Demand Progress and the Article One Coalition hosted a webinar with congressional experts on the U.S. Capitol Police on Friday, January 15th, 2021. Panelists included Daniel Schuman, policy director for Demand Progress, the only organization that has spent years looking into the budget and operations of the USCP, and Nicole Tisdale, Founder and Principal for Advocacy Blueprints, who spent 10 years on the House Committee on Homeland Security. The event was moderated by Chris Marquette, a congressional ethics and leadership reporter for Roll Call and the lead beat writer on the USCP.
The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has thrust the U.S. Capitol Police into the spotlight. They failed to adequately protect lawmakers, staff, essential workers, and journalists against a mob-led insurrection, despite an abundance of resources.
Demand Progress and the Article One Coalition are hosting a webinar with congressional experts who have covered USCP for years to discuss its opaque history and how Congress must reform the USCP.
You gotta be kidding. We prep this newsletter during the week and finalize it over the weekend. Alas, there’s no way we could possibly evaluate what is in the appropriations + COVID bill(s) for you — and there’s no way most Members of Congress could know what they’re voting on, either. It looks like the negotiations took so long Congress will do a 24-hour CR for when the 2-day CR elapses Sunday at midnight. Details will leak out after House leadership informs members as to its contents (which, as of this writing, are sparse.)
There’s no way members of the House or Senate will have any idea of the details of what’s inside the bill (except, in broad strokes, what they’re told), they won’t have enough time to figure it out, and, even if they understood its contents, the political circumstances mean they won’t have the opportunity to amend or object. This is business as usual for leadership-controlled brinkmanship. Create an artificial cliff (like the end of a CR), wait until it is about to expire, put a holiday break on the other side, and jam a bill through.
COVID RELIEF? This entire COVID relief process has been madness. And the Washington Post’s report that White House staff talked outgoing Pres. Trump from proposing $2,000 stimulus checks while House Dems negotiated themselves down from $3T to less than $1T is ::chef’s kiss::. Political analysts suggest the main reason Sen. McConnell finally was willing to entertain any relief legislation was to avoid undermining elections in Georgia, in which Republican control of the Senate is at stake. If we were in Congress, it would be inappropriate to speculate on motives, but we are not. Our guess is Senate Republicans will block any future relief measures, at the strong encouragement of Sen. McConnell, banking on his belief that making things worse for Americans means that Pres.-elect Biden will get the blame.
Like an iceberg. The process by which Members are selected for committees is one of the most important — and opaque — processes in Congress. As that has been happening right now, we explore it down below.
Rules, rules, rules! We are very excited to see what emerges out of the House Rules Committee process, which will generate new rules for the 117th Congress. By now you know we have our wish list. We suspect our friends on the Rules Committee will be working right up until the deadline to get everything drafted. (Good luck!) While we’re at it, are any changes in store for the Senate?
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I really don’t want to talk about the totally avoidable train-wreck that is the CR, approps omnibus, and COVID relief efforts, which are as infuriating as they are predictable. The latest contretemps are the natural consequence of institutional design and political incentives, shaped by those in power to maintain their power. It is not a story of political polarization; it is not a story of earmarks; it is not a story of a broken budget process; and it is not a story of #bothsides. The final result will be insufficient to the moment, directed by those at the top, and designed to preserve leadership’s control over the chambers, with the anti-governance folks having a veto over those who want to help people in the face of a pandemic claiming 3,100 lives daily. (Maybe I shouldn’t write these newsletters before drinking coffee?)
Intrigue. Behind the scenes, the deck chairs are being re-arranged with respect to the internal power structures in both chambers —
• House: We’ve already seen leadership elections and chair selections in the House (check out our leadership list), with committee appointments to come. The evaporating Democratic majority means a very close call for Speaker Pelosi — a(n unlikely) challenge might destabilize her re-election by the full chamber — and very tight margins over the next two years to move legislation (which likely will happen on a party-line basis). Meanwhile, the House is working to update its rules, which had important reforms last Congress and may contain additional welcome improvements; they may also reflect mechanisms to sustain majority control.
• Senate: Senate Democrats have been working to create a few more opportunities for members to serve as committee chairs (including two unusual but welcome updates to their (secret) caucus rules.) We don’t know what the Senate will look like until the outstanding Georgia elections are resolved. A shift from Sens. McConnell to Schumer, while unlikely, could unlock the possibility of much overdue reforms to that chamber and would make it possible to address aspects of our democracy that Sen. McConnell has worked for decades to unbalance.
House Democrats and Republicans use internal party committees to control major aspects of the legislative process, including choosing who gets to serve on legislative committees. Who serves on these committees and how are they chosen? Read on. (If this seems familiar, we looked at internal party committee makeup for the 116th Congress here).
Under the House rules, each party decides committee assignments for its Members. As a result, the steering and policy committees are an integral piece to secure intraparty power. With a large number of Members competing for a relatively small number of key committee assignments and leadership roles, the parties’ respective steering committees act as a filter for who rise and fall, creating a sorting mechanism among the party’s internal factions. It is also a mechanism by which leadership taxes Members to provide financial contributions in support of the party.
In early March, the House passed H.Res 756, adopting modernization recommendations of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. The resolution included 29 recommendations that were unanimously reported by the Fix Congress Committee in 2019. The resolution called on legislative support offices to start a number of projects and report back on how to implement others.
