Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "Congress"

Here’s what that replica of the copy of the Acts of Congress (with the Constitution and Bill of Rights) presented to George Washington by the First Congress in 1789 looked like. It’s available now from the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Asker zzchili Asks:
ok, congress can impeach the president and supreme court justices. is there anyone who can impeach a congressperson? im wondering more about the senate since they get 6 years before we the people can remove them.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:


Congress can impeach and remove its own members, which is pretty rare because a congressperson has to actually do something really contrary to law or the chamber rules to get kicked out. They can also be censured by their chamber (in which they lose all their committee chair positions but still keep their seat) or be formally reprimanded for bad behavior.

It’s really up to the constituents (the people represented) to kick their Congresspeople out if they’re not doing their job. It’s unfortunate that so many people focus on voting for high offices like the President because they forget that it’s Congress that is the major policy-maker of the country.

Ladyhistory, I love you and your blog, so I just want to jump in and point out that it’s actually kind of up-in-the-air whether members of Congress can be impeached. Only the House of Representatives has the power of impeachment. Once the House impeaches an official (President, Vice President, member of the Supreme Court, or “civil officers” of the United States), the Senate sits as a jury and, if the impeached officer is found guilty by a 2/3rd vote, he or she is removed from office.

The question is whether members of Congress are “civil officers” of the United States. Many people argue that they are not. The House has only impeached one member of Congress — Senator William Blount at the end of the 18th Century. When Blount’s case went to the Senate for a trial, the Senate decided that they didn’t have the jurisdiction to try a member of Congress. Instead, they expelled him. Expulsion is the way that the House and Senate have tossed out members who would otherwise be impeached, and the precedent set by the Blount case has led to Congress expelling members from time-to-time (like the Southern Senators who supported the Confederacy during the Civil War or members convicted of significant crimes). Expulsion is rare because once a member of Congress realizes that they are likely about to be expelled, they usually resign.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
If the Republican Party shot itself in the foot in October and through some miracle, Democtats took both chambers of congress, do you think Obama would be able to get anything important done, or is he already too far gone now?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Well, let’s be clear, for the Democrats to miraculously win both chambers of Congress in November, it would require a more serious wound than the GOP shooting itself in the foot. Both parties shoot each of their members in both feet almost as a requirement for taking your seat in the House and Senate; so, it’s definitely not happening.

But, yes, if Democrats controlled both the House and Senate, President Obama would still have time to get some things done — roughly from the day the new Congressional session began (January 3, 2015) until the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in the summer of 2016. After the nominating conventions, all eyes turn to the general election, of course, but more crucially, members of Congress (particularly the House since all members face re-election) focus on their own campaigns and get very cautious. But for those 18 months or so, the President could definitely get some things done, and would be smart to push through immigration reform and try to shore up the liberal side of the Supreme Court since it’s up-in-the-air who the next President will be and it’s impossible to say whether there would be favorable conditions for confirmation in the 115th Congress that starts in 2017.

It’s not happening, though. And, conversely, if the Republicans win both chambers of Congress on November 4th, President Obama becomes a lame-duck President before he eats breakfast on the morning of November 5th. 

Asker Anonymous Asks:
I know you think congress sucks but who is your favorite congressman
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Tulsi Gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard

Oh, and Tulsi Gabbard.

How do you think The Senate Games will play out in November?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I think it is going to be close.  Very close — probably 51/49 or possibly even a tie.  But I think the Democrats will hold on.  To me, the Senate seats that are the major toss-ups which will go down to the wire are Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Alaska.  All four of those seats are held by Democratic incumbents and it’s going to take everything they have to hold on to their seats and save the Senate for the Democrats.

Of those four races, I think Senator Pryor (Arkansas) and Senator Begich (Alaska) will hold on to their seats, Senator Landrieu (Louisiana) will lose, and the North Carolina seat is almost too close to even guess at, but if forced to, I’d say that Senator Hagan barely squeaks out a victory.  Assuming everything else goes as expected, that would put the Senate at 51-49 in the favor of the Democrats (there are two independents in the Senate but they both caucus with the Dems).  Fortunately for the Democrats, even if there is a tie in the Senate, they’ll remain in control because Vice President Biden would be responsible for breaking any ties.

By the way, if the Republicans gain control of both the House and the Senate on November 4th, Barack Obama becomes a lame-duck President on November 5th. 

Believe it or not, there was a time when members of Congress were seriously underpaid. When Abraham Lincoln was elected to his single term in the United States House of Representatives in 1846, members of the House and Senate received a per diem payment for each day that Congress was in session rather than an annual salary. For Congressmen who were not wealthy men or those who happened to be land rich and cash poor, serving in Washington, far away from home, could be quite difficult financially. Fortunately, there was a creative — and legal — way to supplement their income.

