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 27, 2016

“Everything in American history leads up to the Civil War or is a consequence of it." -- Ken Burns

About last night:

Webster 1/26/1830:
"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. 
Thomas Hart Benton and pistols in the Senate

Kansas-Nebraska Act  and Sam Houston

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


Fast forward to Lucius Lamar

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

John Oliver on Puerto Rico's Debt Crisis

John Oliver discusses the effects of Puerto Rico's debt crisis on Puerto Ricans and Congress's role in it, especially with regards to US laws and how they selectively apply to and impact Puerto Rico. Includes a cameo by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame! Enjoy.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Congressional History 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.

Territorial Expansion and Slavery

Webster and Benton

How Members Ask for Money

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Just as I was playing the musical clip from Hamilton, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

C-SPAN just posted a special page for classroom discussion of war powers.

The War Powers Resolution

The Iraq War Resolution

President Obama's Libya letter

Perspectives changes once a candidate becomes a president:

Senator Obama on War Powers:

President Obama on war powers:

AUMF Today

Democratic Campaign Financing Logic & a Question on Cruz

This bit from the Daily Show with Trevor Noah (beginning of the clip to 1:47) exposed how Democrats lamentations of campaign finance are perhaps more than a bit ironic. In this case, Hillary's campaign effectively used George Clooney to generate a massive amount of campaign contributions. His awareness of how he was being used, and his motivation for doing so, add to the comedy. The last few seconds of the clip raises questions about what Ted Cruz's purpose is in alienating New York voters.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Congress, President clash over 9/11 bill

A current bipartisan bill that has been introduced in both the House and Senate will allow 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government for any involvement in the attacks. Though Congressional leaders Ryan and McConnell have expressed their concern over the bill, they will cautiously continue to look at the bill and make sure it does as little harm to United States-Saudi relations before passing it. The Saudi Arabian government strongly opposes the bill, and it has threatened to sell off billions of dollars in U.S. assets if the bill passes. President Obama, with diplomatic interests in mind, vows to veto the bill if it makes it through both houses.


Monday, April 18, 2016

Hannah Oh & Senator Cruz on GMA

Her question comes in just after the 12-minute mark!

Foreign Policy and National Security I

Review from March 23:

Article I and Article II

Federalist 70

Hamilton in Federalist 8: "It is of the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority."

Tocqueville, p. 126: "If the Union’s existence were constantly menaced, and if its great interests were continually interwoven with those of other powerful nations, one would see the prestige of the executive growing, because of what was expected from it and of what it did."

Intelligence and Oversight: Hearings in the 1970s:

Final Assignment, Spring 2016

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. Describe and analyze an act of political courage by a House member or senator that took place after Kennedy's death in 1963. Include an analysis of the relevant obstacles, risks, and consequences.  How does this profile illustrate changes in Congress since the mid-1950s?
  3. 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 2. Papers will drop one gradepoint for one day’s lateness, a full letter grade after that.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Curing an Unproductive Congress

In the final chapter of Haskell’s book, he proposes readjusting the balance between the legislative and representative roles of members of Congress. Essentially, members should spend more time in Washington, working on policy. Earlier chapters describe the dominance of the representative role and suggest this solution is impossible. If the main focus for members of Congress is reelection, as Haskell suggests earlier, then is it reasonable to think a rebalancing of representative and legislative priorities can take place? 

Furthermore, would spending more time in Washington solve the problem? Haskell also notes limitations imposed by congressional partisanship, which seems to overshadow "time spent in Washington" in conversations about congressional productivity.

Brookings and AEI’s “Vital Statistics on Congress Report” compares the amount of time Congress actually spends in session from the 80th Congress to the 113th Congress. Including data from the second session of the 113th Congress, the Senate was in session 292 days and 2,003 hours. Since 1947, the Senate averaged 316 days and 2,186 hours in session. The House was in session 295 days and 1,473 hours in the 113th Congress. The number of days in session in the House is over the average of 290 days, but the number of hours is just under the average of 1,630 hours.

These differences appear marginal, which suggests spending more time in session may not be the cure-all solution to increasing congressional productivity. To what extent would reprioritizing the legislative role for members of Congress increase congressional productivity? Is intense partisanship really at the heart of the problem? 

For information on the 113th Congress’s second session: http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/Resumes/113_2.pdf

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

John Oliver on Congressional Fundraising

This is an excerpt about Congressional Fundraising from John Oliver's HBO show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. It's too bad this wasn't out when we covered the topic but fundraising is quite important now. The House is in play for the Democrats this year so Republicans are focusing on fundraising for their most vulnerable candidates and Obama is busy fundraising for Democratic Members. I knew and the class taught us that Reps. and Senators spend a decent amount of time fundraising but this video suggests that they spend even more time than I had envisioned and sometimes do ridiculous things for $$$! 2/3 of a Senator's time?!

The highlight is the interview with Steve Israel (D-NY), Committee Chair of the DCCC, near the end.

I personally feel that campaign finance reform is something that is seriously needed for reasons in principle and in practice. Trump, Clinton and Sanders have all indicated support for it to varying degrees while Cruz considers it a form of free speech.

SNL -- Establishment Shuffle

Confirmations, Removals, and Vetoes

More detail on nomination, confirmation, and appointment

The nuclear option (Fisher, pp. 35-36):

Senatorial courtesy (Fisher, pp. 33-34) and blue slips

Confirmation Hearings

Confirmation hearings:
  • John Kerry has questions for a nominee for Ambassador to Belgium, and donor to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Why do you think Bush pulled the nomination?

Kerry Confronts Swift Boat Funder

  • Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse uses Mukasey's confirmation hearing to make a point about waterboarding:

We had not only failed to take into account the ability of the Senate to delay us and obstruct us, but we had much too cavalierly underrated the power of the President, even a President who had lost his legislative majority and was in a certain amount of trouble for other reasons. I am speaking of the power of the veto. Even if you pass something through both the House and the Senate, there is that presidential pen. How could we have forgotten that? For me especially it was inexcusable, because when I was Republican whip during the Bush Administration one of my duties had been precisely to help sustain presidential vetoes.
Item Veto

Congressional (Legislative Veto)

Monday, April 4, 2016

Sunday, April 3, 2016

SCOTUS Nomination, the GOP & Public Opinion

This is an interesting article about public opinion surrounding the Supreme Court nominee. Because only 33% of Americans approve of waiting until the next president is in the White House to consider nominees to the SCOTUS, the GOP is risking its public opinion by impeding consideration. It would not hurt the GOP’s public image nearly as much if it were to at least nominally consider Merrick Garland’s nomination. Republican approval rating in Congress sits at 15% and disapproval is over 80%, both of which are motivations for the Republicans to at least think about talking about a nominee.

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