Forecast for December 23, 2019

Happy Holidays Everyone. 2019 has been a year like no other. Thank you for staying with us throughout it all. We’re going to take a week off and will be back in the new year. Go easy on us for this week’s newsletter. 🙂

TOP LINE

The Week That Was. Congress passed the 2020 appropriations bills and the NDAA while the House took a historic vote to impeach President Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Who else is excited for the impeachment trial, whenever that might be, and is curious what Trump’s State of the Union speech will look like on February 4th?

Hey big spender. Congress pushed through two mini-bus appropriations bills, totalling $1.4 trillion in discretionary spending, while short-circuiting debate. Trump signed the bills with just hours left before an official government shutdown. Despite significantly increased spending, the leg branch will only received a pittance. More on that here and below.

The battle over the impeachment narratives. The House voted to impeach, but Speaker Pelosi says she will not send the articles of impeachment to the Senate until Senate Majority Leader McConnell agrees to fair and open trial rules. Meanwhile, McConnell is doing everything he can to keep witnesses out of the trial. Incidentally, a FOIA request produced, late Friday night, the WH email to DOD to stop aid to Ukraine. Yes, it looks like a smoking gun.

Finally, paid leave for federal workers. To sweeten a fairly bitter NDAA that didn’t address Congress’s abdication of war powers to the executive branch, federal workers will finally receive 12 weeks paid parental leave. Congress and the WH agreed to grant federal workers paid leave in exchange for the creation of the Space Force. Prior to its passage, our team surveyed House Congressional offices to look at congressional paid leave. The results may surprise you. (By the way, the newly enacted approps bill contains a new study on congressional parental and *medical* leave.)

APPROPS

PC LOAD LETTER. With no time left to get the approps bills out, formatting and printing issues caused the approps bills to be delayed. Luckily, the situation was resolved and the bills dropped late Monday afternoon, less than 24-hours before the House vote.

The Domestic Approps minibusHR 1865, includes Labor-Health and Human Services-Education, Agriculture, Energy and Water Development, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, State-Foreign Operations, Transportation-Housing and Urban Development, and of course, the Legislative Branch. The 1773-page bill is here; the leg branch joint explanatory statement is here. The House’s final votes numbers for Non-Defense Approps bill: 297-120, with 218 Democrats and 79 Republicans voting aye, and 7 Dems and 112 Republicans as noes. Final vote in the Senate was 71-23, with 2 Democrats and 21 Republicans voting no.

Legislative Branch final numbers still not where they need to be. Looks like the House and Senate split the difference on overall leg branch funding levels. The final amount is $5.049b, a 4.4% increase, which is just below the average non-defense spending increase overall. The House only asked for $5.010 b (+3.6%) and the Senate had wanted $5.092b (+5.29%). We still do not know why the House funding request was lower than the Senate’s request. We had wanted an additional increase of 1% of new non-defense spending. Check out our analysis on how this Legislative branch funding still is not good enough.

The National Security minibusHR 1158, includes Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Financial Services and General Government, and Homeland Security. Final House votes for the Nat Sec. Approps bill: 280-138, with 130 Republicans and 150 Democrats voting yes, and 62 Republicans and 75 Dems voting no. The significant Dem opposition arose in part to the House Dem cave on the border wall and immigrant detention. Final vote in the Senate was 81-11, with 7 Democrats and 4 Republicans voting no.

NDAA. Approps wasn’t the only large bill enacted this past week. On Tuesday, the Senate passed the final version of the NDAA 86-8. It passed the House 377-48 the week prior, which feels like months ago. The $738B NDAA includes 12 weeks of paid parental leave for over 2 million federal workers starting October 1, 2020. The legislative text is too confusing for us to understand how it applies to congressional staff. The final provision does not apply to federal employees who want paid time off to care for a sick family member or recover from their own serious medical condition. Our team surveyed House Congressional offices to find out what paid leave benefits they offer staff. Here’s what we found.

Deep Dive. We are still working on a deep dive on the good legislative strengthening measures included in the Approps bill. There’s a lot, so hang tight until next year.

IMPEACHMENT

Trump is impeached. President Trump is only the third president to be impeached by the House. The final votes for both articles include: 230-197 for abuse of power and 229-198 for obstruction of Congress. The vote for impeachment was bipartisan, with Rep. Justin Amash voting in favor; notably, all House Republicans threw their lot in with Trump.

