Tuesday 30 November 2010

Winston Churchill

I have to admit that I am not an admirer of Winston Churchill. As a child I made the mistake of mentioning Churchill to my grandfather. He explained, with vehemence, why that name was never to be mentioned in his Betws house. Churchill was the Home Secretary who ordered troops in to deal with Welsh trade unionists in the bitter industrial disputes of 1910-11. In 1911 troops opened fire in Llanelli - colleagues of my grandfather were killed. He had intended to join the demonstration, but was laid low with illness - if he had gone perhaps I could not have been born! I sometimes pass Nicholas Soames at Westminster - and my mind is drawn to the fact that his grandfather's orders could have led to the killing of my grandfather, save for illness on the day!

Today is the 136th anniversary of Churchill's birth (coincidentally, my daughter's 26th birthday) - and this is one of his most famous speeches.

Monday 29 November 2010

The Week Ahead

Congress returns from its Thanksgiving break - to its "lame duck session", The Weekly Leader - the outline of the House of Representative's business for the week ahead is available here. There should be work on Appropriations and possibly further action on the DREAM Act. The Senate Armed Services Committee is due to hold hearings on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy later in the week. Extending unemployments will also be a major issue in Congress this week.

At Westminster the House of Lords will be spending two days considering the Public Bodies Bill - proposed legislation which has caused constitutional outrage for the extent of the Henry VIII powers it gives to Ministers to rip up legislative provisions without further reference to Parliament. The other controversial Bill - The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill - is also before the House on Tuesday. The level of anger at what is seen as outrageous Constitutional legislation is very high. The ruling by the Commons Speaker that the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill is a 'money bill' has been seen as setting a dangerous precedent - which could stop the Lords scrutinising the policy behind the cuts. The Lords Chamber will be worth watching in coming days.

In the Commons the Chancellor is due to present his Autumn Statement. Tuesday will see two debates on education proposed by the opposition. One involves the coming cuts in school sports funding - and the other on Tuition Fees.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Saturday 27 November 2010


The census held in the USA every ten years has an impact on the political geography of the country. At a Federal level the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives to each state changes - and district boundaries are redrawn to take account of the population shifts. In the Presidential Election the electoral college changes - as the numbers of votes in the college for each state must be "equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives top which the State may be entitled in the Congress" (Constitution Art II Section I).

The Census was held on April 1st - but the calculation of the figures takes several months. The "Form Delivery and Mail Back Phase" took from 3rd January to 16th April. There was then a "Door to Door Follow Up Phase" which lasted until 10th July. Quality Assurance Operations lasted from 11th April to 3rd September. The complete Questionnaire Data Capture and Processing began in May and ends in December. The 2010 Population Counts are due to be reported on 31st December. [By law the data must be delivered to the President of the United States by the Census Bureau on or before December 31, 2010].

States can then begin the process of redistricting. There is no uniform way of doing this - and some redistricting is in the hands of the state legislatures - which is why the 2010 state election results were so important. Some states do have independent bodies to recommend proposals.

So we don't yet know what the new map will look like - but estimates have been made. Election Data Services have produced their estimates - fuller details here - and suggest that the States which will gain seats are

Texas (4); Florida (2); Arizona; Georgia; South Carolina; Nevada; Utah and Washington

The potential Losers are

New York (2); Ohio (2); Illinois; Iowa; Louisiana; Massachusetts; Michigan; Missouri; New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Friday 26 November 2010

Iran-Contra Scandal

President Reagan is fondly remembered by some - but his administration's actions in the Iran-Contra affair were a shocking defiance of Congress. I found this excellent documentary, and am happy to share it with you

Information on the Boland Amendments and the controversy is available here

Thursday 25 November 2010

Annual Pardoning of a Turkey

Each year the President exercises his power to pardon - Constitution Article II Section 2 "he shall have the power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences againgst the United States". I think we need to know - what was the offence against the US that this turkey was guilty of?

a Congressional Office of Constituent Assistance?

Members of all the Houses that this blog covers have seen dramatic increases in casework. Some observers (and members themselves) are concerned that we are seeing national legislators being turned into glorified local social workers. The level of constituency service provided by some legislators is impressive - but is it detracting from the role as national law makers?

