83 Organizations Join Demand Progress Action and the Fred T. Korematsu Institute to Support Passage of Legislative Package Honoring World War II-Era Civil Rights Hero Fred Korematsu Who Fought Against US Concentration Camps

Demand Progress Action and the Fred T. Korematsu Institute led a coalition of 85 civil society organizations to call on Congress to support a new bicameral legislative package introduced today by Senators Hirono and Duckworth and Reps. Takano and Tokuda that recognizes civil rights hero Fred Korematsu for his activism against US incarceration of American citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps during World War II. 

“The legislation introduced by Senators Hirono and Duckworth and Reps. Takano and Tokuda honors the legacy of civil rights hero Fred Korematsu, who bravely challenged our government’s policy of forcing Americans and residents of Japanese ancestry into concentration camps during World War II,” said Hajar Hammado policy advisor of Demand Progress. “As xenophobia, racism, and anti-Asian violence surge in America, it’s critically important to elevate this grim history for all Americans to learn from it and to affirm the liberties that we must always be on guard to protect, just as Fred Korematsu did.”

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Demand Progress Education Fund, Freedom of Press Foundation Lead 43 Organizations Calling on House to Let C-SPAN Control Cameras on the House Floor

Demand Progress Education Fund and Freedom of the Press Foundation led a broad coalition of press freedom organizations, government accountability and civil liberties organizations, and media outlets in urging House leadership to let C-SPAN have independent control of cameras that broadcast and stream House floor proceedings. 

The group sent a letter today to Speaker McCarthy and Democratic Leader Jeffries endorsed by organizations spanning the ideological spectrum.

“When C-SPAN is able to call its own shots, the American public benefits by getting an authentic and transparent view of how Congress functions and the mood of the chamber,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress Education Fund. “We can see what really happens on the House floor, such as unexpected bipartisan negotiations like when Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Gosar had a one-on-one conversation during the Speaker vote-a-rama.”

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Demand Progress, Congressional Progressive Staff Association, and Congressional Workers Union Urge Congress to Approve Congressional Staff Pay Overtime Regulations

Demand Progress Action joined forces with the Congressional Progressive Staff Association (CPSA) and the Congressional Workers Union to implore leaders from both chambers to enact Office of Congressional Workplace Rights (OCWR) regulations to update Fair Labor Standards Act overtime provisions for congressional staff before the lame duck session ends. Demand Progress sent letters today to House and Senate leaders. The CPSA letter endorsed by the Congressional Workers Union and more than 220 congressional staffers is here.

Back in September, the OCWR described the current regulations as “woefully outdated” when it issued new guidelines that would bring congressional overtime pay to parity with the executive branch and private sector. The newly proposed regulations cannot go into effect until approved separately or collectively by each chamber of Congress. 

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Demand Progress and Lincoln Network Issue Bipartisan House Rules Recommendations Calling for Rebalancing Power in the 118th Congress

The progressive grassroots policy advocacy organization Demand Progress and the right-leaning technology nonprofit Lincoln Network have joined forces to urge the House of Representatives to adopt modern rules that improve congressional transparency, oversight, technology, and more. The bipartisan recommendations issued today by the two groups emphasize changes to House Rules that give more power to the rank-and-file members to shape legislation. 

The recommendations are timely, as the House Rules Committee hears today from members concerning the Rules they want adopted at the start of the 118th Congress in January. 

“There’s too much concentrated power in congressional leadership, which distorts the legislative process and stifles collaboration by members who share common interests,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “These common-sense recommendations restore balance in the House so that all members can meaningfully engage in policymaking.”

“The Rules the House enacts will shape how Congress will function and who will have power,” said Zach Graves, executive director of Lincoln Network. “It’s important to democratize the House so more rank-and-file members have a say in the legislation that gets considered and so that committees don’t have their roles usurped by leadership. All members are elected to Congress and each one has a duty and obligation to represent their constituents.”

The package of bipartisan Rules recommendations identifies improvements the House should adopt to improve transparency of legislative information, internal operations and scheduling, congressional efficiency and oversight, congressional security, congressional capacity and staff, and ethics, as well as which Rules to retain from the previous two Congresses. 

