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stump speech

A stump speech is a standard campaign speech used by someone running for public office.

The term derives from the early American custom in which candidates campaigned from town to town and stood upon a sawed off tree stump to deliver their speech. Because a candidate might hit many towns in a single day, he typically used the same speech in each place and customized the beginning to include specific mentions of local officials and supporters.

unanimous consent

A Senator may request unanimous consent to set aside a specified rule of procedure so as to expedite proceedings. If no Senator objects, the Senate permits the action, but if any one Senator objects, the request is rejected.

The principle behind the rule is that procedural safeguards designed to protect a minority can be waived when there is no minority to protect.

split ticket

A split ticket is when a voter chooses candidates from different political parties in the same election.

straight ticket

Voting a straight ticket is when a voter chooses all of the candidates of the same party.

To facilitate straight ticket voting, some jurisdictions may allow voters to pull a lever or check a single box to choose all the candidates of a particular party.

push poll

A push poll a seemingly unbiased survey that is actually conducted by supporters of a particular candidate that intends to disseminate negative or misleading information about an opponent. Its intent is primarily to distribute propaganda rather than to understand the views and opinions of the public.

Stuart Rothenberg notes push polls “are really advocacy calls aimed at thousands of recipients. They are like television or radio ads, except they are delivered over the telephone. They seek to convey positive or negative information to influence a voter’s final vote decision.”

Mark Blumenthal: “A true push poll is not a poll at all.  It is a telemarketing smear masquerading as a poll.”

open primary

A primary election that allows voters to select candidates on one party’s ballot without declaring their own party affiliation.

It’s not to be confused with a blanket primary, in which all candidates appear on the same ballot and the two highest voted candidates proceed to the runoff, regardless of party affiliation.

mudslinging

Mudslinging, often called negative campaigning, is the practice of making malicious attacks against a political opponent’s character and reputation.

The term originates from the Latin phrase “fortiter calumniari, aliquia adhaerebit,” which translated to “throw plenty of dirt and some of it will stick.”

exit polls

An exit poll is a poll of voters taken immediately as they leave the polling place in which they are asked which candidate they chose.

Exit polls are conducted by media companies to get an early indication of who actually won an election, as the actual result sometimes may take many hours to determine.

Electoral College

The Electoral College was established by the founding fathers as a compromise between election of the president by Congress and election by popular vote. Americans actually vote for the electors who then vote for the President.

The term “electoral college” actually does not appear in the U.S. Constitution and was derived from the concept of electors used by the Roman empire. However, in the early 1800’s the term “electoral college” came into general usage as the unofficial designation for the group of citizens selected to cast votes for President and Vice President. It was later written into Federal law in 1845.

Each state gets a number of electors equal to its number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives plus one for each of its two U.S. Senators.

dark horse

A dark horse candidate is a little-known politician who emerges to win a primary election and capture his party’s nomination.

The term is derived from an unknown horse winning a race and was first used by Benjamin Disraeli in the novel, The Young Duke.

convention bounce

A convention bounce refers to the surge of support a presidential candidates may enjoy after the televised national convention of their party. The size and impact of a convention bounce is sometimes seen as an early indicator of party unity.

blanket primary

In a blanket primary system, voters are not required to affiliate with a political party and may vote for any candidate on the ballot. The candidate from each political party who receives the most votes in the primary advances to the general election.

A blanket primary is sometimes confused with an open primary in which voters may pick candidates regardless of their own party registration, but may only choose among candidates from a single party of the voter’s choice.

bandwagon

To follow a group that has a large and growing number of followers.

A bandwagon is literally a wagon which carries the band in a parade. The phrase “jump on the bandwagon” first appeared in American politics in 1848 when Dan Rice, a famous and popular circus clown of the time, used his bandwagon and its music to gain attention for campaign appearances. As campaigns became more successful, more politicians strove for a seat on the bandwagon, hoping to be associated with the success.

However, by William Jennings Bryan’s 1900 presidential campaign, the term was used in a derogatory way, implying that people were associating themselves with the success without considering what they associated themselves with.

absentee ballot

An absentee ballot is a vote cast by someone who is unable to visit the official polling place on Election Day. This type of vote is normally submitted by mail.