Getting to Washington was not easy in the first half of the 19th Century. For Congressmen who lived in the west or on the frontiers, traveling to the nation’s capital often required some combination of walking, riding on horseback, journeying by stage coach, hopping on board a steamboat, and, if they were lucky, catching one of the lightning-fast (for the time) trains that were beginning to connect urban centers throughout the young country. While the per diem received by Congressmen was often paltry, the cost of their uncomfortable and lengthy journey to Washington, D.C. was reimbursed by the federal government. So, members of the House and Senate would often take the longest route possible to get to where they were going. They weren’t really tricking anybody — in 1848, Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune wrote about the practice, calling their journeys to Washington “exceedingly crooked, even for a politician” — it was simply tolerated.

In Greeley’s Tribune article about the reimbursement system, he published the names of nearly 300 members of the House and Senate along with the mileage they submitted for reimbursement. On that list was Abraham Lincoln, just one year into his single, two-year term representing Illinois in the House. According to the Tribune, Lincoln requested reimbursement for a round-trip to Washington, claiming that he journeyed 1,626 miles each way, although the shortest route from Springfield, Illinois to the nation’s capital was actually 780 miles. Lincoln’s 3,252-mile trip cost the government $1,300.80 in 1848, which Greeley noted was $676.80 more than it needed to be. In 2014 dollars, Lincoln’s journey to Washington to take his seat in Congress cost the government $38,258.82.

Today, Michigan’s John Dingell announced that he will not seek re-election to the United States House of Representatives. Dingell is the longest-serving member of Congress in American history and considered the Dean of the House.

The Democratic Congressman, who will celebrate his 88th birthday in July, has spent nearly six decades as a lawmaker.  Dingell’s father, John Dingell, Sr., served in the House from 1933 until his death in September 1955.  The 29-year-old John Jr. succeeded his father in December 1955 and is currently in the midst of his 30th term.  Let me repeat that: Dingell is currently serving his THIRTIETH term in Congress!  Between John Dingell, Jr., and his father, the Dingell family has represented Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives for over 80 years.

Due to Dingell’s longevity in Washington, it is likely that no living American has met as many Presidents as the Michigan Congressman.  During his nearly 60 years in the House of Representatives, Dingell has met and worked with 11 Presidents in an official capacity: Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.  In addition to the Presidents that he has worked, Dingell also had the opportunity to meet several Presidents during his father’s two decades in the House: Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry Truman. As a page on Capitol Hill in December 1941, Dingell was in the House Chamber while President Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

While there are probably a handful of people in history who met more Presidents than Dingell — John Quincy Adams, for example, is believed to have met every President from George Washington to Andrew Johnson (17 in all) — I would venture to bet that no American alive today has met 14 Presidents like the Dean of the House of Representatives, John Dingell of Michigan, and it’s unlikely that Dingell’s record for Congressional longevity will ever be surpassed.

Imagine that you were an idiot. And then imagine that you were a member of Congress. Wait a minute…I repeated myself.
Mark Twain
Asker hewest1937 Asks:
Any thoughts about Ted Cruz?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Senator Cruz hasn’t done a single thing to impress me, and I think he is the personification of everything that is wrong with the United States Congress — an obstructionist and extremist who makes a ton of noise without saying anything of worth.

Cruz will never be elected to anything more than the Senate, and the only reason he won that election is because it took place in Texas — a state that nobody really takes seriously despite being worth a whopping 38 electoral votes.

Ted Cruz is the very worst type of politician — an overbearing impediment to progress who is full of questions yet utterly lacking in answers.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Your blog is so interesting! I learn so much. I was wondering, what would happen if no one ran for president? (I realize this would only happen in some crazy alternate universe, but let's just say for some reason there are zero candidates.)
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Oooh…interesting question!  

It is hard to visualize a situation where there are absolutely no candidates for President, so let’s look at it this way:  What would happen if nobody actually won a Presidential election?  Let’s say an election was disputed or undecided and we arrived at Inauguration Day without a President-elect or Vice President-elect.

Now, something like this has never happened, and when it comes to Constitutional crises where things aren’t clearly defined there is always some room for surprises.  For example, when President William Henry Harrison died a month into his term in 1841, most American political leaders believed that the Vice President, John Tyler, would only be “acting President”.  Tyler, however, quickly assumed the office of the Presidency in name, trappings, and all the power that came with it and set the precedent which all future Vice Presidents who assumed office would follow (and which was eventually codified in the Constitution with the 25th Amendment).

So, if no President or Vice President was been elected or qualified for office as of Inauguration Day, the 20th Amendment (ratified in 1933), states that “Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified”.  

In other words, it would be up to Congress to decide HOW the President or Vice President should be selected and WHO the President and Vice President would be.  Most likely, the House of Representatives would choose the President and the Senate would choose the Vice President.  I make that assumption because that’s what would happen if no candidate won an Electoral College majority — the Presidency would be decided by the House and the Vice Presidency would be decided by the Senate.

