For Immediate Release: 
September 12, 2018
Contact Info: 
Mariel Saez 202-225-3130
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) delivered remarks on how a Democratic Majority would renew Americans’ faith in government by passing a comprehensive government reform package in the opening days of the next Congress. The speech, hosted by End Citizens United Action Fund, discussed specific proposals that would make government more responsive, more representative, and more effective.  These proposals build on the speech Whip Hoyer gave at Georgetown Law Center in July 2016 on renewing faith in government.  Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you all for being here today.  And thank you to End Citizens United Action Fund for hosting us this morning.  End Citizens United is doing meaningful, important work – and it’s an example of a membership organization sustained by thousands of small-dollar donors rallying behind a cause in which they believe.  That’s how our democracy and campaign finance are supposed to work. 

“In 1787, Benjamin Franklin was greeted by curious citizens as he emerged from the Constitutional Convention.  ‘What have we got?’ they asked him.  ‘A republic or a monarchy?’ 

“He replied without hesitation:  ‘A republic – if you can keep it.’

“Since that day, Americans have worked hard to ‘keep it.’  In our great experiment in democracy, we’ve gone back and forth about the best way to balance openness with security, broad participation with efficiency.  We’ve labored to make our government more transparent and accountable.  And we’ve struggled with questions over who should participate in our democracy and how. 

“When former President Obama spoke last week about the stakes in 2018, he did so within the context of this ongoing national discussion, which began that hot summer in Philadelphia so long ago.  ‘…Democracy has never been easy,’ he said, ‘and our Founding Fathers argued about everything.  We waged a Civil War.  We overcame depression.  We’ve lurched from eras of great progressive change to periods of retrenchment.  …That’s the story of America, a story of progress.  Fitful progress, incomplete progress, but progress.’ 

“Two years ago, I added my own voice to this centuries-old debate.  At Georgetown University in July 2016, I laid out several policy prescriptions for renewing Americans’ faith in their government and democratic institutions.  These included limiting the outsized influence of money in our politics, restoring voting rights protections, and modernizing government technology. 

“Since then, under the Trump Administration and a dysfunctional Congress, Americans have grown further estranged from their own democracy.  Our people believe their government is rigged against them.  This belief undermines trust in government and impedes our ability to govern.  It must be urgently addressed – not just with words – but with real action and bold reforms.

“That’s what today’s speech is all about: House Democrats’ commitment to restoring to the American people the assurance their government works for them.  It is about how, together, we can continue to keep this republic with which we have been entrusted. 

“To regain that trust, our response must be vigorous and innovative.  Campaign finance reform, voting reform, and ethics reform, alongside new rules to improve how Congress works – all of these items should be packaged into one reform bill and addressed in the opening days of the next Congress, should Democrats be entrusted with the House Majority.

“My good friend Rep. John Sarbanes has been a leader in the effort to ensure that the practice of American government lines up with its promise.  His Government by the People Act, which I’ve been proud to cosponsor, provides a perfect starting point for this effort.  I want to thank him for all his hard work and for being here today. 

“The American people need to see that we’re serious and that we understand the scope of our challenges.  They need to be reminded how, when it works for the people, government can be a force for progress, for justice, and for broadening opportunity.  If Democrats can fix government, we can earn the trust of voters to lead on addressing health care and infrastructure and the other challenges before us. 

“Abraham Lincoln best articulated what Americans’ grand experiment in democracy is all about.  It is, Lincoln declared, ‘that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth.’

“Government of the people, government by the people, and government for the people.  Or, to put it another way, government that is responsive, government that is representative, and government that is effective and benefits everyone.  In each of these three areas, Democrats aim to renew America’s democracy and restore our people’s faith in their government. 

“First, our government ought to reflect the values, ideals, and aspirations of all Americans.  It should be ‘of the people’ it serves.  To that end, we must take steps to make government more responsive. 

