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New Perspectives in American Governance

Scholarship regarding U.S. governing institutions (Congress, the Presidency, and the federal bureaucracy) suffers from a notoriously restricted range of theoretical, methodological, and demographic perspectives—limiting political scientists’ collective understanding of those institutions as they evolve with respect to gender, race/ethnicity, capacity, and culture. American University’s New Perspectives in Studies of American Governance program (NP), in partnership with Purdue University, seeks to address this weakness. The NP incentivizes emerging scholars to broaden the range of perspectives and experiences upon which they draw when pursuing insight into American governance at the federal level.  

Award Winners of NP Research Grants

The Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies (CCPS), in collaboration with AU’s Washington College of Law (WCL) and Purdue University’s Center for Research on Diversity and Inclusion (CRDI), is proud to announce the winners of our New Perspectives in Studies of American Governance research grants. With support from Hewlett Foundation’s U.S. Democracy program, we are supporting seven new projects that stand to transform political scientists’ collective understanding of American governance and representation.

1. Diversity and Representation in Information Provision to Congress

Prof. Pamela Ban, University of California San Diego (@pamelamban), Prof. Ju Yeon Park, University of Essex (@JuYeonPark4) and Prof. Hye Young You, New York University (@hyeyoungyou):

Abstract: Information is one of Congress’ most important needs during policymaking. Interest groups, bureaucrats, and other individuals seek to influence legislators through the provision of information, including testifying as witnesses in congressional hearings. The extent to which diverse voices are represented in the information transfer from external groups to Congress is a critical question in debates on representation. What is the diversity of witnesses invited to Congress, and what affects the presence and engagement with minority witnesses? Using a new dataset with demographic information of all congressional witnesses from 1960-2020, we investigate how representational factors in Congress drive members of committees to both invite and deliberate with a witness pool that is more diverse in terms of race, gender, and geography. Further, we use a natural experiment stemming from Congress’ shift to virtual hearings during the covid-19 pandemic to evaluate the effects of political networks and transportation costs on the geographic and economic diversity of witnesses. Findings will shine a spotlight not only on what affects the presence of diverse witnesses in information provision to Congress, but also on what drives Congress’ engagement with these diverse witnesses during policymaking.

2. The American Bureaucracy and the Externalization of U.S. Immigration Enforcement

Prof. Angie M. Bautista-Chavez, Arizona State University (@ABautistaChavez):

Abstract: In contrast to explanations of U.S. immigration policymaking that center interbranch competition, federalism, political polarization, electoral incentives, or interest group pressures, Angie Bautista-Chavez moves the scope of analysis to the bureaucratic and transnational politics of immigration policy. In her book project, “Exporting Borders,” Bautista-Chavez locates middle-level bureaucrats as managers within the system of immigration enforcement, and, simultaneously, as actors who are transnationally embedded in governmental networks. Bautista-Chavez shows how transnational bureaucratic cooperation ultimately makes it easier for the United States to selectively exclude and expel immigrants, while simultaneously expediting the entry of others.

The New Perspectives Grant will support the creation of a dataset of U.S. DHS agreements with foreign governments regarding immigration management, regulation, policing, and control. This dataset will supplement analyses of U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budgets and reports, performance assessments, congressional hearings and testimonies, and interviews with interest groups and government officials in the United States and Mexico who served across administrations (Lopez Obrador Administration, Peña Nieto Administration, Calderon Administration, Fox Administration, Trump Administration, Obama Administration, Bush Administration).

Ultimately, Bautista-Chavez’s research shows that the U.S. bureaucracy is not merely a passive institution that mediates between the U.S. government and migrants. Rather, the immigration bureaucracy is itself a political institution composed of powerful actors who advocate for, set agendas, and make policies that drive the externalization of U.S. borders.

