Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your weekly look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Subscribe here.
THE TOP LINE
Congress enacted the Security supplemental with a 98-0 vote in the Senate, a 416-11 vote in the House, and a signature from the President. Six House Dems voted no. (The amended bill text is here.)The $2.1 billion bill includes significant non-congressionally related funds, such as $1.2 billion to help Afghan nationals resettle and to provide aid to neighboring countries; $521 million to reimburse the national guard for its deployment to the U.S. Capitol; $300 million to harden the Capitol Complex; $70 million for the Capitol Police for overtime, bonuses, new equipment, and training; and $42 million for employees and contractors who otherwise would have been laid off during the pandemic.
Leg Branch Approps passed the House on Wednesday, which included a top line funding increase of 13.8% and a lot of good stuff in the report language. All the appropriations bills passed the House except Defense, Homeland Security, and CJS. CJS was set for a floor but was delayed because police unions objected to tying grants to taking steps to end chokeholds, end ‘no-knock’ warrants, eliminate racial profiling, and eliminate sexual contact between officers and people in their custody.” This appears to also have an election-related dimension.
Senate Appropriations start this week, with the chamber aiming to hold markups on Agriculture, Energy and Water, and MilCon.
The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act passed the House and is now up for Senate consideration; the Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act was brought up on the House floor but was delayed by Rep. Greene, who requested a roll call vote — part of an effort this past week to delay legislative proceedings. These bills embody significant wins for Congressional transparency. Democrats and Republicans praised the bipartisan work that went into the CBJTA prior to the objection; and had similar praise for ACMRA prior to its passage.
The House Modernization Committee favorably reported 20 recommendations — a literal score — that aim to strengthen staff benefits and diversity, provide more opportunities for interns and fellows, and increase Capitol Hill accessibility. More on this below.
Masks are back at the Capitol after the Office of the Attending Physician required House members and encouraged senators to wear masks on the floor and in the hallways. At the White House, staff will now be required to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. Winter is coming.
HOUSE LEG BRANCH APPROPS
A strong investment in Congress. TheHouse Leg BranchApprops bill passed (215-207) the House on Wednesday. Over three dozen amendments were submitted (we examined many of them last week). We and a coalition of other good government organizations applaud the work of the Leg Branch Subcommittee and the full Appropriation Committee.
• Several floor amendments were adopted from this list approved by the Rules Committee, including Rep. Langevin’s amendment to provide $3.5 million in additional funding to remove accessibility barriers throughout the Capitol complex, Del. Norton’s amendment prohibiting USCP from using funds to enforce the prohibition on electric scooters on Capitol grounds, and a manager’s amendment to direct the Architect to obtain a plaque that honors the officers and law enforcement agencies that protected the Capitol during the insurrection on January 6. We note in particular Rep. Graves’s amendment, which was adopted to “encourage the creation of a collaborative drafting program to help improve workflow between [House Office of the Legislative Counsel] and Member Offices;” and Rep. Raskin’s amendment to direct the House Sergeant at Arms to review and report on the limitations and security of the House’s switchboard and telephone system.
• If you’re interested in looking into Leg Branch legislation further, we examined the funding included in the bill and the proposals included in the report. The floor debate is worth reading — we appreciated the remarks by Reps. Ryan and Herrera Beutler. We’d also like to draw your attention to the remarks by Rep. Hoyer, who advocated for a Member cost of living adjustment, which is a tough political sell, but absolutely right. “But the fact of the matter is, all I ask is, keep us even. Don’t give us a raise. Just keep us even. As the cost of living goes up, just keep us even in terms of our purchasing power.” Yep.
• Getting to yes wasn’t easy. The House was forced to vote on several GOP motions to adjourn over the mask mandate, further needlessly delaying legislative action.
COVID + CONGRESS
Masking up once again. The Capitol’s Office of the Attending Physician reissued a mask mandate for the House and urged the Senate to resume the practice. This comes after a surge in positive cases around the country and on Capitol Hill due to the spread of the Delta variant. Even with the mandate for lawmakers in the House, offices in both chambers should ensure the availability of strong telework policies to ensure greater safety for lawmakers, staff, essential workers, and reporters. The support offices and agencies should consider the extent to which they should adopt GPO’s excellent new telework policy. Roll Call has more.
Superspreaders. While every Democratic lawmaker has publicly said they are vaccinated, we don’t know the number of GOP members. During a speech on the House floor, Minority Leader McCarthy said that “85 percent of House members are vaccinated,” meaning that roughly 65 GOP members are not vaccinated. To make matters worse, a group of maskless GOP House members marched over to the Senate due to its “lack of mask rules.” Surprise! Meanwhile, on Thursday, dozens of Republican staffers partied maskless in Congressional hallways. As a professional killjoy, it’s my role to say that while the House gives individual members great deference, the House and Senate have the power (for their respective institutions) to establish rules to protect congressional employees and establish minimum standards of behavior so long as members and staff are unwilling to exercise personal responsibility.