“The most important thing we can do in that regard is to remove the corrosive influence of money in our politics.  The two cornerstones of campaign finance were always reasonable limits and complete transparency.  In 2010, Citizens United removed reasonable limits.  As a result, we’ve seen SuperPACs and dark money groups proliferate.  We’ve watched a small group of special interests shape policymaking by spending enormous sums of dark, undisclosed money to influence elections.  It leads inevitably to policies benefiting the special interests, not all the people.

“Of course, the best way to turn back this onslaught is to overturn Citizens United.  Rep. Ted Deutch has taken the lead in introducing a constitutional amendment to do so.  But it’s very difficult to amend the Constitution, and it’s almost certain that the present Supreme Court will not overturn Citizens United.  So it falls to the Congress to address the problems that ruling created by increasing transparency. 

“First, we need to require full disclosure from SuperPACs and dark money groups that aim to influence our elections.  Let’s finally pass Rep. David Cicilline’s DISCLOSE Act and reveal their contributors.  But that isn’t enough.  We ought to require a new forty-eight-hour disclosure requirement for all large contributions to independent expenditure organizations and impose a non-disclosure penalty on SuperPACs that fail to lift the curtain on their donors. 

“It’s also time to get serious about creating a system of fair election financing, what we used to call ‘public financing.’  This is an issue on which Rep. Sarbanes has led the way.  The pressure that candidates and Members, especially those in the most competitive districts, face to raise money is enormous and ceaseless.  This money-chase shrinks the pool of good people willing to step up and serve, and it takes time away from legislating and interacting with constituents.  Constituents have become justifiably cynical as a result.  This must stop.  

“Building a fair election system – like the Government by the People Act proposes – will ensure that candidates have the resources needed to get their messages out to voters while promoting greater civic engagement and community representation.  This is something I voted to do as a Maryland State Senator early in my career, and it’s something I’m going to keep working to achieve. 

“The other area where we can make government more responsive is restoring Congress’s role under our Constitution.  This means conducting appropriate oversight of the executive branch.  On one issue after the other, this Republican-led Congress has abandoned its oversight responsibilities. 

“When the Trump Administration began sabotaging our health care system and putting millions of Americans’ access to health care in danger, the Republican Congress did nothing to stop it. In fact, it has been complicit in the effort. 

“When Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Trump Administration botched its response.  A report last week by Ranking Member Elijah Cummings of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee concluded that the decision by Republicans on the Committee not to investigate and instead to protect the Administration from criticism ‘deprived the American people of a credible examination of the federal government’s response to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated in the future.’ 

“When the Trump Administration ripped crying children from the arms of their parents at the border – and, incomprehensibly, did not maintain the necessary information to reunite them – this Republican Congress, shamefully, did not investigate.

“Over the past year and a half, we’ve witnessed a parade of Administration officials caught abusing the public trust.  Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price was forced to resign after spending hundreds of thousands on private plane trips.  E.P.A. Administrator Scott Pruitt was also forced out after arranging lucrative jobs for family members and spending tens of thousands of dollars on a private phone booth.  National Security Advisor Michael Flynn pled guilty to lying to F.B.I. agents about his contacts with Russian officials.  The corruption starts at the top, with the President clearly benefiting from foreign governments currying favor by financially supporting Trump-family investments.

“Congress has abdicated its role.  Don’t just take my word for it.  The conservative American Enterprise Institute said as much in a report last week:  ‘The country’s founders wanted the people’s representatives in the House and Senate to serve as checks on an overly assertive executive branch.  Congress’s persistent failure to properly fulfill this essential constitutional role in recent years is one reason the nation’s politics are out of balance.’

“There’s no accountability in Washington.  Under a Democratic House Majority, that would change.  A Democratic House would conduct fair, honest, and thorough oversight to investigate abuses and hold officials accountable.  This will not – and must not – be about playing politics.  The aim of these investigations will be to safeguard the public interest and make government work again. 

