WNPR

After Congress's First Week, Rep. Larson Looks At What's To Come

Jan 9, 2017

For Connecticut's 1st District Congressman John Larson, the 115th Congress has gotten off to an inauspicious start.

First, a rule adopted and later pulled by the Republican leadership would have gutted the Office of Congressional Ethics. Then another rule imposed a fine on lawmakers who live-stream from the chamber, a response to last summer's sit in by House Democrats who were frustrated by the Republicans' refusal to allow a vote on gun control legislation. Now, the Republicans are pushing to repeal Obamacare.

Ray Hardman, WNPR: It seems like the last few days have really been a whirlwind for Congress and I want to start with the latest on what's happening with House Republicans and Obamacare.

Rep. John Larson: They've had seven years in which they have adamantly voted more than 60 times to repeal, indicated that they would replace and they are really leaving the American people in limbo. The fact of the matter is that they have no replacement, but are driven by their rhetoric and also the tweets of the president to repeal.

Do you get a sense that there are any Republicans -- not just Republican leadership -- that are concerned that this repeal could leave millions without health care?

Well, I'd start start with Senator [Rand] Paul from Kentucky who understands because his state was one of the states that aggressively sought it -- even though if he were to query the people there they'd say, "Well we don't have Obamacare we have Kentucky insurance." And there are many citizens who believe, "Yeah, I know this is what they said during the campaign, but surely they're not going to take away my insurance."

I think there's a great connect between the political rhetoric and then the reality of what this means to the vast number of Americans who are being impacted by this.

Congressman, the House Republican conference voted to move the Office of Congressional Ethics under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee -- they later withdrew that rule. Maybe you can give us some clarification on what happened there -- a lot of people say it was a Trump tweet that changed their minds. 

Well, it probably had some play in it. But clearly too when you're running on draining the swamp and making sure that ethical procedures are followed, for the first act you do is to throw out an independent body that oversees the Congress, is not a wise move. And I think they were wise however to pull that after I think they received such pushback from outside sources.

One of the rules that did make it into this package of rule changes for the House includes a fine for any member who takes a photo or video on the House floor. This is an apparent reaction to a sit in last summer by House Democrats for Congress's refusal to take up any gun control legislation. You were one of the organizers of that sit in. I just want to get your reaction to that particular rule.

Well, this of course was outrageous. It was a gag order. So at the heart of the protest is the fact that we are denied a vote -- that constituencies are denied a vote on commonsense pieces of legislation. Now their solution to that is to fine you and directly deduct that from your salary as a matter of intimidation from getting someone to speak on the floor. That is in direct violation of Article 1 Section 6 of the Constitution and has been substantiated by constitutional authorities. I think it will ultimately be challenged.

Will this rule dissuade you and Congressman Lewis and House Democrats from doing another sit in?

No, and I think we'll be joined by the public and increasingly there's going to be an effort mounted I think by the ACLU and other people who recognize that this is a direct abridgement of speech and I think much like the way they started with trying to do away with an independent ethics review this will ultimately be treated in the same manner.

Let me say, that members of the Freedom Caucus -- and Mark Meadows specifically and others -- spoke out against this and later confided that a lot of them felt that this was targeted at their freedom of speech and their ability to protest with their leadership is is doing. So I believe that this will be addressed. Certainly it will not deter us. If anything it's united our caucus further in our determination to get common sense legislation to the floor and voted on.

Well, Congressman Larson thanks so much for taking time this afternoon.

Well, my pleasure and I look forward to chatting with you again.