Forecast for June 8, 2020

THE TOP LINE

Police reform takes center stage. Widespread outrage over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, combined with dozens of videos of police attacking non-violent demonstrators, the use of unidentified internal security forces to police DC streets, and more than 140 police attacks on the press have elevated public pressure on Congress to address systemic police misconduct. This may prompt the House to restart its floor proceedings sooner than planned, possible with police reform legislation.

Majority Leader Hoyer updated the House calendar last week in a very unusual way. Every weekday in June is a committee work day, with no floor votes expected except for June 30-July 2, followed by another two weeks of committee work days, and another two weeks of floor votes. Unusually, the House will be conducting business M-F — it usually only holds meetings in DC from Tue.-Thurs. — which means the House will have more days to get work done and, if members do not fly in-and-out, more meaningful time to work and a more efficient work schedule. This will be an interesting experiment; you might recall that fixing the House’s calendar was one of the priorities of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.

Appropriations and NDAA markups scheduled. On Thursday, Approps Chair Lowey indicated approps markups will be held the weeks of July 6 and 13, with the expectation that bills could be on the floor the weeks of July 20 and 27. Meanwhile, the HASC scheduled the FY21 NDAA to begin on July 1, with subcommittee markups starting June 22. The Senate begins mark ups for the NDAA today. Your guess is as good as ours about whether and how the hundreds of NDAA amendments will be considered on the floor.

The first bill to be enacted by proxy voting was signed by Trump. On Friday, the president signed the latest PPP reform bill into law, even though many House members voted by proxy when the measure passed the House two weeks ago. What does this mean for the Republican lawsuit against proxy voting?

FISA legislation still in limbo. This bill is a great illustration of how Democratic and Republican leadership join together and use their positions and informational advantage to put one over on the rank and file. Reauthorization of surveillance legislation — the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act — remains in limbo after House Democratic and Republican leadership maneuvered the House to request a conference committee when it became clear that Republicans had joined with progressives on the bill’s substance and would succeed in killing the bill after leadership stripped out one very popular pro-civil liberties amendment (Lee-Leahy) and stymied consideration of another (Daines-Wyden). House leadership had previously prevented amendments in committee and on the floor, but the Senate passed a stronger version of the bill after civil libertarians sustained a filibuster and got concessions. The bill was moving forward until it became apparent that security hawks had added trojan horse language to the House version of the Daines-Wyden amendment, which would have inverted its effect. The House has named its conference committee members, but the Senate has yet to agree to conference.

The US Capitol Police and transparency is the subject of a letter we released this morning.

Continue reading “Forecast for June 8, 2020”

The PLUM Act: Transparency for Political Appointees

by Jason Briefel and Maggi Molina

A president will appoint more than 4,000 individuals to serve in an administration, yet “there is no single source of data on political appointees serving in the executive branch that is publicly available, comprehensive, and timely,” according to the Government Accountability Office in a March 2019 report.

Instead, these positions are compiled and published exactly once every four years in a congressional document known as the Plum Book (officially the United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions). This book is published only in December after a presidential election (before the president even gets sworn in) and includes important data for each position, including title, salary and location.  

Continue reading “The PLUM Act: Transparency for Political Appointees”

Continuity of Congress Play-By-Play For The Week Ending May 2, 2020.

CONTINUITY OF CONGRESS: House of Representatives

Activity on remote proceedings for the past week fills two pages on our ongoing timeline.  Sunday was not a day of rest, as the New Dems Coalition sent a second letter to House Leadership, urging them to bring a remote voting resolution to the floor no later than May 4 (today).  

Continue reading “Continuity of Congress Play-By-Play For The Week Ending May 2, 2020.”

CRS Report: “The Office of Technology Assessment: History, Authorities, Issues, and Options”

CRS issued an updated report on OTA on April 29, 2020, that “describes the OTA’s historical mission, organizational structure, funding, staffing, operations, and perceived strengths and weakness. The report concludes with a discussion of issues and options surrounding reestablishing the agency or its functions.” 