“In addition to making government more responsive, we need to make it more representative.  Our government ought to be led ‘by the people’ it serves.  Congress, the executive branch, and the judiciary should be composed of public servants who reflect the diversity, experiences, and highest ethical standards of the American people. 

“While I understand my fellow Americans’ cynicism about the current state of our politics, I believe that the overwhelming number of people serving throughout our government are good, honorable people who entered public service to try to improve the lives of their fellow citizens.  We may have policy disagreements, but we should remember we are all Americans first.  Too often we lose sight of this, as news coverage highlights those who break the rules, violate norms, and exploit the public’s trust.  So we need to restore that trust. 

“This begins with our elections.  First and foremost, a new Democratic Majority will do what Congress should have done five years ago: restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act.  Rep. Terri Sewell, who represents Selma, Alabama, the site of the 1965 voting rights march, has already introduced legislation to do so.  We cannot go back to Jim Crow voting, which is what some jurisdictions have tried since the 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision. 

“But restoring the full power of the 1965 Voting Rights Act has to be only the first step.  That’s why I’ve partnered with Rep. John Lewis and others to introduce the Voter Empowerment Act.  Our bill would expand early and weekend voting, create a national voter protection hotline, and introduce other reforms to make it easier for active-duty military, young people, and seniors to vote.  It also restores voting rights for those Americans who have paid their debts and reentered society – a long overdue change. 

“Ranking Member Robert Brady of the House Administration Committee has introduced legislation to make voter registration automatic across the country. It is every American citizen’s right to vote, and we ought to facilitate – not impede – that most basic of rights.

“In addition, we need to protect and strengthen the Election Assistance Commission.  In the years since I wrote the law that created the E.A.C. after the disputed 2000 presidential election it has assisted states in adopting modern voting systems and improving election security.  Instead of cutting its funding and limiting its ability to fulfill its mission, as the Republican Congress has done, we ought to help it succeed in making our elections more accessible, accurate, and verifiable.  That means providing the E.A.C. with the funding intended to help state and local officials employ best practices and protect the integrity of voting systems. 

“Russia and other foreign actors continue their attempts to hack our voting systems and influence our elections.  Congress needs to get serious about election cybersecurity, because the Trump Administration certainly isn’t.  This Republican Majority hasn’t either – indeed, when Rep. Mike Quigley offered an amendment to fund election security, every single Republican opposed it.  Ranking Member Bennie Thompson of the Homeland Security Committee introduced the Election Security Act to impose higher standards for vendors and to authorize funding for states to safeguard our elections from interference. We should have hearings directed at vendors, both regarding their ownership and assuring the security of their products.

“Our Congressional districts will only be representative if the redistricting process is fair.  That’s why Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Jim Cooper have both been working on bills to promote real, bipartisan, and national redistricting reform.  All our districts should be drawn fairly, not just those in states that have adopted a nonpartisan process.

“To have a government ‘by the people’ we also need to strengthen ethics standards for those serving in public office. 

“The President has enormous authority to make unilateral decisions affecting our economy and the livelihoods of Americans.  There ought to be a requirement for full financial disclosure, including the most recent five years of tax returns, for the President and Vice President.  This is essential if citizens can be confident that decisions are being made in the public interest, rather than in the President’s personal interest.

“One immediate change we can make to strengthen ethics standards in Congress is to ban House Members from serving on corporate boards.  Already, the Senate prohibits its members from doing so.  Rep. Kathleen Rice has proposed this change, and I believe it will help prevent the appearance of conflicts of interest.

“Currently, every Member of Congress is required to post financial disclosures on the Clerk’s website, but that can be difficult for constituents to find.  Let’s require all Members – as I and some others already do – to link to those disclosures on their official websites.  Moreover, let’s strengthen the Office of Government Ethics, as legislation introduced by Rep. Jamie Raskin would do, in order to prevent and resolve conflicts of interest in the executive branch.  We need cops on the beat with real subpoena power and the ability to punish those who break the rules. 

