06.13.17

Kilmer Questions Administration Official on Policy for Answering Questions from Democrats in Congress and Investigating Incidents of Voter Suppression

Washington, D.C. – Today, during a House Appropriations Committee hearing, Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA) questioned Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on whether there is an official policy to not answer oversight questions from Democrats in Congress. On May 1, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued an opinion that lawmakers’ requests for information from the executive branch could be rejected.  

Kilmer pointed out in the hearing today that Senator Chuck Grassley, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to President saying there was no legal or Constitutional basis for the OLC’s opinion and asked his administration to reverse the policy.

To watch the exchange from today go to 1:35:50 of the video found here.

“Democrats and Republicans are always going to have disagreements on policy. That’s nothing new,” said Kilmer. “What is shocking here is that the Trump Administration is making even non-partisan requests for information and oversight activities partisan. That’s a new low for American democracy.”

Earlier this month, Kilmer led a letter with Representative Kathleen Rice (D-NY) to the Acting Director of Personnel Management (OPM) and OPM’s Acting Inspector General to request written information that a new policy prohibits OPM from responding to letters from members of Congress unless the letters have been signed by the Chairperson of a Committee or Subcommittee. The members argued that such a policy could prevent members of Congress from fulfilling their Constitutional responsibilities.

Kilmer also pressed Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein whether his department will continue to enforce the Voting Rights Act and investigate recently passed voter suppression laws.

Kilmer said at the hearing today: “In 2013, in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the Supreme Court essentially struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required jurisdictions with a documented history and ongoing record of race discrimination in voting to preclear any voting changes with either the Department of Justice or a three-judge federal court before their implementation. Following the Shelby decision, previously covered jurisdictions implemented various forms of restrictive voting laws, which made it burdensome for millions of people in this country to participate equally in the political process. My question to you is: in light of the President’s newly-formed Commission, how do you plan to allocate Department resources to enforce the Voting Rights Act and combat the proliferation of voter suppression laws since Shelby County?”

Rosenstein replied: “Well Congressman, it’s my understanding that the Commission you’re referring to is not in the Department of Justice and what I’d like to do is reassure you that within the Department of Justice, we have responsibly for protecting the voting rights of all Americans, and we will. When voting rights and our election system are strengthened, our democracy is strengthened. So the Department of Justice continues to carefully investigate any claims of voter suppression or of violation of the Voting Rights Act, and we’ll take appropriate actions to prevent and combat any such violations or voter suppression in all of its forms.”

Earlier this year, Kilmer led a letter with Representatives Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), and 75 other members of Congress in calling on President Trump to investigate voter suppression in the 2016 Presidential election as part of any investigation into voting irregularities.   

In a 2014 ruling, a federal court in Wisconsin found that over 300,000 registered voters in the state did not have the proper ID needed to vote because of a law signed by the Governor. In another ruling in 2014, a federal court found that over 600,000 registered voters in Texas at the time did not have the voter ID that the state newly required to vote.  North Carolina has eliminated same-day voter registration and cut off an entire week of early voting. In Florida, a law bars anyone with a felony from voting unless they go to the state capital and request clemency. A total of 14 states had restrictive new voting laws in place for the first time in a presidential election last year.