Legislative Politics

The study of Congress is a central part of the scholarship that happens every day at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. Under the Constitution, Congress is the preeminent branch of the U.S. government and CCPS reflects that reality in our studies. CCPS scholars have written important and widely cited papers and have contributed to numerous books that have contributed to the understanding of the flow of power and the process of the Legislative Branch.

Current Projects

Bipartisianship In U.S. Foreign Policy Decisi o ns
Jordan Tama is working on a book manuscript on the relationship between the two parties on international issues, tentatively titled Bipartisanship in a Polarized Age: When Democrats and Republicans Cooperate on U.S. Foreign Policy. Despite high overall levels of partisan polarization in American politics, more than a few foreign policy debates still involve some degree of bipartisanship. Yet this bipartisanship does not always take the form of unity among Washington’s decision makers. Instead, it sometimes features members of Congress in both parties lining up against the president or involves competing bipartisan coalitions generated by intraparty divisions. The manuscript analyzes political alignments in important recent debates regarding military intervention, economic sanctions, trade, and foreign aid, explaining why Democrats and Republicans align with each other in different ways on different issues. 

The Use of Clemency in the Trump Administration
Clemency: The President of the United States may grant clemency (usually a pardon or a sentence commutation) to those who commit federal crimes. Traditionally, the rationales for doing so have been to show mercy to an individual or to address a larger societal problem. CCPS Fellow Jeffrey Crouch observes that, so far, President Donald J. Trump has used clemency largely for his own personal interest. While Trump has offered clemency to a few “ordinary” offenders, he has also done so for friends (Conrad Black), political allies (Joe Arpaio), and people with a celebrity connection (Alice Marie Johnson had Kim Kardashian to lobby on her behalf). Moreover, Trump has hinted via tweet that he may have the ability to pardon himself. Professor Crouch will continue to monitor and write about the Trump administration’s developing record on federal executive clemency. 

Evidence-Informed Science Communication with Congress
With funding from the National Academy of Sciences and the Rita Allen Foundation, CCPS Fellow Elizabeth Suhay is currently working to improve the quality and flow of information between the scientific community and Congress. Despite the importance of this topic, few scholars have systematically studied and evaluated the practice of science communication aimed at policymakers specifically. In collaboration with Emily Cloyd & Erin Heath of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Erin Nash of the University of New South Wales (Australia), Suhay is conducting research in three stages—a broad literature review followed by a survey of scientists and in-person interviews with Members of Congress and staff. The research will culminate in a public report and set of recommended practices for scientists and other science communicators hoping to increase their impact on the policymaking process.

Public Statements as Precommitment Devices
Professor Andrew Ballard presents an account of policymaking that explains how parties attempt to extract “Yea” votes necessary to pass bills from members who want to vote “Nay,” and to ensure those members follow through and vote with the party. Public statements—in committee hearings, on the floor of the House or Senate, and in press releases—act as a signal of the intent to vote “Yea” that allows the party to solve the problem of holding members to their intended vote. But parties can (and often do) fail to solve this problem, either when the party cannot convince members to act with the party, or when recalcitrant members are not sure they can rely on the private promises of their peers to vote with the party. Ballard describes this process with two examples from recent salient health care debates: the Affordable Care Act in 2009-10, and America’s Health Care Act in 2017. When party leaders “turn” reluctant members to vote with the party on a bill, the party pushes those members to make a public statement in favor of the bill. Further, Ballard shows that these statements are indeed precommitment devices, separating this purpose from credit claiming and explaining decisions to constituents.

Bill Text and Agenda Control
Professor Andrew Ballard presents an approach to analyze agenda control on and before the floor in the House and Senate based on estimates of how members would have voted on bills that were killed before the floor (pre-floor bills). These votes are estimated using quantitative representations of a bill's policy content derived from its text with doc2vec, a class of vector embedding models uncommon to the political science literature. Ballard finds evidence of strong negative and positive agenda control, the latter of which has received less attention due to measurement limitations. Ballard also finds, contrary to recent findings but in keeping with our institutional understanding of Congress, that the majority party in the House has more control over the agenda than the majority party in the Senate. Ballard closes by discussing how this approach can lead to a fuller understanding of agenda control across legislatures, propose a standard for measuring agenda control, and discuss how agenda control can help us more fully understand relationships within and between parties.

Do Actions Speak Louder than Words? Party Loyalty and the Provision of Party Goods in the House
Parties seek to hold their members accountable for their actions, but we know little of how this functions outside of voting behavior. We create a measure of how well each member’s floor speeches fit with those of their party—speech fit—and compare it to a similar measure of voting fit in order to study how parties hold members accountable for both floor speeches and votes. We show that parties reward members whose speeches fit the goals of their party by providing them more resources. Interestingly, we find that parties do not reward members based on a similar measure of how well their voting behavior fits with that of the party, computed from DW-NOMINATE. We discuss implications for Congressional research and text research, where our approach has broad applications.

