Political Primers

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 member capacity) or the Senate (100 member capacity) 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

"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

T H E  P R E S I D E N C Y

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 It is no longer applicable once that particular President leaves office.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

"The Former Guy" or TFG

"The Former Guy" is a term coined by President Joe Biden during a 2021 town hall when he didn't want to refer to Trump by name.

It took hold in Democrats' lexicon and on social media - shortening from The Former Guy to TFG at times.

The origins and meaning from Dictionary.com

The Former Guy's Perceived "Deep State"

The Deep State, as the Former Guy sees it, is: A constantly growing and shifting, ultra-liberal shadow government that is to be more administrative and controlling of all government functions (undermining his personal and conservative agendas). 

Anyone from teachers to firefighters, voters to government officials could play a part in the Former Guy's definition of a Deep State. Fear of this illusory Deep State is stoked and exaggerated by this boogeyman-like concept's Memeification and the social media conspiracy factory. 

A former President like Trump believing in this "Deep State" is significant historically because it influences policymaking at national and global levels - and also makes for bad, costly political decisions - BECAUSE IT ISN'T REAL.

If you have the free article or pay for NYT, from late 2023: Trump Has a Master Plan for Destroying the "Deep State"


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

H I S T O R Y + C O N C E P T S

Civil Disobedience

John Rawls, American philosopher, defined this as: a public, non-violent, willful breaking of a law in order to bring about legal or civil change. When protesters are marching peacefully for BLM/Civil Rights, are then declared a mob by authorities but continue to peacefully march for real, sustained change - that is civil disobedience.

 Barack Obama, in his George Floyd Protest Speech on 06/03/20, said this era is about both activism and politics.

Stanford piece on Civil Disobedience

The Pentagon Papers

The Supreme Court case New York Times Company v. United States of 06/26/71 was about President Nixon's court order against the New York Times and Washington Post that prevented them from publishing government docs detailing US military ops in Vietnam.

Ruling 6-3 in favor of the NYT/WaPo, the Court said the Nixon admin's actions were unconstitutional - a milestone precedent for preventing the censorship of our American press. "Security" is not a politician's blanket term used to keep citizens in the dark.

Great ACLU read on this


From Asian American Advancing Justice (AAAJ):

"Redistricting is the redrawing of political district lines by governments.

Census data are collected every 10 years and are used to draw new maps to account for the ways that populations have changed and moved across states and districts."

Go to the Redistricting page in the Dems Database for more

The Two-Party System

Our winner-take-all system is a major reason for why we continue to have only 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

L E G I S L A T I O N + B I L L S

America Rescue Plan Act of 2021

A $1.9 trillion COVID-relief plan signed into law on 03/11/21. Includes direct payments to citizens ($424B). The PPP program changes so more NPOs qualify.

$350B - state and local aid. $246B - unemployment insurance. $17B - veterans. $25B - restaurants and bars. $40B - renters and homeowners. $109B for farmers, small businesses, +. $176B for vaccines and healthcare. $178B to schools and high education, and more.

If the price tag sounds heavy, President Biden met with historians in March 2021 and they advised him to go "bigger and faster" than people are expecting.

NCSL explains in detail

Axios: Biden talks with historians

Read the text of H.R. 1319

H.R. 1`/S. 1, For the People Act (2021)


A sweeping voting reform bill, here are some highlights from the 791 pages.

1) Creates automatic voter registration across the country,

2) restores voting rights fully to felons who complete their felony sentence,

3) improves absentee and early voting, and prohibits voter rolls purges,

4) outlaws partisan gerrymandering and increases election vendor oversight,

5) includes the DISCLOSE Act and Honest Ads Act - bringing more transparency to campaign donations.

6) changes the Federal Election Commission from 6 to 5 commissioners to break voting gridlock,

7) prohibits Congressmembers from using tax money for settling sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits,

8) creates a 6:1 small donor matching system up to $200. A private $200 donation to a candidate would bring $1,200 more in public funds. So a $200 donation = $1,400 total to the candidates that opt-in and qualify. The public funds use $0 in taxes, self-funding off a new H.R. 1 tax to people / corporations that criminally undermine trust in the public,

and there's so much more (and more details) involved in H.R. 1 /S. 1.

H.R. 1 info from Rep. Sarbanes

Read the text of H.R. 1

Brennan Center on donor matching

H.R. 4, John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (2021)

Read the current text from the 118th Congress here.

Also known as H.R.4, this would restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

1) Reforms voting rights for Indigenous communities dramatically,

2) extends federal jurisdiction to monitor states with a history of voting disenfranchisement (preclearance) and brings litigation against states/cities that commit voting rights violations,

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

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

and much more.

Rep. Terri Sewell on H.R. 4

Read the text of H.R. 4

V O T I N G + E L E C T I O N S

Campaign Finance

Presidential candidates raise campaign funds from 2 main sources: 1) Personal donations and 2) PACs

Corporations have some rights of people (Supreme Court 1886: Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co.) but can't donate to candidates directly. So they donate to PACs (Political Action Committees). PACs promote political platforms, work to elect and oust political candidates, support cultural movements.

For each election cycle, $5K is the maximum donation a PAC can make to a candidate or to another PAC. Individuals can donate up to $2,900 to each candidate per election.

Super PACs emerged in 2010. Instead of donating to candidates, they spend without limits to influence elections.

A deeper explanation from Vox

What is a PAC? - Open Secrets

FEC Donation Limits '21-'22

Super Tuesday

Essentially, Super Tuesday is the election day when the most Presidential Primary elections are held to determine the Presidential nominee for each political party. This happens in February or March of a Presidential election year.

More from NPR

Vote by Mail FAQs

Q: What is a common mistake to be aware of with absentee/mail in votes?

A: Remember to sign your ballot - using the signature that matches your Driver's License / ID

Q: What is the best way to make sure my ballot is delivered safely?

A: Ideally, drop off your absentee ballot at a secure ballot drop-box, polling place, or with your county/election officials.

Q: Is voting by mail safe?

A: Historically, yes - instances of vote by mail fraud have been anomalies and no fraud trends have been uncovered in prior elections.

It is best to be current with USPS changes and how those changes will impact voting by mail for you.

Brookings Institute post on this

This section is in no way the "last word" on any of these subjects - rather, it's the opposite. This section is meant to be a helpful starting point to learn, discover, and engage with your preferred specificities within modern American politics as you'd like.