We had promised you to stay out of the impeachment details, but it so dominated Congress this week that a recap is in order.

On Sunday evening, Senate Minority Leader Schumer sent a letter to Majority Leader McConnell proposing a fair and open trial, as well as a list of witnesses they would like to openly testify. Then, on Monday, the House Rules Committee established parameters for the House debate of two articles of impeachment against President Trump.

Tuesday. During the rules debate on H.Res. 767, Trump sent a truly bizarre letter to Pelosi imploring her to stop impeachment. “More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials,” Trump said in the letter, which was written with help from Stephen Miller, Leg Affairs Director Eric Ueland, and Counselor to Chief of Staff Michael Williams.

Wednesday. Moments before the House floor debate on impeachment, Republicans introduced a resolution attacking Schiff and Nadler for their handling of committee proceedings and that was predicated upon a misreading of the minority witness rule. Once floor debate began, all eyes turned to C-SPAN, which garnered over 7 million pairs of eyeballs on twitter alone.

Lowlights. Some of the more ridiculous highlights over the six hour floor debate included GOP Rep. Loudermilk comparing the Democrats treatment of Trump to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, GOP Rep. Kelly equating the impeachment process to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and Republicans holding a moment of silence for the results of the 2016 election

“It’s our duty to impeach him.” Democrats gave former GOP Rep. Justin Amash two minutes to speak on the House floor in support of impeaching President Trump. There has been discussion about making him an impeachment manager.

Onto the Senate? Not so fast. There were murmurs early last week that House leadership may work to push back the Senate trial. Pelosi said the House would not send the impeachment articles over to the Senate until they know what the trial process looks like. While Schumer and Pelosi are said to be on the same page, Senate Minority Whip Durbin is worried that withholding the articles from the Senate will not give Dems any leverage.

What happens in January? Majority Leader McConnell took to the Senate floor Thursday morning to show his dismay for what he calls “the most rushed, least thorough, and most unfair” impeachment in history. And yet, McConnell made this claim after saying his team is in “total coordination” with White House Counsel to craft the impeachment message and trial process that favors the president. As James Wallner notes “The problem with McConnell’s admission that he will work with Trump during the impeachment trial is not coordination. It’s subsuming the Senate’s role in the process to the executive branch.”

Other Senate work will be stuck in limbo. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso said that committees won’t be able to send bills to the Senate floor during the January impeachment trial.

OVERSIGHT

SCOTUS is on notice. Fix the Court released its new report on SCOTUS recusals, describing current practice as inconsistent and unprincipled.

Judiciary v. McGahn. The House Judiciary Committee filed its brief in the DC Circuit for the McGahn case, with oral argument on whether McGahn must response to a House subpoena set for January 3. (Docket here).

FISC. The chief judge of the FISA court issued a rare public order that the FBI inform the court of its proposed reforms in the wake of a DOJ IG report finding “many basic and fundamental errors” with the Carter Page warrant applications. The judge ordered the FBI to explain in writing how it intends to remedy those problems no later than January 10th. One wonders: why didn’t HPSCI and SSCI catch this?

TRANSPARENCY

GREAT Act. The House passed the GREAT ACT, HR 150, which tasks OMB to adopt standardized data structures for federal grant reporting. Its Senate companion (S. 1829) is stuck in committee.

Under seal. Our friends over at the Reporters Committee, NPR, and 51 other media organizations urged SCOTUS to adopt a clear standard for when court filings may be sealed. The number of cases in with SCOTUS has granted requests to seal records has significantly increased.

FOIA lawsuits are increasing as a faster rate than FOIA requests, according to the FOIA Project, which attributes the cause to increased delays in receiving responses to FOIA requests. Most litigation occurred when agencies failed to respond to FOIA requesters.

FIX CONGRESS

The Modernization Committee made recommendations. The Fix Congress Committee adopted 16 bipartisan recommendations intended to foster bipartisanship, save money, and improve the quality of constituent communications. The committee also spent time discussing ways to bring lawmakers in with new Member orientation. What’s next for the committee in 2020? Kate Ackley of Roll Call has a breakdown. The House has yet to consider H.Res. 756, which contains 29 committee recommendations.

