The end of this Congress feels like the run up before a high school graduation. Senior leaders are saying goodbye while the next crop waits their turn. Everyone’s rushing to turn in their remaining work, leading to sloppy mistakes. The turnover will lead to something new, but we’re not sure what.
This work week is the final one of the 117th Congress. The House will take up the omnibus spending bill — which it will see for the first time today — after agreeing to a short-term extension until December 23. The NDAA passed the Senate last Thursday, as did who-knows how many riders.
The January 6 Committee will hold its final public meeting on Monday and will vote on criminal referrals based on its findings. It will release its final report Wednesday. The Senate Rules Committee moved back its oversight hearing on the US Capitol Police to today. And it appears that Ways and Means had just scheduled a Tuesday hearing to discuss Trump’s tax returns.
NOT HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO WORK
Like a student frantically finishing a term paper, congressional appropriators asked for an extension on the omnibus spending package last week after coming to a deal on a longer bill – it helps that they were asking themselves.
What’s striking about the deal announced by appropriators last week is who wasn’t involved: House Republicans. The adults in the room simply went ahead without them, knowing House GOP demands on social spending and Ukrainian aid would be unrealistic and counterproductive. Members’ posturing on picking funding fights in the next Congress likely made it more imperative to strike a long-term deal now.
Members with the ear of leadership are making or have just made one final run this week to insert last-minute provisions into the omnibus and NDAA while leadership plays abracadabra. As we’ve said before, this process is deeply dysfunctional for a representative body and is one of the worst consequences of the concentration of power. All sorts of things will be waived through in these bills because there isn’t enough time to stop and look.
Sometimes, good things move quickly or in unusual ways, like Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s resolution to update overtime regulations for House staff (more on that below). We’re certainly glad to see the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act and Plum Act make it across the finish line. But sloppy and harmful work also gets through, like the unconstitutional judicial security bill that censors information about judges’ familial conflicts of interest from the internet while failing to touch the data brokers it ostensibly targets.
Senators, spooked enough by the antidemocratic tendencies of some House Republicans, apparently will tack on the Electoral Count Act to the Appropriations bill. Last week, Talking Points Memo reported 34 Republican members texted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about ways to overturn the 2020 presidential election, including Rep. Ralph Norman’s call for Trump to declare “Marshall [sic] law.”
TPM’s story about far-right Republicans’ coordination with Meadows dropped as many of the same members continued to wrangle with Leader Kevin McCarthy over the rules of the next House. They continue to want their MTV (motion to vacate) as part of McCarthy’s grand compromise for the Speakership. They also seem to be talking about the role of the Rules Committee in advancing legislation to the floor, possibly abolishing it. About 50 House members of the Republican Governance Group, meanwhile, vowed not to vote for any rules package that includes the motion to vacate. Some are taking the posture that only Kevin (O.K., get it?) can serve as speaker.
The press and the Hill typically follow stories of partisan infighting as being about personalities and policy preferences. Although those are elements of the conflict, the texts illuminated by TMP reporters speak to a party fractured over core democratic principles. Many of the texts from Trump allies expressed the belief that the very fate of the nation is at stake if a power transferred peacefully to Joe Biden. They echo the messianic and apocalyptic rhetoric often heard on the campaign trail about what happens when “real Americans” lose power through election defeat: the fall of the Republic or the establishment of a “Marxist dictatorship” – which Rep. Brian Babin texted Meadows. And many expressed disgust for McCarthy personally for not joining their side.
The schism, therefore, isn’t between flavors of conservatism but between members who believe any authoritarian ends are justified in securing power and those who do not. Many Republican primary voters strongly rewarded authoritarians because they, too, think they are the only legitimate participants in the nation’s representative democracy. Discomfort with multiracial pluralist democracy undergirds this sentiment. In fact, some of the members-elect who emerged from these primaries comfortably dined with white supremacits and members of a far right German party the same week authorities broke up a rightist coup plot involving the actual Kaiser as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene boasted if she’d organized the January 6 insurrection she would have brought firearms. (Nota bene: there’s no doubt the insurrectionists were armed.)
Their pursuit of promises from McCarthy to use opportunities to use must-pass government finance bills to manufacture crises that undercut New Deal and Great Society programs follows a similar logic. Far-right members see them as drivers of rising debt and core redistributors of wealth. These problems are so dire as to warrant a last-ditch stand. Stopping “socialism” requires such tactics because, well, they don’t have anywhere near the votes if they put spending cuts on the floor. Social Security and Medicare hardly are socialism and are popular programs, and that’s the problem. If you’re going to lose, reject the democratic process in the name of righteousness. Declare the opponent an unacceptable other, even an enemy. Like election denial (or even birtherism), it’s about cloaking the seizure of control for a minority.
This schism will drive the organization of the House in a new direction. McCarthy, if he survives, will be more confined than Nancy Pelosi ever could have imagined. In principle, that’s a good thing for the institution, as former Rep. Daniel Lipinski wrote last week. But a faction comfortable only with its own control of the process because of its sense of self-righteousness treads dangerously close to how fascist parties see themselves.
