U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Rules

03/01/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 03/01/2021 14:34

Press Release - Ranking Member Cole Hearing Remarks on H.R. 1 and H.R. 1280

As prepared for delivery during today's hearing:

Today's hearing covers two items, both of which will be familiar to our returning members. I'd like to begin by discussing H.R. 1, which the majority is calling by the misnomer the 'For the People Act'.

I said this bill's title is a misnomer because I do not believe this bill has anything to do with the American people. Rather, this is a bill that is about preserving the present Democratic majority. It is a bill by the majority, for the majority and is intended to entrench the majority in power for years to come.

At each turn, this bill is designed to rewrite the current rules of our elections in a way that is benefits Democrats. It changes voting laws, election laws and campaign finance laws. It imposes from Washington D.C. a one-size-fits-all regulatory scheme on each state, and what's worse, it does this even though states have traditionally been allowed to generally run elections however they see fit.

For example, a large portion of this bill is dedicated to changing our national system of campaign finance. In general, I think that this is a worthy goal. But the way the majority has chosen to approach this goal is totally misguided. It makes changes that will benefit Democrats, particularly a system that creates a new corporate-funded campaign ATM, ensuring that certain candidates will receive millions of dollars in federal taxpayer dollars just for running a campaign.

We've seen this approach before. The Obama Department of Justice would reach settlement agreements which forced dollars to go to third-party groups who were not even a party to the violation. Department of Justice would immediately be able to implement this approach with this program too - to pour even more money into Democrat campaign coffers.

My Democratic colleagues have bemoaned the massive amount of money that has been entering our campaign system over the past few decades, and yet they decide that the right approach is seeding it with even more money?

The bill also seeks to impose a one-size-fits-all voter registration system on the states. This fails to respect the traditional rights and responsibilities of the states to manage their own elections. Similarly, the bill also seeks to impose a one-size-fits-all redistricting system on the states. As the former election official of my home state of Oklahoma, I believe these changes are a recipe for potential chaos.

To make matters worse, H.R. 1 also includes severe restrictions on free speech. It limits the rights and abilities of organizations, corporations and individuals to freely exercise free speech. It is especially egregious that the bill seeks to restrict these rights during political campaigns, just as Americans are using their voices to elect individuals of their choice to public office.

Madam Chairman, I think the majority needs to rethink what it is doing here. Cloaking a naked and brazen attempt to rig the national election system in one party's favor under the guise of needed reforms is simply disingenuous. Structuring our campaign finance system and imposing national voter registration and redistricting requirements from Washington are bad enough, but severe limitations on freedom of speech really take the cake. I urge the majority to reject this bill.

Our second item for today is the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. As with H.R. 1, this bill will be familiar to our returning members, as the House passed an identical version last summer. And like H.R. 1, the reforms contained in this measure are ultimately misguided and deeply partisan.

The Justice in Policing bill initially came about last summer, following the tragic death of George Floyd and the resulting protests in which Americans across the country rightly condemned the horrific and unacceptable incident perpetrated by a law enforcement officer.

The condemnation of that despicable act extended to members of the law enforcement community itself. Over the past year, I've spoken with many law enforcement officials in my district, and each of them have condemned forcefully both what happened to George Floyd and other similar incidents. That, of course, is because the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers faithfully and bravely carry out their duties and responsibilities each day.

Unfortunately, the death of George Floyd reminds us that abuses of power clearly exist and must be addressed. As we have grappled with that reality, it has rightly led to demands for real change related to how our law enforcement acts as they strive to keep our communities safe.

Rather than move together to examine and legislate in a bipartisan manner, we are here considering the exact same bill that failed to gain any meaningful broad support in the 116th Congress, without any opportunity for the 11 new members on the Judiciary Committee to offer their best ideas. Unfortunately, despite supporting the need for police reform, I opposed this bill last year and I certainly cannot support it today.

Last time this committee met on this measure, I expressed my grave disappointment that Republican Members on the Judiciary Committee were completely shut out of the legislative process - despite committee staff reaching out both prior to introduction and prior to markup, seeking to work together on needed reforms. Their good-faith attempts were rejected on every occasion. This is despite the fact that Republicans agree that reforms are indeed necessary. The bill today is the same as the bill that passed the House last summer, indicating that Republicans have, once again, been shut out of the process.

Recognizing the critical need for reform, my colleagues offered a package of reforms that are both meaningful and could gain significant bipartisan support. This reform package, The JUSTICE Act, has been reintroduced in this Congress as well, and the House sponsor, Representative Pete Stauber has offered it as an amendment before us today. I greatly look forward to his testimony and support the reforms in his amendment, including providing funding for body cameras for police officers nationwide, requiring de-escalation procedures and banning chokeholds.

I urge my Democratic colleagues to come to the table and let's find the common ground that I know exists, using Justice in Policing and the JUSTICE Act as a starting point, to bring a bill to the full House that we can pass together with one strong voice. If the majority is committed to re-passing H.R. 1280 in the same partisan form once again, then at the very least let us consider other meaningful reforms including the Stauber substitute amendment.

If we can take away one common thread from today's bills, it is this: better results occur for the American people when we work together. When the majority chooses to go it alone, the result is legislation like we are considering today: partisan bills filled with provisions that do not reflect the best interests or consensus of the country. I urge my colleagues to rethink both of these items, and I urge them to rethink their present path.

So far, the story of this Congress has been one of unbridled partisanship. I hope the majority will choose a different course in the future and decide to work across the aisle with us in a bipartisan manner. We can produce meaningful legislation for the American people, but we must do that work together.