/  Ranking Member Cole Hearing Remarks on H.R. 1629 and H. Res. 275

Ranking Member Cole Hearing Remarks on H.R. 1629 and H. Res. 275

As prepared for delivery during today's hearing:

Today’s hearing covers two items. The first I’ll discuss is H. Res. 275, a resolution condemning the horrific shootings in Atlanta in March and reaffirming the House of Representatives’ commitment to combating hate, bigotry and violence against the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community. 

Certainly, these are sentiments that all members share. All members condemn such violence, and all members condemn hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

I understand that Republicans on the Oversight Committee have identified areas in this legislation that cause some concern, and I am interested to hear their thoughts during today’s proceedings. 

I am disappointed that this resolution did not receive committee consideration even though the Oversight Committee held a markup of many other pieces of legislation just last week. When we circumvent the committee process, all too often the result is a more partisan product than is needed and a missed opportunity for the House of Representatives to speak with a unified voice. 

Frankly, I do not see any reason why any concerns that members may have over provisions in this resolution could not have been addressed, as certainly there was an opportunity even this past week to do so, and this bill could then be put on the suspension calendar, rather than coming to the Rules Committee. 

Our second item is one that will be familiar to all members: H.R. 1629, the Fairness in Orphan Drug Exclusivity Act, which originally came to the floor last week but failed to meet the two-thirds majority required to pass on suspension. I expect that when this bill comes up for a vote this week, it will pass overwhelmingly, as it should.

The reason so many members voted against this bill had nothing to do with the language of the bill. Instead, it had everything to do with how the majority has chosen to run this institution for the last year.

Unfortunately, the decisions made by the majority at the beginning of the COVID pandemic continue to haunt us. Last spring, I warned that the decision to allow proxy voting and allow for remote committee hearings would inevitably lead to consequences in how the institution operates. The conflicts between members that have emerged in the new Congress are undoubtedly exacerbated by the decisions made to shut down the institution and work in a remote capacity for a full year. Sadly, it’s much easier to yell at a colleague through a screen than to do it in person. 

This week marks one year since the Democratic majority instituted martial law – which has given the majority the right to bring up any piece of legislation, at any time, with only an hour notice. I grant you that this made sense when it was initially instituted – in the midst of a deadly pandemic, where flexibility and timeliness were key to the emergency federal response. But here we are, 367 days later, with nearly 60 percent of adults in this country vaccinated with their first dose. 

I’d like to remind my friend, the Chairman, of his outrage when a Republican majority used martial law for just three days. You said at the time, "This rule would allow Republican leadership to rush anything to the floor within hours of it being released. Not just appropriations. It gives them blanket authority to jam us with whatever new disaster they cook up with the White House in the backroom of Capitol Hill."

And I would say to my friend, that if it was true for us then, it is certainly true for the majority now. With all due respect, you are now presiding over the most closed Congress in history.

Here we are, one year since the start of the pandemic, and the Pelosi lock down continues. The majority has taken already taken away the traditional right of the minority to offer a motion to recommit and has threatened to reduce the ability of members to make even the most privileged of parliamentary motions. This committee will not even allow for stand-alone votes on most amendments, instead lumping them into predetermined groups to guarantee their outcome. And the Speaker is unwilling to let her iron-fisted grip to loosen, even as the country has begun to reopen. 

Just last week, the CDC issued guidance allowing fully vaccinated people to resume most activities without a mask, but the Speaker has set a 100 percent requirement to consider removal of her unilateral mask mandate in the People’s House. 

What happened to following the science? Should we trust that these vaccines are effective or not? Because if they are, it makes no sense to continue this mask mandate.

Given all of this, the only tool the minority has left is to register our discontent by using our voting cards. And so this leads to a situation like we are in with this bill, where the minority is left with no recourse but to use its voting power to send a message to the majority and to the Speaker.

If we are to move forward as an institution, we must take steps toward restoring the basic norms we adhered to for decades but that have eroded over the past year. This includes matters related to the COVID pandemic, like moving away from proxy voting and moving back to in-person committee hearings. And I hope we can work toward that, Mr. Chairman. But it also means ensuring that members continue to work with each other as they have before.

At the end of the day, we are all blessed to be chosen delegates whom our constituents have entrusted to represent them in Congress. So long as any member is doing what they think best represents their district, we should continue to embrace them. Above all, we should continue to work together to make laws that will improve the lives of all Americans. H.R. 1629 is one such bill, and I look forward to its quick passage. And I am hopeful that we will soon find ways to work together as we once did.

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Created: May 17, 2021