Speaker Pelosi will likely extend proxy voting until the end of the year, according to Axios’s Hans Nichols. (We still prefer remote voting over proxy voting, but both are better than nothing.) The Senate has no rules in place for remote or proxy voting on the floor and still requires committees to have a majority present to report legislation, which raises grave continuity concerns. We strongly encourage the Senate to consider the bipartisan S.Res.201, which would amend the Senate’s Standing Rules to enable the participation of absent Senators during a national crisis, and Demand Progress led two coalition letters — one to Senate Leadership and one to the Senate Rules Committee — on this point. Because adopting Senate rules changes is difficult — to say the least — there may be value in considering the so-called nuclear option to change the interpretation of Senate rules so that the world’s most self-proclaimed deliberative body is not susceptible to decapitation.
A HSGAC meeting last Wednesday was postponed after a member of Sen. Peters’ congressional staff tested positive.
House January 6 select committee held its first hearing (committee website, hearing testimony portal, hearing video) on Tuesday, which saw law enforcement officers — two USCP officers and two D.C. police officers — testify about the awful circumstances they endured while they fought to protect the Capitol from violent insurrectionists.
What was notable about this hearing, and I’ve watched them all, was the language used by the police officers and the concerns they raised. These are their words based on my notes:
• Was there collaboration between members and staff and the insurrections? Was anyone with power involved?
• “Nothing, truly nothing, has prepared me to address the elected members of our government who deny the events of that day and betray their oath of office.”
• I was aware of the razor thin margin between Democrats and Republicans, and that this [the insurrection] would affect the outcome of legislation.
• “They had marching orders.” “They kept saying ‘Trump sent us.’” “Pres. Trump invited us.”
• These are domestic terrorists.
• “Everything is different but nothing has changed.”
• “Is this America?”
Officer support. During the hearing, Officer Dunn urged the select committee to examine the resources that officers needed; Rep. Lofgren promised that this committee and others would take the steps necessary to examine the support officers are given.
• Support yourself, too. As these hearings continue to revisit the horrifying events that took place on January 6, make sure you take care of yourself and your health. Resources compiled by the Capitol Strong community is a good place to start.
Staff director choice draws concern. Getting cooperation from whistleblowers may be crucial in sorting through the evidence — but unfortunately, David Buckley, the newly named staff director, was found by the IG to have retaliated against a whistleblower during his previous job as CIA inspector general. This concern is so great that the Project On Government Oversight called for Buckley to be removed as staff director.
Former Trump officials, by the way, won’t be able to benefit from so-called Executive Privilege should they be called to testify. It will be interesting to see this play out.
Mo Brooks out on his own. Last week, DOJ and the House declined to represent Rep. Mo Brooks in a lawsuit from Rep. Eric Swalwell that accuses him of helping to incite the insurrection.
The House Modernization Committee favorably reported its first tranche of recommendations, with 15 of the 20 recommendations receiving unanimous support. The recommendations concern strengthening staff benefits, diversity, and capacity; providing more opportunities for internships and fellowships; and increasing accessibility around Capitol Hill.
• We particularly are happy to see recommendations that update and align staff benefits, expand staff onboarding information, collect demographic data, and establish an Intern and Fellowship Program Office or Coordinator; Demand Progress recommended these specific proposals and more in our Updating the 117th House Rules report.
The glass ceiling still remains for Senate staff diversity, writes Dr. LaShonda Brenson of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
Internapalooza. The “Intern Project,” coordinated by the POPVOX Foundation, will be hosting a Fall Intern orientation event (aka “Internapalooza”) September 9-10, in cooperation with the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. Offices can reserve spots now for their future fall interns.”
Two decades in the making. Check out my conversation with LegisPro, where I talk about the Congressional Data Coalition, legislative information systems, congressional modernization efforts, and more.
TRANSPARENCY + ACCOUNTABILITY + ETHICS
Police and transparency. Nate Jones has an excellent article describing the rise of exemptions from disclosure under state records laws for matters concerning the police, and how they arose following on a 1986 effort by the federal government to widen a FOIA exemption as part of the war on drugs. The only thing missing from the story, from our narrow vantage point, is that the U.S. Capitol Police are not subject to public disclosure laws like FOIA, that the definition of “security information” that applies to the USCP is so broad as to virtually encompass everything, that they work hard to make sure information they share outside the agency is not subject to FOIA, and that appropriators have requested again they institute a FOIA-like process for public access to information.
