Archive for the ‘Senate’ Tag

District of Columbia may soon have full representation in U.S. House

A bill that would give the District of Columbia full representation in the U.S. House has cleared a key hurdle in the Senate, a procedural vote invoking cloture, 62-34, that will allow it to face a final vote in that chamber later this week.  A majority of senators appear to support it.  If passed by the Senate, it will then go to the House of Representatives, where such bills have previously been approved in past Congresses.  President Obama has indicated he will sign the legislation.

In 2002 the District almost added "Taxation Without Representation", which would have ruined their excellent flag. If this bill passes, the flag will be even safer.

In 2002 the District almost added "Taxation Without Representation" to their excellent flag. If this bill passes, the flag will be even safe from such defacement.

The District presently has a Delegate in the House of Representatives, since 1991 Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).  Delegates can vote in committee and on amendments but not on final passage of legislation.  Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands also currently have delegates in the House; none has representation in the Senate (which the present bill would not change for the District).

Washington, D.C. is overwhelmingly Democratic; typically only about 10-15% of the city’s vote in presidential elections goes to the Republican ticket.  It is extremely unlikely that the District would elect a Republican to any House seat that it is given.  I don’t think such political considerations should bear on the matter, however.  The bill in question, S. 160, would also grant another House seat to the State of Utah, which is currently represented by two Republicans and one Democrat, in the lower house.  Utah is one of the most Republican-leaning states in the Union and would likely elect a Republican to that seat.  The state missed out on gaining a fourth representative by just 856 people after the 2000 census (it went instead to North Carolina; there were some lawsuits over the way people were counted, but they went against Utah).

I think that the people of Washington, D.C. should have full representation in Congress—and not just because I don’t want them to mess up their flag, either; it seems like a matter of right to me.  However, I think that the bill is probably unconstitutional.  The Constitution says that Representatives shall be chosen “by the people of the several states” and a normal reading would seem to limit full congressional representation to states, which the District clearly is not.  The Supreme Court’s precedents on the matter are divided, but it does appear likely the Court would strike down the bill.  A Constitutional amendment may be needed to rectify the problem.

Governor of Illinois arrested for corruption!

The Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, has been arrested for attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama to the highest bidder. Under state law, when there is a midterm vacancy in the state’s Senate representation the Governor can appoint a replacement; Federal authorities tapped his phones and claim evidence that Blagojevich was trying to sell the appointment for cold hard cash as well as other benefits for himself and his wife, including lucrative appointments to corporate boards.

The Flag of Illinois was so unrecognizable that they had to add the state name to it, making it even worse.

The Flag of Illinois was so unrecognizable that they had to add the state name to it, making it even worse.

In the affidavit, the Governor is quoted as saying “I want to make money,” and noting that a Senate seat “is a f—ing valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.”  He allegedly said that he would appoint himself to the seat if he didn’t “get something real good” for it, saying “I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain.” Another time he said “I’ve got this thing and it’s f—ing golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for f—in’ nothing. I’m not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me   there.”  Apparently he thought it could put him in good position to run for President himself in 2016.  That’s probably pretty unlikely now.

Blagojevich is under investigation for numerous other alleged acts of corruption, including trying to use government powers to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire reporters who were critical of him.  Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has called this “the most staggering crime spree in office I have ever seen.”  Unfortunately, the only way he can be impeached right now is if the legislature convenes, which can only happen if he calls for it.  Which probably isn’t too likely.  Apparently they are trying to convene to call for a special election, to get around having the governor appoint someone.  The Times Online out of London has a good story detailing some of the alleged deals that the governor was trying to make; I highly recommend it.

If these allegations are true—and I don’t think you arrest a sitting state governor without a surfeit of evidence—then Blagojevich is one corrupt dude and needs to be in jail, not the Illinois governor’s mansion.  But one must admit that he fits right in at the Illinois executive mansion, three other Governors of the Land of Lincoln have been jailed in the past 35 years, as reported by MSNBC:

— OTTO KERNER, a Democrat who was governor from 1961 to 1968, served less than a year of a three-year sentence after his 1973 conviction on bribery, tax evasion and other counts. He was convicted of arranging favorable horse racing dates as governor in return for getting horse racing association stock at reduced prices. Kerner died in 1976.
— DAN WALKER, a Democrat who was governor from 1973 to 1977, served 1 1/2 years of a seven-year sentence after pleading guilty in 1987 to bank fraud, misapplication of funds and perjury. The charges were not related to his service as governor.
— GEORGE RYAN, a Republican who was governor from 1999 to 2003, was convicted of corruption in 2006 for steering state contracts and leases to political insiders while he was Illinois secretary of state and then governor. He is serving a 6 1/2-year prison term.
Additionally, William Stratton, a Republican, governor from 1953-1961, was later indicted but then acquitted on charges of income tax evasion. What’s going on over there in Illinois, folks?

