Forecast for May 26, 2020

THE TOP LINE

The Senate is out for Memorial Day recess; the House will be in for votes tomorrow and Thursday. (Yes, today is Tuesday. Welcome back.)

Speaker Pelosi triggered a 45-day emergency period for remote committee and floor deliberations on May 20th; we calculate the end-date as July 4th, unless it is extended. Members can opt to vote by proxy or in person; proxy designations are here. Hopefully the House will quickly move to remote floor voting; we’re tracking everything here. Cheers to retiring Rep. Rooney for endorsing remote deliberations.

The House will vote on the domestic-surveillance bill known as the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act, with leadership reportedly agreeing late on Friday to allow consideration of an amendment to require the FBI obtain a warrant prior to searching an American’s Internet search and browser histories. This is an interesting instance where rank-and-file pressure re-opened a bill that leadership had previously jammed through without a markup or amendments.

Senator McConnell is attacking the House for proxy voting, suggesting (at least in POLITICO’s summary) that he wouldn’t take up House bills enacted this way. Given that the Senate wasn’t taking up House bills anyway; that the Senate is in recess while the House is at work; that some senators stand accused of violating the STOCK Act; that appropriations bills originate in the House; and the pace of Senate public-facing activity has slowed to a crawl; this seems more like an effort at distraction than a serious charge; perhaps he should focus on the Senate.

House Dems intro’d a bill to protect Inspectors General from arbitrary removal, with some prominent Democratic sponsors. The Project on Government Oversight’s Executive Dir. explained why protecting IGs is important (and what else should be done) in this op-ed. WaPo takes a look at Sen. Grassley, who historically has defended IGs, and POLITICO describes how unitary executive theory — the extreme political view that the president controls everyone in the executive branch — is being used to undermine IG independence.

We’ve added new international resources to our twitterbot @OpenAtAGlance, which tweets primary sources on legislative operations + actions.

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Continue reading “Forecast for May 26, 2020”

Forecast for May 18, 2020

What a week. On Friday, the House adopted a remote voting resolution (H. Res. 965) that provides for proxy voting on the floor, remote committee hearings, and creates a pathway for remote voting on the floor and remote mark-ups in committees. In other words, the House can function for the foreseeable future despite the COVID-19 pandemic, creating the possibility of a legislative check on the executive branch. The Senate, meanwhile, continues to play Russian roulette with its members, staff, and the ability of that chamber to function.

Just a few months ago, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader McConnell spoke out in opposition to remote deliberations, and Minority Leader McCarthy denounced it from the House floor. It is unusual, to say the least, for a rules change to pass over the opposition of the leaders of both parties in the House, but intense political pressure and the political reality prompted Speaker Pelosi to do a 180, and she put her own stamp on the rule to protect (and possibly aggrandize) her power vis-a-vis the rank-and-file. (Full disclosure: we support remote voting.) The final vote was partisan, but I suspect many House Republicans welcome the move to keep the House functioning even if they wish it had come about differently.

When the House comes back on May 27th, it will vote on a surveillance reauthorization bill, which will be the first major legislation voted by proxy in the House. What’s notable about the Orwellian-named “USA Freedom Reauthorization Act” is (1) the underlying law stayed lapsed in part because of no remote deliberations; (2) the bill was recently amended in the Senate to allow outside experts to weigh in on FBI surveillance requests, and (3) that an amendment failed 59-37 to prohibit the government from warrantlessly-surveilling your website browsing information and search history, but two of the absent Senators would have voted for it had, say, remote voting been in place. Will Speaker Pelosi — who is a hard-liner for national security issues trumping civil liberties — allow the House to consider a pro civil-liberties amendment that has 60+ votes in the Senate? If she does not, what mechanisms are available to House members in a proxy-voting environment to force a vote on that amendment? How do the new processes affect their leverage?

Continue reading “Forecast for May 18, 2020”

Forecast for May 5, 2020.

You may have noticed that you didn’t receive this week’s First Branch Forecast on Monday. This newsletter takes a team to write, and with so much happening last week and over the weekend, I ran out of time to finalize it on Sunday. Here is an abbreviated version.

COMING UP THIS WEEK

Wednesday at 2 join our roundtable on Lessons learned from Remote Committee Proceedings. Speakers include the congressional staff who held the committee roundtables, former members of congress, and experts from civil society and academia. Also, we spoke to Civic Hall last week on continuity of Congress.

Congress needs tech help fast; think you’re up to the challenge? TechCongress launched a Congressional Digital Service fellowship to help get Congress functioning amid pandemic; the deadline to apply is Sunday.

We’re keeping an eye on the Senate Rules Committee, which is meeting on Thursday. Maybe they’ll say something about moving the Senate towards working remotely? (Maybe they should call the Supreme Court, who actually broadcast audio of oral arguments yesterday.)

Continue reading “Forecast for May 5, 2020.”

Forecast for April 20, 2020

TOP LINE

The House inches forward on remote deliberations. Speaker Pelosi belatedly flipped her position and now supports a very limited form of remote voting, although it remains to be seen whether she will support restarting the committees and allowing remote deliberations on the floor — and whether she needs to bring members back to change the rules. Her choice remains remote Congress or no Congress, but she could misuse this opportunity to further centralize power in leadership’s hands.

The Senate is nowhere on remote deliberations, at least with respect to the floor, although there are some rumblings about committees.

Make it work. CRS issued a report on the constitutionality of remote voting and an assortment of civil society and former members held a simulated hearing to show how remote committee deliberations could work.

With Congress defunct, the President made (another) grab for Legislative Branch powers.

Check out our newest resources, including a website of all things continuity of congress, a database of the Members of Congress who support remote voting, the results of the House study on pay and diversity as a downloadable dataset, and our investigation of trends in CRS work over the last 30 years.

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Forecast for April 6, 2020.

TOP LINE

It’s been another never-ending week. We hope that you’re staying healthy and staying at home. This issue focuses on continuity of Congress, protecting whistleblowers, mass surveillance, and coronavirus “oversight.” 

(Hey, if you’re regularly reading our little newsletter, why not subscribe if you have not already? It’s free…)

Continue reading “Forecast for April 6, 2020.”

Forecast for March 30, 2020.

TOP LINE

In case you need a reminder…it’s Monday again; we hope everyone is feeling well and hanging in there. This week’s First Branch Forecast focuses on continuity of Congress and the emergency Coronavirus bill, which are inextricably linked. We also have some important reads in our Oversight & Transparency + Odds & Ends sections as well as a discussion of presidential signing statements.

Continue reading “Forecast for March 30, 2020.”