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Statement on Senate Judiciary Subcmte Hearing: “Office of Legal Counsel’s Role in Shaping Executive Privilege Doctrine”

Today at 2 PM ET, the Senate Judiciary subcommittee is holding a hearing entitled “The Office of Legal Counsel’s Role in Shaping Executive Privilege Doctrine” with OLC’s Assistant Attorney General Christopher Schroeder as the sole witness. 

Given that secrecy is an all-too-common aspect of the OLC’s work, and that its secrecy has at times undermined the rule of law and the operations of that office, we will be watching for any insights about how the subcmte would promote disclosure of OLC opinions as an antidote. Congress should act now to lock-in transparency of OLC opinions

This position in favor of transparency was embraced by AAG Schroeder before he was appointed and confirmed to his current role, as well as by a number of attorneys who formerly worked in the Office of Legal Counsel. They have pointed to abuses of the OLC process by that office’s issuing opinions that “arguably distort the separation of powers by brooking no recognition for Congress’s prerogatives as a co-equal branch, in high-visibility disputes with Congress over politically charged legal questions.”

Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress Education Fund, said: “OLC is a major mechanism by which Congress’s powers are diluted, limited, and ignored. Its opinions should be proactively disclosed to protect our democracy and the rule of law. There is no reason for Congress to wait to move on any of the three off-the-shelf ready-to-go OLC transparency reforms that have bipartisan coalition support.”  

Those reforms include: 

  1. authorizing legislation (Demanding Oversight and Justification Over Legal Conclusions Transparency Act or the DOJ OLC Transparency Act, S. 3858, and its companion House bill, the SUNLIGHT Act of 2022, H.R. 7619.
  2. the Duckworth amendment to the FY2023 NDAA (S.Amdt. 6246 to H.R. 7900);
  3. the directive in the appropriations committee report (H. Rept. 117-395, p. 59) accompanying the House’s FY 2023 appropriations bill for the DOJ.

And of course, Schroeder could proactively update the OLC’s “Best Practices” memorandum to instate proactive disclosure of OLC opinions without waiting for Congressional direction. Let’s not forget that in 2004, he was one of 18 former senior DOJ officials who signed a document entitled Principles to Guide the Office of Legal Counsel that specifically said: “OLC should publicly disclose its written legal opinions in a timely manner, absent strong reasons for delay or nondisclosure.”

Also, don’t miss the American Constitution Society’s Statement on OLC opinions, to which many former OLC attorneys contributed, that identifies many problems with OLC’s non-transparency practices — including harm to the office itself — and recommends “the Office should demonstrate its commitment to ensuring executive branch accountability through transparency by articulating a strong presumption in favor of publishing its final formal opinions.”

When Schroeder was a nominee in 2021, Demand Progress led a bipartisan coalition including Americans for Prosperity, the National Taxpayers Union, and the Federation of American Scientists that called for the OLC to adopt a policy of proactively disclosing OLC opinions. We’ve also testified to the Senate requesting OLC transparency language be included in the CJS Approps subcommittee bill — such language was included in the House; and the pending Duckworth-Leahy DOJ OLC Transparency Act.

Today’s hearing is described as focusing on the Executive branch’s views on the executive privilege doctrine, and is reportedly a follow-up to the previous executive privilege hearing in August 2021, during which several witnesses pointed to the OLC as the primary driver of executive privilege doctrine in the Executive branch and identified OLC as partly responsible for the increasingly aggressive legal positions the Executive branch has taken to thwart Congressional oversight in recent years.

Demand Progress Education Fund Releases Primer on Union Organizing Rights for Congressional Staff 

Report Authored by Kevin Mulshine, former Senior Advisor and Counsel on the first staff of the Office of Compliance/Office of Congressional Workplace Rights

Demand Progress Education Fund released today Union Organizing Rights on Capitol Hill to equip staff in the US House of Representatives with guidance on how they can implement newly won rights to collectively bargain. Written by former counsel from the Congressional office responsible for implementing House union rules, this primer covers topics including how House staffers can select a union representative, the value of collective bargaining in House offices, and what a contract might guarantee. Author Kevin Mulshine also discussed Congressional union rights at a Demand Progress virtual briefing the week the unionization rules went into effect.

