For congressionalphiles, there is nothing sexier than a well-crafted budget reconciliation measure.
This week, the House and Senate will vote on budget reconciliation measures in an effort to make it slightly easier for President Biden to sign a nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package, all without any assistance from the Republicans.
For those of us who love Congress, but not necessarily the arcane rules that govern each chamber, procedures and rules — like reconciliation — often induce a headache or two.
Fortunately for journalists (and staffers and lawmakers) procedural headaches can be preempted with the help of rare individuals like Eric Ueland – my guest on this week’s episode of Article One with Molly Hooper.
Ueland helps decipher what-the-heck-is-going-on-in-the-Senate, explains how a 50-50 Senate can operate, and clarifies the whole budget reconciliation process and how it works. He also lifts the curtain on White House/Congress relations and law-making.
During his career, Ueland has held many high-ranking positions in the nation’s capital city – in both public and private sectors. But, his experience as former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), former staff director of the Senate Budget Committee, and former White House Legislative Affairs Director for President Donald Trump, feature most prominently in our Article One conversation on the branch of government.
In my early days reporting on the Senate, a body that operates by “unanimous consent,” Ueland was one of the first people I searched out for answers to thorny and convoluted questions on procedural shenanigans.
And I wasn’t alone.
The long-time GOP operative’s reputation as a Senate historian/parliamentarian/policy strategist, with the skill to patiently explain operations and procedures, made Ueland the go-to guy for confused reporters, staffers and lawmakers.
We spoke the last week of January, and I’m sure you will find the answers to all those questions swirling around in your head!
Gainer, who led the USCP as police chief from 2002-2006 and then served as Senate Sergeant at Arms (SAA) from 2007-2014, shares his informed insights on the Jan 6th attack, its aftermath and what may come next to protect the thousands of staffers, lawmakers and support staff who work on the Capitol Complex.
He says an outside, independent investigation, similar to the 9-11 Commission, is needed to discover the failures of intelligence and to recommend measures to prevent a similar attack from occurring in the future.
This is a wide-ranging interview that delves into preventative security measures, morale of the USCP and background on the notoriously secretive USCP operations, among other topics.
“Protecting and defending the Constitution,” the oath taken by our elected leaders, means securing the institutions where they gather to govern the United States of America.
On January 6th, that security was lacking.
Ten days ago, an angry mob attacked the U.S. Capitol – our nation’s iconic symbol of democracy, as well as Article One’s impressive home.
Since that disturbing day, sources on Capitol Hill have told me similar variations of “heads must roll,” “security plans need to be bolstered” and “stovepipes must come down.”
Lawmakers, staffers, support staff and journalists who cover Congress want answers, not just for intelligence failures, but also for assurances that it won’t happen again.
An outside, independent commission, tasked with investigating the law enforcement failures of January 6th, and subsequently providing recommendations to prevent future domestic attacks on the Capitol, is needed, a former head of the United States Capitol Police (USCP) tells Article One.
“The 9/11 commission may be one of the best examples of an independent assessment,” retired U.S. Capitol Police Chief and Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer says in an upcoming podcast episode of Article Onewith Molly Hooper.
He’s not alone in this thinking. A growing number of bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate have also called for some form of an outside inquiry but to date, Congress has not voted on the matter.
In her Friday statement announcing “an immediate review of the security of the U.S. Capitol Complex,” under the direction of Ret. Lt. General Russel Honore, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) confirmed “there is strong support for an outside commission to conduct an after action review.”
Honore’s review will delve into the “security infrastructure, interagency processes and procedures and command and control,” Pelosi stated.
But it is unclear if that type of review will be enough to satisfy the large number of members calling for an independent commission similar to the 9-11 Commission.
Gainer, who led the USCP as police chief from 2002-2006 and then served as Senate Sergeant at Arms (SAA) from 2007-2014, says that USCP, DC police, the Defense Department, the FBI and the Secret Service will all be “doing after action reports” to figure out “what do I have to worry about tomorrow that I didn’t do today?”
But, the former USCP Chief believes a broader inquiry is necessary in light of recent “cross talk that we’ve had already, about what intelligence was available and what people had … it gets a little bit multi-jurisdictional so, an independent commission with the power to do (investigate) and not be shy about pulling punches” will be required.
Congress created the bipartisan, independent “9-11 Commission” in the wake of the September 11, 2001 al Qaida terrorist attacks on New York City, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania (the plane many believe was headed to the U.S. Capitol).
