/  Ranking Member Cole Opening Remarks During Today's Hearing

Ranking Member Cole Opening Remarks During Today's Hearing

As delivered during today’s House Rules Committee hearing on H.R. 1620, H.J. Res. 17, H.R. 6, H.R. 1603 and H.R. 1868:

We have a lengthy agenda at today’s hearing, including four bills arising out of the Judiciary Committee and a fifth measure concerning budget sequestration.

The first measure I’ll address is H.R. 1620, to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.  As many of you know, the goal of VAWA is near and dear to my heart. It is of great importance to the people of Oklahoma and particularly to tribal communities – including my own tribe, the Chickasaw Nation. Not only does VAWA provide critical tools for addressing domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking in the broader community, but it also provides specific support for Native American tribes in their efforts to end violence against women in their own communities.

With every reauthorization of VAWA comes the opportunity to improve the underlying statute, and I firmly believe that we should be taking up a bill with broad-based, bipartisan support. Unfortunately, the majority is putting forward a bill with several provisions that are unnecessarily partisan, which makes this a lost opportunity for Congress to work together to reauthorize this critical law. The last time we adopted this course of action, frankly, the legislation was never enacted into law, and I am afraid we are running that risk again.

Though I am disappointed that we are not considering a fully bipartisan bill today, I believe that reauthorizing VAWA is too critical and too important for me to oppose the version before us today. However, our colleague Ms. Stefanik has introduced a clean reauthorization that offers a more expedited path to enactment. I have cosponsored her legislation, which has also been submitted as an amendment. Given the number of partisan riders in H.R. 1620, offering the House the option of a clean extension is essential. 

I expect my Republican colleagues from the Judiciary Committee will share their concerns and it is my sincere hope that we can resolve those issues prior to Senate consideration of this measure. And I hope that if the House again takes up this matter in the 117th Congress, it will be on a bipartisan bill that is drafted with input from both parties. In my personal view, that is the only way in which this legislation can be successfully enacted.

The second measure I will discuss is H.J. Res. 17, a bill removing the deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Like H.R. 1620, this is a bill that the House passed last Congress that did not move forward in the Senate. And at a glance, it is easy to see why. Rather than a vote on the Equal Rights Amendment or on the principle of equality under the law on the basis of sex, what this resolution actually amounts to is an unconstitutional and illegal end run around the provisions of Article Five of the Constitution.

In 1972, both the House and Senate passed the Equal Rights Amendment with the requisite two-thirds majority. At the time, Congress explicitly set a deadline for ratification, requiring that the amendment be ratified within seven years. That meant that the final deadline for gaining ratifications from three-quarters of the states was March 22, 1979.

But by March 22, 1979, only 35 states had ratified the ERA. Of course, five of those states had also rescinded their ratifications, and I would be curious to know if the majority thinks those ratifications are legally valid. But now, 42 years after the deadline has passed, the majority is trying to turn back the clock and claim that there should be no deadline at all for ratification of the amendment.

This is a highly unusual and indeed unprecedented step. Including a deadline of seven years for states to ratify a proposed constitutional amendment is not uncommon, and in fact, it has been the usual course for proposed constitutional amendments since the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, with just two exceptions. But what has never been done is what the majority is attempting to do with this resolution: to retroactively, 42 years after the fact, remove the original deadline – which was written as part of the explicit language of the amendment – and to do so by a simple majority resolution of Congress. It is unprecedented, and indeed contrary to the text of the Article Five procedures for amending the Constitution.

If the majority truly wants to move forward and pass the Equal Rights Amendment as the 28th Amendment to the Constitution, I am all for having that discussion. But it must be done by following the procedure laid out in Article Five of the Constitution. It requires hard votes – two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and the consent of three-quarters of our 50 states. That is the only constitutional way to accomplish that goal, and indeed, that is the only right way to accomplish it. What does not work is what the majority is trying today – an extraconstitutional end run around the legal process. 

The third and fourth items I’ll discuss both cover immigration. The first of these is H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, intended to address an issue that has been vexing Congress for the last several years. 

The bill before us purports to grant relief to people affected by DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program. The bill also includes provisions relating to Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure. And unfortunately, while I too want to see a solution for DACA recipients, I do not think this bill is the appropriate solution.

H.R. 6 is the same partisan package we considered last year that went nowhere in the Senate. It provides incentives for people to keep crossing the border illegally and for criminal enterprises to continue to use minors to sneak into the country illegally knowing that their actions may well be wiped away in a few years. It fails to address the real need for additional security measures on the southern border. And above all, it is not the kind of comprehensive and bipartisan solution to immigration that the nation so desperately deserves.

Mr. Chairman, there is a real crisis on the southern border, both a humanitarian crisis and a security crisis. That crisis that began during the Obama Administration and continued through the Trump Administration and is now continuing on into the Biden Administration.  The solution to that crisis and the DACA issue is the same: a comprehensive bill that strengthens border security, provides relief for DACA recipients and ensures a fair and just immigration system.

Unfortunately, that’s not at all what this bill is. I believe we can do better, and I hope someday in the near future I will be speaking in favor of a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration bill here at the Rules Committee. I hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

Our fourth bill, H.R. 1603, establishes a certified agricultural worker program for alien farm workers and reforms the H-2A temporary worker visa program. Especially for agriculturally-focused districts like my own, providing stability and certainty to farm workers and farm employers is very important.

Many of my Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee have expressed their concern with certain provisions in this bill. I share some of those concerns. I look forward to hearing their perspective and concerns, and I encourage the committee to grant a rule – both on this bill and on our other measures – that ensures all members have a chance to be heard and have their amendments considered on the floor.

Finally, we are also considering H.R. 1868, a bill that will address a variety of issues related to the budget and to sequestration of mandatory spending, including Medicare. The bulk of this bill is intended to address a consequence of last week’s passage into law of the majority’s partisan reconciliation spending package. As a result of the increased spending, statutory PAYGO sequestration cuts will automatically take effect unless Congress acts.

While Republicans and Democrats alike agree that it is important to ensure cuts to mandatory spending like Medicare do not take place, it is disappointing that Democrats have chosen not to work with Republicans in putting together a bipartisan bill. There was an opportunity to do so here, but once again the majority has missed the mark. And let’s not get carried away with arguments that somehow Republicans got a lot of help from Democrats in dealing with this problem after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017. The reality is, only 14 Democrats bothered to “help” on that. With all due respect, to all it may concern, none of those Democrats are either on this panel or appearing as witnesses today. So pleads for help on that front rang a bit hollow.

We have missed that chance all too often this Congress, Mr. Chairman, to work together. And the five bills before us today do little to fix that unfortunate record. I hope the majority will change course soon and see the merits of truly working with Republicans on bipartisan measures to benefit the entire country. I’ll remind everyone that none of these matters we are considering today are going to be subject to reconciliation. They will require bipartisan cooperation. We simply can’t do it by jamming them through. So, that’s a lesson I think we all need to take to heart.

###

Created: March 16, 2021