With President Donald Trump throwing Congress two curve balls in the last week on carefully crafted federal spending, U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, says he’ll vote to override a veto of defense spending and he hopes for a quick solution to paralyzed COVID-19 relief.
“I do plan on voting to override his veto,” Hill said. “His stated reason that he’s opposed to the bill I share, which is a concern over Section 230 of the Communications Act that governs immunity for our big tech platforms, our social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. He’s right to raise that as a concern, and I share his concern. I just don’t believe it belongs in tying up our very important bipartisan National Defense Authorization Bill. That provision isn’t even in the bill,” said Hill.
Hill, who was elected to his fourth term in November, was interviewed on camera before Christmas and by phone after the holiday due to the president’s actions. He said the defense spending bill was part of months-long committee and Congressional work, and the reason for Trump’s veto – Section 230 – can be dealt with separately.
“Those spending bills went through regular order in the House Appropriations Committee. Ten of those 12 annual appropriations bills passed the House before the election through the regular committee process and floor action. So this was not a bill that members of Congress had not seen before, had not studied before, and were not aware of the component parts of it,” Hill said.
Hill also said President Trump’s late call for $2,000 in stimulus relief checks for individuals, instead of the negotiated $600 that passed by large margins in both chambers, presents an unnecessary delay for people and businesses who need help. The president and some conservatives have complained that foreign aid in a State Department budget bill could be used to supplement larger payments. The 2nd District Congressman said this logic confuses two separate spending issues: foreign aid and a COVID-19 stimulus.
“I know people I’ve seen on social media have said, ‘well, gosh my family gets 600 bucks but the Sudan gets millions of dollars?’ They’re conflating two different issues. We have our federal budget, our diplomatic budget, our National Security budget about $1.1 trillion, plus we did the COVID-19 relief package,” Hill said.
Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin helped negotiate the COVID-19 relief package, which should have afforded Trump plenty of opportunity to ask for the higher dollar amount.
“I wish the President had been as vociferous in his advocacy for the $2,000,” Hill said. “My view is if there is consent in both the House and the Senate to try to increase those payments and offset the increased expense through, again, a mutually bipartisan agreement on reallocation of expenses in any aspect of appropriations, I’d at least look at it. But my view is that by delaying this we’re holding up badly needed aid for our small businesses, our families on unemployment, rental assistance and that this bill, which we’ve waited for for six months.”
“In my view, it will be very challenging to reach consensus in the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis to, at this late hour, up the payment to $2,000, and as I say, fund that through reductions in some of the foreign aid accounts that the Trump administration negotiated for and previously supported. But let’s see what happens here early in the week,” Hill added.
ELECTION RETURNS, INAUGURAL CONCERNS
While President Trump and some of his allies in Congress and several swing states continue to contest the November election returns, Hill said he agrees with former U.S. Attorney General William Barr and others that widespread election corruption is not evident. Hill did not sign a letter that Arkansas GOP Congressmen Rick Crawford and Bruce Westerman did to support a lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton challenging the voting process in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge supported the Texas legal challenge. The U.S. Supreme Court dispatched with the lawsuit earlier this month.
“I didn’t think the proposal was in keeping with federalism and states’ rights,” Hill said. “I don’t want the opportunity for a state to say another state’s election was not held in a legal way. I find that view unconstitutional. I didn’t think there was well grounding in the Paxton case. And that’s what led me not to sign onto it. I don’t want New York or California in the future telling us how we set our election laws here in Arkansas.”
With legal avenues diminished, there is a push by the president and his supporters for Congress to overturn the Electoral College results, which gave President-elect Joe Biden a 306-232 victory. Hill is skeptical the effort will change the result.
“Look, I voted for President Trump. He’s a fighter. I appreciate him making every effort to fight to make sure that the election was fair and every legal vote counted. He also said that he would live by the decision of the Electoral College and he pursued all kinds of state court matters up to the federal circuit and on up to the Supreme Court. None of those have found concrete evidence of substantial voter fraud that would in any way overturn the election,” Hill said.
“For my own due diligence, I went to the members of Congress in some of these disputed areas. Let’s take Michigan for example. I read the news reports about certain counties in Michigan, that there were voting irregularities. I went to the member of Congress in that area for those counties – who happens to be a Republican – and found it’s just not accurate. It’s not true. So I haven’t done that in every swing state in every county, but I am talking to the local members of Congress in those states and asking them for their personal assessment. And heretofore, I have not come to a different conclusion than Attorney General Barr and the federal and state judiciary,” he added.
Despite reports the presidential transition is not going smoothly, Hill said he’s seen evidence of the Trump and Biden administrations cooperating on turning the reins of government over peacefully on Jan. 20, 2021. The recent cyberattacks alleged by Russia on a host of U.S. government agencies is an area that fits that description.
“It [cyberattack] is very concerning, but it’s also not unusual. When you see the amount of attempted hacks and network attacks in this country by state actors like Russia, but also Iran, North Korea and China, it would make the hair stand up on your arms. Now the fact that this breach has been accomplished and apparently was inside certain government networks during much of the year is very concerning. Congress is definitely in close conversations with the executive branch about it. And I’m sure we are assessing what we should do differently legislatively to support any change in policy that’s necessary. But, the Trump administration and the incoming Biden administration, this is a key point to your question about the importance of a careful transition. This particular issue alone merits that,” he said.
Hill also said the controversies in the waning weeks of the Trump administration over Presidential pardons is not new. Since the election, Trump has pardoned or commuted sentences for political aides Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, Blackwater employees accused of killing Iraqi citizens, and three former Congressmen convicted of crimes.
The U.S. Constitution gives wide latitude and power to a president to grant pardons, Hill noted.
“The constitutional power of clemency and pardon is exclusively the President’s, and I’ve never seen a President not use it, number one. Secondly, it seems that frequently when the Presidents issue clemency or a pardon that it’s controversial. President Obama pardoned Chelsea Manning, who was accused of leaking information that cost the lives of American troops, and we all recall President Clinton’s pardoning of Marc Rich, notorious international financial thief and the pillar of Puerto Rican terrorists,” Hill said. “This is always not without controversy. But my experience is that that’s what the Presidents do, and they have to live with the consequences of the decisions they take, and President Trump’s legacy will be affected by his list of pardons and commutations.”
You can watch Hill’s on-camera interview in the video below.