Increasing the ease of access to absentee ballots are seen by many as one way to improve voter turnout, though some jurisdictions require that a valid reason, such as sickness or travel, be given before a voter can participate in an absentee ballot.

morning business

Routine business that is supposed to occur during the first two hours of a new legislative day in the U.S. Senate. This business includes receiving messages from the President and from the other legislative chamber, reports from executive branch officials, petitions from citizens, committee reports and the introduction of bills and submission of resolutions.

In practice, this sometime occurs at other convenient points in the day.

hopper

Legislators introduce bills by placing them in the bill hopper attached to the side of the clerk’s desk. The term derives from a funnel-shaped storage bin filled from the top and emptied from the bottom, which is often used to house grain or coal. Bills are retrieved from the hopper and referred to committees with the appropriate jurisdiction.

hideaways

Personal, unmarked offices in the Capitol originally assigned to senior senators. They are conveniently located near the Senate floor.

The hideaway location of an individual Senator is a closely held secret, most with no names on the doors. They are hidden from view with some even tucked away behind large statues. Due to recent renovations, all 100 Senators have for the first time been assigned their own hideaway. There is no public information on the cost of renovating and furnishing these offices.

The secrecy surrounding hideaways has generated considerable media interest, with provocative article titles, such as: “Senate’s Biggest Secret: Lush Hideaways for Lawmakers“, and “Congressional Perks: How the Trappings of Office Trap Taxpayers“.

germane

Meaning relevant or appropriate; refers to the nature of a pending bill’s amendments. In the House, amendments must be germane unless permitted as an exception to the rule.  According to Senate rules, amendments need not be germane, except to “general appropriation bills, budget measures, and matters under cloture (and a few other bills, pursuant to statutes)”. (See the Senate Legislative Process) In addition, Senate unanimous consent agreements may require that amendments be germane.

According to Capitol Net: The 1974 budget act also requires that amendments to concurrent budget resolutions be germane. In the House, floor debate must be germane, and the first three hours of debate each day in the Senate must be germane to pending business.

The differing rule requirements can cause conflicts between House and Senate: “conference agreements may include provisions that violate a basic principle of House procedure.” (See Germaneness Rules and Bicameral Relations in the US Congress)

franking privileges

The right of members to post mail to constituents without having to pay postage. A copy of the member’s signature replaces the stamp on the envelope. Authentic signatures of famous individuals are valuable collectors’ items.

Franking privileges in Congress date from the First Continental Congress of 1775. Opportunity for abuse exists and has prompted calls for reform. According to “CRS Report: Franking Privilege: Historical Development and Options for Change”:

“… [S]trong criticism of the franking privilege developed regarding the use of the frank as an influence in congressional elections and the perceived advantage it gives incumbent Members running for reelection. Contemporary opponents of the franking privilege continue to express concerns about both its cost and its effect on congressional elections.”

Limits on and oversight of franking exist today. The House has appointed a Franking Commission t0:

“(1)  issue regulations governing the proper use of the franking privilege; (2) provide guidance in connection with mailings; (3) act as a quasi-judicial body for the disposition of formal complaints against Members of Congress who have allegedly violated franking laws or regulations.”

ex officio

From Latin, meaning, “by virtue of one’s office.”

Ex officio status in all sub-committees is usually granted to the committee chairman and minority leader. They are typically not permitted the same voting rights. For example, the Vice President serves ex officio as president of the Senate, but is only permitted to vote in a tie-breaker situation.

earmarks

Funds that are allocated to a specific program, project or for a designated purpose. Revenues are earmarked by law. Expenditures are earmarked by appropriations bills or reports.

According to the Office of Management & Budget definition, earmarks include:

  1. Add-ons. If the Administration asks for $100 million for formula grants, for example, and Congress provides $110 million and places restrictions … on the additional $10 million, the additional $10 million is counted as an earmark. However, if the additional funding is to speed up the completion of a project with no restrictions this is NOT an earmark.
  2. Carve-outs. If the Administration asks for $100 million and Congress provides $100 million but places restrictions on some portion of the funding, the restricted portion is counted as an earmark.
  3. Funding provisions that do not name a recipient, but are so specific that only one recipient can qualify for funding is counted as an earmark.