Candidate Emergence in 2018
In this project, Professor Andrew Ballard builds on recent trends in Congressional elections and, looking forward to the 2018 midterms, investigate candidate emergence. Ballard analyzes how trends in candidate emergence have changed in recent years, and how these changes can lead to different electoral outcomes. Ballard focuses particularly on the rise of female, minority, and amateur candidates on the national stage.

Analyzing the Trump Bump
While some research has analyzed whether campaigning for candidates affects important outcomes like turnout, campaign finance patterns, and voting, recent changes in the political sphere have yet to be studied. Particularly, does President Trump's Twitter usage affect Congressional elections, and is any effect separable from actually visiting with candidates to campaign for them?

Public Discourse on Twitter
Pundits and public opinion both suggest that divisive rhetoric in public discourse is on the rise. But how prevalent are these trends among elected officials, and who is driving these changes, members of Congress or the public? Professor Andrew Ballard studies these questions using a novel measure of political divisiveness derived from supervised machine learning methods applied to tweets.

The Role of the Minority Party
Recent research has found that the minority party is all but shut out of the agenda-setting process in Congress. At the same time, about three-quarters of bills pass with minority party support and the prevalence and success of minority-introduced bills has increased substantially in recent decades. So what is the role of the minority party in Congress? And more broadly, what is the difference between agenda-setting and policymaking? Professor Andrew Ballard explores these questions in this nascent book project.

Legislative Voting Behavior and Theories of Party Operations
Recent research has suggested that partisan polarization in Congress is at least partly an artifact of the scaling methods used on votes to derive ideology scores, and that Congress actually operates in a much higher-dimension space than we previously thought. However, there has been no application of this finding to test how well theories of party behavior and operation fit with roll call data. Professor Andrew Ballard tests between these theories using both simulated and real roll call data and a tweak to common scaling techniques that allows for higher-dimensional behavior.

Recent articles and book chapters

By Jeffrey Crouch

  • Crouch, Jeffrey. Forthcoming, 2020. “Resolved, Congress should have the power to override a presidential pardon by a two-thirds majority vote of both houses.” “Con” essay. In Debating the Presidency: Conflicting Perspectives on the American Executive, 5th Ed. Richard J. Ellis and Michael C. Nelson, Eds. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press/Sage Publications.

By Jordan Tama

By James A. Thurber

  • "Reforms will not assuage anger at Congress," Financial Times, Aug. 7th, 2007.
  • "Congress and the Presidency", Politique Américaine, May 2007, pp. 28-43.
  • "Lobbying, Ethics, and Procedural Reforms: The Do-Nothing Congress 109th Congress Does Nothing About Reforming Itself." Extensions: A Journal of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center (Fall 2006), pp. 10-15.
  • "Congress Goes On-Line," in James A. Thurber and Colton C. Campbell (eds.), Congress and the Internet (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003)(Co-authored).
  • "Conclusion About Congressional-Presidential Rivalries," Rivals for Power: Presidential-Congressional Relations (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2nd Edition, 2002).
  • "The Contemporary Presidency: Managing White House-Congressional Relations: Observations from Inside the Process," Presidential Studies Quarterly, 30, no. 3 (September), 2000, pp. 553-563 with Gary Andres and Patrick Griffin.
  • "Congressional Budget Reform: Impact on the Appropriations Committees," in Public Budgeting and Finance, December 1997, pp. 66-73.
  • " Political Power and Policy Subsystems in American Politics," in B. Guy Peters and Bert A. Rockman (eds.), Agenda for Excellence: Administering the State (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, 1996), pp.76-104.

Books by CCPS scholars

By James Thurber:

  • Rivals for Power: Presidential-Congressional Relations (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 4th edition, 2009)(Editor).
  • Congress and the Internet (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 2003) (Editor with Colton Campbell).
  • The Battle for Congress: Candidates, Consultants and Voters, (Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution Press, 2001) (Editor).
  • Setting Course: A Congressional Management Guide, 7th edition (Washington, DC: Congressional Management Foundation, 1998 (co-author).
  • A Tribute to the House Appropriations Committee, 1865 - 1995, 130 Years of History, (Washington, DC: United States Capitol Historical Society, 1996).
  • Remaking Congress: Change and Stability in the 1990s (Washington DC: Congressional Quarterly Press), 1995, 218 pgs., (Editor with Roger Davidson).
  • Beyond Distrust: Building Bridges Between Congress and the Executive (Washington, DC: National Academy of Public Administration, 1992) (One of five principal investigators and authors).
  • Congressional-Executive Interaction and the Nuclear Waste Repository Site Selection Process (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Energy, 1992).
  • Is Congress Broken? A Comprehensive Look at Member Turnover, and the Implications for Institutional Change in the U.S. Congress (Washington, DC: American League of Lobbyists, May 1992).
  • Congressional-Executive Interaction and the Nuclear Waste Repository Site Selection Process (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Energy, 1992).

By Walter Oleszek:

  • Congress and Its Members (Washington: CQ Press), 2009. (Co-author with Roger H. Davidson and Francis E. Lee).
  • Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process (Washington: CQ Press) 2007.
James Thurber, middle, sits in the Campaign Management Institute classroom.

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