The best outcome for the next House would be for some power-sharing arrangement to emerge between pro-corporate Democrats and non-authoritarian Republicans that acknowledges the political realignment that seems to be emerging on the right and contains its damage. House rules and primary politics make that hard, but those rules are most flexible at the start of a new congress. Splitting off the far right, however, is something that leadership will strive to contain, conceal, and circumvent, while the fractures continue to spread beneath the thin ice. This realignment may be easier to comprehend if the January 6 Committee had spent more attention on members’ roles in the insurrection and the connections between anti-government militia and white supremacist groups and far-right members. Rep. Liz Cheney didn’t want to go there. It also would have happened sooner had the impeachment timing not been botched twice.
NAUGHTY OR NICE?
The letter from seven Republicans laying out what any GOP Speaker must deliver for their support.
NO NEW RULES
Democrats revisited some caucus rules proposals last week and decided to stand pat. One significant proposal was from Rep. Bill Foster, who offered a rule to create six-year term limits for members in committee ranking or chair positions. After that, the caucus as a whole would have to vote on granting a waiver. Republicans currently have a similar rule, but their Steering Committee issues the waivers.
The caucus also narrowly rejected Rep. Don Beyer’s proposal to use ranked-choice voting in caucus elections and Rep. John Larson’s rule requiring bills with a certain number of Democratic co-sponsors to receive committee markups and floor votes. Perhaps the caucus will revisit these proposals when it is heading back in the majority.
It’s doubtful that the incoming Committee on House Administration would have taken up OCWR’s recommendations for updating overtime policies for congressional staff to align with federal and private sector employees. Our sister organization Demand Progress along with the Congressional Progressive Staff Association and the Congressional Workers’ Union spotlighted the remaining work to do in a letter earlier this month. Last week, Rep. Zoe Lofgren slipped the revisions into a House resolution. Nonexempt staff will earn time and a half after working 40 hours a week. The revisions also update Family and Medical Leave Act regulations, expanding parental leave and expanding the definition of marriage to include same-sex unions. Friends, this is a BFD and part of a string of overlooked and underappreciated wins from the House Admin Committee.
Who will serve as ranking member in the 118th? Apparently. Rep. Jeffries will appoint (yes, appoint) Rep. Joe Morelle, who is new to the committee. The appropriator and rules committee member has previously served as majority leader of the New York State Assembly under Sheldon Silver.
Rep. Ted Lieu’s staff became the seventh office to vote to unionize, doing so unanimously December 10. Last Wednesday, Rep. Linda Sanchez’ staff filed a petition to unionize as well.
As a reminder, First Branch Forecast is tracking unionization progress at this link.
ODDS AND ENDS
One fewer reminder of the nation’s racial authoritarian past will haunt the Capitol: the House passed a resolution to remove former Chief Justice Roger Taney’s bust from the building. Taney authored the Dred Scott decision that held African Americans were not entitled to citizenship and Congress could not prevent the spread of slavery into the territories. The bill did not require removal of other statues representing Confederate leaders, however, which is a bridge too far for the Senate.
Puerto Ricans may get to decide the status of their homeland, as the House passed H.R. 8393 to authorize a plebiscite — no word on senate action yet, although the bipartisan measure is predicted to fail because of the filibuster. For an insightful look at the history of U.S. territorial acquisition, I strongly recommend the book How to Hide an Empire.
The Congressional Data Task Force met on Tuesday. Information regarding House members-elect will be released later this month, but Senate members-elect info will not be available until the start of the new Congress. The CAO presented on its efforts to modernize the Statement of Disbursements and demonstrated a willingness and desire to address requests for improvements in how the data is published. The Secretary of the Senate reported on a Congress-wide task force focused on improving the way videos are made available to the public as well as improving availability of data about Senate activities. GPO will soon release a new responsive design for bill text published on Congress.gov, and the Library indicated it hopes to move its API out of beta in 2023 and will add additional data collections. Finally, the Clerk of the House demonstrated the comparative print project and previewed the forthcoming module of the amendment impact program.
A DHS intelligence analyst warned of the impending Trump insurrection on December 20th, but DHS failed to act. The analyst stumbled on the online blueprints for the attack and kept ringing the alarm over 16 days, but DHS stopped it from sounding. How do we know? The press obtained an unredacted copy of a final DHS IG report.
The Democratic Steering Committee selected Rep. Jamie Raskin as the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee in the 118th Congress. The party must still confirm the choice. (Congrats!)
The Senate will ease into the new year, according to the 2023 calendar released by Sen. Schumer’s office last week. After meeting on January 3, the chamber will not reconvene until January 23.
The CAO issued guidance on Monday concerning Mastodon, telling members they could not stand up a Mastodon instance (i.e., a server) on the House network and to use a web browser, but not the app on your official devices. Notably the CAO did not prohibit members from using Mastodon and gave advice on using a strong password. We’d urge you to use two-factor authentication, which is easy to set up. While you’re at it, the House Democracy Partnership recently pointed to this interesting cybersecurity handbook for parliaments.
Georgetown Law professor Dave Rapallo won the Levin Center Award for Excellence in Oversight Research of 2022 with his paper on how Congress should handle claims of attorney-client privilege in oversight investigations.
Sen. Tom Cotton objected to unanimous consent for the PRESS Act last week, stalling its progress. We’re hopeful the bill is included in a funding package.
POPVOX Foundation held a roundtable on the future of casework last week which included Rep. Rodney Davis and Modernization Committee Staff Director Yuri Beckleman.
The New Congress begins at noon on January 3rd, 2023.