• What is the definition of “security information?” I’m glad you asked. “Information that (1) is sensitive with respect to the policing, protection, physical security, intelligence, counterterrorism actions, or emergency preparedness and response relating to Congress, any statutory protectee of the Capitol Police, and the Capitol buildings and grounds; and (2) is obtained by, on behalf of, or concerning the Capitol Police Board, the Capitol Police, or any incident command relating to emergency response.” Somewhere there’s a regulation that applies all this.
House Ethics Committee chose not to discipline Reps. Beatty and Johnson, who were arrested by USCP on separate occasions while protesting voting rights legislation inside a Senate office building.
Rep. Blake Moore failed to properly disclose dozens of stock and option trades worth as much as $1.1 million. Several involved a defense contractor — Moore sits on HASC.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville failed to properly disclose stock trades worth up to $3.5 million. Tuberville joined the Senate in January and has been a vocal critic of the Chinese government but traded in stocks of a Chinese firm linked to the Communist Party.
Brookings has a new congressional oversight report that utilizes data on both congressional hearings and publicly-available letters to analyze oversight of the Executive branch in the House during the 116th Congress.
National Whistleblower Day was last week. Our friends over at POGO released a series of IG videos on whistleblowers and the important roles they play in holding the government accountable. Sen. Grassley made these remarks in honor of the day.
BILLS AND REPORTS OF INTEREST
Legislation to close loopholes that enable foreign governments and corporations to make campaign contributions was introduced by Rep. Porter on Thursday.
Bipartisan bicameral legislation to place statutes of SCOTUS Justices RBG and Sandra Day O’Connor in the Capitol Complex was introduced last week; we note that Sen. Klobuchar, the chair of the Senate Rules Committee, is the lead sponsor. The Capitol currently holds 252 male sculptures compared to 14 female sculptures, according to CNN’s Ali Zaslav. We can think of a good way to help address that ratio.
ODDS & ENDS
Former Michigan Senator Carl Levin has died. He was a champion of congressional oversight and a devoted public servant. Read the Levin Center’s statement on his passing.
Former Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi has died, according to an announcement. He was 77 and left the Senate seven months ago. The Washington Post’s Paul Kane has a warmhearted write-up of the late senator.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union held its Innovation in Parliament 2021, which focuses on innovations made by government legislatures around the world. Check out the highlights.
The Queen’s consent. Research from the Guardian’s has found that the British Queen vetted 67 Scottish bills before the parliament could pass them.
Who’s the most social? House Dems finished their competition to grow their online followers and Rep. Hoyer has the results here. I find it interesting to see which members are better at older social media compared to newer platforms, and vice versa.
Normally we’d go crazy over an OLC opinion on Trump’s taxes, but tonight we’ll just leave this link right here for you and say, ever so gently, that the only thing that changed for the Office of Legal Counsel opinion is who is in charge, so perhaps, just perhaps, Congress should be able to vindicate its powers without the president being able to run out the clock.
We’re not talking infrastructure because it’s out of our wheelhouse so get your hot takes elsewhere. The bill is here as a giant PDF.
Is he joking? The whole gavelgate thing.
• Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a hearing to “Examine Authorizations of Use of Force, Focusing on Administration Perspectives” at 10:00 am ET.
• Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is holding a hearing to “Examine Domestic Terrorism and Violent Extremism on the Threat of Racially, Ethnically, Religously, and Politically Motivated Attacks” at 10:00 am ET.
• Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights is holding a hearing to “Examine Principles and Practice of Congressional Oversight and Executive Privilege” at 3:00 pm ET.
• Senate Foreign Relations is holding a business meeting to consider “S.J.Res.10, to Repeal For Use of Military Force Against Iraq, and various nominations” at 10:00 am ET.
• Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is holding a hearing to “Examine Domestic Terrorism and Violent Extremism on the Threat of Racially, Ethnically, Religously, and Politically Motivated Attacks” at 10:15 am ET.
• House Administration Committee is holding a hearing on “Oversight Of The Renovations To The Cannon House Office Building: Lesson Learned” at 1:30 pm ET.
Down the road…
• The 30th annual LegisTech for Democracy Conference has been will be held online on September 13th and 14th — save the date now.
• The Law Library of Congress is hosting two webinars later in the month. The first, on August 12th at 11am ET, is on federal statutes; the second, on August 26th at 2pm ET, will provide a basic overview of using the congress.gov search features.
• The International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform has been postponed because of the spread of the Delta variant until next year.