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Where I Stand

July 16, 2013

Privacy
The attacks on September 11th demonstrated that the threats of the 21st century require our national security professionals to possess proactive methods of investigation, ensuring that we stay one step ahead of those who wish us harm. As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee at the time, I was tasked with passing legislation that defends our national security while protecting American civil liberties. With this balancing act in mind, the Patriot Act was drafted and passed with bipartisan support.

As the author of the Act, I am troubled by the ongoing dragnet collection of data by the NSA, as it is a misapplication of Section 215, the so-called “business records provision.” Quite simply, it is an overly broad interpretation of the law. Over the weeks and months ahead, my colleagues and I will work to rein in this abuse and, if necessary, revise Section 215 to prevent further executive overreach before the provision sunsets in 2015.

I value Americans’ right to privacy. I also recognize that there are legitimate threats to our national security. The Patriot Act must be properly applied to reflect these dual concerns.

The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on oversight of the Administration’s use of FISA Authorities for Wednesday, July 17. I look forward to a public discussion on this issue.

Immigration
As a senior member and former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I have been at the forefront of our nation’s immigration debates for the past thirty-five years.

In 1986, Congress passed the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which granted amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants. Although this bill promised enhanced border security, there are currently between 10 and 20 million illegal immigrants living within our borders. Clearly, this bipartisan legislation failed, and repeating those same mistakes is an exercise in lunacy.   

During the 109th Congress, I authored the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act, seeking to rectify the mistakes of the past, while also updating our immigration law for the new threats of the 21st century, like transnational terrorism and drug trafficking. Apart from its border security provisions, this legislation would have also created an employment eligibility verification system to counteract the magnet that draws illegal immigrants to our country. While the bill passed in the House, it died in the Senate.

Immigration reform is not simply about adhering to the principles of opportunity and liberty. There are very serious national security, law enforcement and economic repercussions of immigration policy. Only after stemming the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States through stricter employee verification and enhanced border security can an honest discussion on citizenship begin.

We must learn from the policy failures of the past and craft reform in a measured, step-by-step fashion. As part of this piece-meal approach, the Judiciary Committee recently approved H.R. 1772, the Legal Workforce Act, which would expand our nation’s E-Verify system, and H.R. 2131, the SKILLS Visa Act, which would allocate green cards to foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. In a continued effort to address the problems with our immigration system in a systematic way, the Judiciary Committee will also consider bills on border security and low-skilled visas in the weeks ahead.

Voting Rights Act
The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in the wake of the Civil War, prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote on account of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Despite its passage, the Fifteenth Amendment failed to stem the widespread disenfranchisement of minorities in the United States. Local and state ordinances that erected barriers to voting, like literacy tests, marginalized the African American population. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA)—passed nearly a century after the Fifteenth Amendment—took steps to rectify this systemic disenfranchisement.

Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have fought to protect this landmark piece of legislation. As Judiciary Committee Chairman, I introduced the reauthorization of the VRA, the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006. After approximately 20 hearings, the measure passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court recently struck down a key provision of this law.

The VRA is a bulwark against racial prejudices in the electoral process, the most sacred institution in our democracy and the key privilege of citizenship. In the weeks and months ahead, I will work closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to update the VRA, so it can serve its function of protecting this most sacred democratic right. Any solution must be completely bipartisan and comply with the objections of the Supreme Court, which will take time and careful consideration.

This week, our work on updating the VRA begins in earnest. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has called a hearing entitled “From Selma to Shelby County: Working Together to Restore the Protections of the Voting Rights Act.” I have been called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee alongside Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) on Wednesday, July 17 to offer my analysis and reaction to the Supreme Court decision.

On Thursday, July 18, the House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing to examine potential legislative solutions to protect Americans' most sacred right.

Climate Change
As the former Chairman of the House Science Committee, the former Ranking Member of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Chair of the congressional delegation to the Kyoto Conference, I am very familiar with the debate on climate change. I have seen ambitious, and often naïve, proposals meet their demise once the American people realize the economic implications.

While I care about the environment—Wisconsin has some of the most beautiful hills, lakes and farmland in the country—I also believe we should not enact environmental policies that come at the expense of jobs and economic growth. For this reason, I reject President Obama’s position on climate-change.

The President claims to promote market-based solutions to climate change. This assertion is misleading. His “Cap and Tax” proposal would have artificially created a market for companies to trade emissions allowances. The American people rejected this proposal because of its detrimental effects on businesses and consumers in an already struggling economy.

Rather than relying on talking points from the Environmental Defense Fund, which result in inflexible, overreaching policy prescriptions, the President should work with businesses and other affected stakeholders to craft workable solutions to climate change.
We are a nation of immigrants. We are also a nation of laws.

The Senate immigration bill ignores the problems with our immigration policy and focuses instead on fixing a symptom of the problem — the illegal immigrants currently living in the United States. The legislation would offer a pathway to citizenship for the millions of immigrants currently living in the U.S. who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visa. It’s the most radical amnesty proposal in our country’s history. Millions of immigrants will jump to the front of the line to become permanent residents, and millions more will cross our borders illegally. Euphemisms such as “pathway to citizenship” or “comprehensive reform” obscure its true nature. Amnesty is amnesty, and it’s bad policy.

