Chris Marquette

Office of Congressional Workplace Rights report details disability access challenges
House, Senate office buildings restrooms, Senate subway pose barriers

Bathrooms in the House and Senate Office Buildings are riddled with barriers to people with disabilities and the Senate subway is ill-equipped to accommodate vision-impaired people, according to a biennial report on Americans with Disabilities Act inspections by the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights for the 114th Congress.

Of 2,568 barriers identified in the report, 1,051 were attributed to multi-user restrooms, marking 40 percent of such challenges. Hart topped Senate buildings with 490 barriers, Dirksen had 373 and Russell had 258 — totaling 1,132 barriers to those with disabilities, including 11 in the subway.

Campus Notebook: Idahoans in Africa highlight congressional travel
The latest travelogue and interesting disclosures

This week’s Campus Notebook highlights senators who recently jetted off to Mozambique, Israel and France and a staffer who sold a bunch of stocks, including from the tech industry. 

Idahoans in Africa: Sen. Mike Crapo and his wife Susan joined Sen. Jim Risch and his wife Vicki for a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa and Mozambique. Crapo and his wife’s trip, paid for by the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, cost $14,113. Risch and his wife’s trip, paid for by the same group, cost $13,758.

Office of Congressional Ethics has transmitted four matters to Ethics Committee for further review
Cases are deemed by OCE to have a ‘substantial reason’ to believe a violation may have occurred

The independent investigative entity that examines ethical transgressions of House lawmakers has undertaken five new matters to review potential misconduct and transmitted four cases to the House Ethics Committee for further review in the third quarter.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, according to its latest activity report released Thursday, deemed those four matters contain a “substantial reason” to believe a violation may have occurred. 

Trump nominates director of Government Publishing Office
If confirmed, Hugh Halpern would be first permanent director since 2017

The agency responsible for producing U.S. passports has been plagued by leadership instability since 2017, but President Donald Trump’s move to nominate Hugh Nathanial Halpern of Virginia to be the Government Publishing Office’s director Tuesday could end that streak.

Halpern worked as the director of floor operations for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan before Halpern retired in January. He was the staff director for the House Rules Committee and worked on several other committees, including the House Financial Services Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee over the course of 30 years.

Campus Notebook: Lawmakers to Prague, staff to Fargo, plus million-dollar trades
Lawmaker travel, stock trades, ethics complaints and other updates

Campus notebook this week highlights where a former top law enforcement official went after he retired from the Capitol Police, international travel by members, domestic travel of staffers and substantial stock trades.

Chris Collins enters guilty plea in insider trading case
Former lawmaker leaves legacy of bolstered House rules in response to breach of public trust

Chris Collins’ guilty plea on insider trading charges Tuesday, ended a seven-year congressional career marked by a breach of public trust that pushed the House to craft rules prohibiting members from serving on public company boards.

On Tuesday, the New York Republican pleaded guilty to two of eight counts he was charged with: conspiracy to commit securities fraud and false statements to the FBI, each of which carry a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, the New York Daily News reported. Under the plea deal, Collins agreed to not appeal a judge’s sentence ranging from 46 to 57 months, the newspaper reported.

House Ethics Committee announces reviews of Tlaib, Huizenga, Spano
Matters involving the three lawmakers recommended for review by the Office of Congressional Ethics

The House Ethics Committee on Monday announced it was extending its review of matters regarding Reps. Bill Huizenga, Ross Spano and Rashida Tlaib, which were referred by the Office of Congressional Ethics. 

The OCE, an independent, non-partisan investigative entity, referred all three matters on Aug. 16. The Ethics Committee, lead by Democratic Chairman Ted Deutch of California and ranking member Kenny Marchant, a Texas Republican, has to publicly acknowledge the receipt of an OCE referral to further review a case after 45 days, putting into motion statements regarding all three lawmakers on Monday. 

Early Trump ally Chris Collins resigning ahead of plea hearing
New York Republican was reelected while fighting indictment on insider trading charges last year

Rep. Chris Collins is resigning ahead of a hearing related to insider trading charges.

The New York Republican on Monday submitted a resignation letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. It will be effective when it is read on the House floor during a pro forma session Tuesday, her office confirmed.

Rep. Chris Collins has change of plea hearing on Tuesday
New York Republican faces February trial on insider trading charges

Rep. Chris Collins, who has previously entered a not guilty plea in his federal criminal fraud case, has a change of plea hearing scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, raising the possibility that the New York Republican could agree to a deal offered by federal prosecutors. Collins is to appear before Judge Vernon Broderick of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York at the hearing in New York at 3 p.m. 

The scheduling of the hearing was first reported by The Buffalo News. 

At least half of Rep. Chris Collins’ full-time staff has left since he was indicted
New York Republican will fight the case in court, but some employees not waiting around

The trial of Rep. Chris Collins is in February, but some of his staffers aren’t waiting on the legal system to run its course.

Half of Collins’ full-time staff have left since he was indicted in August 2018 on fraud charges. Seven of 14 full-time staffers — among them his deputy chief of staff, Michael Kracker, communications director Sarah Minkel, and health policy adviser, Charlotte Pineda — are no longer working in the office, according to payroll records from May 2019, the most recent filing available in the Legislative Resource Center.

House employee survey shows discontent with pay
Racial figures comparable to national statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau

Most employees in the House are not satisfied with their pay and almost half have considered employment elsewhere, according to a survey the Chief Administrative Officer of the House released Thursday.