Slate’s “What’s an Earmark” article provides a distinction between earmarks and general budget expenditures:

“For example, if Congress passed a budget that gave a certain amount of money to the National Park Service as a whole, no one would consider it an earmark. But if Congress added a line to the budget specifying that some of that money must go toward the preservation of a single building—definitely an earmark.”

Earmarks can be used for political, pork-barrel spending and considerable debate in Congress has centered on earmark reform. President Obama’s speech on Earmark Reform, March 11, 2009, called for legislation that would create greater transparency and public awareness of proposed earmarks. Acknowledging that earmarks can be useful, the president stated they “must have a legitimate and worthy public purpose.”

one-minute speeches

Also called, “one minutes”, a speech typically given at the beginning of the day by a House member on a chosen topic. One minutes can also be scheduled at the end of legislative business. It is at the discretion of the Speaker how much time will be allotted for the speeches. Although they are not a rule of the House, one minutes have emerged as a “unanimous consent practice” of the chamber.

One-minute speeches can be used for promoting partisan positions and launching attacks. According to Kathryn Pearson of MinnPost.com, one minute attack speeches are becoming routine (See,”One-minute Attack Speeches Becoming Routine in U.S. House“): “…party leaders have taken an active role in coordinating one-minutes so that they consist of attacks on the other party or a defense of one’s own party… Indeed, the “Republican Theme Team” and the “Democratic Message Group” recruit members to deliver one-minutes to reinforce the party’s daily message”.

As noted in CRS Report, One Minute Speeches: Current Practices, “the usual position of one minutes at the start of day means they can be covered by broadcast news organizations in time for evening news programs …. Some Representatives have made one-minute speeches a regular part of their media and communication strategy.”

The tendency to use one minutes for attack and promotion has prompted calls for reform or complete elimination of the privilege.

mark-up

The committee meeting held to review the text of a bill before reporting it to the floor. Committee members do not make changes to the text but can vote on proposed amendments.  In conclusion, members vote on a motion to send the bill with accompanying amendments, to the House.

There is room for political maneuvering during the mark-up meeting, as quoted by one lobbyist familiar with the process: “Committee’s often abruptly cancel congressional mark ups, such as in this case and instead schedule hearings in an attempt to regain support for a bill.”

The desk

Another name for the rostrum where the presiding officer and various clerks of the chamber sit. According to recent practices, most bills, resolutions, and committee reports are delivered to the clerks at the presiding officer’s desk for processing throughout the day. Up until the 1960’s, measures delivered to the desk could be held, unprocessed, for days to allow the addition of new signatures. This unpopular procedure has now been discontinued.

Dear Colleague letter

Official letter distributed in bulk by a member to all congressional members. Dear Colleague letters typically include issues related to co-sponsoring or opposing a bill, new procedures or upcoming congressional events. Although Dear Colleague letters have been used by members for over a century, technological advances in recent years have facilitated their distribution. In 2008, the House introduced a web based e-“Dear Colleague” system, streamlining topic headings and distribution lists.

codel

Short for “Congressional Delegation”, and defined as a trip abroad by a member or members of Congress.

casework

Assistance provided by members of Congress to constituents who encounter a grievance with a federal agency or the federal government. Examples include cases related to political asylum, Social Security benefits, the military, Veterans’ Administration concerns and IRS problems. Casework not performed by members of Congress typically include legal work, divorce cases and child custody issues. Most members of Congress, such as Senator Harry Reid, include on their websites a description of casework and how constituents can obtain assistance through the member’s office.

logrolling

Informal agreement between legislators to vote for each others’ priorities. Logrolling occurs frequently when lawmakers, unencumbered by pressure from party leaders, push through a bill that benefits their constituencies, but is financed by all taxpayers. Popular logrolling projects include, dams, bridges, highways, housing projects and hospitals.

