Forecast for June 15, 2020

THE TOP LINE

The House schedule has changed againJune 25 and 26 are for police reform legislation; the week of June 29 is for health care and infrastructure (!!!!); and the last two weeks of July are for Appropriations and NDAA.

Apropos approps: Oddly, the Senate will start approps mark-ups first, and some subcommittee bills will go directly to the full committee. (How will skipping subcommittee markup affect the contents?) Did we miss when Senate appropriators held oversight hearings? For this week, we only see S. FSGG, an FCC oversight hearing set for Tues. By the way, our approps requests are here.

SASC cleared the FY21 NDAA, floor debate is expected next week. This year’s package totals roughly $740 billion and authorizes $636.4 billion for the Pentagon budget and another $69 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations. A reminder: OCO is basically a huge discretionary slush fund that is not subject to budget caps.

Open means online when it comes to committee proceedings. Last Monday a coalition called on the Sen. Foreign Relations committee to livestream its proceedings after it inappropriately refused to allow a video livestream; Roll Call put the request in context in this news story.

We hold these truths— Speaker Pelosi called for removing confederate statues in the U.S. Capitol and requested the Joint Committee on the Library “immediately take steps to remove these 11 statues from display.” Among the statues: the president and vice president of the confederacy. We and the R Street Institute applauded the request. According to Politico, Sen. Blunt, who chairs the JCL, said Congress has no power to move the statues out of the Capitol short of passing a law, sidestepping the question of JCL’s power to relocate them — which we described last week and in this 2017 op-ed w/ the R Street Institute. I’d consider placing them underneath the crypt or in a sub-basement hallway; Speaker Pelosi had moved the statue of Robert E. Lee during her first term as Speaker. Regardless, the House could pass a concurrent resolution to force the location issue with the Senate; it could include language in the approps or NDAA bills; and committee members could force the JCL to hold a hearing. Also, the JCL chair rotates between the House and Senate, so this could come up next year — Vice Chair Lofgren has long supported their removal.

Who’s hiring on the Hill? We’ve built a new Twitter bot that consolidates job postings on Capitol Hill from nearly 20 sources, from member offices to the Architect to CBO. It’s a work in progress; send us feedback.

A lot is happening with Congress in the coming weeks, we will help you keep uptell your colleagues to subscribe.

OVERSIGHT

The Trump Administration continues to dodge Constitutional oversight requests by refusing to disclose at a Senate small Business hearing where $511 billion to small business loans are going; they’re also stonewalling GAO.

Try, try again. HASC Chair Smith wrote another letter to Defense Sec. Esper requesting the defense chief and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provide by June 11 their availability for an open hearing by HASC on the military’s role in civil protests. This request comes after last week’s refusal by Esper and Milley to appear before HASC. Our suggestion: reduce authorized funding by a billion a day until you get a commitment.

Customs and Border Protection broke the law by misspending funds Congress directed for migrant medical care on motorcycles, dirtbikes, and other items, according to a new GAO report. Cue the Congressional Power of the Purse Act?

Can you conduct oversight on your boss? Yes, that’s a ridiculous question, but some acting inspectors general are asked to oversee their agency heads while also reporting to them. GovExec smartly reported on the problem, and pointed to a new letter from GAO that outlines key principles for maintaining the independence of IGs, including “options for strengthening these protections” that should be put into law.

What happens if a contingent president dies? A contingent election is one where no candidate wins an absolute majority of votes in the electoral college. Sen. Rob Portman just intro’d the Twentieth Amendment Section Four Study Act, which would establish a panel of constitutional experts to recommend to Congress an appropriate process in case there is a death of a candidate in a contingent presidential or vice-presidential election.

There’s still no chair to the Bailout Oversight Committee. We’re coming up on 80 days.

APPROPRIATIONS AND NDAA

We are trying to imagine how appropriations will go, especially as the House and Senate haven’t agreed on 302(b) allocations and COVID-19 has scrambled the usual approach of a copy-and-paste election-year CR. Our best guess is they will kick the can until the interregnum after the elections.

We are also fascinated by the important symbolic efforts to belatedly strip military bases of confederate names and symbols, and we wonder how that overlaps with efforts to decrease the size of the defense authorization and prevent the transfer of military weapons to the police.

SASC voted to reject the Pentagon’s proposal to weaken revolving door protections after a combination of good government groups wrote a letter to the committee and Reps. Porter and Speirer wrote an op ed in LawFare about the attempts to weaken the ethics laws.

SASC also voted not to accept an amendment to the Insurrection Act — on a party-line vote — that would have required consultation with Congress prior to presidential use of that authority to direct the military against civilians.

REMOTE PROCEEDINGS

The House of Lords is expected to vote remotely for the first time on June 15th and has a clever video on how it all works. They’ve been testing the procedures all this past week.

Meanwhile, the Senate is struggling with its hybrid hearings (where you don’t actually count if you’re not present) and the House has the potential of a five-day committee workweek, but isn’t taking advantage of it.