A further concerns arises from ethical issues. Legislators bringing home goodies for their districts and constituents - can raise fears that they are seeking to buy re-election.

A1991 Congressional Research Service Paper has recently been republished via the opencrs website. It is republished here - and as with CRS products - it provides a full and balanced analysis of the key issues. Food for thought for legislators (both sides of the Atlantic!) and for citizens.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Treasury Figures

This time of year the Treasury publishes - (and the links are below)

Vote on Account 2011-12

Winter Supplementary Estimates 2011-12

Looking Forward to 2012

It's like Christmas - it seems to start earlier every time! Now the media is speculating on - who will run for the Presidency in 2012? Washminster too will be looking forward to a very important set of elections. We will be following the developments - and their background - in detail over the coming months.

November 6th 2012 will see Presidential; Senate; House as well as various State elections.

Other key dates are

December 31st 2010 - Census data published which will lead to reapportionment of House seats between states. Redistricting will follow.

Within the period Feb 1st to March 5th 2012 - Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire Primary; Nevada (Caucuses or primary); South Carolina Primary. - according to rules adopted by the national parties, but state legislatures need to act on these.

Who are the potential contenders? Will the President attract any serious challengers for the Democratic nomination?

Republicans mentioned include

Governors - Tim Pawlenty (MN); Haley Barbour (MS); Chris Christie (NJ); Rick Perry (TX); Mitch Daniels (IN); Bob McDonnell (VA); Bobby Jindal (LA)

Former Governors - Sarah Palin (AK); Mitt Romney (MA); Mike Huckabee (AR); Gary Johnson (NM); Jeb Bush (FL)

Senators - John Thune (SD); Jim DeMint (SC); John Cornyn (TX); Scott Brown (MA); Marco Rubio (FL)

Former Senators - Rick Santorum (PA)

Current or Former Representatives - Newt Gingrich; Ron Paul; Mike Pence;  Paul Ryan

Other - Donald Trump; John Bolton; Rudy Giuliani; David Petraeus;

Tuesday 23 November 2010

The UK Election in 1974, a first class impersonator

Mike Yarwood was a superb impersonator - I really enjoyed his take offs of Tory Leader Ted Heath (Prime Minister 1970-74) and Labour's Harold Wilson (Prime Minister 1964-70 and 1974-76) in my youth. Here's a example of his work - from the February 1974 Election

Monday 22 November 2010

JFK Inauguration Speech

47 years ago today, President Kennedy was assassinated. His Inauguration speech was one of the great speeches of the Twentieth Century. Ted Sorensen played a key role in assisting President Kennedy in writing this inspirational oration, sadly he passed away on October 31st this year. In tribute to both of these great men, I share with you this video.

Sunday 21 November 2010

Books about President Obama

Books by President Obama

Books about Obama

Books about the Campaign

Books about Obama's Presidency

Saturday 20 November 2010

Capitol Steps

If you are need of a laugh - listen to the Capitol Steps broadcast, available here


The problem of Gerrymandering has beset US politics for generations. Sophisticated computer programmes make it easier to accomplish. In the UK we prided ourselves on a non-partisan system for "re-districting", which involved work by the Boundary Commissions (from which active - and recently active - politicians were barred) which produced proposals which went out for public consultation - and allowed Local Inquiries held by an independent semi-judicial Inspector. The primary objective was to produce constituencies (the 'British' word for 'districts') which were geographically coherent and which kept communities together. Those things we were proudest of are being done away with by the current government.

So Gerrymandering is going to be a big issue in both the USA and UK.

A documentary has been produced in the USA which highlights the issues - it is currently being shown in some cinemas. There is a website which includes a trailer for the film - and background information. It is available here.

Friday 19 November 2010

The American Civil War

The election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency occured on November 6th 1860 (a few days more than 150 years ago). His inauguration was not due until March 1861. (It was only after 1933 that the transition period was cut - with Inauguration Day moving to January 20th). During that long period states from the South seceded from the Union.

