Congratulations on making it through Election Week. We’re going to walk through what to expect during the interregnum and beyond, but first, if you’re new to our little newsletter or are reading a forwarded email, why not subscribe?
THE TOP LINE
In an unusual election cycle, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris have yet to be acknowledged as the winners of the presidential race by congressional Republican leaders (e.g. Sen. McConnell and Rep. McCarthy) amid Pres. Trump’s intentionally false claims of voter fraud and that he won the election — and Pres. Trump’s long standing unwillingness to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. Somehow Democrats appear to have lost seats (largely more conservative Democrats) in the House despite massive fundraising and winning the presidential tally by 4 million votes; Dems also managed to narrow control in the Senate without taking over (with two races — in Georgia! — outstanding).
But you know all this. The apparent Democratic failure to take control of the Senate is unusual in historical terms, as an incoming president usually has a majority. While some say Senate Republicans will largely acquiesce to President-elect Biden on his nominees in light of a long history of Senate deference, others argue that Biden will need to pick folks who meet Republican litmus tests and should narrow his vision accordingly. There’s a third option: Biden can use recess appointments and the Vacancy Act to circumvent a Senate buzzsaw. With our majoritarian Senate, option 3 is the path of least resistance, although it reinforces historic trends of undermining Congress’s powers.
But that’s a fight for January 20th and there’s a lot that must happen in the next 72 days. There’s new member orientation, leadership elections, committee assignments, appropriations expiring on December 11th, a possible COVID economic relief bill, the NDAA, dozens of bills that are ready to become laws, and the adoption of House rules. Oh, and Congress has to certify the election results. LOL.
RESOURCES FOR NEW AND RETURNING MEMBERS
We find the post-election pre-inauguration time period confusing. It is where new members are oriented and, for a brief moment, it is possible to change the power dynamics between leadership, committees, and individual members. We’ve put together an overly-detailed compilation of resources for new members that explains how all this works, drawing together the hard-to-find rules that govern these processes with the names of the people in power. There are gaps where leadership has withheld information from public view.
New member orientation. One of the murkier bits of a new Congress is new Member orientation. We think the following entities are organizing programming: the House of Representatives (Nov. 12-21; Nov. 30-Dec. 5), the Senate (dates unknown), the Heritage Foundation (Nov. 10), Harvard’s Institute of Politics (Dec. 7-8, 14-15), the Tech, Science, and Data Cohort (Dec. 9), and the Congressional Management Foundation (no dates announced). The political arms also hold orientation events; we also hear that the usual 3-day retreat in Williamsburg, VA, traditionally hosted by CRS in early January, has been postponed at least until mid-spring (if not later). (Note: Harvard IOP ran a problematic orientation last time, so it will be interesting to see whether it has changed — they do not appear to have publicly announced their speakers.)
Elections. House Democratic leadership elections reportedly will occur on Nov. 18 & 19; it was expected there would be only a handful of contested races, but with the poor election results there may be more. Contested committee elections are scheduled for Nov. 30 (likely for Appropriations, Foreign Affairs, and Agriculture), although the Democratic Policy and Steering Committee must meet prior to that date to choose which candidates can go forward. We don’t have information about timing for House Republican leadership or Senate party elections, although there does appear to be some shuffling that will take place. In the Senate, Agriculture and Budget are vacant, and the chairs of Finance and HSGAC have hit their term limits. We covered the fight over leadership two years ago; it’s worth reviewing. For example, will there be a “no” option for uncontested races?
Caucus and Conference Rules. There is no information on whether any changes to party caucus or conference rules are on the table. By way of example, Speaker Pelosi pledged to limit her Speakership (and Hoyer and Clyburn in their positions) to 3 terms — requiring a 2/3s vote to serve a 4th, final term — and had announced a vote on adding that provision to the caucus rules would take place on Feb. 15, 2019, but it apparently never did. (There are now trial balloons to keep Pelosi on beyond four terms, even while her return this time could be bumpy.) FWIW, we released a series of recommendations for updating the House Democratic Caucus rules, requested that Dems publish their Steering and Policy Committee rules and members, and have encouraged Senate Democrats to publish their caucus rules.
Other caucuses. In addition to the party caucuses there are many other congressional caucuses that wield power in the House and Senate. POLITICO had a recent story on an effort to change how the Progressive Caucus organizes, but we’ve seen little else with respect to the other caucuses. We haven’t dug in to when they’ll be holding their membership meetings. We think these caucuses should be strengthened across the board, like the old Democratic Study Group.
House and Senate Rules. House Democrats have been hard at work updating the House’s Rules. Last Congress, House Democrats put together highlights of proposed changes that the Washington Post published on Nov. 15th, and we wonder whether a similar document is currently being prepared. We hope so. The caucus will have to adopt the legislative text, most likely at the end of December, for implementation on the first day of the new Congress. We made our own recommendations for inclusion in the rules package. (We should note that last Congress’s House rules package made a number of important, salutary changes.) It is unclear whether anything will change in the Senate, with power in part dependent upon the results of the two Senate elections in Georgia, but we’ve made recommendations for updating its operations.
Certifying election results. Congress meets for a joint session at the start of January to certify the validity of electoral votes, count them, and declare the official result (see more from CRS). This act is particularly important this year as President Trump’s congressional allies could contest the election outcome.