3. Understanding the Causes and Consequences of Congressional Staff Diversity

Prof. Alexander Bolton, Emory University and Prof. Sharece Thrower, Vanderbilt University (@ShareceThrower):

Abstract: Representation is the bedrock of American democracy. Congress, perhaps more than any other institution, serves as a venue where the diverse interests of the country have their fullest articulation. Descriptive representation is particularly vital for ensuring that the voices of marginalized groups are reflected in public policies. Though numerous studies examine the descriptive characteristics of legislators, much less is known about the diversity of their staffs, who are unelected individuals with vast opportunities for influencing the policymaking process. Recent research on staff representation mostly focuses on personal staff. Studies on committee staffers, who are arguably far more consequential for policymaking, is limited and incomplete, relying heavily on survey data or other sources from limited timeframes. Moreover, previous studies of staffing have, with few exceptions, ignored the substantial increase in the racial and gender diversity of congressional staff over the last several decades and its implications for representation in the institution. Accordingly, we plan to collect the most comprehensive dataset on the gender and racial composition of committee staffers between 1960 and 2020, to systematically track descriptive representation. Furthermore, we will examine whether such diversity advances substantive representation, by linking it to appropriations reports and oversight hearings. Here, we seek to understand whether descriptive representation among staff lends a voice to the interests of women and racial minorities in policymaking. Our dataset will be used for exploring other important questions, such as those related to intersectionality, and can provide a valuable resource to citizens, interest groups, and practitioners for promoting diversity and accountability throughout Congress. Overall, this project will shed light on the efficacy of representative democracy in the United States, particularly with respect to incorporating the interests of traditionally underrepresented groups.

4. Race, Gender and The Politics of Difference in Federal Judicial Appointment Politics, 1965-2017

Prof. Taneisha Nicole Means, Vassar College (@ProfMeans):

Abstract: The constitutional mandate for selecting federal judges is straightforward but says little about the factors presidents and senators should consider as they work to appoint jurists. What factors influence who presidents nominate to the federal bench, how do nominees experience and understand the process, and what factors influence how senators act on those nominations? These are certainly much-studied questions in American politics and existing literature on the topics point to various factors, including race and gender. Despite the growing body of scholarship, existing empirical evidence is contradictory with some scholars saying race or gender do not matter, and partisanship is the primary concern, but others find that nominees’ social identities are important in understanding the appointment process. 

One possible reason for these mixed results is that scholars have often taken a single-axis approach theoretically and methodologically by focusing on race or gender alone. Using an intersectional approach and analyzing diverse materials, including archival and interview data, this study further explores how judicial nominees’ identities influence the appointment process. This study’s findings will have broad implications for understanding presidents’ decisions regarding their selection and promotion of nominees, senators’ decision-making, nominees’ experiences and understandings, and diversity on the federal bench.

5. It Takes a Village: Re-Examining the Infrastructure for Collective Black-Interest Advocacy in the U.S. Congress

Prof. Periloux C. Peay, Georgia State University (@pcpeay):

Abstract: This project analyzes the Congressional Black Caucus as a diversity infrastructure – a formal system (or a network of interacting systems) forged by ethnic, racial, or gender identity that engages in extra-party collective behavior to advance group-interest policies in political institutions. In doing so, this project places a more explicit emphasis on the Caucus’ formation, formalization, development, and reliance on key organizational features in order to advance their collective goals. At its core, this project is a historical analysis of the strategic decisions made at three critical junctures of the organization’s development: (1) decisions in the Caucus’ infancy to create internal and external arms of the organization designed to expand their policymaking capacities, (2) how the Caucus was forced to rethink and restructure the organization following Gingrich-era institutional reforms, and (3) how the restructuring of the Caucus organization positioned it for success in the future. Preliminary archival research at three separate sites provides a great deal of support to the notion that the development of the caucus infrastructure was crucial to the advancement of the Caucus’ collective goals.