2011 will mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War - which will be commemorated in a number of ways. This Saturday C-SPAN 3 [In the guise of American History TV] is airing live a day's symposium at the National Archives.

LIVE Sat. 9 am - 5:30 pm ET (2pm-10.30pm UK time)

9 am - Archivist of the United States David Ferriero gives a welcome address, and University of Richmond President Edward Ayers delivers the keynote.

10:45 am - Historians look at how the war impacted everyday life.

2:15 pm - A discussion on the international impact of the war.

4 pm - Panelists debate the state of the nation before and after the war.
The event can be viewed over the internet here.
A seperate programme airs at Saturday 8pm & midnight; Sunday 1pm and Monday 6am (UK times Sunday 1am, 5am, 6pm & Monday 11am) which Professor Matthew Pinsker gives a class specifically on Abraham Lincoln's role in the election and how - in his view - the election forever transformed American politics. A preview of this programme is available here.

Thursday 18 November 2010

NATO Summit

The Heads of State and Government of the NATO countries meet tomorrow in Lisbon, for what is billed as one of the most important summits in NATO history (a claim often heard, but this time may be accurate). Major changes are expected.

To follow the summit, NATO have prepared an extensive series of webpages and links - available here.

Liaison Committee

Today the Prime Minister appears before the Liaison Committee. This committee brings together the Chairs of the Departmental Select Committees of the House of Commons. When this system was set up in 1979 the Prime Minister was strongly opposed to having the Head of Government submit to questioning by Commons committees. Prime Minister's Question Time was seen as the appropriate forum for holding the Premier to account. The objection was maintained until Tony Blair was persuaded to attend. It has now become an important feature of parliamentary life.

The most important aspect of these sessions is the opportunity to question the Prime Minister at length. The value of PMQs can be doubted. It is a very partisan event with opposing sides of the chamber - and particularly the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition - trying to score political points. Questions - and answers - are short, and the severe time constraints rarely permit a Premier to be challenged in depth. All Prime Ministers have acquired the skills to deal with questions they would rather not face.

Sessions before the Liaison Committee were intended to address that lack of proper scrutiny. There were teething troubles - as every Chair sought to put in a question - and some were less than succinct. Lessons have been learned, but this is a new Parliament, with new Chairs.

The committee website can be accessed here.

The evidence will begin at 2.00 pm on Thursday 18 November, and is expected to last for up to two and a half hours. it will be webcast live on Parliament TV.

It is expected that the questioning will cover the following subjects:

At 2pm: - The Spending Review: the PM’s involvement

The Comprehensive Spending Review process
The Defence settlement
Higher Education and science funding
Transport spending
Housing Benefit and Local Government funding
Police funding
Early intervention

At approximately 3.10pm: “Greenest government ever”

The green agenda
Progress to a low-carbon economy
Defra funding for flood defence
The Forestry Commission

At approximately 3.40pm: Strategic Defence and Security Review

UK National Strategy
UK foreign policy and the National Security Strategy
Counter-Terrorism policy and the role of National Security Council
Development and climate change

At approximately 4pm: Afghanistan and Pakistan

DFID’s programme in Afghanistan
Cross-Government working
UK’s general strategy for the region
Policy on withdrawal

Wednesday 17 November 2010

The New Line Up in the House of Representatives

From "The Huddle" (Politico)


John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, will be nominated by his party to become House Speaker on his 61st birthday in the Longworth Building, named after a speaker from Ohio that Boehner adores. Tears are sure to ensue.

Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the highest-ranking Jewish lawmaker in the nation, will be majority leader.

Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will be majority whip, securing for himself a Capitol Police detail
Texas Rep.

Jeb Hensarling will be elected House Republican Conference Chairman.

Rangel Ethics Hearing 1

The following four videos from C-SPAN record the part of the ethics hearing held in public over 15th & 16th November

Rangel Ethics Hearing 2

Rangel Ethics Hearing 3

Rangel Ethics Hearing 4

The full Ethics Committee [Proper Name - The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct] will meet on Thursday to discuss sanctions.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

A Life Sentence?