The term originates from the early days of neighbors helping each other clear land to build homes. From  Answers.com: “Politicians have long recognized that logrolling is mutually beneficial in legislative halls too. The word was applied to the political practice of reciprocal backscratching as early as 1809.”

According to Julian E. Zelizer, author of “Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security From World War II to the War on Terrorism”, former president Johnson was an expert in the politics of  logrolling: “… direct persuasion could go only so far. Johnson was also a big believer in using logrolls to obtain a vote.”

leader time

Ten minute time allotted to majority and minority leaders at the start of the daily session. Leaders use the time to discuss any important issues or the day’s legislative agenda. All or part of the leader time may be reserved for use later in the day.

lay on the table

A motion for the permanent disposal of a bill, resolution, amendment, appeal, or motion.

One of the most widely used parliamentary procedures, tabling can be effected through unanimous consent — where the Chair states: “without objection, the matter is laid upon the table” — or put to a vote. However, tabling a resolution can be controversial because it permanently ends debate on an issue.

“Lay on the table” should not be confused with the same term used in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries where “tabling” refers to beginning consideration of a resolution or issue.

king of the hill

A special rule in the House for sequencing different amendments. If more than one version receives a majority of votes, the last one to win a majority prevails.

An excerpt from The American Congress explains:

“Special rules are highly flexible tools for tailoring floor action to individual bills. Amendments may be limited or prohibited. The order of voting on amendments may be structured. For example, the House frequently adopts a special rule called a king-of-the-hill rule. First used in 1982, a king-of-the-hill rule provides for a sequence of votes on alternative amendments, usually full substitutes for the bill. The last amendment to receive a majority wins, even if it receives fewer votes than some other amendment. This rule allows members to vote for more than one version of the legislation, which gives them freedom both to support a version that is easy to defend at home and to vote for the version preferred by their party’s leaders. Even more important, the procedure advantages the version voted on last, which is usually the proposal favored by the majority party leadership.”

Also see:  Partisanship or Protection: Examining the King of the Hill Rule.

junket

A pleasure trip taken by a politicians with expenses paid for with public funds.

President Obama was accused of wasteful spending on a junket to New York in May, 2009 for dinner and a show with his wife.

aisle

The aisle refers to the space which divides the majority side from the minority on the House and Senate floor. When debating, members frequently refer to their party affiliation as “my side of the aisle.”

When facing the front of the chamber, Democrats sit on the left side of the aisle; Republicans on the right.

K Street

K Street refers to the area in downtown Washington, D.C. where many lobbyists, lawyers and advocacy groups have their offices. It’s become a term to refer to the lobbying industry as a whole.

cats and dogs

Cats and dogs are are leftover “stray” bills on minor subjects saved for days when the House or Senate have light floor schedules.

recall election

A recall election is a procedure by which voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote, typically initiated when enough voters sign a petition.

Only two governors have ever been successfully recalled. In 1921, Gov. Lynn Frazier of North Dakota was recalled during a dispute about state-owned industries, and in 2003, Gov. Gray Davis of California was recalled over the state budget.

The recall process has a history dating back to the ancient Athenian democracy.

impeachment

An impeachment is a formal charge of criminality raised against an elected official in the first step to remove them from office. In the federal government, only the House of Representatives may bring an impeachment while only the Senate may try and convict the accused. A conviction requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate and results in removal of the accused from office.

Impeachment can also occur at the state level, according to their respective state constitutions.

The impeachment process should not be confused with a recall election which is usually initiated by voters.

yeas and nays

A recorded roll call vote of Members of the House or Senators.

The U.S. Constitution directs that “the yeas and nays of the members of either house, on any question, shall, at the desire of one-fifth of those present, be entered on the journal.”

The action does not necessarily bring debate to an end. It does mean that whenever debate ends, a roll call vote will occur.

pocket veto

A legislative tactic that allows the President to indirectly veto a bill.

The U.S. Constitution requires the President to sign a bill within the 10 days if Congress is in session. If Congress is in session and the president fails to sign the bill, it becomes law without his signature. However, if Congress adjourns before the ten days are up and the President does not sign the bill, it will not become law. Ignoring it, or putting it in your pocket, has been called a pocket veto.

