Capitol Newspeg: Majority, Diversity, Civility

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) in 2017. Photo by Jeff Malet.

When the Majority Changes … a Lot Happens

There is plenty of talk these days about the possibility of a “blue wave that will flip the House.” In other words, it is possible that the dominant party in the House of Representatives, currently the Republicans with 235 seats, could change to the Democrats, who hold 194 seats. This would occur if the Dems are successful in wresting at least 24 seats from Republicans in the coming midterm elections and winning a majority: 218.

If so, a lot of official changes in Congress will follow. The biggest power the majority has is to occupy the House Majority Leadership position. The Leader sets the agenda and the schedule, that is, what legislation and issues will be discussed on the floor, voted on and passed to the Senate or the president to become law.

Some say if the Democrats take the House in November, they will focus on impeachment of the president — and possibly new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

But a number of other, less obvious but significant, changes would occur. Legislative committee leaders would switch to the new dominant party, as would the partisan staffs of each of the committees and subcommittees. Offices and the number of staffers would change, as would the number of witnesses they get to invite to discuss an issue.

In every case, the majority gets the most, the biggest, the best. Even committee names and thereby their focuses change. For instance, under Republican rule, subcommittees on education use “workforce” in their nomenclature; the Democrats use the word “labor.” Immigration committees under Republicans focus on labels of enforcement (i.e., border control), while Democrats tend to use identity group labels like refugees and focus on rights.

Sen. Warren Calls for Diversity on the Supreme Court … But What Kind?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) faced a packed room of cameras and reporters with notepads at a press conference at the National Press Club on Aug. 21. It was the only big event at the Press Club during those last, usually dead, days of August, when hardly anyone is on the Hill and the political press is crying for news outside of the White House.

She was lively, charismatic and demanding. Her message: Democrats need to lead political reform on the Hill — including on the Supreme Court. She said she had been developing a national Democratic campaign network focusing on turning out the (Democratic) vote for the November midterm elections. She insisted she was not running for president in 2020 (yet).

In particular, in those days before the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Warren insisted that SCOTUS become more diverse — gender-wise and racially. Was she thinking of herself? Word came on Oct. 15, based on recent DNA tests, that Warren has distant Native American heritage.

She did not mention, however, the several areas where the Supreme Court truly is lacking diversity. Would Warren in her reforms of SCOTUS consider a decades-long ban on any nominee from Harvard or Yale — the East Coast Ivies with law schools from which all the current justices graduated? Would she consider a similar ban on women justices from Manhattan, since we already have three out of three from there sitting on the court? And what about religious diversity? For decades, the court’s justices have been either Catholic or Jewish. How about more Protestants — still the dominant religion in America — or the noncommitted? Diversity has many faces.

Panelist Touts Civility … Except in Restaurants

Scott Simon, award-winning host of National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition Saturday,” is one of Washington’s favorite radio personalities (and a favorite of “NPR Nation”). On Sept. 26, he was the moderator at George Washington University of what was touted as “a thought-provoking conversation on the importance of civility, why it has broken down — and why it’s necessary for solving the major challenges confronting our nation.”

Panelists were right, left and center on the political spectrum and diverse as to gender and race. They included Sally Kohn, author of “The Opposite of Hate” and host of the State of Resistance podcast; CNN political commentator Arthur C. Evans Jr., CEO of the American Psychological Association; Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist at NYU’s Stern School of Business and author of the New York Times best-seller “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion; and Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse.

The forum was one of those comprehensive discussions from different perspectives that D.C. residents and visitors can attend almost every week. This one did not disappoint in its inspiring stories of civility gone amuck and made right throughout American history. Progress seemed hopeful — until a question from the audience about confronting (aka screaming) at Trump administration officials dining with their families in restaurants.

“This is one of those cases where incivility is okay,” the soft-spoken Simon said. “We journalists get to confront them in interviews and press conferences, but the public doesn’t have that access. Public places are the only venues the public can confront them.”

No other panelist refuted that.

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