Chris Marquette

Workplace protections for legislative branch employees take effect
Changes include revised dispute resolution process, access to confidential counselor

Legislative branch employees can now take advantage of a revised dispute resolution process and consult with a confidential adviser about their rights when they make workplace claims.

Those are among the protections in the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act. The law also extends workplace protections to unpaid employees, including interns and fellows. Many of the final provisions took effect Wednesday, 180 days after the bill was signed into law in December.

Pay debate raging on Capitol Hill ignores lowest-earning staffers
Boosting MRA would do most to address pay woes, Hill aides say

While Congress tussles over whether a legislative spending bill should allow a salary boost for lawmakers, their staffers agree that the Members’ Representational Allowance — which pays House staff salaries — needs more funding.

House Democrats this month pulled the Legislative Branch appropriations bill amid backlash from Republican campaign strategists and members of their own caucus.

Hearing on Congressional Research Service zeroes in on diversity issue
Rare look inside CRS at House Administration Committee

A rare public hearing on Thursday examining the Congressional Research Service revealed concerns about its lack of diversity in its leadership ranks, as members questioned its leader about hiring practices.

At Thursday’s House Administration Committee, Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., asked CRS Director Mary B. Mazanec about the staff closest to her, specifically if any were a person of color, which he defined as “African American, Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islander.” Mazanec said she had “about 12 direct reports,” and only one of them was a person of color.

Public to get rare look inside the Congressional Research Service, with attrition, morale points of contention
Former employees knock management as stifling quality work, innovation

Clarified 3:05 p.m. | Thursday’s House Administration Committee oversight hearing into the Congressional Research Service is the first in more than a decade — and is long overdue, according to former employees who say the agency is mismanaged, stifles expert research and results in a lesser work product.

The hearing will examine increasing attrition rates, low employee morale and a lack of diversity at the agency, among other issues, according to a committee spokesperson. Since 1914, the Congressional Research Service, or CRS, has provided expert policy and legal analysis to staff, members and committees in the legislative branch.

Ethics panel still investigating Grijalva on hostile work environment
Committee wants additional documents pertaining to former staffer who was paid settlement

The House Ethics Committee has requested documents from Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva as it continues to examine allegations into whether he cultivated a hostile work environment.

The ongoing investigation, first reported by E&E News, was a surprise to Grijalva, who faced an allegation of wrongdoing concerning a $48,000 settlement paid to a female member of his staff in 2015, which was dismissed in December 2018 by the House Ethics Committee.

Ethics panel increases salary threshold for House staffer disclosures
Staffers making $127,914 or more also face restrictions on income earned outside of congressional duties

The House Ethics Committee has increased the salary threshold that subjects staffers to the same disclosure requirements and employment restrictions as members of Congress, according to guidance the panel released Thursday.

House employees who make $127,914 or more for at least 60 days during 2019 will need to file a financial disclosure statement on or before May 15, 2020. That’s an increase of $1,766 from the previous year.

Opponent pounces after Duncan Hunter’s wife switches to guilty plea
“Those who know Hunter the most, trust him the least,” Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar says

The Democrat challenging indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter went on the attack Thursday after the California Republican’s wife entered a guilty plea in the federal campaign finance case against her and her husband. 

Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty Thursday to a single count of conspiracy to misuse campaign funds, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The plea comes with a sentence of up to five years and a fine of $250,000. 

Ethics report on former Schweikert chief of staff raises questions about lawmaker’s conduct
Schweikert says he will not let ethics cloud deter re-election efforts

Rep. David Schweikert’s former chief of staff used official funds on a six-day trip to Arizona in which he attended Super Bowl XLIX; separately, he made impermissible contributions to his boss and received income beyond the House’s outside earned income limit for his position, according to a report made public Wednesday by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Many of the allegations into the former chief of staff, Richard Oliver Schwab, Jr., relate to Schweikert, who is under the scrutiny of a House Ethics Committee investigative subcommittee.

Trump signs bill restoring retirement benefits for Senate dining workers
Law would remedy worker retirement benefits that have been flat since 2008

Veteran Senate dining employees are getting their full retirement benefits restored after President Donald Trump signed into law a bill that lifts a freeze that had kept them stagnant since 2008.

Trump signed the bill on Wednesday, which makes technical corrections to the computation of average pay regarding the benefits for the dining workers in the Senate, a move that allows cafeteria workers to fully collect their due retirement.

On congressional pay raise, maximum political pain and no gain
Hoyer optimistic, but McCarthy cool on member cost-of-living update

House Democratic leaders are learning the hard way that when it comes to the politically dicey issue of raising lawmaker pay, there is maximum risk with a minimum chance of gain. 

Amid the fallout from Democrats in the chamber abruptly pulling a legislative spending bill from a broader package, leaders on Tuesday were left to state an easy to articulate but difficult to achieve goal: that the only path to bigger paychecks was through bipartisan, bicameral negotiations.

