Further Reading is a new feature on The Booklist Reader, designed to provide readers’ advisory for today’s headlines.
Congressional ethics and power are all over the news today. Those who read The New York Times woke up to this alarming announcement: “House Republicans, overriding their top leaders, voted on Monday to significantly curtail the power of an independent ethics office set up in 2008 in the aftermath of corruption scandals that sent three members of Congress to jail. . . Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority leader, spoke out during the meeting to oppose the measure, aides said on Monday night. The full House is scheduled to vote on Tuesday on the rules, which would last for two years, until the next congressional elections.”
According to Buzzfeed, if the measure had passed, the following changes would have taken place:
But the measure was quickly reversed. The NYT again: “House Republicans, facing a storm of bipartisan criticism, including from President-elect Donald J. Trump, moved early Tuesday afternoon to reverse their plan to kill the Office of Congressional Ethics. It was an embarrassing turnabout on the first day of business for the new Congress, a day when party leaders were hoping for a show of force to reverse policies of the Obama administration.”
Those seeking a more thorough and less whiplash-inducing understanding of congressional power and ethics might turn to these recent books, linked to their excerpted Booklist reviews:
Act of Congress: How America’s Essential Institution Works, and How it Doesn’t, by Robert G. Kaiser
At the height of the financial crisis of 2008, public distrust of Congress was nearly as great as its distrust of the Wall Street bankers behind the collapse. For 18 months, Washington Post reporter Kaiser was granted unprecedented access to the major figures behind the recovery legislation. Beyond the financial crisis, Kaiser offers an insightful primer on how laws are made, from conception to passage, as well as the characters and culture of the U.S. Congress, observed from an astonishing perspective most citizens never see.
Lion of the Senate: When Ted Kennedy Rallied the Democrats in a GOP Congress, by Nick Littlefield and David Nexon
In 1994, when the Republicans were trouncing Democrats across the nation in state and national races, Ted Kennedy managed to hang on to his Senate seat. He also managed to rally his party to stand against Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America initiative to roll back government programs that had been in existence since the New Deal. Despite the political mood, Kennedy managed to unite Democrats, appeal to the public, work across the aisle, and employ every shrewd tactical strategy he knew to pass major legislation
Waging War: The Clash between Presidents and Congress 1776 to ISIS, by David Barron
As U.S. Circuit Judge Barron reveals, since the birth of our nation there has been a constant tug-of-war between Congress and the president. Barron examines a series of these struggles, beginning with George Washington and the War of Independence. This interesting, well-written work is a worthy, timely read.