“Now that staff in the House of Representatives have won the right to unionize, they need non-partisan, factual information that describes what they can negotiate for under a collective bargaining agreement in order to create a smoothly-functioning workplace,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress Education Fund. “Along with recent reforms to improve the Congressional workplace and redress longstanding deficiencies, the ability for staff to negotiate for fair working conditions will allow the Legislative branch to continue to make course corrections to meet the needs of employers and employees, thereby sustaining Congress’s ability to recruit and retain diverse public servants dedicated to working on behalf of the American people for years to come.”

Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress Education Fund

The Union Organizing Rights on Capitol Hill report explains:

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Statement on House Staff Pay Floor Increase Going into Effect Sept. 1

“At long last, no Member of the House of Representatives is permitted to pay their staff poverty wages. As of September 1, every staff person in the House of Representatives must be paid at least $45,000 a year, which meets the living wage in high cost Washington, DC,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “We applaud the House staff who have spoken out in support of a living wage for their colleagues, the Members of Congress who advocated for a pay floor, and Speaker Pelosi and House leadership for establishing this common-sense requirement that removes personal wealth as a precondition for public service. We urge the Senate to join the House and establish a $45,000 pay floor for all staff.”

Demand Progress Action and Congressional Progressive Staff Association Call on Senate Leadership to Increase Staff Pay Floor to $45,000

The CPSA letter was signed by 150 current congressional staffers, while the letter led by the advocacy organization Demand Progress Action was signed by over 15 organizations.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Congressional Progressive Staff Association (CPSA) and Demand Progress Action sent two letters to Senator Pro-Tempore Patrick Leahy and Senate Leadership calling for the upper chamber to match the House’s commitment to paying their staff a minimum salary of $45,000 a year.

Following the release of CPSA’s survey data analyzing workplace conditions of over 500 staffers in both the House and Senate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a pay floor of $45,000 for all congressional staffers in the House. This will officially become House policy on September 1st, but thousands of staffers in the Senate will still be making less than $45,000 a year without further action from Senate Leadership.

Writing as the “staffers who make up the fabric of your offices,” the signers of the letter say that “establishing a minimum salary floor of $45,000 for Senate staff would be a welcome change for the staffers who commit their lives to this institution. Like House staffers, Senate staff struggle to pay rent, bills, and keep food on the table. 

Compensating Senate staff fairly would not only enable current staff to keep their heads above water while the cost of living rises across the country, but it would also open more doors in the halls of Congress to those who wish to make their country a better place.

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Statement on passage of the Periodically Listing Updates to Management (PLUM) Act

The House included the Periodically Listing Updates to Management (PLUM) Act as an amendment to the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed last week.

“In passing the Periodically Listing Updates to Management (PLUM) Act, Congress just took an important step to increase transparency of political appointees, who are among the most senior leaders of the Executive branch, and known for having ‘plum positions’ because of their close and confidential relationships with key officials and ability to steer policy matters with little public oversight,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress.

“The PLUM Act provides Congress and taxpayers with a tool to hold administrations and their appointees accountable by requiring the Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to create a frequently-updated online directory of senior government leaders and vacant senior Executive branch positions. This is a vast improvement over the current practice of publishing a paper-only book every four years and should also increase the visibility of public service opportunities and widen the pool of diverse candidates pursuing high-level positions in the federal government.

Demand Progress has long supported the bill, and we commend Representatives Connolly, Castro, Mfume, Ocasio-Cortez, Sarbanes; Del. Norton; and Senators Braun, Duckworth, and Merkley for advancing this bipartisan legislation to resolve an important issue raised by the Government Accountability Office, which noted in a March 2019 report that ‘there is no single source of data on political appointees serving in the executive branch that is publicly available, comprehensive, and timely.’”

Statement on House Union Rules Taking Effect

Today, the House is marking a major milestone that will forever change the rights of staff as recently-approved Office of Workplace Rights regulations permitting unionization go into effect.

“Staff in the House of Representatives work long hours at low pay to meet the needs of the American people and we are pleased they will finally be able to enjoy a crucial right long available to workers across the country: the right to collectively organize to improve their working conditions,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress. “Providing House political and non-political staff the ability to join a labor union, an effort a quarter-century in the making, illustrates one avenue to transform the institution from within, as Congress’s ability to function well depends on a well-trained, expert staff devoted to making our democracy work for all. Additional work remains, including extending these labor rights to Senate political staff and some support agency staff currently excluded from collective bargaining laws.”