First Branch Forecast for February 27, 2023: Videodome


Speaker Kevin McCarthy interjected himself into the debate over US Capitol Police openness and transparency in a major way by releasing the entirety of video recorded by its cameras on January 6, 2021 to Tucker Carlson at Fox News. The how and why of this decision are going to distract from the what of the larger problem, which is a lack of a system to allow for proper public access to information that can hold USCP accountable as a policing agency that eats up a ton of Legislative branch funding.

Speaking of funding, the new Congress is starting to dole out money to support its own legislative and oversight capacity.

This week, the House will hold votes Monday through Wednesday. The Senate will reconvene Monday for a reading of President Washington’s Farewell Address by Sen. James Lankford, an annual tradition since 1896. The current Senate calendar has the chamber remaining in session until March 10.

CHA will hold hearings Tuesday and Wednesday at which committee leaders will make their allotment requests for the 118th Congress.


The US Capitol Police have long argued that even the most basic information about their operations should be shielded from public view because of the unique security concerns of the people they protect. They have refused to release detailed arrest reports or summary arrest data in machine-readable format or to release the reports of their IG to the public. They’ve gone to court to prevent the release of security video to the public, including of the January 6 insurrection. USCP even required CHA staff to use a dedicated terminal at the Capitol to view footage when it granted the same access to the committee that the January 6 Committee had.

Certainly, some operational information and campus recordings should be shielded from the public. Potential criminals should not know every nook and cranny of the Capitol nor how members access different parts of the building. The speech and debate clause protects members from having their every utterance recorded and released.

Although the Legislative branch is exempt from FOIA, Congress should establish a FOIA-like process to satisfy the public’s right to know while weighing these real concerns. In 2021, based on extensive research into the agency, Demand Progress Education Fund proposed a set of public records regulations for USCP.

Without as much as alerting the Capitol Police (or Senate Sergeant at Arms), Speaker Kevin McCarthy handed over all 41,000 hours of January 6 video surveillance footage to Tucker Carlson at Fox News last week. So much for having a process.

Even though some Democratic leaders have spun the decision to suggest any video release was wrong, it’s likely necessary at this point (as Rep. Jamie Raskin suggests) that the public be granted the video as well because we know from the Dominion lawsuit that Fox News will broadcast lies even when on-air talent knows better. Carlson himself has spread conspiracy theories about the insurrection before.

Unfortunately, the inevitable deployment of the footage for partisan purposes, which McCarthy already has started fundraising on, has created this binary choice when a rigorous process that considers ongoing security requirements and reserves some material is more appropriate.

The January 6 footage, as significant as it is for the country, is part of a broader issue with USCP secrecy and their ability to shield the agency from accountability on the grounds of security concerns for members of Congress. This mindset, as we saw from now-departed AOC Brett Blanton, was seeping deeper into the Legislative branch. We don’t know how the department’s behavior will change toward the public’s right to know given the Speaker’s actions, nor do we know how Fox News’s purposeful use of the footage may shape or limit congressional action to reform the department. Understanding how effective the Capitol Police are in utilizing resources and managing their considerable policing assets, however, is in the interests of all members.

CHA can play an essential role here. The committee will hold its oversight planning meeting Tuesday. Members on both sides of the aisle have expressed interest in digging into USCP “culture, funding and training as well as to review member security amid increasing violent threats,” according to Politico, as they should. Chair Bryan Steil, who’s been encouragingly energetic about his plans for the committee, can build upon Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s inquiries after the attack on the Pelosi home about how the department is categorizing and responding to threats against members and why such cases have been prosecuted.

The public’s most frequent encounter with video from the Capitol, of course, comes from C-SPAN coverage of floor action. If he’s interested in video as a transparency tool, Speaker McCarthy could grant C-SPAN editorial freedom to control its House floor cameras that it enjoyed during his Speakership election, which Demand Progress Education Fund, Freedom of Press Foundation, and a host of other organizations think should be standard operating procedure going forward.


In two hearings this week, committee leaders will make their allotment request to the Committee on House Administration for their budgets for this Congress. Like the Senate process, which the Rules Committee tackled last week, the process for funding House committees is a two-step dance between CHA and the Legislative Branch Subcommittee of House Appropriations.

CHA will take the requests made in two hearings Tuesday and Wednesday and draft a House resolution dividing up the funds. Later, Appropriations authorizes the annual spending within the resolution.

