Pundits, prognosticators, and pols are starting to talk openly about the interregnum between the election and the start of the 117th Congress… and what comes afterward. This NYT opinion piece, for example, outlines a pro-democracy agenda to “end minority rule” and push back on anti-democratic practices undertaken by the Trump administration and its congressional allies. On their checklist: protecting and supporting the right to vote, reducing gerrymandering, eliminating the filibuster, granting DC and PR statehood, and ending the electoral college. On ours: restoring funding to Congress and reinvigorating its powers.
Speaking of Judge Barrett, the Senate Judiciary Committee ignored its own rule (Rule III(1)) that requires two members of the minority party to be present to constitute a quorum for transacting business, and Sen. Schumer’s point of order that would have protected the rights of Committee members was voted down on the Senate floor 53-44. We’ve discussed previously the vast irregularities of the Senate proceedings concerning Judge Barrett, which Senate Democrats have highlighted by forcing the Senate majority to work its will without the usual consent granted by the minority. For all intents and purposes, Sen. McConnell has transformed the Senate into a majoritarian institution. Should Democrats take control of the Senate, the big question is whether members of that party will stay as united on protecting their agenda as Sen. McConnell has gotten his members to stay united in protecting his.
How will we know if the Dems are serious? I can’t say for sure, but an early sign will be whether Sen. Feinstein returns as chair of the Judiciary Committee. The alignment of capable committee chairs to Democratic priorities is a significant indicator of their seriousness to move forward an agenda — which will depend on how they structure their (still secret) caucus rules.
Let’s give McConnell the last word on this today. “A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election. They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented legislative challenges unlike anything modern governments have ever seen. In response to COVID-19, legislatures across the world have adapted to remain connected to one another and their constituents, pass emergency legislation to provide relief, and oversee the executive to ensure that funds and programs are effectively delivered.
On Thursday at 12:30 pm ET, the International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform (iLegis), in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, is hosting a free webinar with legislative experts to discuss the challenges faced by legislatures around the world. Panelists include Dr. Ronan Cormacain (British Institute of International and Comparative Law), Dr. Ittai Bar-Siman-Tov (Bar Ilan University), and Mr. Noah Wofsy (U.S. House of Representatives). It will be moderated by Tobias Dorsey (White House Office of Administration). The webinar will include a Q&A with participants.
Thursday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a meeting to consider the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barret on Thursday. In addition, there’s a growing effort to push Sen. Feinstein out as the Committee’s Democratic leader after she poorly handled the proceedings. I have a lot to say on what’s happened, so please read Barrett, Graham, Feinstein, and de Tocqueville.
COVID deal fake-out. The negotiations are just for show and the upcoming Senate vote is cynical. Speaker Pelosi missed her chance back in the spring to insist on different priorities, and everything has ineluctably followed from that.
House Dem leadership election dates are set for November 18th and 19th, the first week the House comes back in session after the election, with votes for contested committee chairs on the 30th. (Anyone know the dates for the Senate or House Rs?)
House Rules. We hosted a webinar on how the House of Representatives will consider updating its rules and some of the ideas under consideration. Check out the video and the slides from the presentation. We summarized the proposals put forward by Members of Congress before the House Rules committee to modernize the House rules. Here are our ideas.
Party rules. After the election, the parties will hold elections and transact a lot of other business. House Democrats, House Republicans, and Senate Republicans now post their party rules; Senate Dems seemingly do not. We ran down (as far as we could) who gets to appoint committee members, i.e., those who are on the House Democratic Steering Committee and Republican Steering Committee, although we don’t have the full list. We don’t know who serves in that capacity in the Senate. And we had no luck at all in obtaining the rules of procedure for the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. More on the chair races below.
I watched a little of this past week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings and can’t say I enjoyed — or was enlightened — by it very much. Alexis de Tocqueville observed 185 year ago that “there is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one.” While members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a certain Supreme Court nominee might publicly contend otherwise, there’s hardly a question about the fitness of a judicial nominee that isn’t actually a political question. That is what judicial confirmation hearings are all about: the judgment of the person nominated to become a Justice.
We hosted a webinar on October 14th, 2020, on the process by which the House of Representatives will consider its rules for the 117th Congress and some of the big ideas that have been proposed to modernize those rules. We are pleased to make the video available online as well as publish our slides from the presentation.
At the start of the new Congress, the House of Representatives will adopt new procedural rules that govern nearly every aspect of how it conducts business. In preparation, the House Rules Committee held a Members’ Day hearing on October 1, 2020, where it heard testimony from 16 Members in person over more than 3 hours, and received written comments from another 5 members.
The following is a high level summary of the requests from each Member. Demand Progress has its own recommendations on what rules should be updated, which are available here.
Senate rules and procedure are in the news with the ongoing confirmation proceedings for Judge Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is why we hosted a webinar with three Senate rules and procedure experts on October 8, 2020, focused on the nomination and Judiciary and floor procedure. The panelists were:
Sarah Binder, senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and professor of political science at GW
Matt Glassman, senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown
Molly Reynolds, senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution
Daniel Schuman, moderator, policy director at Demand Progress
Didn’t catch the event live? Watch it online below or click here.
Welcome to a shorter-than-normal First Branch Forecast. You might notice that we get more political than usual at parts of this week’s newsletter. Our focus is on a strong and capable legislative branch, and I can’t think of a more honest way to present the material. I hope it still provides useful insights.
THE TOP LINE The Senate Judiciary Committee holds the first day of its norm-defying SCOTUS confirmation hearing for Judge Barrett this morning. How might it play out? We hosted a discussion late last week with experts on Senate procedure that you can watch here.
No COVID relief. Pres. Trump now says he wants a relief bill coming in above $2.2T while Senate Republicans are below $1T. What this means is that Pres. Trump wants to campaign on non-existent COVID relief (to rally the stock market) and Senate R’s are leery about getting primaried in 2022 for supporting the measure. This might be the start of the post-Trump era in the Senate (but not necessarily post-Trumpism).
Wait, what? Yeah, certain Senate Republicans are gingerly putting distance between themselves and the president, and we can all speculate why. My cynical view is that the absence of a significant COVID-relief bill; the failure to advance approps, the upcoming CR fight, and possible government shut-down; and a rushed effort to remake the SCOTUS are all tacit recognition by Senate R leadership of a likely Biden administration and Democratic Congress. In short, I think they are setting up time bombs to blow up the transition and sink the incoming administration.
This weekend has been insane. I hope you’re staying safe. Here’s some of what’s inside:
• Coronavirus and the Supreme Court: what a 47-47 Senate means for the Barrett nomination.
• How to protect Congress, its staff, the press, and everyone else.
• The House Rules Committee heard ideas on how to fix Congress — what are they?
Of course — you know us — there’s a lot more on transparency, ethics, power of the purse, and oversight.
Interested in learning more about Senate rules and procedure? We’re hosting an online Q&A, with noted Senate rules experts Sarah Binder and Matt Glassman (other guests TBA), this Thursday at 3:30 pm ET. RSVP here.
Interested in learning more about modernizing the House rules? We’re planning a briefing for House staff, but open to everyone, that focuses on how House rules are changed, some of the top recommendations made so far for reform, and an opportunity to answer your questions (in a format where your identity is protected). RSVP here for the presentation made by yours truly on Wednesday, Oct. 14, set for 4:00 pm ET.