Hoyer Statement on Contempt of Congress Citations

For Immediate Release:

February 14, 2008

Contact:Stacey Farnen Bernards
(202) 225 - 3130

WASHINGTON, DC – House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke on the House Floor today on the contempt of Congress citations.  Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
 
“Mr. Speaker, in 1885, a young scholar wrote an influential book about the United States Congress entitled ‘Congressional Government.’

           

“And, in that book, he offered the following observations about legislative branch oversight: ‘Quite as important as legislation is vigilant oversight of the administration.’

           

“He continued: ‘It is the proper duty of a representative body to look diligently into every affair of government and to talk much about what it sees.  The informing function of Congress should be preferred even to its legislative function.’
 
“Many years later, in 1913, that young scholar – Woodrow Wilson – became President of the United States.

           

“I do not know if Wilson regretted his observations about the utility of Congressional oversight after he became President.

           

“But I do know this: He was exactly right.

           

“Congressional oversight of any Administration is absolutely imperative to the proper functioning of our government, to our system of checks and balances, and to the fulfillment of our constitutional duty.

           

“A President who is forced to answer for his Administration’s actions, decisions, and conduct is a President who is less likely to amass power beyond that which the Constitution prescribes for his office or to imperil the welfare of our republican form of government.

           

“And that is the Constitutional interest that today’s resolutions are trying to vindicate.

           

“I support the rule before us because I believe in a system of checks and balances in which no branch is able to defy the other two in an arbitrary and capricious manner, or to hide information that is not theirs to hide.

           

“The issue before this body is not, fundamentally, whether the current Administration acted properly and within the law when it dismissed seven U.S. attorneys in 2006.

           

“Nor is this a partisan clash between a Democratic House and a Republican President.

           

“Rather, the basic issue before this House is this: Whether this body and the committee system – which is central to our duty to perform meaningful and vigorous oversight – can simply be ignored by the executive branch when this body seeks testimony and documents relevant to an important public policy controversy?

           

“As the New York Times noted this morning: ‘If Congress fails to enforce its own subpoenas, it would effectively be ceding subpoena power.  It would also be giving its tacit consent to the dangerous idea of an imperial President – above the law and beyond the reach of checks and balances.’

           

“And, as Bruce Fein, the Constitutional scholar and former Department of Justice official during the Reagan Administration, has stated: ‘If Congress shies from voting . . . For contempt [in this case], secret government will become the rule. . . . Congress will be reduced to an ink blot on the Constitutional map.’

           

“I urge my colleagues to vote for this rule.”
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