First Branch Forecast: February 8, 2021

The Senate finally is organized, budget reconciliation is prioritized, and impeachment has materialized. Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Please tell your friends to subscribe.

THE TOP LINE

Dems took control of Senate committees on Wednesday, two weeks late, when the chamber adopted its organizing resolution after Sen. McConnell withdrew his objections.

A security supplemental appropriations bill is in the worksaccording to Speaker Pelosi, who said Congress needs to strengthen security for Members. She also called for a 9/11-style commission to examine the security failures that led to the insurrection.

A strong Congress is essential to a strong democracy. With 3 dozen organizations, we sent a bipartisan coalition letter endorsing a 10% increase in funding for Congress, or a comparatively paltry $500ish million, to mitigate decades of damage to the Legislative branch. More here from us; and here’s Chris Marquette’s story.

House Dems will begin to craft a relief bill this week after a budget resolution was adoptedto allow the Senate to move the bill through reconciliation. No floor votes are scheduled this week or next, but House committees have a February 16 deadline to submit legislation for inclusion in the package. Budget reconciliation is a byzantine and lengthy process that can weaken legislation, but it is necessary so long as Sen. McConnell retains the ability to filibuster, blocking more productive legislative avenues.

Impeachment begins tomorrow; both sides filed their briefs last week.

Rep. Greene was stripped of her committee assignments after House Republicans refused to hold her accountable. The resolution was adopted with the support of 11 GOP Members. Rep. Babin, perhaps at the behest of leadership, offered an amendment to replace Rep. Greene’s name with Rep. Ilhan Omar. By choosing to substitute one member for another, these Republicans signaled they did not believe Rep. Greene’s behavior was worthy of punishment, for if they were serious about articulating a standard then Rep. Greene’s name would surely have stayed in place.

COVID-19 is mutating, spreading quickly, and possibly re-infecting people. The House should stop holding drawn-out floor votes and move to fully remote proceedings; the Senate should make it possible to remotely deliberate and vote in committees and on the floor.

Busy today? I’ll be speaking about “Creating and Improving Pathways for STEM Professionals to Advise Congress,” alongside Harvard’s Laura Manley and UMD’s Joan Burton, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference today at 3pm. Come to watch us, stay for Dr. Fauci.

BUDGET RECONCILIATION

The budget resolution was adopted in the Senate (51-50) after Thursday’s 15 hour vote-a-rama — GOP senators proposed nearly 900 amendments. In total, 41 roll call votes were held and 22 amendments were adopted. The Congressional Progressive Caucus Center has a succinct explainer of the adopted amendments.

The resolution was then adopted by the House (219-209) Friday afternoon, clearing the way for Congress to pass a relief bill before UI benefits expire on March 14th. Majority House Leader Hoyer aims for the House to vote on a stimulus package the week of February 22nd.

APPROPRIATIONS AND COMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTS

House Appropriations held their organizing meeting on Thursday and welcomed their new Members and staff to the committee. During the meeting, Chair Delauro announced that there will be no committee-sponsored travel until federal guidelines indicate it’s safe to do so.

House Dem Appropriations subcommittee vice chairs were announced by full committee Chair Delauro on Thursday. Rep. Clark was named Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Legislative Branch.

New Senate Committee memberships. Majority Leader Schumer announced the Senate Democratic committee memberships for the 117th Congress on Tuesday. Sen. Heinrich is the only new face on the Senate Appropriations Committee; the spot was previously held by Sen. Udall, who retired last year. Sen. Warren received a spot on the Finance Committee.

Senate Dem Caucus adopted Sen. Murphy’s amendment to allow more junior senators to serve as chairs of (more desirable) subcommittees. The measure was passed via private ballot on Thursday, overcoming an effort by more senior members to delay implementation. BTW, we still hope the Senate Democratic Caucus will publish its rules online.

GOP Senate Committee memberships. On Wednesday, Minority Leader McConnell announced Republican committee members. Freshman Sen. Hagerty replaces his predecessor Sen. Alexander on the Appropriations Committee.

IMPEACHMENT

Unmistakable. There is “no question” that former President Trump’s actions before and on January 6th lead to the insurrection at the Capitol, according to the arguments laid out from the nine House impeachment managers in their 80-page brief. Former President Trump’s 14-page brief is here.

