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Data: Quorum; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

"Twitter replaced floor debates in 2020," public affairs software firm Quorum writes in a new report, previewed by Axios, showing the 116th Congress as the least productive since the 1970s.

The big picture: Skyrocketing social media engagement and prolific numbers of bills filed that never went anywhere belie what happens when an increasingly divided and uncompromising Congress collides with an election-year pandemic.

By the numbers: Congress enacted 28 pieces of legislation that were introduced this year, according Quorum's report. That's far fewer than in any other year since it started tracking the data in 1990.

  • At the same time, Quorum found the highest volume of legislation introduced in an election year since 2000. Election years have lower legislative output, as representatives turn their focus from governing to campaigning.
  • There's still some time for Congress to pass bills, but even an effective and efficient final few weeks will leave 2020 well below previous lows.
  • The 116th Congress (2019 and 2020 combined) will be the least productive since at least the 1970s — the earliest year for which data is available.

Between the lines: Periods of divided government can be expected to yield fewer results. But never have things been less productive than in recent years.

  • Simultaneously, social media use among members of Congress skyrocketed, making for a Washington that's high on noise and low on results.
  • Members posted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube 785k times this year, compared to 593k in 2018 and 290k in 2016, according to Quorum data.
  • Twitter saw the most use of the platforms — there were more than twice as many tweets as Facebook posts.
  • "With nearly 13% of tweets directly referencing #COVID19 or #coronavirus, social media became an even more critical platform for reaching constituents with other traditional platforms altered by social distancing."

President Trump posted more to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube than any member of Congress this year.

  • Ted Cruz (R-Texas) posted the most to social media of anyone in the Senate, while Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) was the most prolific in the House, the report found.

Go deeper

Jan 29, 2021 - Technology

Big Tech is outsourcing its hardest content moderation decisions

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Faced with the increasingly daunting task of consistent content moderation at scale, Big Tech companies are tossing their hardest decisions to outsiders, hoping to deflect some of the pressure they face for how they govern their platforms.

Why it matters: Every policy change, enforcement action or lack thereof prompts accusations that platforms like Facebook and Twitter are making politically motivated decisions to either be too lax or too harsh. Ceding responsibility to others outside the company may be the future of content moderation if it works.

NYT: Khashoggi's killers had paramilitary training in U.S.

A vigil for journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, following his killing in 2018 in Turkey. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Several Saudis who took part in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi had paramilitary training in the U.S. under a State Department contract a year before his 2018 death, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Why it matters: While there's no evidence the department knew that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sanctioned Saudi officials to detain, kidnap and torture dissidents in 2017, the approval of such training underscores how "intensely intertwined" the U.S. has become with a nation known for human rights abuses, per the NYT.

U.S. attorney finalist trashes Labor secretary

Rachael Rollins and Marty Walsh. Photos: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images (Rollins); Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images (Walsh)

A finalist for U.S. attorney in Boston is publicly trashing the city's former mayor — Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

Why it matters: Rachael Rollins’ approach is perpetuating scrutiny of a troubled Cabinet secretary and fellow Democrat — and hints at the independence she may exhibit if tapped for top federal prosecutor for the eastern half of Massachusetts.