The commission was tasked with preparing “a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks” and it was mandated to “provide recommendations designed to guard against future attacks.”
Gainer took command of the USCP in 2002, a short time after the 9–11 attacks. During his four year tenure as USCP police chief, and subsequent eight years as Senate Sergeant at Arms, he implemented and oversaw many security enhancements on the capitol complex.
A comparable outside investigation into the January 6, 2021 breach of Capitol Hill would undoubtedly demand answers from Congress – an institution that prefers to oversee and investigate Article Two (executive branch) departments and agencies, as opposed to subjecting themselves to rigorous public self-examination.
In his wide-ranging interview with Article One, Gainer sheds light on the inner workings of the notoriously secretive USCP operations, which he acknowledges are “less open” than most other city police departments.
The former chief provides background on decision-making among the leaders atop Capitol Hill’s law enforcement operation, and shares his insights on the current morale among officers (it is low).
At the end of our conversation, Gainer directs a special message to Capitol Hill-based Article One listeners – “young and inexperienced or even old and experienced” – officers, staffers, and lawmakers who work in the Capitol or on campus at the Supreme Court and Library of Congress.
“PTSD and the feelings” that accompany it are real, and Capitol Hill workers “are going to need support for some time to come,” Gainer said, adding “my heart goes out to you and you’ve got to take care of each other.”
Gainer projects that for some time to come, a key question shall remain top of mind for the thousands who call the U.S. Capitol their “office:” how will Congress regroup and provide security to lawmakers, personnel, committee staffers, support staff, journalists and (eventually) tourists who populate the campus every day?
Make sure to subscribe to “Article One with Molly Hooper” wherever you listen to your podcasts so you don’t miss this interview with Terrance Gainer, as well as future episodes dedicated to the very important topic of protecting our precious Article One branch of government.
We spoke in late September shortly before the ebbs and flows and ebb of the negotiations between the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi on reaching a 5th COVID-related economic recovery package.
As of this writing, it appears Rep. Bacon’s outlook proved prescient.
Bacon touches on politics briefly in our chat but mostly we discussed his work as a lawmaker representing a deeply purple district in a deeply divided Congress.
The retired Air Force lieutenant colonel shares bits of his personal life, areas where he disagrees with President Trump and ways that legislating in Congress has helped the folks of the 2nd District in Nebraska.
Take a listen and let me know your thoughts.
*** Correction – I accidentally assigned Bacon to the 5th district … mea culpa … Bacon represents the SECOND District … many thanks for the heads up (she types sheepishly) ***
Let me introduce myself and welcome you to my new blog/podcast. My name is Molly Hooper, and I love Congress. The First Branch of Government – of the people, by the people and for the people.
For many years, I’ve walked the halls of Congress as a reporter with various news outlets. During that time, I have had the chance to get to know members of Congress, the teams of staffers and other legislative support staff.
When you start talking to a lawmaker, it’s clear that behind the title of “Rep,” “Sen,” “Leader,” and “Speaker” is a regular person with unusual aspirations.
The goal of Article One with Molly Hooper is to educate and entertain readers and listeners interested in understanding how Congress works from a practical perspective – a birds-eye view.
What does it take to become a member of Congress?
How do you hold on to that job once voters decide to send you to Capitol Hill?
How do you get things done: bills passed, amendments made, nominations confirmed?
How do you get on the right committees? What does the right committee even mean?
What is a motion to recommit? Why should I care?
I plan to share with you my one-on-one conversations with lawmakers, senators, challengers and staffers who make Congress work. These lawmakers are real people: they have families, pets, hobbies and friends (outside of politics.)
Article One with Molly Hooper is my attempt to tell these stories – share successes and defeats – with an audience interested in what makes members of Congress tick.
I plan to release at least one podcast per week (which I will cross-post to this website.) Between those podcasts, I will fill in the news gathered out of those interviews.
I have interviews lined up with lawmakers who represent purple districts, challengers to those incumbents, Senators engaged in the Supreme Court nomination fight and bicameral duos fighting for fairness in the military code of justice.
I invite you to engage, send tips (for topics to cover on Congress) and interview suggestions.
2020 feels like a hurricane of news, the eye of which is centered squarely above the Capitol Dome.
Buckle up, this will be an entertaining and educational ride.