Most members of legislatures have the opportunity to retire - or of being retired by their electorate. MPs have terms of (up to) 5 years; Senators 6 years and Congressmen 2 years. Save for the Bishops, members of the House of Lords serve for life.

As a result the numbers of peers entitled to sit changes - almost on a daily basis - as new Peers are created, or existing members die. The latest figures of membership are -

Conservative          193
Liberal Democrats    79                             (Government Peers = 272)
Labour                   234
Crossbenchers        181
Bishops                    25
Other                       26

TOTAL                  738

This figure excludes the

20 members who are on leave of absence
3 members who are currently suspended
15 who are disqualified as senior members of the Judiciary
1 who is disqualified as an MEP

Leave of absence - the Companion to the Standing Orders states -

1.27 Members of the House are to attend the sittings of the House. If they cannot attend, they should obtain leave of absence.

1.28 At any time during a Parliament, a member of the House may obtain leave of absence for the rest of the Parliament by applying in writing to the Clerk of the Parliaments. Before the beginning of every Parliament the Clerk of the Parliaments writes to each member who was on leave of absence at the end of the preceding Parliament to ask whether he wishes to apply for leave of absence for the new Parliament. The House grants leave to those who so apply. In addition, the Dissolution Notice sent to all members of the House at the opening of a new Parliament invites other members who wish to apply to communicate with the Clerk of the Parliaments.

1.29 Directions relating to those on leave of absence are as follows:

(a) a member of the House who has been granted leave of absence is expected not to attend sittings of the House until his leave has expired or been terminated, except to take the oath of allegiance

(b) a member of the House on leave of absence who wishes to attend during the period for which leave was granted is expected to give notice in writing to the Clerk of the Parliaments at least one month before the day on which he wishes to attend; and his leave is terminated one month from the date of this notice, or sooner if the House so directs

(c) a member of the House on leave of absence may not act as a supporter in the ceremony of introduction

(d) a member of the House on leave of absence may not vote in the election of the Lord Speaker or in by-elections for hereditary peers.

Today in the Lords Lord Strathclyde will to move that this House takes note of the Interim Report from the Leader’s Group on Members leaving the House (HL Paper 48). The interim report discusses the various issues such as voluntary and compulsory retirement; and suggestions for dealing with members after they have completed their service. The report contains some very useful statistics on age; length of service and attendance.

Monday 15 November 2010

Rule V House of Representatives

The current Rule V deals with broadcasting of the House. Responsibility for a system of "closed circuit viewing of floor proceedings" available throughout offices and rooms in the Capitol and the House Office Buildings - and for a system of "complete and unedited audio and visual broadcasting and recording of the proceedings of the House" rests with the Speaker.

As was forcefully pointed out on a recent programme - the cameras in the House are not C-SPAN's, but those of the House. C-SPAN takes the feed and broadcasts it, but has no control over the cameras.

In May 1984 a row over the cameras became known as "Camscam". Tip O'Neill was angered when Newt Gingrich used a "special order speech" (equivalent to the British 'adjournment debates at the end of the day's business) to attack some Democrats and his suggestion that they didn't have the courage to rise and defend themselves. Of course they weren't there - as is usual during "special order speeches" only those making them were actually in the House. But the public couldn't see that - as the camera only showed the person speaking. It was a trick Gingrich had often used. On this occasion Speaker O'Neill was so incensed that he called the Chair of the committee which administered the television system and told him to have a caption written to inform the audience that the House had completed its legislative work and was in special order time. He also told the Chair to have the cameras pan the chamber and show the empty House.

It was held that under the Rule, the Speaker had the authority to do this. But O'Neill failed to tell the Republicans what he was doing. Two days later O'Neill's instruction was put into action during a special order speech. It was spotted on the monitors in the Republican Cloakroom and a note was passed to the Republican then speaking, Bob Walker, once of Gingrich's group - who attacked the Speaker's actions live on air.  A massive row broke out when the House next met and Speaker O'Neill said he took the action because Gingrich had misled viewers by "stepping aside, debating and pointing - as if there were people on the floor - asking. 'why don't you get up and answer?' He added 'a more low thing I have never seen'.

