THE TOP LINE
8 House Dems voted to cede Congress’s constitutional role in matters of war and peace by voting ‘No’ on the House war powers resolution while Rep. Amash plus GOP Reps. Gaetz, Massie, and Rooney voted ‘Yes’ to protect our system of checks-and-balances. Notable, in addition to the vast majority of Republicans who likely would have voted differently if HRC were president, were the two dozen-ish Rs who flipped their vote, perhaps out of fear of political retribution.
The FY 2021 approps cycle is gearing up w/ a Thursday deadline for public witness testimony for the H. Interior Approps SubC. Follow all the deadlines with our nifty Approprs Tracker + watch announcements on our Twitter bot @AppropsTracker.
Fix Congress Cmte hearing on Restoring Congressional Capacity is set for Tuesday.
Welcome the 21st century Frank: the House launched a public-facing website that publishes Member mass communications to constituents. More below.
Can’t wait until Monday for the First Branch Forecast? Follow @CongressRadar for real time Congress news, commentary, and unfunny inside jokes. Also, don’t forget to tell us what you think of our little publication!
CONGRESSIONAL WAR POWERS
The real story of the House war powers vote is that 3 R lawmakers put country over party politics by voting to protect Congress’s decision-making role in okaying war vs Iran, down from 27 Rs who voted for a similar resolution in July. We grok the pressure that flip-flopping Rs felt from Trump, but wonder about the handful of Dems who apparently think Congress is superfluous to these questions.
Process. The vote was on a concurrent resolution, the statutory-defined vehicle for war powers actions. It doesn’t require a presidential signature or allow for a Motion to Recommit. Since the Supreme Court’s Chadha opinion in 1983, which has been understood to undercut long-standing Congressional oversight practices and executive-legislative branch accommodations, it’s unclear whether the War Powers statutory scheme is legally sufficient.
The House will consider Rep. Khanna’s legislation to prohibit funding for military action against Iran not authorized by Congress and Rep. Barbara Lee’s bill to repeal the 2002 AUMF. In the Senate, Sen. Tim Kaine introduced a Senate war powers resolution (S. J. Res 63) to remove US armed forces from hostilities against Iran that have not been authorized by Congress. The resolution has some R support and needs only a simple majority to pass.
The Trump Admin is playing games with Congress: At a congressional hearing, the SecDef told Congress not to debate limiting Trump’s power and left before answering all Congressional questions, triggering outrage from Sens. Lee and Paul. (Why not other Rs?) BTW, why doesn’t the House use its power to release the (unnecessarily) classified War Powers notice?
POWER OF THE PURSE
FY 2021 approps. A 2021 budget resolution is unlikely but top line spending numbers are set; defense and nondefense spending will both increase by $2.5 billion. There might also be a supplemental. Maj. Ldr. Hoyer hopes the House will be done by June, likely with an eye to the election year. We’ll see.
Agencies will start pitching DOA 2021 budgets to House appropriators as soon as February 10th, and SubC markups will likely start in April. We’ll track the deadlines for public and congressional submissions here. By the way, tracking agency budget requests — congressional justifications — can be difficult, but bipartisan (draft) legislation would require all the budget justifications be online in a central location. We’ve tracked the CJs, and they can be hard to find.
A punch to the purse: A federal appeals court ruled to lift the ban on border wall funding which means Trump can use funds appropriated by Congress for other projects.
Sticking points: witnesses & documents. The Senate impeachment trial could start soon, with Speaker Pelosi seemingly likely to pick managers and send articles of impeachment this week. No rules for the Senate have been announced; but McConnell looks to put in place Thunderdome, sorry, I mean to use his bare partisan majority to keep out witnesses and rush through the proceedings. The Senate has heard from witnesses at all 15 impeachment trials. FWIW, any senator can offer a resolution to call a witness; these resolutions require a simple majority vote.
Amending the articles of impeachment? Did you know the House can amend the articles of impeachment after they have been sent to the Senate? Me neither. It happened in 1936; maybe the House will add additional charges.
Are the courts slow-walking impeachment-related litigation? Slate wonders. We do, too.