It’s worth reminding at the start of each Congress that committee funding in both chambers has stagnated for more than a generation, costing the institution in missing professional expertise. As this CRS report details, House committees receive only slightly more funding in constant dollars than they did in the aftermath of the 1995 Republican takeover: AKA, the big lobotomy.

With the exception of unified party government in 2009, both Republican and Democratic majorities can share the blame of keeping committees locked in austerity budgets that undermine their capacity to legislate and conduct oversight, particularly over the last decade. As we explored previously, within the overall budget pie that has shrunk significantly since the 111th Congress, the pieces for many committees have gotten smaller in constant dollars.

The Senate Rules Committee approved a resolution two weeks ago that added roughly $53 million to its committee funding, about a 19% increase from last Congress. Maybe the House will surprise us.

Senators’ congressionally directed spending requests are on fairly tight deadlines this year. The Appropriations Committee has requested senators to submit their CDS requests and advocate for specific programs between late-March and mid-April based on the subcommittee of authority. Rules for Senate CDS requests are the same as the 117th Congress: Funds still have to go to nonprofits that do not employ a senator’s immediate family members.

House appropriators, as we noted last issue, still are finalizing their (don’t call them) earmarks rules. Caseworkers in both chambers can consult this video resource by the POPVOX Foundation featuring Bipartisan Policy Center’s Franz Wuerfmannsdobler about the post-117th Congress earmark process.

CBO has requested $7.5 million more for FY24 than it received last year to account for inflation and a lower-than-requested authorization the last go-around. The increase would raise the CBO budget slightly over the $70 million mark, 89% of which goes to staff pay and benefits.

We noticed one interesting legislative request CBO made in its request to House Appropriations: the repeal of superfluous language in the Budget Act that has slowed gaining access to some federal data sources (see page 7 of the request document).

Model USCP Public Records Regs

Nugget from the DPEF archives: our 2021 FOIA-like regulations for the US Capitol Police.


The last time the Senate Ethics Committee issued a “disciplinary sanction” against a fellow senator, Sen. Jon Ossoff was in college. It’s not that senators have been paragons of virtue since 2007: Dave Levinthal and Matt Laslo of Raw Story uncovered more than 1,500 ethics complaints referred to the committee over that time. Only 204 cases even launched a preliminary inquiry by the bipartisan committee. The committee took no action on 92 cases referred last year, and frequently ignores complaints related to senators trading stocks in questionable circumstances.

Members in either chamber simply can’t be relied upon to police their own. The Senate’s 0-for-1,523 batting average reinforces the importance of preserving the only independent ethics watchdog in Congress right now, the House’s Office of Congressional Ethics, and shows why the Senate should create a similar office.


Virginia State Senator Jennifer McClellan won a special election to become Representative of the Commonwealth’s 4th congressional district last Tuesday. She will be the first female African American to serve in Congress from Virginia when she is sworn in to replace Rep. Donald McEachin, who died Nov. 28. She’ll also be female member number 150 of Congress (including the delegates).

The House only will be at full strength until the end of May as Rep. David Cicilline will resign on June 1 to become the President and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation.


Daniel has published his recap of December’s Congressional Data Task Force meeting (hey, it’s been a busy winter). Part of the meeting covered the process of executing various “change of Congress” tasks, including updating bioguides. Task Force member offices also provided updates on long-awaited projects, including a working demo of the comparative print project, better access to Senate video, and the digitization of House statements of disbursement. As usual, everything from the meeting is available on the Legislative Branch Innovation Hub.

The next meeting of the Congressional Data Task Force will be March 14 from 2 to 4PM ET. Register for the meeting at this link.


It looks like Politwoops, the repository of politicians’ deleted tweets started at the Sunlight Foundation based on the Open State Foundation‘s project and code — and now hosted by ProPublica — is falling victim to API changes at Twitter.

Chuck Kieffer, a long-time Senate Appropriations staffer, gets a well-deserved profile as he retires.

One nugget from a recent interview with retired Sen. James Inhofe caught our eye: He retired because of effects of long COVID, and says “five or six” other senators have it but haven’t said so publicly. We know of only Sen. Tim Kaine who has revealed his long COVID symptoms. Many of the medical impacts of long COVID are neurological, so Inhofe’s statement would be significant for the institution.

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Congressional Committee Calendar– Monday, February 27

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries keynotes a program organized by the The House Office of Diversity and Inclusion entitled “Black History on the Hill” from 4-6 PM ET at the CVC. This event is limited to congressional staff. RSVP here.

