U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, on Wednesday said Congress has an obligation to oversee the executive branch, said the border with Mexico should be more secure but doesn’t have to be a double fence, and both defended and criticized President Trump’s executive orders related to immigrants and refugees.
In an hourlong telephone town hall, he also questioned the wisdom of a congressionally proposed “border adjustment tax.”
Hill said Trump’s denial of passport privileges to citizens of seven countries is “not a Muslim ban” but rather is a temporary action built upon earlier orders by the Obama administration. He said those countries – Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan – do not have functioning governments with passport controls and that they attract foreign fighters. He said he supported Trump’s temporary ban on admitting refugees and said the president’s future annual limit of 50,000 refugees is higher than the average number of refugees in the past.
However, he criticized the order’s execution.
“I don’t think the executive order was handled properly,” he said. “I think it was rushed. But I think the idea was based on evidence developed by the Obama administration, and it made sense to me.”
Hill said Congress has a “major obligation, constitutional obligation” to oversee the executive branch and that he would do so from his spot on the Financial Services Committee. He said committees in both the House and Senate are investigating Russian cyber engagement in the presidential election and now are looking at contacts between the Trump administration and the Russian government, and why information has been leaked. He said he had been active in investigating the Obama administration during his first two years in Congress.
“Personally, I’ll have the same attitude no matter who the president is,” he said.
Similarly, he expressed support for a Senate investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s engagement with Russia before the Trump inauguration, saying, “I think we all deserve to have the result of that investigation.”
Hill said that Russia under President Vladimir Putin “is not the place that we thought Russia of the 1990s might have gone. President Bush when he was in his first term met Putin twice and said he’d looked into his eyes and had seen his soul, and President Obama and Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state said they were going to ‘hit the reset button’ with the relationship with Russia. That has ended badly.”
Hill said he had made three visits to the border in Texas and California and talked to agents, immigration officials and law enforcement personnel. He said foreigners are traveling to Mexico, discarding their travel papers and then seeking asylum in the United States. If they have a contact inside the country, they are released into society, and most don’t show up for a hearing.
“My research on it tells me that our southwest border needs more security, but it doesn’t all have to be a double-fenced wall like we see in San Diego and El Paso,” he said.
Hill, a banker, said his opinion about the Dodd-Frank banking bill wasn’t swayed by Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen’s testimony Wednesday before Congress that in a survey, most independent businesses were able to get the loans and credit they needed. He said the law was making it difficult for people to get cheap consumer credit, forcing people into less regulated methods of accessing money. It also made it harder to get credit for manufactured housing. Credit has not recovered in some consumer and small business categories, he said, and many banks no longer offer free checking as a result of the law.
Hill also expressed concern about the size of the Fed’s balance sheet – 40% of the nation’s mortgage-backed securities and 15% of all U.S. Treasury securities.
“I’m concerned they’re monetizing our debt, which could be very inflationary in the future,” he said.
He touted instead the Financial CHOICE Act, a bill introduced by House Republicans last year that he said would be better because it would focus on raising capital standards for banks, would try to end “too big to fail,” and would increase penalties for white collar criminals.
Hill expressed reservations about a congressionally proposed “border adjustment tax” that would increase taxes on imported products and lower the tax on exported products. He said it could be inflationary and raise prices on consumer electronics and oil unless the exchange rate adjusts.
“I’m studying it. I’m not skeptical about it, but I have real concerns about it as a component in tax policy,” he said.