CONGRESSIONAL OPS

Senator Tim Scott called for a more diverse Senate staff, but there’s no demographic data on where things stand. We submitted testimony to the House and Senate in 2018 asking for a staff pay, retention, and diversity study: the House agreed; Senate approps agreed, but Sen. McConnell removed the Senate’s language on diversity. The House study is out and the Senate study was due on March 21, but I have a vague recollection that the timeframe was pushed back. Incidentally, the House didn’t publish the study as data, but as a PDF, so we laboriously typed it into these spreadsheets; we also have the text of all the prior reports for both chambers going back to the early 80s. Meanwhile, the House established an Office of Diversity and Inclusion in 2019, and we recently joined a letter organized by NALEO calling on the Senate to do the same. Our friend Dr. Casey Burgat has some interesting insights into Senate diversity; and the Joint Center is doing a lot of work on this topic.

Fix Congress talks staff pay. Last Monday, SCOMC held a virtual discussion to examine the congressional staff data and trends to better understand how the House can attract and retain a talented and diverse workforce.

Rep. Bobby Rush shared footage of Chicago PD lounging and eating food in his district office instead of dealing with looters during the huge protests over police brutality. The uninvited guests included 13 police officers — including three supervisors — who were caught on video lounging in the office over a 5-hour period.

A flurry of Leg. BranchSubcommittee items and reports are due in the coming days, including an AOC study on accessibility of Capitol tours as well as a report from the CAO on the Congressional Staff Tuition Assistance Program. Check out the complete list of items that are due in June.

The Senate Recording Studio apparently experienced a power outage on Tuesday night, causing the control room to go down on Wednesday, resulting in issues connecting to livestream Senate hearings.

The Thurmond Rule may be gone for good. Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s continual push for judicial confirmations has eroded the chamber’s unwritten agreement to stop circuit court confirmations in the months leading up to the general election. McConnell himself cited the rule as minority leader on June 13, 2012, during Obama’s first term.

TRANSPARENCY

Staffed Out. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s upcoming briefing on New START and Beyond is at TS/SCI level, which means personal congressional office staff will not be able to attend or be briefed. The Senate should expand staff clearances to enhance oversight.

NARA is seeking member nominations to the FOIA Advisory Committee, with a July 2 deadline.

Section 343. It’s highly concerning that the Justice in Policing Act includes a FOIA ‘exemption’ for law enforcement officer’s names who engage in racial profiling that are collected by the DOJ. House Judiciary is holding a hearing on the bill Wednesday, a markup this week, and a floor vote next week.

ETHICS

An investigative panel has been created by the House Ethics Committee regarding Del. San Nicholas’ alleged participation in a sexual relationship with a member of his congressional staff, conversion of campaign funds for personal use, acceptance of improper excessive campaign contributions, and more. The 4-Member panel will be chaired by Rep. Meng (D), with Rep. Walorski (R) as the Ranking Member, and Reps. Soto (D) and Hartzler (R) filling the other two spots.

Rep. Hastings is no longer the subject of a House Ethics Committee investigation into his personal relationship with a member of his staff. The Committee declined to take action in part because House Rules prohibiting nepotistic hiring grandfather in people hired prior to the 113th Congress; and that he was married to the staffer at the start of this Congress, which is when the rule prohibiting sexual relationships with subordinates was instated (with an exception for spouses). The staffer is a long-time girlfriend, according to the Miami Herald. Hastings had previously been connected with office interactions that resulted in litigation.

A gamble that paid off. The Daily Beast reported last week that NV Rep. Lee pushed for Treasury and SBA to grant COVID-related loans for casinos, only to have her husband receive two related loans a few weeks later, according to SEC filings.

ODDS & ENDS

Capitol Police disclosed two arrests in this week’s report, one for unlawful entry and the other for spray painting on the wall near the U.S. Capitol Building. Is it me, or does that number seems low given the circumstances? This brings USCP’s total number of arrests to 677 since January 2019. We mapped out all of the arrests over the last 18 months.

Acting OMB Director Vought was approved along party lines (11-10) by the Senate Budget Committee to become permanent director, setting up a full Senate vote. Vought was confirmed as deputy director in 2018 by a 50-49 vote, with VP Pence breaking the tie.

Harry Reid is cancer free. Former Senate Majority Leader told Paul Kane in an interview last Thursday that he “feels good” two years after his original pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

EVENTS

• Library of Congress Cancelled all public events until September 1.

Tuesday

• Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government is holding “An Oversight Hearing to Examine the Federal Communications Commission Spectrum Auctions Programs for Fiscal Year 2021” at 10 am in 124 Dirksen.

• Senate Judiciary is holding a hearing “To Examine Police Use of Force and Community Relations” at 2:30 pm in 106 Dirksen.

Thursday

• Senate Judiciary is holding a “Business Meeting to Consider S.685, to amend the Inspector General Act of 1978 relative to the powers of the Department of Justice Inspector General” at 10a am in 325 Russell.

Down the Line

• On Wednesday June 24th, the Levin Center is hosting a panel entitled “Battling Cybersecurity Threats: Role of Congressional Oversight” from 2 pm to 3:15 pm.