The National Taxpayers Union and Arnold Ventures will host a discussion on budget reform Monday Feb. 27 from 4-7 PM ET. (You had to RSVP by February 17 to attend.)

– Tuesday, February 28

The House Administration Committee holds its first meeting for House committee budget allotment requests at 10:10 AM ET in 1310 Longworth.

House Ethics holds an organizational meeting at 2:30 PM ET in 1015 Longworth.

The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on “How Congress Can Recognize Ratification and Enshrine Equality in Our Constitution” at 10 AM ET in Dirksen 106.

– Wednesday, March 1

The House Administration Committee holds its second meeting for House committee budget allotment requests at 9 AM ET in 1310 Longworth.

The Brennan Center’s Dr. Maya Kornberg will discuss her new book about congressional committees’ role in the legislative process at Bistro Bis from 5:30-7:30 PM ET. RSVP here. If you can’t make the event, AEI’s Kevin Kosar interviewed Kornberg for his “Understanding Congress” podcast earlier this month.

Down the line

Open Data Day (or Days) will be organized March 4-10 by local groups around the world.

The next meeting of the Congressional Data Task Force will be March 14 from 2-4 PM ET. Register for the meeting at this link.

The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights will host two training sessions on the Congressional Accountability Act on March 21 and April 18, and one session on resilience on March 14More details and links to registration.

A new note to our readers

As we mentioned last week, Daniel is currently on medical leave. His absence from the team that produces this newsletter is an unfortunate circumstance to use in clarifying its recent authorship. Chris Nehls has taken over as the primary writer of the First Branch Forecast, with Daniel serving as contributing editor. This arrangement, which was in place before Daniel went on leave, will continue after his return.

(Switching awkwardly out of writing about myself in the third person) I take on this role as I wind down my responsibilities at Democracy Fund, where I have been a strategy lead and a program officer on its congressional capacity-strengthening work.

For those wondering where I’ve been, I started working remotely from Japan in early 2020. I also have worked at the company formerly known as CQ Roll Call, where I wrote a blog on digital advocacy, was part of the members research desk, and contributed to CQ Weekly. Before that, I was in academia: I have a PhD in US History from the University of Virginia and specialized in 20th century political culture.


First Branch Forecast for February 21, 2023: Help Wanted: AOC


The lights are off and no one is home as Congress takes an extended break for the Presidents’ Day holiday (which the newsletter also observed). When they return, the Senate committees have a clear path to staff up now that the Rules Committee has allocated budget allotments for each as it does at the start of each Congress.

Fortunately, committees can hire directly and not navigate the convoluted and interminably long process of installing a new Architect of the Capitol, which Congress now will have to do.

This week, both chambers are out of session. The Senate may hold votes on nominations. The House Judiciary Committee will hold a field hearing Thursday in Yuma, AZ about the US-Mexican border.


Senate committees will have significantly more money to hire staff and conduct oversight in the 118th Congress thanks to across-the-board increases. Last Monday, the Senate Rules Committee approved a resolution allocating an additional $53.2 million for committees for this Congress, excluding the Appropriations Committee (which sets its own funding in the Legislative branch appropriations bill.)

The total package for 18 standing and select committees is $291.4 million. (To put this in context, that’s ~41% of the funding level for the Capitol Police.)

All committees received increases of at least 15% over the 117th Congress in constant dollars, likely in response to inflation, unified party control, and the general underfunding of committees in Congress across the board.

The Agriculture Committee received the biggest bump, nearly a 25% increase to $14.4 million, perhaps because it has some responsibility for overseeing the cryptocurrency market. The Banking Committee, which may get a piece of that action as well, received a 20% increase.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for February 21, 2023: Help Wanted: AOC”

First Branch Forecast for February 13, 2023: Eagle eye


It’s hard not to have 21st-century risks facing Congress at top of mind some weeks. We uncovered a serious breach of privacy and independence affecting individual members of Congress involving the FBI that requires immediate action to shield members and staff from unlawful warrantless surveillance. With the help of some sharp colleagues, we also considered how AI-enabled technologies can fundamentally change how Congress operates.

This week the House starts a two-week recess while the Senate is in this week and out the next. The Senate Rules Committee will hold a business meeting Monday evening about funding for Senate committees; look ahead to similar House Admin hearings at the end of the month.