Swiftboating

An untrue or unfair political attack or smear campaign.

The term comes from the 2004 presidential campaign when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth produced a series of television ads and a bestselling book that challenged Kerry’s military record and criticized his subsequent antiwar activities. Kerry himself had served for four months as a swift boat commander in Vietnam.

The term “swiftboating” soon became used to describe political tactics of the group.

October surprise

A news event late in a political campaign that has the potential to influence the outcome of an election.

Because Election Day is typically held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, surprise events that take place in October can have the potential change the minds of prospective voters.

The term came first into use just after the 1972 presidential election, when the United States was in negotiations to end the domestically-divisive Vietnam War. Twelve days before Election Day, on October 26, 1972, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger appeared at a White House press conference and announced, “We believe that peace is at hand.” Though Nixon was widely considered the favorite for re-election over challenger George McGovern, the news proved beneficial to Nixon as he went on to win every state except Massachusetts in the election.

However, according to the New York Observer, the “term ‘October surprise’ is most famously associated with the 1980 campaign, when Republicans spent the fall worrying that Jimmy Carter would engineer a last-minute deal to free the American hostages who had been held in Iran since the previous year. Carter and Ronald Reagan were locked in a close race, but an awful economy and flagging national confidence made the president supremely vulnerable.”

“Reagan’s campaign was particularly worried because there had already been two instances in the ’80 campaign cycle when news out of Iran had caused Carter’s anemic popularity to (briefly) soar: When the hostages were seized in late 1979 and again when he authorized a bold but unsuccessful rescue mission a few months later. In those instances, the American public instinctively rallied around its president. This was no small factor in Carter’s ability to beat back Senator Ted Kennedy’s Democratic primary challenge. The release of the hostages, Reagan’s forces knew, would almost certainly guarantee Carter’s reelection.”

recess appointment

A presidential appointment typically requiring Senate approval that is made during a Senate recess. To be confirmed, the appointment must be approved by the Senate by the end of the next session of Congress or the position becomes vacant again. Recess appointments are authorized by  Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution.

Recess appointments permitted the president to make appointments when the Senate was adjourned for lengthy periods. More recently, however, the president has used the privilege to push through unpopular candidates. For example, during his second term, President Bush appointed several controversial candidates while the Senate was in recess.  In 2007, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, retaliated by holding pro forma sessions during Senate recesses. As a result, the Bush administration was unable to make further recess appointments.

bill

A proposed law introduced in either the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate.

A bill originating in the House is designated by the letters “H.R.” followed by a number and bills introduced in the Senate as “S.” followed by a number. The sequential numbering of bills for each session of Congress began in the House in 1817 and in the Senate in 1847.

In 1975, Schoolhouse Rock aired an educational segment, “I’m Just a Bill,” introducing children to the concept of how a bill becomes a law.

hardball

A no-nonsense attitude or approach to getting what you want in politics.

From the introduction to Hardball by Chris Matthews: “Let me define terms: hardball is clean, aggressive Machiavellian politics. It is the discipline of gaining and holding power, useful to any profession or undertaking, but practiced most openly and unashamedly in the world of public affairs.”

Example from All the President’s Men: “This is the hardest hardball that’s ever been played in this town. We all have to be very careful, in the office and out.”

witch hunt

A politically-motivated, often vindictive investigation that feeds on public fears.

The term refers to the witch hunts in 17th-century Salem, Massachusetts, where many innocent women accused of witchcraft were burned at the stake or drowned.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s (R-WI) search for Communists in the federal government during the 1950s is often referred to as a witch hunt.

whistle-stopping

The practice of making political speeches or appearances in many different towns during a short period of time.

The term originates from the time when politicians mainly traveled by train and gave speeches from the back of the train during “whistle-stops” in small towns. The term now covers any means of travel punctuated by multiple short stops.

photo-op

Short for a “photo opportunity,” an event specifically staged for television news cameras or photographers to increase a politician’s exposure.