The magic number remains 17. Several former GOP lawmakers wrote it is clear that Trump must be held accountable for an unprecedented attack on democracy. Also, congressional staff wrote an unusual open letter to GOP senators asking them to vote to convict former President Trump, citing their personal experiences during the insurrection.

No surprise. Former President Trump’s legal team plans to argue that the entire impeachment is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office. Also, perhaps, that he won the election but for fraud. Both arguments are inaccurate.

Short and not-so sweet. Senior party leaders are still working out the details for the proceedings. We still don’t know how much time the House impeachment managers and ex-Pres. Trump’s defense will get to present their cases and whether there will be witnesses. (Pres. Trump declined a request to testify.)

THE GREENE PARTY AND CHENEY

Greene removed. On Thursday, the House voted (230-199) to remove Rep. Greene from her committee assignments. The resolution was brought after Minority Leader McCarthy and GOP leadership decided not to hold Rep. Greene accountable. Two weeks ago, GOP leadership granted Greene spots on the Budget and Ed & Labor Committee despite her previous remarks that included calling the Parkland shooting a “false flag” operation and endorsing violence against Speaker Pelosi. House Republicans have punished other members for less egregious behavior.

The full embrace. There were reports Rep. Greene received a standing ovation after she gave a closed door speech to the Republican conference. Leader McCarthy and GOP leadership chose to take on Dems, unconvincingly complaining the move was an unprecedented “partisan power grab.” When will House Republicans put their own house in order?

Rep. Gomez is still pushing for Greene’s expulsion from Congress in his latest op-ed. This would require a 2/3s vote of the House.

Rep. Cheney remains in GOP leadership after the conference vote to oust her failed. The final tally was 145 to 61 with one abstention. What would the vote have looked like had it been public? How much of this is being driven by Leader McCarthy’s desire to stay in power?

CONGRESSIONAL PROCEDURE

Learning to share. The agreed upon two-year organizing resolution is based on a 2001 deal struck the last time chamber was evenly split. This agreement, S.Res. 27, allows for the same number of GOP and Dems on committees, although Dems control committee chairs. Interested in reading the Senate floor colloquy? It’s here.

Agenda setting. The agreement also grants Majority Leader Schumer control of the agenda on the floor, but expresses that both majority and minority leaders “shall seek to attain an equal balance of interest of the two parties when scheduling and debating legislative and executive business generally.”

Cloture and the filibuster. The organizing resolution would not change the chamber’s cloture rules that require 60 votes to limit debate on certain kinds of legislation, and wouldn’t preclude changes to the filibuster, which was the key sticking point for Sen. McConnell. S.Res. 27 prohibits the filing of a cloture motion on an amendable item during the first 12 hours of debate on the floor — similar to the 2001 agreement.

Tanden hearings scheduled. Both Senate HSGAC and Budget are scheduled to hold hearings this week on the nomination of Neera Tanden to become director of OMB.

The House Rules Committee adopted its rules for the 117th Congress on Tuesday.

TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

NARA continues to transfer records from the Trump White House amid concerns that officials did not adequately preserve them.

The Biden WH said it cannot “unilaterally” release Trump WH visitor logs as they are now under the control of NARA. If accurate, a legislative solution might be an easy fix.

The highest degree of transparency is paramount in Biden’s national security and foriegn policy workforce, according to a February 4th memo released by the White House. We’ll see.

FARA enforcement will remain a top Biden DOJ priority despite office leadership changes.

The Library of Congress announced last week it plans to create a public committee with external stakeholders to improve technology-related aspects of the U.S. Copyright Office’s ongoing modernization initiative. Applications are requested. While this is great news, we strongly believe the same kind of public committee should also be created for legislative data.

CONGRESSIONAL OPS

The House Whistleblower Ombuds released its 2020 annual report. The report indicated that in the office’s inaugural year, it conducted 83 training sessions for over 400 individuals and responded to 60 inquiries for whistleblower guidance from House personal offices and committees. Bravo!

Dome Directory is the newest app released by House Majority Leader Hoyer’s office. The app allows users to learn the faces of Members through a flashcard feature.

Still getting used to the new Members? Olvia Beavers has a breakdown of the freshmen class.

Stephens out, Lewis in. Last week, the Georgia House approved a bill to replace the state’s current statue in Statuary Hall of Alexander Hamilton Stephens, a vice president of the Confederacy, with a statue of the late John Lewis. Great! Let’s do more.