6. Black Legislators and the Rise of Squad Democrats in the U.S. Congress

Prof. Katherine Tate, Brown University and PhD candidate, Karra W. McCray, Brown University (@karramccray)

Abstract: With Democrats having narrow control of both branches in the 117th Congress, progressive legislators have sparred with moderate Democrats over the size and scope of government spending bills. This project examines the politics of one group of progressive legislators called “The Squad” who have twice voted against the party’s effort to pass major legislation. Squad legislators stand in contrast to Black House Democrats, who, since the 1970s, have become more accommodating of the Democratic Party’s interests because of minority political incorporation. It is theorized that Squad Democrats emerged in the new urban politics promulgated by the Black Lives Matter Movement. Social movements, it is argued, act as offsetting, radicalizing forces in government. In addition to an analysis of their campaigns and elections to see if community activists were involved, the tweets of Squad Democrats and Black Democrats will be analyzed for the frequency in which they stress the Black Lives Matter Movement, protest, and voice opposition to the Democratic National Committee, President Trump, and President Biden. A research paper will emerge from this study. The theoretical aims are to shed additional light on how social movements affect Congress.

7. Activists in the House: Intersecting Identities, Organizing Experience, and Progressive Politics in Congress           

Prof. Catherine N. Wineinger, Western Washington University(@cnwineinger):

Abstract: In the midst of social movements focused on racial, gender, economic, and environmental justice, the 2018 and 2020 elections brought record-breaking diversity to Capitol Hill. Within this political landscape, some progressive members of Congress and congressional staffers have embraced their own identities as activists and community organizers. This book project focuses on progressive activism in Congress. More specifically, I will investigate how social identities and organizing backgrounds shape the experiences, goals, and strategies of self-identified progressives in the House of Representatives. Through semi-structured interviews, case studies of legislation, and political ethnographies, I will explore two main questions: (1) How, if at all, do progressives in Congress who identify as activists differ from those who do not? and (2) In what ways do intersections of gender, race, class, religion, and other identities shape the experiences and tactics of progressive activists in Congress? This project expands research on institutional activism and highlights the various ways social identities matter in contemporary congressional politics. In doing so, it can shine new light on scholarly understandings of legislative effectiveness; the dynamics of intraparty politics; and the relationship between social movements, identity, and policymaking. 

New Perspectives and New Questions in Legislative Studies Conference

April 8, 2021 | 8:30am- 5:00pm
Via Zoom

American University's Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies hosted “New Perspectives and New Questions in Legislative Studies,” a virtual conference on April 8, 2021

Co-hosted by Valeria Sinclair-Chapman (Professor of Political Science, Purdue University), David Barker (Professor of Government and Director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, American University) and Bettina Poirier (Professor of Law and Director of American University’s Program on Legislative Negotiation), with support from the Hewlett Foundation’s US Democracy Program, this conference aimed to foster innovation and collaboration on new lines of legislative scholarship that reflect the broadening perspectives of American lawmakers (and the constituents they serve).
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American University’s New Perspectives in Studies of American Governance program awarded $200,000 grant

September 2021

With support from the Hewlett Foundation’s U.S. Democracy Program, the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University was recently awarded a $200,000 grant to promote New Perspectives in Studies of American Governance (NP). The NP program, in partnership with Purdue University, incentivizes emerging scholars to broaden the range of perspectives with respect to gender, race/ethnicity, capacity, and culture when pursuing insight into American governance at the federal level. 

Specifically, the NP includes a small grants program for scholars of Congress and the Executive branch, whose research examines new questions and/or does so from a broader point of view than has traditionally been the case in these fields. A call for proposals will be disseminated in coming months.

The Principal Investigators of this program include David Barker, Professor of Government and Director of CCPS, Bettina Poirier, Director of the Program on Legislative Negotiation and Senior Affiliate for WCL, and Valeria Sinclair- Chapman, Professor of Political Science, African American Studies, and Gender & Sexuality Studies at Purdue University. She is also Director of Purdue’s Center for Research on Diversity and Inclusion as well as its Legislative Internship Program.