The House Franking Commission changed how the House communicates with constituents. The House Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards released a new Communications Standards Manual, which includes its biggest changes in franking rules in at least 20 years. This includes renaming the Franking Commission to the House Communications Standards Commission, updating the Advisory Opinions to streamline the approval process, condensing and simplifying regulations on franked mail and other comms content, and making franked materials available online. This was a significant effort and is a significant improvement.

Resources for staff. It can be hard to know what technology is available to Congressional staff, so we put together a one-stop list of resources to help staffers monitor, research, and write bills more efficiently.

OTA. Scholars at the Brookings Institution released a plan on how Congress should bring back the Office of Technology Assessment.

ETHICS

Passing the torch. Oklahoma Repulican Senator Lankford has officially succeeded retiring Georgia GOP Senator Isakson as Senate Ethics Committee Chair.

McMorris Rogers. At long last, the House Ethics Committee released its findings regarding Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. (OCE had referred the matter to H. Ethics in 2013). The list of violations of House rules is too extensive to list here, so read the report. It generally includes misuse of official resources over a long period of time for campaign activities. Notable among the findings was that she used Leadership funds for consultant services that would have violated House rules, except those rules did not apply to leadership offices in the same way they applied to personal offices. Notably, the committee determined that restrictions in place inside the House to prevent the misuse of funds “are lacking with respect to leadership offices,” and referred the matter to the House IG. The Committee unanimously voted to reprove Rep. McMorris Rodgers and to impose a fine.

Lori Trahan. H. Ethics released a statement on Tuesday saying it is conducting a further probe into Massachusetts Rep. Lori Trahan after investigators found “substantial reason to believe” she violated campaign finance laws during her 2018 campaign.

The AOC OIG dismissed 3 complaints against the Architect of the Capitol alleging that an AOC executive leader provided their subordinate preferential treatment to include awards and performance appraisals.

PARTY SHAKEUP

Rep. Van Drew. New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew officially left the Democratic Party, and pledged his undying support to Donald Trump as part of an effort to keep his House seat. NRCC deleted all of previous tweets that attack Van Drew. House membership now sits at 232 Democrats, 198 Republicans and 1 Independent. Fellow New Jersey Dem Rep Frank Pallone is hiring all 6 of Van Drew’s DC staff who chose to leave.

Greener pastures. The morning after impeachment, NC GOP Rep., and key Trump ally, Mark Meadows announce he will not be seeking reelection in 2020. Meadows may be looking to transition to becomeTrump’s Chief of Staff and has recently faced criticism over his lack of financial disclosures to Congress.

Walker. After North Carolina announced its redistricting, GOP Rep. Mark Walker decided that he won’t run for reelection. Instead, he’s eyeing NC’s senate seat in 2022.

Oversight Cmte. On Tuesday, Speaker Pelosi announced that Reps. Katie Porter and Deb Haaland will fill House Oversight vacancies left by the late Rep. Elijah Cummings and former Rep. Katie Hill.

ODDS & ENDS

Feats of strength? Sen. Rand Paul has released his annual Festivus Report on wasteful government spending.

Where next? The Partnership for Public Service has released its annual “Best Federal Places to Work.” The only leg branch agency we could find that participated in the survey is the GAO, which came in 3rd among the mid-sized agencies.

Tech Congress announced its six new 2020 Congressional Tech Fellows.

Speaking of tech, check out this tool from the House of Commons Library that provides constituency-level data on the 2019 General Election. Maybe the Library of Congress should do something similar. Speaking of LoC, the Law Library just released a new report discussing laws that protect journalists from online harassment.

This is extremely dangerous to our democracy. An investigation by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School has discovered at least 450 websites that distribute thousands of algorithmic and conservative news stories. At least 189 of these sites were masquerading as local news networks in 10 states.

Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs is launching new tech fellowship. You can find details about the 9 month fellowship here.

CALENDAR

Next week, Congress will be in recess. We hope you get some rest and relaxation time too.

Down the Line

• Jan 3: McGhan hearings before appellate court? RECAP + Politico

• 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.

• Friday, January 24 the Levin Center at Wayne Law is hosting a symposium, “Emerging Case Law on Congressional Oversight” from 9:00 to 11:30.

• State of the Union is set for February 4th. Really.