Last week, the Committee on House Administration released a series of congressional reports that were due in H.Res 756. We continue to catalogue the projects and their due dates into a public spreadsheet, and have them broken down by items.
Pundits, prognosticators, and pols are starting to talk openly about the interregnum between the election and the start of the 117th Congress… and what comes afterward. This NYT opinion piece, for example, outlines a pro-democracy agenda to “end minority rule” and push back on anti-democratic practices undertaken by the Trump administration and its congressional allies. On their checklist: protecting and supporting the right to vote, reducing gerrymandering, eliminating the filibuster, granting DC and PR statehood, and ending the electoral college. On ours: restoring funding to Congress and reinvigorating its powers.
Speaking of Judge Barrett, the Senate Judiciary Committee ignored its own rule (Rule III(1)) that requires two members of the minority party to be present to constitute a quorum for transacting business, and Sen. Schumer’s point of order that would have protected the rights of Committee members was voted down on the Senate floor 53-44. We’ve discussed previously the vast irregularities of the Senate proceedings concerning Judge Barrett, which Senate Democrats have highlighted by forcing the Senate majority to work its will without the usual consent granted by the minority. For all intents and purposes, Sen. McConnell has transformed the Senate into a majoritarian institution. Should Democrats take control of the Senate, the big question is whether members of that party will stay as united on protecting their agenda as Sen. McConnell has gotten his members to stay united in protecting his.
How will we know if the Dems are serious? I can’t say for sure, but an early sign will be whether Sen. Feinstein returns as chair of the Judiciary Committee. The alignment of capable committee chairs to Democratic priorities is a significant indicator of their seriousness to move forward an agenda — which will depend on how they structure their (still secret) caucus rules.
Let’s give McConnell the last word on this today. “A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election. They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented legislative challenges unlike anything modern governments have ever seen. In response to COVID-19, legislatures across the world have adapted to remain connected to one another and their constituents, pass emergency legislation to provide relief, and oversee the executive to ensure that funds and programs are effectively delivered.
On Thursday at 12:30 pm ET, the International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform (iLegis), in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, is hosting a free webinar with legislative experts to discuss the challenges faced by legislatures around the world. Panelists include Dr. Ronan Cormacain (British Institute of International and Comparative Law), Dr. Ittai Bar-Siman-Tov (Bar Ilan University), and Mr. Noah Wofsy (U.S. House of Representatives). It will be moderated by Tobias Dorsey (White House Office of Administration). The webinar will include a Q&A with participants.
Thursday. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a meeting to consider the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barret on Thursday. In addition, there’s a growing effort to push Sen. Feinstein out as the Committee’s Democratic leader after she poorly handled the proceedings. I have a lot to say on what’s happened, so please read Barrett, Graham, Feinstein, and de Tocqueville.
COVID deal fake-out. The negotiations are just for show and the upcoming Senate vote is cynical. Speaker Pelosi missed her chance back in the spring to insist on different priorities, and everything has ineluctably followed from that.
House Dem leadership election dates are set for November 18th and 19th, the first week the House comes back in session after the election, with votes for contested committee chairs on the 30th. (Anyone know the dates for the Senate or House Rs?)
House Rules. We hosted a webinar on how the House of Representatives will consider updating its rules and some of the ideas under consideration. Check out the video and the slides from the presentation. We summarized the proposals put forward by Members of Congress before the House Rules committee to modernize the House rules. Here are our ideas.
Party rules. After the election, the parties will hold elections and transact a lot of other business. House Democrats, House Republicans, and Senate Republicans now post their party rules; Senate Dems seemingly do not. We ran down (as far as we could) who gets to appoint committee members, i.e., those who are on the House Democratic Steering Committee and Republican Steering Committee, although we don’t have the full list. We don’t know who serves in that capacity in the Senate. And we had no luck at all in obtaining the rules of procedure for the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. More on the chair races below.
Welcome to a shorter-than-normal First Branch Forecast. You might notice that we get more political than usual at parts of this week’s newsletter. Our focus is on a strong and capable legislative branch, and I can’t think of a more honest way to present the material. I hope it still provides useful insights.
THE TOP LINE The Senate Judiciary Committee holds the first day of its norm-defying SCOTUS confirmation hearing for Judge Barrett this morning. How might it play out? We hosted a discussion late last week with experts on Senate procedure that you can watch here.
No COVID relief. Pres. Trump now says he wants a relief bill coming in above $2.2T while Senate Republicans are below $1T. What this means is that Pres. Trump wants to campaign on non-existent COVID relief (to rally the stock market) and Senate R’s are leery about getting primaried in 2022 for supporting the measure. This might be the start of the post-Trump era in the Senate (but not necessarily post-Trumpism).
Wait, what? Yeah, certain Senate Republicans are gingerly putting distance between themselves and the president, and we can all speculate why. My cynical view is that the absence of a significant COVID-relief bill; the failure to advance approps, the upcoming CR fight, and possible government shut-down; and a rushed effort to remake the SCOTUS are all tacit recognition by Senate R leadership of a likely Biden administration and Democratic Congress. In short, I think they are setting up time bombs to blow up the transition and sink the incoming administration.