This last remark played in Gingrich's hands. He demanded a 'point of personal privilege' on the following day to respond. In the midst of that statement tempers flared and then, in the words of John A Farrell, "O'Neill lost it. "My personal opinion is this: You deliberately stood in that well before an empty House and challenged these people, and you challenged their Americanism, and it is the lowest thing I have ever seen in my 32 years in Congress." This was a personal insult - and Trent Lott, the Minority Whip rose and demanded "that the Speaker's words be taken down." In Lott's words ['Herding Cats'] "with that, all action on the floor of the House stops automatically. The words were taken down and handed to the Parliamentarian. I knew we had O'Neill. The chamber grew as quiet as a church. Mobley (in the Chair) had to rule that his colleague, the speaker of the House of Representatives, was out of order. That ruling brought a swift and difficult punishment: O'Neill was immediately barred from the floor for the rest of the day. He couldn't utter another word.

I let the Democrats stew for a couple of minutes, then moved that the speaker's words be expunged and that the House resume its normal business' (Farrell described it thus 'Lott, with gleeful magnanimity, asked that the Speaker be absolved of that humiliating punishment' [of being banned from speaking for the rest of the day])

- - - - - - - - - -

According to Rule V broadcasts made available under the rule may not be used for political or commercial purposes

Sunday 14 November 2010

Law Reports (UK)

Once it was necessary to subscribe to (an expensive) series of law reports to read leading judgements soon after they were delivered. While special deals were available to students - it was still a costly business. Now electronic databases are available - and it is no longer necessary to search for the particular book (sometimes in vain! - there were some despicable students who would hide particular volumes - so keeping to themselves a resource all students needed). However, access to a database is expensive if you can't use one through a university or law firm.

The UK Supreme Court now publishes judgements on its website. This is accessible here. A press summary is available in pdf format - as is the full judgement. For those who aspire to be lawyers, it is worth getting into the habit of reading full judgements. Each judge explains his or her reasoning - and a better appreciation of the issues can be gained.

Court of Appeal judgements can be accessed via BAILII

Saturday 13 November 2010

Explaining the 1974 Midterms

As part of my background reading for my studies on whips - I've been looking at the Watergate and post-Watergate Congresses. At its centre is the November 5th 1974 landslide for the Democrats - which brought in the freshman class known as the "Watergate Babies". In the aftermath of the Watergate hearings; the resignation of President Nixon and President Ford's pardoning of his disgraced predecessor, Democrats gained 49 House and 4 Senate seats. How significant was the scandal in producing this result?

The conventional wisdom is that "voters treated [the Midterm election] as a referendum on Watergate and the economy."

Jacobson and Kernell however have contended that "the strategic decisions of candidates and contributors, guided by expectations about how Watergate and the economy would affect electoral odds, had an important effect on 1974 election results quite independent of voters' direct reactions to national issues" - in other words, expectations of a public reaction brought forward better candidates and more funding to take advantage of a likely swing to the Democrats. The anticipation of a win, caused the win!

There is an interesting debate on the issue in "American Political Science Review" Vol 80 No 2 (June 1986) - which is available via JSTOR (access from most academic institutions) - 'Interpreting the 1974 Congressional Election'. Another interesting article on voter attitudes at the time can be found in 'Watergate and the 1974 Congressional Elections' (McLeod, Brown & Becker) POQ 41 (1977) pp181-195.

Friday 12 November 2010

See Round the White House

The White House has an interactive tour - it can be accessed here.


A Congress runs from noon on the 3rd January (20th Amendment Section I) in an odd numbered year until it expires exactly two years later. There may be, as this year, a "lame duck" session after the elections until both House and Senate adjourn "Sine Die" (which is done by a concurrent resolution). Unless recalled in an emergency, and the concurrent resolution normally has provisions for recall authority, the Congress then doesn't meet until it automatically expires. The First meeting of the New Congress may be on 3rd January or a later date agreed in advance. Each Congress is numbered, from the first which met in 1789. So the Congress which come into existence in eight weeks time will be the 112th Congress of the United States. The House is renewed for each Congress, but the Senate regards itself as a continuing body. (A very important point, which we will return to in future posts about the Cloture rules).