“Finally, we need to make sure that our government works better ‘for the people’ it serves.  One of the first steps a new Democratic Majority would take to make government more effective is restoring regular order to the House. 

“After being elected Speaker, Paul Ryan promised the following: ‘We need to return to regular order… It’s actually a matter of principle…. When we do not follow regular order – when we rush to pass bills a lot of us do not understand – we are not doing our job…. We should not hide our disagreements. We should embrace them.’

“Under Speaker Ryan’s leadership, that hasn’t happened.  A Democratic Majority would look to Members for new ideas on how to restore regular order and make Congress work better.  Ranking Member Jim McGovern of the Rules Committee is already soliciting ideas from Members on rules changes. 

“A bipartisan group, the Problem Solvers, led by Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer and Republican Rep. Tom Reed have put forward a number of serious proposals to change House rules, and I expect other Members will continue to do so between now and January.  That’s how Congress is supposed to work – Members sharing their ideas and, through thoughtful dialogue, making progress on reforms.  Over the coming months, we will be carefully reviewing these ideas as we look for ways to make the Congress more open and empower Members.  For example, one of the proposals floated by the Problem Solvers, which I support, is to allow a Member whose bill receives a certain number of cosponsors – perhaps two-thirds – to force a bill forward in the legislative process.

“Committees ought to take the lead in writing major legislation – a return to regular order that will give Members and the public real input.  Under the Republican-led Congress, leadership has brought massive bills to the Floor that have had no hearings and that Members of the relevant committees hadn’t even read.  Like their tax bill.  Bad process leads to a bad product.  That’s not how Congress is supposed to work. 

“Another critical change is to give the American people a greater say in how federal funds are used in their districts.  Democrats reformed Congressionally directed spending, also known as earmarks, when we took the Majority in 2007.  We eliminated projects going to for-profit entities, required Members to certify that they had no financial interest in their requests, and mandated that Members post all of their earmark requests and a justification for each on their congressional websites.  It worked. We believed then, as we do now, that transparency is essential to ensuring that the people’s interest is served.  Republicans eliminated earmarks altogether, and the result has been an abdication of Congress’s power of the purse.  Let’s correct this mistake together.

“One of the best ways to make government work ‘for the people’ is to improve the way Americans connect with their Members of Congress and with government agencies.  Americans interact with businesses and organizations seamlessly online, but government technology is stuck a generation in the past.  That’s why I’ve been working to modernize the way House Democrats use technology.  It’s why I launched the ‘Whip Watch’ iPhone app and updated the internal system by which House Democratic staff can track legislation and share best practices. 

“I also partnered with the Republican Leader to pass the bipartisan Modernizing Government Technology Act, which will facilitate major system upgrades.  But we need to do more.  We ought to re-establish the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and launch a new Congressional Digital Service that can put more data online for the public and develop a new platform for Americans to communicate with their representatives.  The House ought to have a Chief Data Officer and a Chief Transparency Officer.  And, as Rep. Quigley has advocated, we ought to require that unclassified reports sent to Congress by federal agencies be posted online.

“‘Of the people, by the people, and for the people.’  In these three areas, Democrats intend to put the tools of government back in the hands of all Americans.  To make our government responsive, representative, effective, and transparent again for the people it serves.  To ‘keep’ the republic with which we have been entrusted. 

“Former President Obama reminded Americans on Friday who ultimately has the power to prove Benjamin Franklin right.  ‘In two months,’ he said, ‘we have the chance – not the certainty, but the chance – to restore some semblance of sanity to our politics. Because there is actually only one real check on bad policy and abuses of power, and that’s you.  You and your vote.’  

“The reforms I outlined today answer some of the challenges threatening our grand experiment in democracy.  Let us meet these challenges together with the resolve of our convictions and the energy of our ideals. 

“Let us offer a reminder of why patriots at hallowed places like Bunker Hill and Gettysburg and Iwo Jima gave their lives.  ‘That government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this Earth’ – in their day or in our own.”