Environment & Energy Report

Natural Resources GOP Decry ‘Partisan’ Forums During Pandemic

June 16, 2020, 4:05 PM

Republican members of the House Committee on Natural Resources called on Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) to stop holding “partisan” virtual forums on the panel’s website, which they say violates the rules.

The 19 Republicans, led by Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas and Ranking Member Rob Bishop of Utah, on Tuesday objected to the 12 roundtables that Grijalva and other committee Democrats have conducted since the coronavirus pandemic erupted in March.

The forums have focused on issues such as the coronavirus response in Indian country, environmental justice, and the administration’s fossil fuel agenda during the public health crisis.

“These meetings, which have taken place without Minority involvement, are strictly partisan in nature,” the Republicans said in the letter to Grijalva that also went to House leadership. “Minority members and staff have not been given the opportunity to participate in the planning or execution of these meetings, much less offer a witness or prepare members.”

Committee Democrats, including Grijalva and California Rep. Jared Huffman, who leads the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee, have repeatedly disputed Republicans’ characterization of the meetings. They say they’ve invited their GOP colleagues to participate, but that Republicans have refused.

“The pattern has been not to participate,” Grijalva said in a May 21 interview with Bloomberg Law. “I don’t need permission to do those [forums] and neither does the ranking member.”

“They have a counterpoint they want to do in a forum, then do it. That’s their prerogative. Nobody is restricting their ability to speak freely,” Grijalva said of Republicans.

A committee spokesman for Grijalva didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the Republicans’ letter.

Brewing Dispute

The letter is the latest salvo in a dispute between Natural Resources Democrats and Republicans about what the committee has been doing since mid-March, when the country started shutting down because of the pandemic.

The House in May voted to adopt temporary rules allowing remote proxy voting and committee business, including markups and hearings. Prior to that change, Natural Resources held “roundtables” or “forums” so the panel didn’t run afoul of the rules.

The National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Subcommittee was holding what was being advertised as a legislative hearing Tuesday afternoon on several lands bills.

Republicans Say Rule Violated

Previous use of the committee’s official website and other social media to promote and conduct the roundtables has been “misleading,” and portrays the meetings as official committee business, Republicans say.

“This portrayal clearly violates Committee Rule 2(c), which states: ‘Operation and use of any Committee internet broadcast system shall be fair, and nonpartisan, and in accordance with clause 4(b) of House Rule XI and all other applicable rules of the Committee and the House,’” the GOP lawmakers wrote.

Other House committees, such as Energy and Commerce, have held a mix of in-person and remote hearings that have included members from both parties.

“I don’t why we can’t hold hearings here in D.C. spread out,” Westerman said in a May 28 interview with Bloomberg Law. Natural Resources Democrats “want to hide behind their Zoom camera and do hearings and push them off as roundtables when using official resources,” he said.

Bishop in May said Republicans want details of how the remote hearing and markup process would work, with assurances that the minority would have real input on everything from witnesses to amendments.

Grijalva last month brushed off Republican criticism of the roundtables.

“I don’t anticipate a hands-across-the-water from my Republican colleagues on how we go forward on the committee,” he said. “I anticipate that anything to keep us from meeting will probably be the strategy, so we have to prepare for all those kinds of machinations, tricks and stalling tactics.”

—With assistance from Dean Scott.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kellie Lunney in Washington at klunney@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergindustry.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergindustry.com

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