Democratic Caucus governance still shrouded in secrecy

It has been over a year since advocacy groups asked Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries to publish caucus rules online

Hakeem Jeffries wearing a suit and tie
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Vice Chair Katherine Clark of Massachusetts are seen after a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus in the Capitol on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 12, 2020 at 6:00am

House Democratic Caucus rules are not publicly available online, leaving the public in the dark on how those lawmakers assume power within the party and the procedures that members follow as part of that collective group.

It has been over a year since the progressive group Demand Progress, joined by others, originally wrote to House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York asking him to publish the rules governing the caucus online. Last year, Jeffries said he would present the issue to the caucus, but nothing has come of it.

On Wednesday, Demand Progress along with numerous other groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote to Jeffries asking him to publish the rules online. This marks the fourth time Demand Progress, joined by a coalition, has written to Jeffries seeking the public disclosure of the rules.

Since they took power in the House, Democrats have pledged to be committed to transparency, but they have yet to publicly display the internal guidelines for party members.

“Just as the publication of the rules for the House of Representatives is necessary for government accountability, so too is the publication of the Democratic Caucus rules,” the letter said. “Public access empowers understanding of legislative branch activities, provides essential detail on how you govern, and exemplifies your commitment to open government.”

The letter also notes that it is a practice of the House Republican Conference to publish its rules online. Those rules, which are available on the party’s conference website, include the parameters around conference membership, expulsion, leadership structure and election procedures.

Jeffries, who represents New York, holds the fifth-highest Democratic leadership role in the House. “Continuing our long-standing commitment to complete transparency, the Caucus is in the process of making its rules available online for all to see,” Michael Hardaway, a spokesman for Jeffries, said in a statement. Pressed for what kind of timeline that meant, Hardaway did not respond.

Signatories on the letter say there’s no reason for the Democrats to conceal this information.

“There is no good reason to keep the caucus rules secret,” said Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy for the Project on Government Oversight. “I can’t fathom why they haven’t been published already.”

Meredith McGehee, executive director for Issue One, said: “In the House, who writes the rules determines who wields power. Issue One believes that regardless of which party controls the institution, how the majority determines who will chair committees, which legislation will be considered, and who actually wields power should be public — particularly at a time when American faith in government is at historic lows.”

Stephanie Akin contributed to this report.