Senate honors late chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie

The Senate on Monday memorialized former Senate Chaplain Lloyd John Ogilvie, who died on June 5 at age 88.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke fondly of the way Ogilvie provided spiritual guidance to senators during the chaplain’s tenure from 1995 through 2003. McConnell noted those times featured the challenges of lawmakers dealing with 9/11, the anthrax scare and a host of their own personal challenges.

Who protects whom? Depends on presidential candidate, congressional status
Kamala Harris incident in San Francisco prompts campaign security concerns

When a protester walked onstage and took the microphone from California Sen. Kamala Harris at an event earlier this month, it raised serious questions about who is in charge of protecting the Democratic presidential candidate and at what point in her campaign — and others’ — the Secret Service should step in. 

Harris remained calm, and security personnel at MoveOn’s Big Ideas Forum in San Francisco leaped onstage as the senator walked away. Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff, wrestled the microphone from the protester. But the incident brought with it a flurry of concern about how vulnerable candidates can be on the trail, and who is responsible for protecting them.

HR 1 provides freshman House Democrats a McConnell 101 lesson
First-term lawmakers want to see Senate action on ethics overhaul

While it is not quite an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, the metaphor is close enough: Freshman House Democrats who roared into the majority in January with ambitious legislative plans are increasingly facing the reality of a Senate majority leader who has little interest in what they want.

The latest reality check came on Wednesday when a substantial portion of first-year House Democrats — 62 members — urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to act on HR 1, a sweeping House-passed bill that seeks to fortify ethics rules for public officials, overhaul campaign finance and expand access to voting.

After Iran briefings, Democrats in Congress want to know more, sooner
Republicans generally on board with Trump administration moves

Intelligence briefings on U.S. relations with Iran Tuesday left Democrats in both the Senate and the House unsure of what the Trump administration’s objectives are following recent heightened tensions in the Middle East.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, along with acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, briefed lawmakers on their strategic campaign to push back against what he called “Iran’s malign activity” and described the country as participating in 40 years of terrorist activity.

Futures product to test Wall Street taste for cryptocurrencies
Startup company plans to start trading futures contracts in bitcoin

Cryptocurrencies have been viewed skeptically by some old-guard financial institutions — the head of one bank famously called bitcoin a fraud a few years back — but there’s a new plan to offer derivatives based on bitcoin that may show how deeply Wall Street is adopting new financial technology.

A startup company plans in July to start testing futures contracts in bitcoin, and begin trading them shortly after. The products, unlike cryptocurrencies themselves, aren’t designed for the masses. Bitcoin futures are meant for financial firms that want to find new ways to profit from fintech, and launching the futures contracts is essentially a bet that there’s enough demand from the big players.

Fintech industry pursues clarity on ‘token’ regulation
Advocates are finding a sympathetic ear in Congress

Financial technology advocates are seeking an answer from regulators on when things like digital tokens should be deemed to be securities, and they’re gaining a sympathetic ear in Congress.

Further clarity from regulators would encourage more U.S. growth in digital assets, the advocates say.

House bills would revisit regulation of cryptocurrencies
The bill would clarify which virtual currencies qualify as commodities, provide optional regulatory structure

House bills with bipartisan support would direct regulators to examine new ways to oversee digital assets and protect them from manipulation, as some lawmakers strive to make financial technologies more mainstream.

One bill would direct the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, consulting with the Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies, to report to committees including Senate Banking and House Financial Services on how cryptocurrencies are regulated in the U.S. and other countries and detail the benefits of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.

Crypto-based funds crawl toward mom and pop
They’ll get there ‘eventually’ says one SEC commissioner

A fund based on cryptocurrency will eventually pass muster at the Securities and Exchange Commission despite the agency’s denials of all previous efforts, predicts its lone Democratic commissioner.

Robert J. Jackson Jr. expects some applicant to meet the minimum requirements for a cryptocurrency-based fund that could be traded by ordinary investors. A number of cryptocurrency-based applications await the agency’s decision, he said in an interview, though he wouldn’t speculate on whether one of those will get approval, or when.

Financial utility turns to blockchain for credit derivatives
DTCC warehouse processes 98 percent of credit derivative transactions globally

Bitcoin’s price took a beating last year, but blockchain, the technology that underpins the digital currency, continues to gain prominence in the financial industry, with the latest sign of interest coming from a financial utility company that’s adopting it for a derivatives platform.

The Depository Trust and Clearing Corp., which is owned by several large financial firms, is working on a project in which a distributed ledger like blockchain will be used for processing what’s known as credit derivatives trades. DTCC is the custodian for many of the securities owned by investors, and safeguards transactions against default by either counterparty.

Push intensifies for cryptocurrency industry to police itself
Group is working to establish an industry-sponsored regulator

BY CHRIS MARQUETTE

Proponents who tout the revolutionary potential for digital assets may turn to a more traditional model to protect investors and pre-empt additional scrutiny: self-regulation.