We’ve tried this before, and we must learn from the mistakes of our past.

In 1979, President Carter appointed the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh to serve as chairman of a blue-ribbon select commission on immigration reform. Father Hesburgh prophetically warned that “without more effective enforcement than the U.S. has had in the past, legalization could serve as a stimulus to further illegal entry.”

Congress ignored Father Hesburgh, and in 1986 passed the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which gave amnesty to the 3 million illegal immigrants. This bill, too, promised border security. Today, however, we have somewhere between 10 million and 20 million illegal immigrants, and we’re still waiting for adequate border security.

Currently, it takes up to 25 years to obtain U.S. citizenship legally. The Senate proposal, however, would allow immigrants who came to the United States illegally to obtain citizenship in just 13 years. That’s a 12-year head start granted as a reward for illegally entering the country. That isn’t compassion. It’s just unfair to law-abiding individuals seeking to enter our country legally.

The consequences of the unfairness are dire. Extending amnesty to those who came here illegally or overstayed their visas dissuades people from joining the nearly 4.5 million would-be Americans who are following the rules. This creates economic problems, national security concerns and a human rights crisis as immigrants risk death crossing into America.

The Senate bill would fundamentally close the door on legal immigration.

The Corker-Hoeven so-called “border surge” amendment is commendable in that it recognizes the need for a border fence and enhanced border security. This action, though, must first be tackled independently of all other aspects of immigration reform. Only after stemming the flow of illegal immigrants into our country through stricter employee verification and enhanced border security can an honest discussion on citizenship begin.

The Senate bill is a 1,200-page boondoggle that has waivers and exemptions like those in Obamacare, giving Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano broad discretion to “waive the rules.” We’ve seen how this administration has abused its waiver authority with health care, and immigration will be no different.

The House Judiciary Committee has recognized the need for immigration reform and has begun its measured approach — tackling immigration one issue at a time. It won’t be flashy — no big headlines, grandstanding or party leaders marching in the streets of Washington with an oversized gavel. But it will fix the problem in a responsible way.

It is a mistake to primarily focus immigration reform on the illegal immigrants currently in the country. We need a legal system of immigration that meets the country’s economic needs. That means a temporary-worker program with flexibility based on economic need — and exit controls to ensure that workers return home. It also means a system that allows for sufficient visas for highly skilled and technical workers, so American businesses have access to the talent they need to stay competitive. Finally, smart immigration reform requires increased border security and tough sanctions for employers who hire undocumented workers.

The goal of any reform has to be to address these economic needs and reduce the incentives and opportunities to enter the country illegally. The Senate proposal doesn’t do this. In fact, by giving illegal immigrants a head start toward citizenship, it does the exact opposite. The millions of undocumented workers currently living in this country are a symptom of our bad immigration policies. By treating the symptom, the Senate bill will only compound the actual problem.

Fairness, equal opportunity and justice are American principles, but this proposal is blatantly unfair. Instead of holding those accountable who have broken our laws, either by entering our country illegally or overstaying their welcome, they will be rewarded with benefits paid for by American taxpayers. American seniors should be concerned. Giving illegal immigrants legal status and allowing them into the entitlement pool would further strain our social safety net, including Medicare.

Congress should not look for a short-term plan. We need policies that are best for America in the long run. We need immigration reform that actually fixes the problems we’re facing. The Senate bill does not do this.

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-Va.) met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss his sworn congressional testimony and the search warrant for James Rosen’s emails.  After the meeting, they issued the joint statement below:

“Today we had a frank discussion with Attorney General Holder about his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and the search warrant for James Rosen’s emails.  The House Judiciary Committee intends to issue a report outlining its findings of its investigation into this matter.  We felt it was prudent to hold a private meeting with Attorney General Holder due to the pending prosecution of Mr. Kim.  The private meeting afforded us the opportunity to ask Attorney General Holder substantive questions about the ongoing prosecution and the relationship between Mr. Kim and Mr. Rosen that he would not have been able to answer in a public setting.”

(WASHINGTON) – Today, senior Members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee including F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr, (R-Wis.), John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.),  Melvin L. Watt (D-N.C.), and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) released this statement addressing the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder that overturned the coverage formula for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. In a 5-4 decision, the Court voted "Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in [Section] 2. We issue no holding on [Section] 5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions."

F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.): “The Voting Rights Act is vital to America’s commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in the electoral process. Section 5 of the Act was a bipartisan effort to rectify past injustices and ensure minorities’ ability to participate in elections, but the threat of discrimination still exists.  I am disappointed by the Court’s ruling, but my colleagues and I will work in a bipartisan fashion to update Section 4 to ensure Section 5 can be properly implemented to protect voting rights, especially for minorities. This is going to take time and will require members from both sides of the aisle to put partisan politics aside and ensure Americans’ most sacred right is protected.”