The term was reportedly coined during the Nixon administration by Bruce Whelihan, an aide to Nixon Press Secretary Ron Ziegler. Ziegler would say, “Get ’em in for a picture,” and Whelihan would dutifully announce to the White House press room, “There will be a photo opportunity in the Oval Office.”

demagogue

A politician whose rhetoric appeals to raw emotions such as fear and hatred in order to gain power.

Former Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) is often cited as a classic demagogue for his practice in the 1950s of smearing prominent Americans with baseless accusations being Communists.

fence mending

After making an unpopular vote or taking an unpopular action, lawmakers will often need to return to their districts in an attempt to “mend fences” with constituents.

The term originated in 1879, when Sen. John Sherman (R-OH) made a speech in which he said, “I have come home to look after my fences.” Though Sherman may have literally meant he was going to repair fences on his farm, the line was widely interpreted to mean that he had come with a political motive and rebuild support in the coming elections.

pro forma session

A brief meeting (sometimes only several seconds) in which no business is conducted. It is held usually to satisfy the constitutional obligation that neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other.

Pro forma sessions can also be used to prevent the President from making recess appointments, pocket-vetoing  bills, or calling the Congress into special session. During a 2007 recess, for example, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, planned to keep the Senate in pro forma session in order to prevent further controversial appointments made by the Bush Administration. Said Reid: “I am keeping the Senate in pro forma [session] to prevent recess appointments until we get this process on track.”

coattail effect

The term refers to the power of a popular candidate to gather support for other candidates running on the same party ticket. Winning candidates are said to have coattails when they drag candidates for lower office along with them to victory.

The expression dates from the mid-19th century when coats with tails were the fashion for men.

President Ronald Reagan was said to have coattails when his victory int he 1980 election was accompanied by the change of twelve seats in the U.S. Senate from Democratic to Republican hands, producing a Republican majority in the Senate for the first time since 1954.

checks and balances

The U.S. Constitution divides power among the three branches of government — executive, legislative, and judicial — to prevent any one from having too much power. Each branch is said to have the ability to check the power of the others, thereby maintaining a balance in the government.

Though it’s sometimes said the United States has three “equal” branches of government, in reality the power of each has fluctuated throughout history.

bleeding heart

A term that describes people whose hearts “bleed” with sympathy for the poor and downtrodden.

It’s frequently used to criticize liberals who favor government spending for social programs. However, former Republican Vice Presidential nominee Jack Kemp was remembered in a Los Angeles Times obituary as a “bleeding heart conservative” for policies he supported to empower poor people.

Blue Dog Democrats

The Blue Dog Democrats were formed in 1995 by approximately thirty conservative-leaning House Democrats who sought to challenge the liberal tilt of the broader Democratic party. After Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 by a narrow margin, the Blue Dogs sought to become the swing vote.

Former Rep. Pete Geren (D-TX) is credited with the term by explaining these conservative Democrats had been “choked blue” by liberals in his party.

The group still exists today as the Blue Dog Coalition.

Yellow Dog Democrats

After Republican President Abraham Lincoln defeated the Confederacy, many Southern Democrats said they would rather “vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for any Republican.”

Today, the term refers to loyal Democratic voters who vote the straight party line.

gerrymander

Redistricting by the party in power to insure maximum votes for their candidates or make it more difficult for an opposition party to defend their seats.

The Library of Congress notes the term originated in 1811, when Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry signed a bill that created a new district resembling a salamander, provoking the Boston Gazette editor to say, “Salamander? Call it a Gerrymander!”

smoke-filled room

Typically a place where secret political deal-making occurs. In earlier times, many political operatives smoked cigars which filled the rooms with smoke.

Encyclopedia of Chicago: “The original smoke-filled room was in Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel, where, according to an enduring legend, a small group of powerful United States senators gathered to arrange the nomination of Warren G. Harding as Republican candidate for president in 1920… when the Associated Press reported that Harding had been chosen ‘in a smoke-filled room,’ the phrase entered the American political lexicon. Ever since, ‘smoke-filled room’ has meant a place, behind the scenes, where cigar-smoking party bosses intrigue to choose candidates.”

trial balloon

An idea suggested by a politician in order to observe the reaction. If public reaction is favorable, the politician pursues the idea and takes full credit.

