Political Primers: Congress

A quick breakdown of a politically complex idea, historical event, hot topic, government process - you get it.

Congress and Lawmaking

Members in the House of Representatives (435 members) or the Senate (100 members) draft a bill.

The bill goes to a committee where it is researched further and adjusted.

Both chambers debate and vote to approve the bill: The House of Reps with 218/435 votes; the Senate votes to approve it with 51/100 votes.  Only a simple majority is needed with both the House then Senate for a bill to go to the President's desk for authorization, or to be signed into law.

The President's pen used to sign a bill into law can be given to the person that did the most advocacy for that new law.

More depth from USA.gov

Executive Privilege

Definition: The right for the President (and some of his/her staff) to maintain secrecy and privacy of information - sometimes even when called into court by Congress with a subpoena.  

The checks and balances for this includes Congressional oversight (like subpoena power) and the Supreme Court's judicial review.

Executive privilege applies to a sitting President. It is no longer applicable once that particular President leaves office.

Explained by Cornell Law

How to Impeach a Supreme Court Justice or Two

(Disclaimer: It's not easy.)

Article III, Section I of the Constitution says Judges "shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour".

Article II, Section IV of the Constitution states a Supreme Court Justice ("federal 'civil officers'") can be impeached/removed.

The House of Rep's acts to impeach with 218/435 votes (simple majority), then the Senate needs at least 67/100 votes (2/3) to remove a Justice.

Read Article III, Section 1

Read Article II, Section 4

John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

Also known as H.R.4. This Act will:

1) reform voting rights for Indigenous communities dramatically, 

2) Extend federal jurisdiction to monitor and bring litigation against states/cities that commit voting rights violations, 

3) provide greater rights to individuals seeking "the fundamental right to cast an effective ballot, 

4) require the AG to meet with Tribal leaders annually, 

and more. 

Read the text of H.R.4

The Squad

Former President Trump launched a variety of xenophobic, biased, and bigoted attacks on 4 Congressional Democratic non-white women, first in a 2019 NC speech.  Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) (NY-14) coined the "Squad" in an Instagram post soon after, referring to herself and colleagues: Rep's Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), & Rashida Tlaib (MI-13).

The Squad is expanding into a stronger coalition of 6 Progressive leaders as of the 2020 election cycle, with Rep's Bowman (NY-16) and Bush (MO-01).

View AOC's IG '19 post

View Cori Bush's '21 post

The Two-Party System

Our winner-take-all system is a major reason for why we only have 2 dominant political parties in the US.  In 48/50 states, when a Presidential candidate wins a state, they get ALL of those electoral votes.  Not just the % of votes they won in that state.  

This makes it harder for smaller political parties to gain representation in Congress and nearly impossible for them to win the Presidency.

A great scientific journal explainer