House employees earn an annual average of $69,379 per year, but only 35.8 percent said they were satisfied with their pay. Average pay trends higher for those who work in committees, leadership and as House officers — those positions average $102,000 per year. Just under half — 44.7 percent — said they considered other employment elsewhere.

Lawmaker pay freeze extended in Senate Legislative Branch bill
Pay for lawmakers has decreased by around 15 percent compared to inflation and other factors since 2009

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced, as amended, a $5.09 billion fiscal 2020 Legislative Branch spending bill that would continue a pay freeze for members of Congress. The issue has proved troublesome in the House, where a spending bill approved by appropriators this summer with a cost-of-living adjustment has yet to be brought up on the floor.

The Senate version, approved by the panel 31-0, would mark an increase of about $256 million over current levels to fund the House, Senate and joint operations, including Capitol Police, the Government Accountability Office, and other offices.

Rep. Tony Cárdenas spent $148,000 fighting dropped civil lawsuit
California Democrat still has over $20,000 left that will likely go to outstanding balances

Politicians can pay a heavy price when they’re accused of sexual misconduct — even when the case is dismissed. Just ask California Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas.

He racked up almost $150,000 in legal expenses defending himself against a lawsuit that alleged he sexually assaulted a minor. In July, the alleged victim agreed to have the case dismissed with prejudice, meaning that she can’t file it again. But that doesn’t wipe out those expenses, even when the case is dropped.

New hearing on D.C. statehood, same old partisan lines
Effort to provide D.C. residents with full congressional representation gains steam in House

The first House hearing on D.C. statehood in nearly 26 years revealed old battle lines over giving the District of Columbia’s 702,000 residents full representation in Congress. House Oversight Committee Democrats applauded statehood as a long-overdue correction of an anomaly, while Republicans said corruption made D.C. unfit for full voting rights and claimed the whole thing was unconstitutional anyway. 

Thursday’s hearing grappled with HR 51, a bill that would admit the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, into the Union as the country’s 51st state, and provide it one House representative and two senators in Congress. The District is currently represented by a nonvoting delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who introduced the bill.

Smithsonian has almost $1 billion in outstanding maintenance, committee told
Buildings with outstanding repair needs include the Castle and the National Air and Space Museum

The Smithsonian Institution has almost $1 billion in outstanding maintenance needs across the more than 600 facilities it oversees, an issue that concerned lawmakers at Wednesday’s House Administration Committee hearing and one that the recently appointed head of the museum complex pledged to address.

Prominent Smithsonian buildings in need of deferred maintenance — maintenance and repairs that were not performed when they should have been — include the Smithsonian Institution Building, known as the Castle, the Arts and Industries Building and the National Air and Space Museum. The $937 million backlog for fiscal 2017 is an assessment of every building it oversees, according to to Cathy Helm, inspector general for the Smithsonian Institution.

Road Ahead: House to consider stopgap measure to fund government, Senate plays catch-up
Appropriations could be a focal point this week

As the Senate rushes to move fiscal 2020 spending bills, the House will consider a continuing resolution to keep the government running before the Oct. 1 fiscal year deadline hits.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said the chamber would consider a stopgap measure to fund the federal government this week.

Two top Architect of the Capitol employees have left the agency after investigation
Senate Building Superintendent Takis Tzamaras and House Building Superintendent Bill Weidemeyer both left in July

Two top employees at the Architect of the Capitol who oversaw building operations in the House and Senate are no longer working there, months after they were put on administrative leave while they were investigated for emails critical of Christine Merdon, the former head of the agency.

Senate Building Superintendent Takis Tzamaras and House Building Superintendent Bill Weidemeyer both left the agency in July. Tzamaras said he resigned and Weidemeyer said he retired.

All-day protest draws attention to opioid crisis, 'Medicare for All'
Liberal group makes rounds in lawmaker offices with personal stories

On an early morning in May, Freddie Henderson III’s heart stopped from a fentanyl overdose, a story his sister Jasmine shared Wednesday in the office of Republican Sen. Rob Portman, as part of a larger push by progressive activists to pressure lawmakers into supporting "Medicare for All" legislation and signing onto a separate measure that would inject $100 billion of federal funding to fight the opioid epidemic.

“My brother is now a statistic,” Henderson said. “And even though I do this work for a living, I couldn't save him. And that’s why I’m here.”

Final price tag unknown for Cannon House Office Building renovation
Asbestos, PCBs among the hazardous materials found in the project

The final price tag for renovations at the Cannon House Office Building, already potentially more than $100 million over budget, remains unknown as the project attempts to meet its scheduled 2024 completion date, the acting Architect of the Capitol told the House Administration Committee on Tuesday.

New mitigation efforts after hazardous materials were found in the building would require more money from Congress, and the project may need to combine phases, push deadlines and move additional offices out of the building for a longer period of time, acting Architect of the Capitol Thomas Carroll III said.

Cannon renewal could be $100 million over budget; hazardous materials found
Project has not yet fully completed Phase 1 yet

The project to renovate the Cannon House Office Building could climb more than $100 million over budget, a process that has, in part, been delayed by the discovery of hazardous materials and a fluid list of changes requested by the Architect of the Capitol that deviates from the original plan.

Terrell Dorn, managing director for infrastructure operations at the Government Accountability Office, notes in testimony submitted for Tuesday’s House Administration Committee oversight hearing on the Cannon project that the Architect of the Capitol expects the total building renovation cost to increase substantially from the initial estimate.