The term originates with the testing of the first hot air balloons in the late 18th century. Unmanned balloons were sent up into the atmosphere to determine if they were safe for human travel.

rubber chicken circuit

The endless series of political dinners and lunches that politicians running for office must attend to raise money.

A frequent menu option at these gatherings is chicken, which must be cooked in advance and then reheated, making it rubbery to chew.

pork barrel projects

Wasteful government expeditures that lawmakers secure for their local districts in an attempt to gain favor with voters.

The term first came into use as a political term just after the Civil War. It’s derived from the practice of plantations distributing rations of salt pork to slaves from large wooden barrels as a reward or for special occasions

muckraker

A journalist who investigates the scandalous activities of public officials and businesses.

The term “muckraker” was first used in a speech on April 14, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt: “In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress you may recall the description of the Man with the Muck-rake, the man who could look no way but downward with the muck-rake in his hands; Who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.”

The most famous muckrakers in American history are probably Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for their work in exposing the corruption in the Nixon administration.

inside the Beltway

The area inside the Capital Beltway that encircles Washington, D.C.

An issue that is described as “inside the Beltway” is said to be only of concern to the people who work in the federal government and is of little interest to the nation at large.

fishing expedition

An open-ended investigation with no defined purpose, usually launched by one party seeking damaging information about another. These inquiries are compared to fishing because they pull up whatever they happen to catch.

Astroturfing

An artificially-manufactured political movement designed to give the appearance of grass roots activism.

Campaigns & Elections magazine defined astroturf as a “grassroots program that involves the instant manufacturing of public support for a point of view in which either uninformed activists are recruited or means of deception are used to recruit them.”

Unlike natural grassroots campaigns which are people-rich and money-poor, an astroturf campaign tends to be the opposiite, well-funded but with little actual support from voters.

bully pulpit

A bully pulpit is a public office or position of authority that provides the holder with an opportunity to speak out and be listened to on any matter.

The term was coined by President Theodore Roosevelt, who referred to the White House as a “bully pulpit.” Roosevelt often used the word “bully” as an adjective meaning that meant terrific or wonderful.

caucus

An informal meeting of local party members to discuss candidates and choose delegates to their party’s convention.

The term can also refer to informal groups of Members of the House of Representatives or the Senate used to discuss common issues of concern and conduct policy planning for its members. There are also regional, ideological, and ethnic-based caucuses in Congress.

The term comes from the Algonquian language and means “to meet together.”

William Harris: “The term Caucus is first attested in the diary of John Adams in l763 as a meeting of a small group interested in political matters, but William Gordon’s History of the Independence of the United States of America, 1788 speaks of the establishment of caucus political clubs as going back fifty years earlier than his time of writing in 1774, so a first-occurrence date for the caucus can be estimated in retrospect as early as 1724.”

Congressional Record

The official record of the proceedings and debates of the United States Congress. It is published daily when Congress is in session. At the back of each daily issue is the “Daily Digest,” which summarizes the day’s floor and committee activities.

The Congressional Record is available online from 1994.

dog-whistle politics

A type of political speech using code words that appear to mean one thing to the general population but have a different meaning for a targeted part of the audience.

The Economist: “Over the past few weeks, a new expression has entered the Westminster lexicon: dog-whistle politics. It means putting out a message that, like a high-pitched dog-whistle, is only fully audible to those at whom it is directly aimed.”

lame duck session

When the House or Senate reconvenes in an even-numbered year following the November general elections to consider various items of business. Some lawmakers who return for this session will not be in the next Congress. Hence, they are informally called “lame duck” Members participating in a “lame duck” session.

advice and consent

Under Article II of the United States Constitution, presidential nominations for executive and judicial posts take effect only when confirmed by the U.S. Senate. In addition, international treaties become effective only when the U.S. Senate approves them by a two-thirds vote.