Continue reading “CRS Report: “The Office of Technology Assessment: History, Authorities, Issues, and Options””

Forecast for April 27, 2020.

Good morning. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in 200,000 dead worldwide, including 50,000 deaths in the U.S. and 165 dead in Washington, D.C., with the number of metropolitan cases continuing to increase. Despite the rising toll, the House and Senate held in-person votes this past week, several members of Congress want to reopen the Capitol, and some members ignored safety measures. We believe Congress must get back to work — safely. But efforts in both chambers to permit remote deliberations did not reach fruition.

There continues to be a pollyannish approach to this pandemic, especially on the part of federal lawmakers. People hold unsupported beliefs: COVID-19 is just like the flu, you don’t need masks, it will burn itself out by summer, it doesn’t strike children, having COVID-19 confers immunity, there will be a vaccine next year, and so on. Some of these beliefs we know are wrong, others are optimistic assumptions.

We won’t know when COVID-19 will end and we have major gaps in our understanding of the disease. Contingency planning includes preparing for a range of possible outcomes, including less optimistic scenarios: what if it causes permanent disability? What if a vaccine takes a long time? Proper planning should also address confounding problems: what if there’s a hurricane? What if a Supreme Court justice dies? What if air travel stops?

Continue reading “Forecast for April 27, 2020.”

Presidential Signing Statements: Congressional Actions

(Update, 04/24/20): On April 3, we provided a summary of all the congressional actions related to signing statements. Here is an analysis of the common themes in the legislation: 

  • Requires the Executive to give Congress notice and reasoning for all statements.
  • Bars government entities (including state and federal courts) from using signing statements in interpreting the law.
  • Gives Congress standing to seek declaratory relief, allows Congress to intervene in cases or allows Congress to issue “clarifying” statement.  
  • Requires AG, Deputy AG, White House Counsel to testify before Judiciary at the behest of any single member to explain; can’t invoke executive privilege.  
  • Limits funds made available to the Executive to produce, publish, or disseminate any signing statement.
  • Cuts off funding authorized or expended to implement any law accompanied by a signing statement if Executive doesn’t comply with congressional restrictions on signing statements. 

(Original Article) Following up on our discussion of Signing Statements (triggered by the President’s signing statement on the coronavirus relief legislation), here are the hearings and legislation we found on the subject. If we missed something, please email maggi@demandprogress.org

Continue reading “Presidential Signing Statements: Congressional Actions”

Forecast for April 13, 2020.

It has been another tough week just about everywhere. We hope you and yours are staying safe. This newsletter is becoming harder and harder to write, but we hope it is helpful as we work together to keep our democracy.

CONTINUITY OF CONGRESS

We launched a website that gathers all the major resources and developments on continuity of Congress. Cleverly enough, it’s at continuityofcongress.org. Did we miss something? Drop us an email at daniel@demandprogress.org.

Read this: the Washington Post’s Mike Debonis and Paul Kane have a superb article that you really should read: “Sidelined by coronavirus pandemic, Congress cedes stage and authority to Trump.” They don’t have everything — we worked awfully hard on our report addressing the issues raised by House Rules Dems — but they expertly illustrate how power is shifting to the Executive branch as Congress has made itself unable to act.

• Speaker Pelosi is continuing to dig in on remote deliberations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and dismissed calls from the rank and file: “We’re not there yet, and we’re not going to be there no matter how many letters somebody sends in.”

• Perhaps the letters she referenced were those from the House New Dems and Problem Solvers Caucuses. New Dems urged that “Committees should … utiliz[e] the technology solutions identified by the House Committee on Administration to hold virtual legislative hearings and meetings as soon as possible.” The Problem Solvers called for “alternative ways” for the House to function that boil down to different versions of remote deliberations.

• According to our latest count111 members of the House have publicly articulated support for remote voting. (Majority Leader McConnell has entirely disappeared from this debate.)

 A new poll said “80% of Americans support Members of Congress being able to vote ‘remotely’ during the coronavirus pandemic,” and only 10% oppose. Members of Congress must be feeling the pressure to get back to work.

Continue reading “Forecast for April 13, 2020.”