As we discuss here, funding Senate committees is a convoluted two-step process. All committees except appropriations submit funding requests to the Rules Committee, which then allocates funding for committees for the entire congressional term. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee designates funds for all committees but one as a lump sum for a single fiscal year. Appropriators get their own line item, naturally. This week’s business meeting is when the pie is divided for committees, in other words, with significant impact on their oversight, investigatory, and oversight capacity. In the House, the committee chairs have the opportunity to testify, which is happening at the end of the month.

Specifically, House Admin has scheduled two hearings for individual committee funding on February 28 and March 1. Each chair and ranking member request funds for the operations of their committee during these hearings, which determines their level of staffing and investigatory capacity. Generally speaking, you only see testimony when the chair and ranking member disagree on the requested level or when a committee is pushing for more funds. The process is complicated — House Admin provides funding (i.e., allocates funds) for the entire 118th Congress, but those funds are only appropriated on an annual basis on an entirely different calendar that runs from October 1st to September 30th. Check out our explainer for the House.


The FBI warrantlessly and unlawfully spied on a member of Congress, according to research by us (Demand Progress Education Fund). Wired’s Dell Cameron has the story.

The FBI looked through millions of communications gathered under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. The newly discovered violations include unlawfully searching FISA information “using only the name of a U.S. Congressman,” “using the names of a local political party,” and based on racial profiling. Section 702 is supposed to be used for surveillance of foreign persons overseas, but in practice it sweeps in untold Americans.

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for February 13, 2023: Eagle eye”

First Branch Forecast for February 6, 2023: Balloon payments


At last, we have a mostly-operational Congress as the Senate finally adopted its organizing resolutions appointing members to committees. (Wouldn’t it be nice if the Senate made its resolutions available to the public online before it adopted them?) So far, the House has oscillated between self-congratulation over tweaks to legislative process, grave pronouncements on the debt limit crisis, and playing in the funhouse mirrors of identity politics like the 8:00 hour of certain cable TV news channels.

All of that is coming out at once on the debt limit issue. Both House Leadership and President Biden struck statesmen-like postures, sitting down to discuss the issue and initiate a dialogue that can be acknowledged by the political press, even as the underlying issue shouldn’t be subject to negotiation. Speaker McCarthy emerged speaking of a “good faith” conversation and confidence in finding common ground. Blue Dog Democrats declared their eagerness to help in the negotiations. Meanwhile, the Republican Study Committee reminded themselves that Democrats were “gaslighting” the public for not swallowing Mises Institute economics whole and daring to pass spending packages by majority rule. Apparently oil and natural gas drilling permits are worth crashing the global economy and Congress should repeal the infrastructure bill many Republicans voted against but repeatedly take credit for back home.

So here we are, with new members of the Oversight Committee insisting a single elementary school in Illinois spent more than the equivalent of three space shuttle launches on diversity training. Everything for public consumption seems like messaging. But what is the message?

This week President Biden will deliver the State of the Union Address on Tuesday at 9 PM EST. The Senate will hold one vote on a judicial nomination Tuesday as well. The House is in session for votes and hearings Monday through Thursday. The House Appropriations Committee will organize on Wednesday and HSGAC will organize on Thursday.

Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton will testify before the Committee on House Administration on Thursday at 9 AM EST. Although Blanton will discuss the AOC’s strategic plan for the 118th Congress, which includes physical security for the campus, it’s an opportunity for committee members to question him about the myriad ethics violations that the AOC inspector general detailed last fall. Don’t forget that Democrats have called for the Architect to resign and bipartisan legislation was introduced to empower Congress to push him out. As we discussed recently, statute does not create a clear path for removing Blanton other than impeachment. The appointment and removal process for senior legislative branch leadership is a much broader and poorly understood issue that our colleague Taylor Swift explored in this report.

Remember that AOC also serves on the US Capitol Police Board, which oversees the most untransparent police force in the US. Yes, I’m a bit surly when it comes to this topic. Would the Architect support giving the USCP IG full independence and jurisdiction over the Board? What about making its reports publicly available, like all other IGs? Does the USCP Board now have more than 1 FTE staffer available to support its oversight work? Is the Board routinely taking minutes and providing them to all members of the oversight committees? Does the Architect believe, as did his predecessor, that the Capitol Police Board is needlessly deeming information as sensitive or classified so as to prevent congressional oversight? How many GAO and IG recommendations are still not fully addressed?

Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for February 6, 2023: Balloon payments”