Welcome to the First Branch Forecast, your regular look into the Legislative branch and government transparency. Tell your friends to subscribe.
January’s 6th’s anniversary is this Thursday and so far no one of significance has been held accountable for the Trump insurrection, Republicans blocked a 9/11 style commission, the Select Committee will turn into a pumpkin at the end of the year (as will any contempt prosecutions, should we get that far), and the media still is talking about “partisan divides.” Trump will counterprogram the commemoration, likely to repeat the big lies that deny his election loss, assert the sacking of the Capitol was a peaceful protest led by good people, and falsely claim election fraud (as a basis to rig the elections going forward) — all of which we can expect to see winked at by congressional leadership and amplified by the press. The far right will use the attention to portray themselves as the victims — they (ironically) like comparing themselves to Jewish victims of the Holocaust — and will use their “victimhood” as a basis for further violent actions. Regarding the select committee, intended as an accountability mechanism: “Our legacy piece and final product will be the select committee’s report,” with an interim report expected this summer. That’ll show ‘em. Can we at least stop calling it “January 6th” and use a more accurate descriptor, like the “Trump insurrection?” We appear to be at the end game for efforts to arrest our democratic decline — a draw is tantamount to a loss.
COVID stalks the halls of Congress, and everywhere else; there is no legislative branch-wide requirement for vaccination and universal masking or an accountability system to make it happen. Does the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights have a role (perhaps under 2 USC 1411) to enforce OSHA’s emergency “vaccine or test” regulations? Is there any progress on putting in place continuity rules for the Senate (or updating the ones in the House) should legislative business be interrupted? Congrats to the Senate for its head-scratching decision to restart some public tours.
It’s all about timing. The Senate 2022 calendar is out but we don’t need a calendar to know we’ve entered the silly season. Press focus has shifted to redistricting and the euphoniously-named casualty list of non-returning members. The ability of Senate Republicans to veto legislation under the guise of extended debate — where there’s no actual debate, no possibility of changing minds, and no end point — and the short-circuiting of the remaining majoritarian policymaking routes courtesy Sens. Manchin and Sinema, means we’ve pretty much got appropriations and a fairly-active lame duck session to look forward to over the next 12 months. (Maybe Dems will be in array). A preview of coming attractions: the shadow boxing around who will hold what posts in leadership and on the committees, the planning of the 118th congressional agenda and a new set of House rules, and the won’t-he-will-he of bold Biden executive orders. C’mon folks. There’s a ton of unfinished non-legislative business around rebuilding the Legislative branch, much of it held in abeyance this past year, which we might see move.
The Capitol Police will be the focus of a Senate Rules Committee hearing on Wednesday with the chief testifying, so we’re offering up this scene-setter from my colleague Ginger Quintero-McCall that calls for more transparency for the USCP; Demand Progress today issued this letter urging that USCP Inspector General reports be made publicly available. ICYMI, Congress snuck through the Capitol Police Emergency Assistance Act at the end of December, legislation that received a Senate floor vote the same day it was introduced, and thus was not published to the public, and passed the House the very next day — helping to make our point about the need for Senate legislation to be available online (at least) contemporaneously with its consideration. PS, will the USCP respond to Rep. Hoyer’s request for “clarification” about guns on the capitol campus?
Congressional ethics, and the tangentially-related issue of ethics enforcement, came up with a Business Insider report that 49 Members and 182 senior aides violated the STOCK Act by failing to disclose financial trades; in response to calls to ban Members from holding individual stocks — a wise if narrow idea — Speaker Pelosi said members should be able to participate in the free market, heh, a move dinged even by her biggest cheerleaders, the Washington Post editorial board. The reaction there and elsewhere suggests the political risk of a Marie Antoinette moment. Lest we forget, the STOCK Act had included an electronic disclosure system that was set to be turned on the very day it was to be implemented, but was nullified through passage of a rushed law that wasn’t disclosed to the public even as it was being voted on by the Senate. (Boehner was Speaker.) Ironically, Speaker Pelosi’s first term in that role was built upon a push to beef up ethics in the House, and that effort is faltering because the then-newly-created Office of Congressional Ethics still lacks subpoena power and Members are refusing to comply with its inquiries. (How to fix it? Why, that’s contained in these House Rules recs.)
The Supreme Court is ridiculous, I guess that’s not news, but Chief Justice Roberts’ year-end report is an exercise in inanity, suggesting that the courts can police themselves. We hope Congress continues to disregard the CJ’s advice and move forward with legislation that requires the Judiciary to post their financial disclosure statements online, publish court orders online for free, and protect judiciary staff against the #metoo predations of some federal judges. We are not excited about the “judiciary security” bill, advocated by the courts, which would (in part) set up a court spying apparatus and enable judges to take down third-party published information about federal judges.
ODDS AND ENDS
Two racist statues that targeted Native Americans and stood at the front of the Capitol Building for a century were removed in a 1958 renovation — 19 years after the Congress adopted a joint resolution calling for their removal. On an unrelated note, how about those confederate statues?
Mike Turner is the new HPSCI chair, bringing hope to national security hawks everywhere that the committee will stop its infighting and once again join together in support of unleashing the intelligence agencies to engage in domestic surveillance. (BTW, look at the new DOJ IG report on unresolved IG recommendations starting with item 889.)
The House Whistleblower Ombuds released a fact sheet on working with state whistleblowers.
TechCongress is still seeking nominations and accepting applications for its 2022 Congressional Innovation Scholars program, an “early-career pipeline” for technologists interested in shaping tech policy. They’re offering a $500 referral award for referring a successful candidate from an underrepresented background.
Tortilla Coast is toast.
You can’t handle the truth. If you want to know what the White House thinks about requirements Congress puts into law, just read the signing statement accompanying the NDAA. I wouldn’t put up with it, but I’m not a member of Congress. I’m pretty sure he just flipped you off.
“Some provisions of the Act, including sections 1048, 1213(b), 1217, and 1227(a)(1), will effectively require executive departments and agencies to submit reports to certain committees that will, in the ordinary course, include highly sensitive classified information, including information that could reveal critical intelligence sources or military operational plans. The Constitution vests the President with the authority to prevent the disclosure of such highly sensitive information in order to discharge his responsibility to protect the national security. At the same time, congressional oversight committees have legitimate needs to perform vital oversight and other legislative functions with respect to national security and military matters. Accordingly, it has been the common practice of the executive branch to comply with statutory reporting requirements in a way that satisfies congressional needs pursuant to the traditional accommodation practice and consistent with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters. I believe the Congress shares this understanding, and my Administration will presume that it is incorporated into statutory reporting requirements of the kind at issue in the Act.”
Super Greene. Rep. Greene had her personal Twitter account permanently suspended after a 5th official strike, this one for falsely saying that the COVID vaccine caused more deaths than COVID. (How many strikes do normal people get?) She will retain her official account, which I’m sure has spread far less misinformation. People will bicker about whether this is censorship — it is, but not a violation of the 1st Amendment — and miss the points that Twitter itself has said it algorithmically amplifies right-wing political voices over all others and the connection between that amplification, disinformation, and the political fundraising process that provides a feedback loop that has destabilized the power of corporate-right politicians.
FINALLY, for all of you on Capitol Hill, your work environment is awful and the continued gaslighting of the real and present dangers arising from far right political extremists and COVID-denialists is an ongoing trauma. Congress is making some mental health resources available, but it’s not anywhere near sufficient, especially as some members/chiefs/editors continue to expect you’ll work at 100% efficiency. You matter; do not put yourself between the crazies and your bosses. Take the time you need to care for yourself. You are valued.