CAPITOL SECURITY

Metal detector fines. On Tuesday, the House passed a H.Res. 73 that imposes fines on Members who bypass metal detectors outside the House chamber: $5,000 for the first violation, $10,000 for subsequent violations. Fines will be imposed by the House SAA and appealable to the House Ethics Committee. Per Craig Caplan, Reps. Andrew Clyde (GA) and Louie Gohmert (TX) are the first members to be fined. (Is there a public log anywhere?) House Admin Republicans have alleged Speaker Pelosi also has broken this rule.

Late USCP Officer Brian Sicknick was honored by lying in the Capitol Rotunda last Tuesday and Wednesday. Officer Sicknick passed away from injuries suffered during the January 6th insurrection.

All USCP officers will have access to COVID-19 vaccine, according to a statement from Acting Chief Pittman. It is still unknown when the majority of officers will receive the vaccine.

The Capitol fencing has made it much more difficult for DC lawmakers to physically transmit federally passed legislation. Under the Home Rule Act, the DC council must transfer physical copies of legislation for congressional review, and are choosing to meet staffers at a local hotel to usurp the new fencing.

CAPITOL SUPPORT

The Mobile Vet Centers will provide “free, easily accessible mental health resources and counseling to the U.S. Capitol Police, members of the National Guard, and any Congressional staff in crisis,” according to a joint statement from House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chair Takano, VA acting Under Secretary for Health Dr. Stone, and USCP acting Chief Pittman.

CapitolStrong, a coalition of civil society organizations we are proud to be a part of continues to gather a variety of resources for the Capitol Hill community on its website. Please visit if you haven’t yet.

A special floor session was organized by Rep. AOC last Thursday for Members to recount their personal experiences of insurrection. Only Democrats participated.

An oral history of the insurrection was given on video by several staffers who witnessed the events in real time.

ETHICS

Senate Ethics issued zero disciplinary actions according to its 2020 annual report, marking the 14th year in a row that the committee hasn’t issued a single sanction. The 2020 annual report indicated the committee dismissed 119 of the 144 matters. Chris Marquette has more.

The big difference between the House and the Senate? The House has an independent ethics watchdog, the Office of Congressional Ethics, which has transparency built into its mission and prompts the House Ethics Committee to act. The Senate doesn’t have that office.

The House Ethics Committee closed its investigation of former Rep. Watkins — stating the committee did “not have jurisdiction to continue the investigation after January 3, 2021,” the date that Republican Rep. Jake LaTurner, Watkins’ successor, took the oath of office. Ethics opened an investigation into Watkins after he was charged with voting illegally, using his town’s UPS store as his home address. We still think they should be able to retain jurisdiction and release a report should it be substantially completed.

BILLS OF INTEREST

DC authority. Last Monday, Del. Norton introduced H.R. 657, a bill to extend the DC mayor the same authority over the National Guard of the District of Columbia as the Governors of the several states.

Korematsu. Both Rep. Takano and Sen. Hirono introduced legislation(H.R. 734 and S. 181) on Tuesday to award posthumously a Congressional Gold Medal to Fred Korematsu, a civil rights hero who defied US government orders to report to a Japanese American internment camp in 1942. His court case was a landmark. He later received a Presidential Medal of Freedom. January 30th was his birthday.

ODDS AND ENDS

Modernization? Sen. Sanders proposed a motion to allow senators to send email, use personal digital devices and tablets, and use calculators on the Senate floor during debate on the budget resolution. It was adopted.

CALENDAR

Monday

The Brennan Center is holding a virtual webinar titled “The Broken Chamber: The Modern Senate and the Crippling of Democracy” today at 12:00 pm ET.

The Riess Center on Law and Security at NYU Law is holding a virtual event titled “Impeachment: Threats and the Constitutional Challenge” tonight at 6:00 pm ET.

Tuesday

HSGAC is holding a hearing on “The Nomination of Neera Tanden to be Director, Office of Management and Budget” at 9:15 am ET.

Down The Line

The Brookings Institution is hosting “A conversation About Domestic Governance Reform” on Wednesday, February 10th at 2:00 pm ET.

The Congressional Management Foundation is hosting a new Member orientation on “Setting Up a Scheduling Operation” on Friday, February 12th at 12:00 pm ET.

The Project on Government Oversight is hosting a virtual town hall on “Our Federal Response to Domestic Security Threats: How to Avoid Past Mistakes” on Tuesday, February 16th at 3:00 pm ET.