live pair

An informal voluntary agreement between Members which is not specifically recognized by House or Senate rules. Live pairs are agreements which Members employ to nullify the effect of absences on the outcome of recorded votes. If a Member expects to be absent for a vote, he or he may “pair off” with another Member who will be present and who would vote on the other side of the question, but who agrees not to vote. The Member in attendance states that he has a live pair, announces how he and the paired Member would have voted, and then votes “present.” In this way, the other Member can be absent without affecting the outcome of the vote. Because pairs are informal and unofficial arrangements, they are not counted in vote totals; however paired Members’ positions do appear in the Congressional Record.

sine die

Without any future date being designated for resumption from the Latin term meaning “without a day.” An adjournment sine die signifies the end of an annual or special legislative session.

quorum call

A procedure used in both houses of Congress to bring to the floor the number of Members of the House or Senate who must be present for it to conduct its business.

In the Senate, a Senator who has the floor can force a quorum call at almost any time by suggesting the absence of quorum. The presiding officer usually cannot count to determine whether or not a quorum is present. So when a Senator “suggests the absence of a quorum,” the presiding officer directs the Clerk to call the roll of Senators aloud by name. If a majority of Senators respond, a quorum is present and the Senate can return to its business.

However, a quorum call in the Senate usually has a different purpose: most often it is a strategic move that is used to delay proceedings for a variety of reasons — for example, to conduct informal negotiations on or off the Senate floor, or to await a Senator who is expected to make a speech or propose an amendment. If the purpose of a quorum call actually is to bring a majority of Senators to the floor, it is known as a “live” quorum call.

A quorum call in the House seeks to bring a majority of Members to the floor to record their presence after the absence of a quorum has been established. In the House, a Member makes a point of order that a quorum is not present, usually only when a vote is taking place. The Speaker (or the Chairman of the Committee of the Whole) then counts to determine if a quorum is present. If a majority of Members fail to respond to a quorum call, the House must adjourn or take steps to secure the attendance of enough Members to constitute a quorum.

Source: Congressional Glossary

cloakroom

Democratic and Republican cloakrooms adjacent to the Senate chamber serve as gathering places for party members to discuss chamber business privately.

C-SPAN: “What goes on in there? Food, phones, frivolity, and fights. They are noisy, smelly, and cramped spaces. The House cloakrooms both have snack bars (basic diner food, e.g. hot dogs, sandwiches, and soups, and yes, they have to pay), but when they’re still voting late into the night, it’s better than nothing. Senators don’t have snack bars, but Senate catering sends left-over food platters from receptions to the cloakrooms, so there is usually something to nosh on.”

“All the cloakrooms have old-fashioned phone booths and the cloakroom staff tell Members which numbered booth they can use to take or make a call. There are stacks of flyers from the Whip offices about the floor schedule; from outside groups stating their position about that day’s votes, and copies of leadership Dear Colleague letters to their troops. The furnishings are modest, even a little shabby: large leather lounge chairs, sofas, and many ash-trays because that’s where all the serious smokers hang-out. Talk about a smoke-filled room, the cloakrooms are it! There are wall-mounted television sets and regular tiffs about the remote control. Sometimes sports events are favored over the floor proceedings occurring just on the other side of the door.”

cloture

The only procedure by which the U.S. Senate can vote to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or other matter, and thereby overcome a filibuster.

Under the cloture rule (Rule XXII), the Senate may limit consideration of a pending matter to 30 additional hours, but only by vote of three-fifths of the full Senate, normally 60 votes.

filibuster

An informal term for any attempt to block or delay U.S. Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.

From the Senate Historical Office: “Using the filibuster to delay or block legislative action has a long history. The term filibuster — from a Dutch word meaning ‘pirate’ — became popular in the 1850s, when it was applied to efforts to hold the Senate floor in order to prevent a vote on a bill.

In the early years of Congress, representatives as well as senators could filibuster. As the House of Representatives grew in numbers, however, revisions to the House rules limited debate. In the smaller Senate, unlimited debate continued on the grounds that any senator should have the right to speak as long as necessary on any issue.”

Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) holds the record for the longest filibuster in his attempt to block the 1957 Civil Rights bill. Though he held the floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes, the bill passed just two hours after he stopped talking.

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