Good question!

Asker Anonymous Asks:
can u impeach the speaker of hte house
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

As much as I would love to, I personally cannot impeach the Speaker of the House, but I assume you’re asking if Congress can impeach the Speaker.

There’s actually some disagreement about whether or not a member of the U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives can be impeached or not because the Constitution provides for the impeachment of the President, Vice President, and “civil officers” of the United States.  It can be argued that members of Congress are not civil officers of the United States because they, in fact, represent the states that they come from.

No member of the House has ever been impeached and although one Senator was impeached very early in the history of the country, the Senate never put him on trial, so there was no decision about whether or not he was a “civil officer”.  

The House and the Senate both have the act of expulsion available as a punishment against Congressmen or Senators.  Typically, when a member of the House or Senate is charged with some violation or guilty of wrongdoing, they are either censured or expelled (or the threat of censure or expulsion leads them to resign).

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Which party has held control of the House and Senate for the longest? Why were they able to retain power for so long? Thanks Anthony!
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I could be wrong because I’m doing this off-the-top of my head, but I’m almost positive that the Democrats hold the record the longest continuous majorities for both chambers of Congress.

In the Senate, the Democrats were in control for 26 years, from 1955-1981.  They held on to the upper house of the legislature for a couple years longer than the Jefferson/Madison/Monroe Democratic-Republican Party, which held the Senate for 24 years from 1801-1825.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Democrats had an even more impressive hold on the House of Representatives.  For a whopping 40 YEARS, from 1955-1995, the Dems controlled the House until Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” led to a Republican Revolution and GOP takeover of that chamber of Congress for the first time since the Eisenhower Administration.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
I say Cory Booker will run as a foil to Chris Christie. He could be a good running mate if Christie gets the GOPnom.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Let’s pump the brakes and slow down, okay?  I like Cory Booker and I think that he’s a rising star, but he hasn’t even been sworn in and taken his recently-won seat in the U.S. Senate yet.

Because of the avalanche of news coverage, the prevalence of social media, and the rapidly-shrinking attention span of the average American, many people confuse “constant coverage” for “credible contender”.

We’ve already reached the point in American political life where everything is just one continuous campaign.  It’s awful, but there’s no turning back from it now, unfortunately.  What we can do, however, is take a breath and recognize that the fact that a politician is grabbing headlines or making himself/herself the main topic of conversation during a news cycle doesn’t mean that he/she immediately becomes a serious candidate for President or Vice President in an election cycle that is still over two years away from even the party primaries.

I’m not even specifically picking on Senator-elect Booker or the person who asked this question.  It’s an issue that has come up with a number of other politicians over the past few months who happened to dominate a few news cycles because of this reason or that reason and then immediately have been spoken of as potential candidates in 2016.

Americans wonder how it ever reached the point that we’re at right now when we find ourselves locked in a constant campaign — a situation that results in problems like the government shutdown because politicians aren’t governing.  They are either running for something or running away from something.  Nobody wants to make difficult decisions or unpopular compromises during a campaign.  Now, since we’re in a constant campaign, everybody is a candidate and nobody is a political leader.

We’ve reached that point because we’ve empowered the politicians that we put in office to see themselves as potential Presidential or Vice Presidential candidates since we mention that possibility whenever one of those politicians win themselves some news coverage for whatever the reason might be.  By wild speculation over two years before primary season and three years before the general election cycle, we allow them to be candidates rather than public servants.  Instead of doing the job they have, they shape themselves for the job that they want.  And they do it because we let them.

It is one thing to look ahead to the 2016 election and think about Hillary Clinton’s possible candidacy.  She’s no longer holding office.  She doesn’t have a job to do every day on behalf of the American people.  But when we start speculating about Cory Booker who doesn’t even have the exact date scheduled yet for taking his Senate seat, or debate whether or not Ted Cruz is eligible for the Presidency even though all he has done in office is grandstand, alienate leaders from both parties, and willfully obstruct progress, we give them permission to plunge into the constant campaign rather than do their job.

It’s time to stop that.  And, just like I said during the shutdown when I pointed out that we have the power and ability to unseat every single member of the U.S. House of Representatives and 1/3rd of the U.S. Senate every two years, it is up to us, the American people, to make it clear that we are tired of the constant campaign.  It’s our responsibility to make it understood that we want our elected officials to do the jobs that they have, not the jobs that they might want, or the jobs that others speculate that they might someday get.  

Just like we — regular Americans like you and I — can change the face of Congress every two years through the ballot, we can end the constant campaign, too.  Again, it is our job to make sure that our political leaders are doing their job — as public servants, not constant candidates in a never-ending political campaign.  And, as we do that, let’s also remember that just because a politician is getting a lot of attention, it doesn’t mean that they are qualified or ready to run for President or Vice President.