Republicans Slam Democratic Forums as Misleading

June 17, 2020
In The News

Republican members of the House Natural Resources Committee yesterday accused Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) of violating the chamber's rules prohibiting the broadcast of partisan events, pointing to virtual roundtables organized by panel Democrats in recent weeks.

Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman (R) urged Grijalva to cease the virtual events, arguing in a letter to the Arizona lawmaker and House leadership that the livestreamed panels — the majority of which have been tied to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — are a misuse of House resources.

In the letter, Westerman said that Democrats are "deliberately misleading" the public by promoting the hearings on the panel's website and using the committee's official YouTube and Facebook accounts.

"It is not merely the partisanship or minority omission that we take issue with, but the way these meetings have been portrayed to the American public," Westerman wrote in a letter, co-signed by each of the panel's GOP members including ranking member Rob Bishop of Utah. "By utilizing the same methodology and distribution as official Committee business, these partisan meetings are portrayed as official Committee business."

A Democratic committee spokesman did not respond directly to the GOP's allegations, stating that Grijalva planned to write a letter back to Westerman.

But Grijalva has previously defended the majority's use of virtual roundtables, saying the sessions are necessary as House lawmakers have largely avoided Washington amid stay-at-home orders across the nation.

"There is nothing inappropriate or even unusual about the events we have held and will continue holding. Roundtable discussions, virtual or not, provide a critical platform for highlighting important issues," Grijalva said last month.

In an interview with E&E News, Westerman said the virtual events had caused confusion among his constituents, who mistook the events for official House hearings.

"The majority can and will do whatever they want to do, but it's not right for them to silence the voice of the minority," Westerman said. "Especially for them to use official resources to do that. All we want to do is to be heard."

Those complaints echo issues previously raised by Bishop as well as California Rep. Tom McClintock (R). McClintock refused to participate in a roundtable hosted by the Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee last month, calling the activity "extra-constitutional.”

In the letter to Grijalva, Westerman noted that Republicans have "some specific recommendations ... if you're inclined to work together."

Asked to detail those changes, Westerman said his focus remains on halting the use of "official broadcast tools" for the roundtables or forums.

He also dismissed previous suggestions from Grijalva that Republicans could hold their own virtual hearings, arguing that "separate hearings" for each party is inappropriate.

"It fits right in with what they're doing by not coming to D.C. to meet," Westerman said, referring to a House rules amendment that allows lawmakers to vote via proxy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Congress needs to come together in a meeting. They're just further making things partisan and divided," Westerman said. He later added: "Stop these virtual hearings and the partisanship that's apparent in them."