The dates and numbers of recent Congresses are

Number     Dates       House Majority      Senate Majority

93rd     1973-1975         Dem                        Dem
94th     1975-1977         Dem                         Dem

95th     1977-1979         Dem                         Dem
96th     1979-1981         Dem                         Dem
97th     1981-1983         Dem                         Rep
98th     1983-1985         Dem                         Rep
99th     1985-1987         Dem                         Rep
100th   1987-1989         Dem                         Dem
101st   1989-1991         Dem                         Dem
102nd  1991-1993         Dem                         Dem
103rd  1993-1995         Dem                         Dem
104th   1995-1997         Rep                          Rep
105th   1997-1999         Rep                          Rep
106th   1999-2001         Rep                          Rep
107th   2001-2003         Rep                          Dem/Rep (Jan 20-Jun 6 2001)/Dem
108th   2003-2005         Rep                          Rep
109th   2005-2007         Rep                          Rep
110th   2007-2009         Dem                        Dem
111th   2009-2011         Dem                        Dem
112th   2011-2013         Rep                         Dem

In the United Kingdom the numbers are not so widely used. Instead the common practice is to refer to a Parliament by the year (or of there are two General Elections in one year, by month and year) of its first meeting. However, officuially the current Parliament is recognised as the 55th Parliament of the United Kingdom. (The Printed version of Hansard each Monday begins - "IN THE FIRST SESSION OF THE FIFTY-FIFTH PARLIAMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND [WHICH OPENED 18 MAY 2010]"

No.     Election          Government

46th    Feb 1974       Labour
47th    Oct 1974       Labour
48th    1979              Conservative
49th    1983              Conservative
50th    1987              Conservative
51st    1992              Conservative
52nd   1997              Labour
53rd    2001             Labour
54th     2005             Labour
55th     2010             Conservative/Liberal Democrat

Thursday 11 November 2010

Update on the transition team

The working groups within the Transition team are -

House and Conference Rules

Rep. Rob Bishop (Leader)

Rep. David Dreier

Rep.-elect Cory Gardner

Rep. Doc Hastings

Rep. Jeb Hensarling

Rep. Jim Jordan

Rep. Buck McKeon

Rep. Candace Miller

Rep. Paul Ryan

Rep.-elect Tim Scott

Floor, Committee, and House Schedule

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (Co-Leader)

Rep. Pat Tiberi (Co-Leader)

Rep. John Campbell

Rep.-elect Adam Kinzinger

Rep.-elect Martha Roby

Rep. Pete Sessions

House Operations

Rep. Tom Cole (Co-Leader)

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (Co-Leader)

Rep. Jason Chaffetz

Rep. Mike Conaway

Rep. Mike Rogers

Washminster Returns - to a full agenda

Thank you for returning to Washminster after its short break. I'd particularly like to thank those of you who knew of the circumstances and sent your condolences on the death of my Father.


The big issue facing the House of Representatives is reform of its procedures and practices. A review is being conducted by the Republican transition team, headed by Greg Walden, and we will of course be following this issue closely. The transition website can be accessed here.

The Senate has, through the frequent threat of a filibuster, been unable to move much business forward in recent years. Although the Constitution requires special majorities for specific matters, the requirement for sufficient votes to gain cloture, means that there is now a de facto special majority of 3/5th (60 votes) needed for any business. Will this continue? or will it come under sustained challenge in the New Congress? January certainly is shaping up to be an interesting month for Congressional practice!

At Westminster the Opposition is beginning to find its feet. Constitutional Reform continues to play a major part in the legislative business of both Houses.

We live in interesting times! Follow events on Washminster - and please tell your friends, students, tutors etc about this educational blog.

Tuesday 2 November 2010


For personal reasons, I am not going to be able to publish Washminster for the next few days.

Please be assured that Washminster will return shortly. I'm sorry that I won't be able to publish during these last few days of the US Elections and their aftermath - but as soon as I can Washminster will be back, providing an enhanced service of posts about US, UK - and occasionally European Union practices; procedures and related subjects.

Washminster will be back by November 11th - and hopefully sooner than that.