FIXING CONGRESS & CONGRESSIONAL OPS
Franking. As we mentioned above, the Franking Commission (now formally named the House Communications Standards Commission) published its first ever public website, where you can browse mass mail Members send to their constituents. This follows the publication of a new communications standards manual in December. We’re excited about the new transparency — kudos! — and we hope the website will improve its interface, including using unique URLs for each member (so you can track by member) and getting rid of the captcha (so you can scrape the data).
Haste makes waste. Thousands of feds won’t receive 12 weeks of paid parental leave because of drafting errors in the NDAA, which was rushed through. We don’t know how the bill affects Congressional employees). Sen. Schatz introduced a bill to correct some mistakes; no word on its prospects.
Why defer to DOJ? Its Office of Legal Counsel opined that Virginia’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment would not be effective, but honestly, OLC gets a far amount wrong and there’s no reason to defer to them. OLC opinions constitute a body of secret law that control executive branch policy on issues like torture (and now the ERA). The OLC SUNLIGHT Act introduced in September would provide congressional access to (often secret) OLC opinions.
PACER. The Federal Courts announced a working group on improving PACER, perhaps to head off public and congressional efforts to fix the expensive and poorly run court record system.
Come on, Joe. Biden donated 1850 boxes of his Senate records (1973 to 2009) to the University of Delaware with a release date of December 31, 2019 — two years after retiring from public office. Now, the University won’t release the records until two years after Biden “retires from public life.” Maybe it’s time to rethink whether a senator’s personal office records should be treated like committee records, i.e. as owned by the American people.
Direct Links: A Congress.gov update lets you link directly to specific sections of legislation.
Harhvard. My favorite Harvard Law Review proposal, just released, suggests turning DC into dozens of states and using them to amend the constitution. The tongue-in-cheek essay makes a very strong argument about what’s wrong with the Constitution and how not to be victim to the dead hand of the past.
Former Rep. Chris Collins faces sentencing this Friday for insider trading charges and lying to the FBI (court filings here). Collins was re-elected to Congress, after charges became public in late 2018, and did not resign until the end of September. (See the OCE Report here).
Rep. Duncan Hunter officially resigns from Congress today, which brings the total number of Members of the House to 430. There will not be a special election to fill Hunter’s seat. Hunter committed a felony (OCE Report), yet he’ll still cash in on his Congressional pension. Former members-turned-lobbyists cannot go to the House floor or the House gym — what about convicted felons? It’s ok? (Maybe Rule IV, clause 4 of the House rules should be amended.)
New GA GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler will sit on a committee that oversees the agency that regulates her husband’s business.
Psuedo-lobbyist. Former Sen. Barbara Boxer doesn’t plan to register as a lobbyist despite joining Mercury Public Affairs as the firm’s co-chairman; it represents corporations and foreign governments. See the firm’s FARA form here.
ODDS & ENDS
USCP arrested 20 protestors by the Capitol. We’ve got the round up.
Rep. AOC rightly noted that Democrats are a multiparty coalition. Here’s how we imagine it.
The Parliamentarian published volume II in the new series “Precedents of the US House of Representatives”.
• R Street is hosting a panel, “Building a 21st Century Congress That Works” at 12 in the Capitol Visitor Center, Room 264. Experts will discuss what’s going right in Congress, what’s going wrong, and how our national legislature might be improved.
• The Fix Congress Committee has a hearing on “Article One: Restoring Capacity and Equipping Congress to Better Serve the American People” at 2 in Rayburn Room 2020. Stream it here.
• TechCongress is hosting its 2020 Congressional Innovation Fellowship Launch at 5:30 in Dirksen G11.
• The House Committee on Homeland Security will hold a hearing on U.S.-Iran Tensions and its Implications for Homeland Security at 10 am in 310 Cannon.
• The Reiss Center on Law and Security at NYU is hosting a panel at 12 titled “Reforming the FISA Process: Proposals for the Future.” FYI the event is in Manhattan. Can’t make the event? Learn more about the issue at section215.org.
Down the Line
• Emerging Case Law on Congressional Oversight, Levin Center, January 24 at National Press Club. RSVP.
• State of the Union is set for February 4