Senate Procedures? Reconciliation? What?! Ueland has answers

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!

Take a listen to the episode and let me know what you think.

The Assault on Article One: Former USCP Top Cop Discusses – What Now?

“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 One with 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.

“God love the Senate and the House – they don’t like a lot of criticism and they are very protective … everybody has to be very honest and own up to the good things, the bad things, the ugly things, the gap and move forward rather than just make it an ‘I gotcha’ (moment).”

Terrance Gainer to article one with molly hooper

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).

Gainer spent the majority of his law enforcement career working his way through the ranks in major city police departments including Chicago and Washington D.C. The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak’s Thursday evening column, spotlighting Gainer, provides colorful anecdotes of his work in other jurisdictions.

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.

Rep. Yoho talks aftermath of AOC kerfuffle …

Recently, I sat down with outgoing GOP Rep. Ted Yoho (Fla.) – among the matters we discussed, I asked him about the aftermath of his encounter with Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) that took place over the summer.

What was reported: Yoho challenged AOC’s position on crime and poverty … then a reporter overheard Yoho calling the progressive freshman lawmaker a derogatory term (which Yoho denies saying).

Vanity Fair featured AOC in their December 2020 edition – and the encounter, the apology and the privileged resolution – came up again.

In the immediate aftermath of that political imbroglio, Yoho describes the influx of hate mail to his congressional offices and possibly criminal behavior that was aimed at him and his family.

“There was close to 20,000 hate emails, phone calls to all my offices …   we’ve had death threats, we had fecal matter sent to my wife and to my kids, my kids were going to be raped they were going to get killed,” Yoho said adding that an individual who threatened his life may be headed to prison after an investigation by the Capitol Hill police.

While Yoho took a lot of heat for challenging a smaller, younger, female lawmaker, the congressman points out that he has challenged GOP leaders including President Trump.

When Yoho is passionate about a particular matter be it poverty and crime or healthcare, the former veterinarian stands up for his beliefs.

He describes one particular encounter with President Trump over the GOP’s failed healthcare plan. (Link to the interview below.)

But the conversation about AOC was a small portion of our wide-ranging discussion.

Yoho came to Congress eight years ago, as an outsider who defeated a longtime Florida Republican incumbent. Since that time, the congressman has dealt with controversies and intra-party ire but he has also worked across the aisle on a number of issues including foreign affairs and agriculture.

Take a listen to the episode and please leave a rating or review – it helps others find Article One on their podcatcher of choice.

GOP Rep. won’t say who he will vote for on Election Day …

Outgoing GOP Rep. Francis Rooney (Fla.) is leaving Congress at the end of the year and he’s not saying which presidential candidate will earn his vote on Election Day.

In a wide-ranging interview with Article One last month, Rooney spoke of accomplishments and frustrations. A key frustration: allowing the Republican party to relinquish their stake in climate change and environmental issues at a time when young people and suburban voters say that it is of utmost importance.

“The Republicans were the original environmentalists, but we seem to have lost our way,” Rooney said in the interview.

Rooney, who was elected to the House in 2016, says he is leaving because his campaign promises were fulfilled and it is time to go.

Please take a listen to the interview and let me know what you think.

Interview 3: Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) talks legislating, Valley Fever, optimism and ethics violation

Five-term Arizona GOP lawmaker Rep. David Schweikert joined me for a straight-forward discussion on a number of matters …

Episode #3: Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.)

Schweikert, who represents Arizona’s 6th Congressional District, spoke with me in late September – days before the House recessed until Election Day (or sooner should a COVID relief deal come together before that time.)

The self-described “shy” lawmaker opened up about many issues including his greatest accomplishments on behalf of his Scottsdale-based district, the ability to adapt to the new COVID reality for his constituents … hint – it involves a “secret weapon with a golden rolodex,” the bipartisanship achieved in a very partisan Congress and the support he received from fellow lawmakers following a House ethics violation due to a campaign finance matter …

Schweikert also discussed his bill to extend telemedicine visits, technological advances in carbon capture, the upcoming election and Arizona’s experience with mail-in ballots.

One of my favorite quotes …

“I’m inherently really optimistic – I’m 58 (years old) my wife’s 58 (years old) and we have a five-year-old.”

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.)

This was an informative and enlightening conversation … please take a listen and share your feedback.

Get ready to hear from the purple district lawmakers …

The response to Article One has been fantastic – lawmakers and senators are enthusiastic to talk with me about the job of making laws and investigating those other two branches of government.

I plan to release four podcast episodes this week that feature lawmakers who represent so-called purple districts – swing districts – battlegrounds.

Over the past few weeks, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.) sat down to speak with me via zoom. The conversations were wide-ranging and informative.

Each lawmaker is locked in a tight re-election contest. Brindisi is even running against the former lawmaker he unseated in 2018, former GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney (N.Y.)

These races are considered “toss-ups,” or “leans” one way by the non-partisan Cook Political report. Brindisi and Spanberger represent districts that President Trump won in 2016. Bacon and Schweikert’s seats are top targets by the House Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC.)

Check out the next post for these lawmakers’ respective answers to the question: will Congress and the White House agree to a fifth package before Election Day?

As soon as the episodes are live, I will add an embedded link on this website and/or you will be able to subscribe wherever you listen to your podcasts.