Constitutionally Speaking

National Review

How does the U.S. Constitution work?


In this episode of Constitutionally Speaking, Jay and Luke discuss the role of committees in Congress. Committees are the workhorses of Congress, where the real legislating happens. The guys evaluate different theories of committee organization, and Luke makes the case that their flexibility makes them still useful in the era of omnibus legislating.

Nov 23

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Luke interviews Jay about his new book, James Madison: America’s First Politician, which is out on November 9th. Jay introduces a new bonus for podcast listeners — autographed book plates! — and the two dive (once again!) into Madison’s fascinating political career.

Nov 9

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In this week’s episode, Jay and Luke examine what makes members of Congress tick. The answer: paranoia. Specifically, the all-abiding fear that they might lose reelection. The congressional drive toward reelection frames their entire career in Congress, especially how they interact with their constituents back home. It determines how they view their districts and how they communicate with it. Those who are good at this job tend to win reelection. Those who don’t, don’t.

Sep 23

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In this final installment of their ‘Historical Congress’ series, Luke and Jay discuss various facets of the legislative group since the 1990s.

Sep 16

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Jay and Luke discuss Congress’s evolution and role after the Watergate scandal. 

Sep 9

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Luke and Jay take a look at Congress’s confrontation with reform, from the collapse of the Populist movement through the rise of modern American liberalism. As the Civil War generation fades into the past, new cleavages and governing patterns emerge.

Sep 2

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Jay and Luke take a look at the long period of congressional dominance in the 19th century, and they explain how congressional supremacy survived everything from the Civil War to civil-service reform.

Aug 26

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Jay and Luke discuss Congress and the mid 1800s.

Aug 19

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Luke and Jay talk through the early development of Congressional power, the appearance of the committee system, and how the formation of political parties shaped the rules, habits, and customs of Congress.

Aug 12


Jay and Luke take a look at the formal structures and rules that govern Congress in the Constitution. Why does each Chamber get to set its own rules? What’s the deal with judging qualifications? Why do we have a Speech and Debate Clause? Each of these provisions came to be in the constitution thanks to a rich combination of history, political theory, practical experience, and luck. Join the guys as they show how the Framers took the eclectic mixture of history and ideas outlined in the last episode and turned it into a set of concrete institutional rules and constraints.

Aug 5

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Jay and Luke are back, this time to discuss the roots of our modern-day Congress.

Jul 29

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Picking up with Martin Van Buren in Jackson’s cabinet, Jay and Luke trace the Little Magicians rise to the vice presidency, his political knife fighting with John C. Calhoun, and his successful introduction of the party convention system. His presidency, bedeviled by the Panic of 1837 at home and trouble abroad with Britain and Mexico, gave rise to the hotly contested election of 1840 that saw the Whigs get organized and the ticket of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler take the White House. We move quickly through Tyler’s presidency (after Harrison’s death thanks to an inaugural address given in freezing rain) and see Van Buren aim for and nearly win the Democratic Party nomination in 1844. We look at his work forming the Free Soil Party, his increasing hostility to slavery, and his failure to defeat the rise of the slaveocracy within the Democratic Party. In the end, Van Buren remains one of the most consequential figures of his age, and deserves far more attention from the history books than he has received.

Jun 2020

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