Committee funding resolutions. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but the Committee on House Administration and Senate Rules Committee will determine how much money to make available to each Congressional committee in their respective chambers. The House hearing was held in March 2019; the Senate hearing was in February, although both could happen earlier. That funding determination lasts for two years. These allotments are a big deal: without proper funding committees can’t afford to retain the expertise and talent they need to legislate and conduct oversight as effectively as possible; see the decline in House and Senate resources over the last decade. The top line number for all committees is determined in the Legislative branch appropriations bill, which will be wrapped into the omnibus in December.
Chair Yarmuth announced plans for 2022 budget resolution. The document, which sets discretionary spending levels and is used to calculate debt & deficit numbers five years out, was skipped the last two years. The change up coincides with budget caps expiring in 2021.
LAME DUCK LEGISLATING
2021 Spending Bills & Coronavirus Relief. Government funding runs out on December 11th. Sen. McConnell recently announced he’s newly supportive of an omnibus appropriations deal during the lame duck, and news reports suggest Pelosi is willing as well. Two big questions are (1) whether Pres. Trump would be willing to sign off, and (2) whether Democrats think they’d be better off with waiting until Pres. Biden is in office and can convince Sen. McConnell to do so. I don’t know why Speaker Pelosi agreed to have the CR end in December. With respect to COVID relief, BGOV reported a major stimulus is unlikely before January, with Dems having negotiated themselves down from $3.5 to $2.4T, Trump at $1.9T, and McConnell at $0.5T. It’s going to be a long, cold winter. There’s reason to believe Senate Republicans will use austerity as a tool to undermine the Biden administration by knee-capping any possible recovery.
Unfinished Business. Members want their bills passed before they turn into pumpkins at the end of the Congress. We compiled a lengthy list of pending good government bills that we hope won’t be left behind. The Fulcrum also spotlighted anti-corruption measures to take up next Congress, but in an alternate universe of Democratic control of government.
What’s outstanding? The Fix Congress Cmte and House Admin Cmte have continued to publish support office and agency reports that were required in H.Res. 756. We published our latest article on what reports are still outstanding and what reports have been submitted from support offices and agencies. We count six past-due items from the CAO and one past-due item from the CAO & Clerk jointly; more than half of CAO’s items are at least 4 months late. Another outstanding question: will the Fix Congress committee return next year?
OUT WITH THE OLD
With at least 3 committee chairs leaving the House and many other Members separating from the Legislative branch, what happens to all their stuff? Committee records belong to Congress and need to be provided to the National Archives. Retiring Members can do whatever they wish with their personal office records — they could burn them in a bonfire — but some entities will take them, including the National Archives and the Carl Albert Center Congressional Archives (collection policy) + (guide to collections). There’s even a little known entity, the Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress, that brings together the House, Senate, and academic centers on Congressional documents.
The Speaker Emeritus? For many years, the Speaker emeritus was provided with an office for five years to wind things up. But in 2018 appropriators eliminated funding for that perquisite.
COVID testing in the Capitol will finally be expanded. The Air Force is providing 2,000 PCR tests per week. The announcement was unclear — will testing be available to staff and Capitol employees? Under what circumstances? Sigh. FWIW, we think now’s also the time to expand proxy voting to remote deliberations just in case.
House Democrats’ Resume Bank will now be accessible to the Senate and demo’d during Freshman Orientation. The website has also been upgraded with features like job posting capabilities and collaborative candidate lists. Know a good candidate? Encourage them to apply to the Progressive Talent Pipeline by November 15th. Also, our Twitter account tweets out all the jobs we find from across the Capitol complex.
Unionizing could impact work conditions for Congressional employees; their UK counterparts have unionized for years and just last week used their collective voice to call for hybrid proceedings as coronavirus cases surge and lock down is implemented.
While we’re learning from our neighbors across the pond: the UK Political Studies Association will analyze the Impact of COVID-19 on Parliaments this Wednesday.
OVERSIGHT & POWER OF THE PURSE
The CR runs out in December and it is possible another one is coming our way; CRS has the details on how CRs work. And their new report on the SOPOEA (i.e., the Senate MRA) has useful information on personal office spending levels.
The House dropped a lawsuit for Trump’s tax returns as his presidency comes to a close. The fact that Trump successfully ran out the clock ($) in the courts is symptomatic of a larger problem: Congress needs stronger tools to enforce oversight that don’t rely on the Executive or Judicial branches.
ODDS & ENDS
It was odd watching the Democratic Caucus meeting play out in real time on Twitter and astonishing that audio of that meeting made it to the Washington Post. Unsurprisingly, AOC’s tweet-thread and later interview with the NYT on why Dems under-performed was thoughtful, detailed, and substantive regarding campaign failings. (I also enjoyed the thread on Tuvix; Janeway was wrong.)
Star Trek caucus. I’ve met enough Members of Congress that are fans of Star Trek that there should be a caucus. It would be bipartisan, cover the wings inside the party, and be a lot of fun. I’d be happy to form an advisory committee in support of its goals: to live long and prosper.
No Capitol Police Arrests were reported last week.
GAO released a tech assessment guide to help agencies design methodologies for analyzing the impact of tech.
An mid-pandemic inauguration: Roll Call covered the Joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies planning.
• New Member Orientation for the House starts today.
• The Progressive Caucus Center is hosting their Progressive Strategy Summit on November 12th and 13th. Registration is free.
• New Member Orientation for the House continues today.
Down the Line
• Advisory Committee on the Records of Congress is holding their next meeting on Monday, December 7th, 2020 at 1pm. Register here.