I shall post videos, graphs, news stories, and other material there. We shall use some of this material in class, and you may review the rest at your convenience. You will all receive invitations to post to the blog. (Please let me know if you do not get such an invitation.) I encourage you to use the blog in these ways:
To post questions or comments about the readings before we discuss them in class;
To follow up on class discussions with additional comments or questions.
To post relevant news items or videos.

There are only two major limitations: no coarse language, and no derogatory comments about people at the Claremont Colleges.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Congress in the 19th Century

The Compromise of 1850

Webster 1/26/1830:
 Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the Republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original luster, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto no such miserable interrogatory as, “What is all this worth?” nor those other words of delusion and folly, “Liberty first and Union afterward”; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart—Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!
Daniel Webster, 3/7/1850 (during the South Carolina secession crisis):
I wish to speak to-day, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American, and a member of the Senate of the United States. It is fortunate that there is a Senate of the United States; a body not yet moved from its propriety, not lost to a just sense of its own dignity and its own high responsibilities, and a body to which the country looks, with confidence, for wise, moderate, patriotic, and healing counsels. 
Thomas Hart Benton and pistols in the Senate

You want polarization? Here's some polarization. Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina beats Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts


Lincoln-Douglas debate (24:32)

Congress and the Civil War

The Lincoln movie and parliamentary procedure

The Lincoln movie, more generally...

The congressional oath of office dates from this era.

Background on the impeachment process.

There is an entire site on the Johnson impeachment.

Another impeachment

Monday, April 27, 2015

Congressional History, Part I

Polarized Congress

Federalist 52:
As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people. Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured.
Federalist 55:
THE number of which the House of Representatives is to consist, forms another and a very interesting point of view, under which this branch of the federal legislature may be contemplated. Scarce any article, indeed, in the whole Constitution seems to be rendered more worthy of attention, by the weight of character and the apparent force of argument with which it has been assailed. The charges exhibited against it are, first, that so small a number of representatives will be an unsafe depositary of the public interests; secondly, that they will not possess a proper knowledge of the local circumstances of their numerous constituents; thirdly, that they will be taken from that class of citizens which will sympathize least with the feelings of the mass of the people, and be most likely to aim at a permanent elevation of the few on the depression of the many; fourthly, that defective as the number will be in the first instance, it will be more and more disproportionate, by the increase of the people, and the obstacles which will prevent a correspondent increase of the representatives.

Chart: Number of Representatives and Total Population

An attack ad (almost verbatim from an actual newspaper hit piece):

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Looks like life is imitating simulation again... sort of. This article details the compromise reached on the human trafficking bill (the one with the anti-abortion provision) and Amy Klobuchar (who I played) is at the middle of it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Foreign Policy and Intelligence

Intelligence and Oversight: Hearings in the 1970s:

Final Paper

Answer one of the following:

  1. Take any of JFK’s “profiles in courage.” How might a critic disagree with the analysis? How does this story illustrate differences and similarities between the Congress of its time and the Congress of today?
  2. Propose and defend a specific reform in the structures or procedures of Congress (including legislative-executive relations). Explain what you would accomplish with your reform. That is, drawing on what you have learned in this course, spell out the problem and tell how your reform would fix it. Use concrete information and cite credible sources. Give fair and careful consideration to counterarguments and practical obstacles.

  • Essays should be typed (12-point), double-spaced, and no more than three pages long. I will not read past the third page. 
  • Cite your sources. Use Turabian/Chicago endnotes. 
  • Watch your spelling, grammar, diction, and punctuation. Errors will count against you. Return essays to the Sakai dropbox by 11:59 PM, Monday, May 4. Papers will drop one gradepoint for one day’s lateness, a full letter grade after that.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Steven Rattner: "Free the President"... from Congress

Financier turned journalist Steven Rattner wrote an op-ed in the New York Times last week arguing that the president should stand firm and resist Congress inserting itself into the nuclear agreement with Iran. While he may have a point regarding this specific issue, I found his other arguments and evidence way off base.
Steven Rattner.jpg
Steven Rattner

He says, "I wish the president had had the votes to hang tough on this important right, in part because of the precedent it sets for future executive agreements and the pall it casts over his fight for the legality of his recent executive orders on immigration, climate change and other matters."

Since the 1970s, Rattner argues Congress has "eroded the powers of the presidency." As we have discussed in class, he believes this began as a response to Nixon’s “Imperial Presidency.” As a result, “Congress ...restricted the president’s ability to withhold funds that had been appropriated.

I think he is conflating president’s power in domestic policy with his ability to negotiate. While the president can enter into executive agreements, this does not correspond to his power to implement Congress's spending, though the Congress exerts a check on the president's ability to pursue treaties. He mistakes Obama’s deference to Congress as a shift in constitutional authority of the president--a political, not constitutional, effect. He then calls for the re-implementation of the president's line item veto and an end to lawsuits against executive orders. 

