology, and transparency.

As a reminder the committee’s almost 30 recommendations stem from 14 hearings, numerous Member and staff-level briefings, and listening sessions to solicit ideas and recommendations for reforming the legislative branch. Watch out for more committee recs in 2020.

The NDAA includes provisions for paid family leave (Section 7603): federal employees with at least 12 months of service can take as many as 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. The paid leave provisions would apply to congressional staff (as far as we can tell, the bill text isn’t clear), the Government Accountability Office, and the Library of Congress. This is monumental for congressional staffers, 24 percent of whom have cited unsatisfactory leave benefits as a significant reason for leaving their Capitol Hill job.

• We’ve been tracking Hill offices’ paid leave policies for a few months. There was little historical data on the topic, so we’re conducting a study of our own. So far, of the 64 House personal offices that responded to our survey, 84% offered 12 weeks paid leave (for staffers who have been with the office for more than 12 months).

GAO has a new Tech Assessment Design Handbook and they want to hear your thoughts on it. Send your feedback to TAHandbook@gao.gov; the office will accept comments for roughly a year.

TRANSPARENCY

Government secrecy is at an all time high, if you’re measuring by lack of responses to FOIA requests and censorship of released materials. What’s the FOIA Advisory Committee doing about it? Alex Howard has the scoop. If you crave even more FOIA advisory committee content, FreeGovInfo has more.

The Semiquincentennial is coming! We had to look it up, too—the US is turning 250 years old in 2026 and plans are underway for our birthday party. This was one of the topics at the recent Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress bi-annual meeting. The committee reviews the management and preservation of congressional records and is challenged with a high number of member retirements, physical space for records and providing access to 1.5 Billion digital files (in 350 file formats…)

DoD has to tell Congress how it will declassify the growing backlog of records, according to the 2020 NDAA (section 1759). It’s a good measure that pushes the Department of Defense toward a first step, but it’s a plan to create a plan and DOD doesn’t always like it when a plan comes together.

ETHICS

Sen. James Lankford will replace retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson as Chair of the Ethics Committee, pending ratification by the Senate Republican Conference this week.

The House Ethics Committee released new regulations governing outside positions (think board memberships) for Members and senior level staff a few weeks ahead of the December 31st deadline set in the House Rules for the 116th Congress.The committee created a working group, which consulted with Members and outside experts, to create the regulations. The rule was, at least in part, a response to insider trading by former Rep. Chris Collins. The regs are complex, so we’re going to have to read them a few times.

The House Clerk tried to install an employee’s daughter—a recent college grad with no legislative experience—to lead the office vacated by Rep. Sean Duffy. Rep. Zoe Lofgren rejected the request.

Flights for Eggburt and Cadbury. The Office of Congressional Ethics released its findings and statement on Duncan Hunter, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to misuse campaign funds. The campaign funds were used for personal hotels with his family, video games, LEGOs, and even flights for the family rabbits Eggburt and Cadbury.

Does anyone else find it weird that the Copyright Office Director has been scooped up by the Motion Picture Association to serve as general counsel?

ODDS & ENDS

Capitol Police reported 11 incidents for the week ending December 12th, one of which was the arrest of a protester during impeachment hearings. The USCP doesn’t disclose who was arrested in its summary (why not?), but the NYT did cover an arrest at the hearing and we will simply assume it was Infowars host Owen Shroyer. (It should be open-and-shut: Shroyer live-streamed his arrest on Twitter.) Click here to see how this week’s activity compares to department trends.

Florida Republican House Member Ted Yoho announced he won’t seek reelection.

House Republicans are heading for the exit: There were 241 House Republicans when Trump was inaugurated in 2017. Since then, 104 Republican House Members have either retired, been defeated, or are not seeking reelection in 2020. See the press gallery “casualty list” for the 115th Congress here and 116th Congress here.

The votes are in: CSPAN’s Greta Brawner will Chair the Radio & Television Correspondents’ Association in 2021; she’ll also serve as Vice Chair in 2020. The Association also elected Fox News Radio’s Jared Halpern and Sinclair’s Paul Courson to the executive committee for the next two years.

ICYMI: Changes to CBO’s site make it easier than ever to find bill scores.

CALENDAR

Monday

• Today at 5:45 Senate Rules has a markup to consider the nomination of J. Brett Blanton to be Architect of the Capitol. The meeting will take place in U.S. Capitol room 219.

Tuesday

• Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will consider the nomination of Paul J. Ray to be Administrator of OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at 9:30 in 342 Dirksen.

• House Rules will markup H. Res. 755 — Impeaching Donald John Trump, President of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors, at 11 in the U.S. Capitol, room H-313.

Wednesday

• DOJ IG Michael Horowitz will testify before HSGAC on his office’s investigation into the FISA program. The hearing is at 10 in 342 Dirksen.

Down the Line

• Friday, January 10th from 9-1 Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs is hosting “Congressional Oversight 2020: A Seminar.” The seminar will be at the Virginia Tech Research Center, 900 N. Glebe Road, Arlington VA.

• Friday, January 10th from 1:30-3:30, The Levin Center at Wayne Law is hosting a training workshop for House and Senate Committee Clerks on handling oversight investigations. The training will be in 340 Dirksen