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Democratic leaders called out for secrecy surrounding internal party rules

Progressive groups want Democrats to publish caucus rules on the internet

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries arrives for the weekly caucus press conference in the Capitol on Jan. 9. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries arrives for the weekly caucus press conference in the Capitol on Jan. 9. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democratic leaders are under pressure to publish their internal party rules — a deceptively dry set of policies that can determine how power is distributed among members, how the party responds to scandal, and what issues the party will prioritize on the chamber floor. 

Those guidelines “have a significant impact on the legislative process,” according to 11 progressive and civil rights groups, who wrote a letter to party leaders Thursday asking for the rules to be published on the internet. The letter points out that House Republicans have published their caucus rules for “several” Congresses. It comes as Democratic leaders tout a sweeping overhaul bill, HR-1, that they say would set the stage for a new era of transparency in Congress. 

“The Democratic Caucus rules do not merely set forth rules of procedure but are an embodiment of the values of Democrats in the House of Representatives — and ought also represent the values of the voters who elected them,” the letter reads.

It was signed by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Demand Progress Education Fund and Color of Change and sent to House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries and cc’ed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer

Hoyer’s office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday morning. A Jeffries spokesman declined to comment. Pelosi’s office referred a reporter to the speaker’s weekly press conference, at which she did not bring up the issue.

“Transparency and ethics are at the heart of Speaker Pelosi’s agenda for the 116th Congress, and a significant part of that is how the Democrats choose to run the House,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director for advocacy group Demand Progress. “It would be ironic for a House that is spending so much time focused on openness and transparency for the Democrats not to make their own caucus rules publicly available as well.”

The Democratic Caucus is the organizational body of the party’s House members. Its counterpart is the House Republican Conference. Both groups elect the parties’ leaders, establish policy steering committees and approve members’ appointments to standing committees

Schuman said his group had been involved in several previous efforts to publish the rules from both parties in the House and Senate. House Democrats have never responded, he said, although the group obtained the caucus’s rules from the 100th, 105th and 115th Congress from another source, he said. 

The Democrats’ rules in the 115th Congress covered routine issues, such as who would be a member of the caucus and when its meetings would be scheduled. It also addressed meatier subjects, including what would happen if a party leader is indicted (immediate relinquishment of powers until found not guilty) or convicted of a felony (removal from office if the sentence would last two or more years).

But the document could theoretically delve into other areas that would reflect the values of the caucus, such as staff diversity, pay and advancement, or the party’s response to allegations of misconduct, the letter pointed out.  

Flashback: Pelosi, Lewis and House Democrats unveil legislative agenda for 116th

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