Evolution of the vice presidency and Cheney’s claims

This man claims he's not a member of the executive branch of government

This man claims he is not a member of the executive branch of government.

Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney has claimed that he is not, in fact, part of the executive branch of government. The claim was part of his bid to be able to destroy large amounts of records produced by his office and to avoid handing those over to the National Archives under the Presidential Records Act. Apparently, Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington told Congress that the vice president belongs to neither the executive nor legislative branch of government, but rather is attached by the Constitution to Congress, by virtue of being President of the Senate.

In modern times, Vice Presidents have only very rarely presided over the Senate, as the position carries almost no power; virtually all the presiding officer of the Senate does is recognize people to speak. Veeps pretty much only appear when a vote that is important to the president is expected to be very close so that they can be ready to cast a tie-breaking vote, the only power of the office specifically enumerated in the U.S. Constitution.

Modern vice presidents have little to do with the legislative branch, beyond lobbying members behind the scenes, but they are immersed in the operations of the executive branch. This represents a considerable evolution of the office. America’s first Vice President, John Adams, presided over the Senate most of the time it was in session; he angered Senators by becoming involved in actual debate and trying to steer the affairs of the chamber. George Washington’s administration did not allow Adams to attend cabinet meetings, on the theory that he was a member of the legislative branch and that his presence would violate the separation of powers. Most would be surprised to learn that the first vice president to attend cabinet meetings was Thomas Marshall, who served under Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921).

Modern vice presidents do attend, and in the absence of the president preside over, cabinet meetings and meetings of the National Security Council; they perform numerous ceremonial duties, like attending funerals, presenting awards, and giving speeches; and they largely serve as point man for the president, so their actual responsibilities and influence can vary greatly with their relationship to the top guy. Cheney has been a particularly active number two, as was Al Gore before him (they’re probably the two most active and consequential vice presidents in history, excluding those that were elevated to the presidency). By statute, the vice president also serves ex officio as one of 17 members of the Smithsonian Institution’s board of regents, one of very few legally required duties.

Back when the office was rather unimportant, vice presidents mostly seem to have spent their time commenting on how pointless the office was. John Adams, for instance, declared it to be “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” John Nance Garner, the first of Franklin Roosevelt’s three vice presidents, said the office was “not worth a bucket of warm piss” (often bowdlerized to “a bucket of warm spit”). The aforementioned Thomas Marshall claimed that most of the “nameless, unremembered” jobs assigned to him had been concocted essentially to keep vice presidents from doing any harm to their administrations.

Number One Observatory Circle, the official residence of the Vice President of the United States since 1974

Number One Observatory Circle, the official residence of the Vice President of the United States since 1974

There is an interesting anecdote that I can’t help sharing about Calvin Coolidge’s time in the office, back when the office did not have an official residence. Coolidge was living at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. when it was evacuated in the middle of the night due to a small fire. He got tired of waiting outside and attempted to go back in; a fireman tried to stop him, but then decided to let Coolidge proceed when he identified himself as the Vice President. However, before he could actually enter the hotel, the fireman stopped him again and asked, “What are you the Vice President of?” Upon learning that he was the Vice President of the United States, he sent Coolidge outside again to wait with the rest of the huddled masses. “I thought you were the vice president of the hotel,” the fireman explained.

Since 1974, the Vice President has been entitled to live in a large Victorian house on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. Vice President Gerald Ford became President before he could use the home, and Nelson Rockefeller, primarily used the home for entertaining since he already had a residence in Washington. Walter Mondale was the first Vice President to actually move into the home and every Vice President since has lived in the house.

Anyway, I think it makes the most sense to view the vice president as both a member of the executive branch and a member of the legislative branch, but all of his papers and documents produced pursuant to his role and duties within the executive branch, which constitutes the vast bulk of Cheney’s duties, would definitely fall under the Presidential Records Act; it might be permissible to withhold documents produced in his capacity as President of the Senate. Of course, given Cheney’s extreme predilection for secrecy, this would probably lead to much more litigation. Congress could perhaps settle the matter more quickly by legislating on the matter, specifically extending the act to cover all or most of the Vice Presidents papers.