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Public Statements

Partisan Acrimony

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. MILLER of North Carolina. Tomorrow will be a peculiar day in Washington and in American politics.

Republicans will denounce ideas that they enthusiastically supported until those ideas became associated somehow with the Obama administration. We expect to hear the ruling on the individual mandate across the street at the Supreme Court. The individual mandate was the centerpiece of Republican health care proposals until the Obama administration embraced it. Then the Republicans decided it was an outrageous infringement on personal liberty.

Here in this Chamber, we will debate Operation Fast and Furious. Most Democrats, including me, don't really even quite get what the supposed scandal is about, but have always thought that gun sales in large quantities to drug cartels was just generally a bad idea. For Republicans, on the other hand, the gun sales that were part of Operation Fast and Furious appear to be the only gun sales they've ever had a problem with. We will also have a 180-degree reversal on the issue of information that Congress can require as part of our oversight powers.

I was an Oversight Subcommittee chairman for 4 years. I believe congressional oversight is an important check on the executive branch of government, an established, important part of our Republic system of checks and balances. I support investigations that might make an administration of my own party look foolish or worse. I want people who have the power of government, of either party, to be accountable for their decisions. I want them to pause over how they will explain their decisions in public; and if they can't explain them, maybe they shouldn't do it. Congressional oversight exposes and deters abuses of power and garden-variety stupidity of which there is plenty in the public sector, in the private sector, and in all activities in which human beings are involved.

But the courts have also recognized that uninhibited, candid discussions improve decisions. Decisions are less likely to be stupid when they are carefully discussed, and the courts protect the privacy of some discussions within the executive branch to further the goal of fewer stupid decisions. The courts recognize a strong privilege for discussion between the President and his top advisers and a lesser privilege, a qualified privilege, for other debates within the executive branch.

When I was an Oversight Subcommittee chairman, I read many of the court decisions that discussed those privileges. Anyone who says that the law is clear, in that what is privileged and what is not is well defined, is misinformed or dishonest.

Five years ago, the Democratic majority disagreed with a Republican President over whether information we sought as part of our oversight powers was privileged. There was plenty of partisan acrimony at the time, but we found a simple solution. We filed a lawsuit to ask a judge to decide whether we were entitled to the testimony and the documents that we had subpoenaed. The Bush administration argued that the court shouldn't decide the case. The judge disagreed. The judge said that enforcing subpoenas and deciding what testimony or documents are privileged is something courts do every day. Judges expect lawyers to make careful, calm arguments based on the law and the facts; and they have little patience for tedious, dishonest talking points or personal attacks.

The debate here tomorrow will not even remotely resemble a legal argument in court. So we could go now to a court to clarify the law. I would support that. Many Democrats would support that--but no. Instead, House Republicans are going to force a vote to prosecute the Attorney General for the crime of taking a plausible position on uncertain legal issues. Instead of asking for a careful, calm decision by a judge on a legal issue, House Republicans are choosing an intemperate, acrimonious debate here in this Chamber over legal issues about which few Members have the first clue.

Why? The only possible reason is that House Republicans just like partisan acrimony.

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