John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.): “While I am encouraged that the Court upheld the preclearance requirement of Section 5, its decision striking the coverage formula in Section 4 will do real damage to voting rights absent a swift and clear congressional legislative response.  It is unfortunate that the Court ignored Congress’ unprecedented and comprehensive legislative findings in reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006 on an overwhelming and bipartisan basis. The decision missed an opportunity to reinforce the important role that the federal government has in ensuring that all Americans have an equal right to access the ballot box and have their votes count.  I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that the voting rights of all Americans are protected.”

Melvin L. Watt (D-N.C.): “My colleagues on the Judiciary Committee and I helped build a voluminous legislative record of over 15,000 pages that we believe more than justified reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and extension of the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the VRA.  Today, the activist majority on the Supreme Court has taken the unprecedented step of taking over a uniquely legislative function in disregard of the extensive work of the legislative branch and substituting their own judgment for that of elected representatives.  The decision overturning Section 4 of the VRA leaves millions of Americans vulnerable to discrimination in the most fundamental right of citizenship—the right to vote.  I am deeply disappointed by the result they have reached and its impact on minority voters as well as the precedent they have set for disregarding the factual and political judgment of elected Members of Congress.”

Steve Chabot (R-Ohio): “I am disappointed that the Court invalidated the Voting Rights Act’s coverage formula, which has been used for decades to help protect the voting rights of millions of Americans.  However, by leaving Section 5’s pre-clearance requirements intact, the Court has given Congress the opportunity to amend the coverage formula to preserve these important protections.  I am hopeful that we will work together to enact an appropriate fix in the same bipartisan manner and spirit that we did when reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006.”

The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) sent a letter to Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) offering an endorsement for H.R. 1479, to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to remove the deduction for charitable contributions from the overall limitation on itemized deductions.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “As always, it is an honor to have the support of the NTU. This bipartisan effort would prevent our tax-code from dissuading Americans from giving to charitable organizations, affirm our country’s rich tradition of giving and reinforce our commitment to charity. America leads the world in charitable giving. It is engrained in our moral fiber. Non-profits and charities are our country’s first safety net and can play a critical role in lessening the load on financially-strapped government programs. We should continue to encourage communities to take care of one another rather than instill ever-growing reliance on government. I look forward to further support for H.R. 1479 from those both in and outside our philanthropic sector and encourage Congress to bring it to the floor for a vote.”

Throughout my 35 years in Congress, I have fought against the expansion of government and its encroachment into the everyday lives of Americans.

The attacks on September 11th demonstrated that the threats of the 21st century require our national security professionals to possess proactive methods of investigation, ensuring we stay several steps ahead of those who wish us harm. As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee at the time, I was tasked with passing legislation that defends our national security while protecting American civil liberties.

With this balancing act in mind, the Patriot Act was drafted and passed by the House Judiciary Committee with broad bipartisan support – including Section 215, the so-called business records provision.  

Earlier this month, the Guardian reported on the Obama Administration’s dragnet collection of phone data with rubberstamp approval by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. The scope of the NSA’s metadata program – peering into the lives of hundreds of millions of innocent Americans – is incredibly troubling. There is no legitimate explanation for tracking the numbers, locations, times and duration of the calls of every American.The collection and retention of all telephone records coming in and out of the United States is excessive and does not fall within the guidelines of Section 215.  

I stand by the Patriot Act and support the specific targeting of terrorists by our government. However, in this instance, the proper balance has not been struck between civil rights and American security.

Recently, I have gone on record seeking to illustrate the large gap between the intention of the Patriot Act and the implementation of Section 215 by the FISA court and the Administration.  

This provision is vital and should be amended to prevent future abuses so it is not allowed to sunset in 2015. In the weeks and months ahead, I will work with my colleagues to revise it – narrowing its scope and enhancing judicial and congressional oversight.

Last Thursday, FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee. I devoted my allotted time to discussing the lack of privacy protections implemented for national security investigations.

I commend Director Mueller for his twelve years of service. But his example of how the NSA’s ongoing phone surveillance program is instrumental to catching terrorists is not relevant to my concerns of abuse. He explained that phone records could have been used to locate Khalid al-Mihdhar, one of the 9/11 hijackers. In this instance, al-Mihdhar was already the subject of an ongoing terrorism investigation and was in contact with a known terrorist safe house in Yemen. Targeted surveillance of terrorists – not innocent Americans – is permissible.  

As Senator and while campaigning for president, Barack Obama promised to protect civil liberties, but his rhetoric does not match up with the facts.

Mueller, who has served as FBI Director under both Bush and Obama, could not point out one instance where Obama has taken action to enhance privacy protections.

Former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Pete Hoekstra told the Washington Times, “On some of this stuff, this is really Bush on steroids. As a senator, Obama became a very harsh critic. He became president, and he took what I thought was an effective tool and put it on steroids.”

We entrust the quiet professionals of the intelligence community with defending our security and our rights. This executive overreach is unacceptable and further denigrates Americans’ trust in Washington.

A large, intrusive government – however benevolent it claims to be – is not immune from the simple truth that centralized power threatens liberty. Our government’s legitimacy rests on its accountability to the people. And Americans are increasingly weary that Washington is invading the privacy rights guaranteed to us by the Fourth Amendment.