First Branch Forecast

Forecast for September 29, 2020.

Good morning, Congress. This week’s First Branch Forecast is shorter than usual because there’s so much going on that we’re overwhelmed. We’ll catch up on a backlog next week. Here’s the top six things you need to know.


You know you’ve been waiting for it for two years. The House Rules Committee is holding its Member Day Hearing this Thursday at 1pm to listen to your boss’s ideas to improve the House’s rules, and any Member wishing to testify must submit a request by 5pm today (Tuesday) by filling out this form. If your boss can’t make the virtual hearing, you still can reach out to Rules Committee staff. Looking for ideas? Check out our voluminous recommendations (including our top 13).


The Judiciary Committee is expected to start four days of hearings on Pres. Trump’s SCOTUS nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, on Oct. 12, with a floor vote anticipated the week of Oct. 26th. The Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, had pledged he would vote for the nominee without even knowing who it is. Rubber meet stamp. The untimely nomination is moving forward with unprecedented haste. In the meantime, the Intercept published a memo on options available to Sen. Schumer and Senate Democrats should they seek to bring a more stately pace to the proceedings — i.e., let the next President choose, as most Americans prefer, while Senate Republicans are prepping for Dem tactics that would require at least 51 Republican senators to stay in town to bat down any and all concerns. But, as BGov noted, Sen. Schumer hasn’t done much to delay things … so far. A question: some tactics rely on the House staying in town, so are they still planning on closing up shop at the end of the week?


President Trump once again expressed an unwillingness to commit to a peaceful transition of power and is using additional tactics (like undermining vote by mail and vocal support for vigilantes) that are at odds with a free-and-fair election — and a democracy. The Senate passed a non-binding resolution in support of a peaceful transition of power, and a House resolution is on tap for this week, but even with the ongoing (and likely escalating) efforts to undermine the election results, it’s unlikely that the upper chamber would stand up to President Trump now, especially as it hasn’t done so previously. Meanwhile, the Atlantic is gaming out what happens if Trump refuses to be fired, and Politico describes what happens if the election is kicked to the House. The last time this happened, the political deal killed Reconstruction and led to the widespread enactment of segregation and other Jim Crow laws, whose effects are still felt today.


House Democrats have put forth a partial democracy reform package, the Protecting Our Democracy Act, aimed at fixing a few loopholes in the system that allow for presidential bad behavior. The bill contains measures with wide bipartisan support, like making sure the Executive branch follows Congress’s spending decisions, bolstering IG independence, and requiring Congressional approval for presidentially-declared emergencies that last longer than 30 days. It also strengthens Congress’s ability to enforce subpoenas. Is it enough? No, we think it misses some crucial issues, but it’s a good start.


If everything goes right — I cannot believe I wrote that — the Senate will vote Wednesday, the last day of the fiscal year, to adopt a short term CR through December 11th. We think that is too short-term, as it punts hard questions to the same time-frame that Congress may be looking at a very messy election, but what do we know? House Members voting on the CR had only 30 minutes to review the 115 page bill, which is astonishing. The underlying approps bills will be negotiated now even though the Senate has not passed their bills (to avoid taking hard votes before the election). We haven’t followed the minutia around the next COVID relief bill, although our guess is it will either contain too many concessions or serve as a messaging bill.


The House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress unanimously reported another 40 recommendations this past week, bringing the total to 97. This package of recs includes ideas updating the MRA formula, (voluntary) staff pay bands (to address weaknesses in staff pay), restoring OTA, upgrading the Bulk Data Task Force, examining creating a Congressional Digital Service, fixing the House calendar, and more (including congressionally-directed grants). The SCOMC has officially turned into a pumpkin, with only the text of its final report pending, although we hope the House and Senate will find an official way to extend these modernization efforts.


 The House can sue the President for building a border wall with funds appropriated for other purposes, the DC Court of Appeals held last week.This is a huge win for Congressional authority.

• Yech. The U.S. Capitol Police disciplinary reports show a disturbing pattern of misconduct. As we’ve said before, the USCP is a nightmare from a government transparency and accountability perspective, especially in light of the more than 2,000 employees and nearly $500m budget.

• Protections for intelligence whistleblowers need improvement, a GAO investigation found.

• The White House blocked the FDA Commissioner from testifying before the House about the pandemic response. Obviously, they shouldn’t be able to do this.

• Federal judges wenttoo far when they requested Congress ban the publication of certain personal information about judges: they want to make it illegal for journalists to publish key information needed for transparency, oversight, and accountability.


After 15 years, the Sunlight Foundation has officially closed its doors. Many of you know that I was their policy counsel for almost 5 years. The transparency, accountability, and technology work lives on with us and many of the organization’s alumni, who are spread out across civil society, government, the press, and the private sector.

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