Lastly, I thought this line was a nice way of saying the president should have the ability to manipulate congressional appropriations: “So let’s reinstate the president’s ability to implement routine reorganizations.” 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Trade Promotion Authority

See Davidson, p. 444 on trade promotion authority (TPA) and free trade agreements (FTAs).  

Under TPA, reciprocal FTAs and multilateral trade agreements that go beyond tariff reductions are treated as congressional-executive agreements, which require the approval of both houses of Congress. Such approval expresses Congress’s consent to bind the United States to the commitments of the agreement under international law. This type of agreement is distinguished from both an executive agreement, requiring only presidential action, and a treaty, requiring a two-thirds vote of the Senate. Because reciprocal trade agreements typically result in tariff rate (revenue) changes, the House of Representatives is necessarily involved. For a more detailed legal discussion, see CRS Report 97-896, WhyCertain Trade Agreements Are Approved as Congressional-Executive Agreements Rather Than Treaties, by Jane M.Smith, Daniel T. Shedd, and Brandon J. Murrill; and Hal S. Shapiro, Fast Track: A Legal, Historical, and Political Analysis (Ardsley: Transnational Publishers, 2006), p. 22
The most important trade bill in a decade has pitted Harry Reid against President Barack Obama. Liberal Democrat Rosa DeLauro against moderate Democrat Ron Kind. Labor unions against pro-business Democrats. And Elizabeth Warren against virtually everyone who supports a landmark piece of legislation that would allow the president to close what could be the biggest free-trade deal in history.
The open warring among Democrats over fast-track trade legislation, and the party’s broader existential crisis on free trade, grew more pronounced Thursday as senior lawmakers announced a breakthrough on the trade bill. Many Democrats still feel the burn, 20 years later, of lost manufacturing jobs from the North American Free Trade Agreement — pushed through by former President Bill Clinton — and they fear another Democratic president is on the verge of turning his back on working-class Americans by negotiating a trade deal that would send jobs overseas.

What’s at stake substantively is giving the president streamlined authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country free-trade deal that would dwarf NAFTA. But there’s also much more at stake politically for a Democratic Party whose progressive wing is enjoying an upswing thanks to the aggressive populism of Warren and liberals like Sen. Bernie Sanders, who are unabashedly anti-free trade deal. Obama wants to cement a legacy on global free trade, but his work negotiating with Republicans has created several factions within the Democratic Party.
In the House, Republicans want a vote before the current legislative session breaks for the Memorial Day recess, Rep. Pat Tiberi, an Ohio Republican, said Thursday. The tally is expected to be close.
As few as 10 House Democrats, primarily from the ranks of the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition, are firmly committed to supporting the legislation. The measure needs 218 votes to pass in the lower chamber, which means getting the yeas of anywhere from 10 to 50 Democrats, depending on how many of the 247 Republicans in the House vote against the trade bill. Estimates of Republican defections vary widely from two dozen to as many as 60.

What I can tell you, which is good news, is a lot of members are feeling the heat,” Sanders said Wednesday night to constituents belonging to the liberal group Democracy for America.
“Whether we can beat it in the Senate or not, I don’t know. I think we have a better shot frankly in the House where to the best of my knowledge the overwhelming majority of Democrats are against it,” the Vermont independent said.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Economic and Domestic Policy II

A scene from The Untouchables because ... why the hell not?

Health Care


A rather important problem with the drafting of the bill.
Timeline of legal challenges

The Issue-Attention Cycle

Friday, April 10, 2015

Follow Up on the Simulation: HANDS OFF Bill

Vice President Biden strikes again. We failed to pass the HANDS OFF Act, which would have prevented the VP from touching our loved ones without consent. It looks like the Bloombergs might wish something like the HANDS OFF Act had passed.

Source: NY Post

The Vice President, while holding Michael Bloomberg's grandson, decided to forgo the classic kissing a baby photo in favor of a "stealing the baby's pacifier and putting it in your mouth" photo. When will the VP keep his hands off?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Monday, April 6, 2015

Congress and the Courts

What happens when the court declares a law unconstitutional?

Some examples

Statutory interpretation:  the Rowley case

Checks on the Judiciary

US Courts of Appeal

Supreme Court nominations

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Follow Up on the Simulation: Iran Bill in Real Life

During the simulation, we passed a bill that allowed the Senate to review and ratify any treaty made between the Iranian government and the Obama administration. Our bill was ultimately vetoed, but it appears that real life might be imitating the simulation.

Senator Corker (R-TN) is gaining support from both sides of the aisle for a bill that will give the Senate the ability to review the administration's deal with Iran. The bill served as a model for the bill passed during our simulation. Democrats like Chris Coons (D-DL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other Senate Democrats have given their tentative support, stating that they believe Congress should be able to weigh-in on the deal. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has begun intense efforts to lobby against the legislation.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


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