Providing for Consideration of H.R. Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019

Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 3, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

I appreciate my friend from Massachusetts yielding me the customary 30 minutes.

Mr. Speaker, this may very well be the last rule I do down here on the floor of the House, and I was sad when Susan was reading from the rule because I have gotten to do some humdingers. We have done some serious legislating in the 10 years I have been in Congress. We have done some serious rulemaking in the 2 years Mr. McGovern has been chairman of the Rules Committee.

Mr. Speaker, you can always tell when we have been burning the midnight oil in the Rules Committee because the rule will take a good 7, 8, or 9 minutes to read here on the floor of the House. Why? Because getting good legislation done is a complicated, difficult thing to do. It involves a lot of give and take; it involves a lot of voices at the table; and it involves a lot of time in the Rules Committee to make that happen.

Mr. Speaker, we are down here today surrounded by Purell wipes, hand sanitizer, and social distancing, and we are not here to talk about that COVID package that my friend from Massachusetts referenced. We are here to, sadly, participate in what has become a theme in this Congress, and that is folks will have the germ of a wonderful idea on the Democratic side of the aisle. They will nurture that idea in their Democratic Caucus, and they will put together all the parts of that idea they believe need to come together in their Democratic Caucus. Then, we will come to the House floor, and we will pass that idea with Democratic votes. Then, we will be vexed, truly vexed, about why that idea goes to the United States Senate and dies.

I say truly vexed, Mr. Speaker. I have been here a long time. We have seen this happen. Leadership of both parties knows, when you put together an idea all by yourself, when you don't take the time to get all the voices in the room together, and when you don't take the time to build the strategic partnerships, then good ideas do die. Sometimes it is on the way to the other Chamber; sometimes it is in conference; and sometimes it is on the President's desk.

We had numerous amendments offered to this bill. None but the manager's amendment was made in order. We had Republican advocates for many of the provisions in this bill speak of the opportunity to do something together but that those opportunities were missed along the road in the Judiciary Committee.

I take my friend from Massachusetts' comments to heart when he is so enthusiastic by a conversation that our Speaker has had with the majority leader in the Senate. I, too, am excited about that because talking about what we have done all by ourselves in a partisan way doesn't lead to positive outcomes for my constituency. Our leadership in the Democratic-led House getting together with the leadership in the Senate, the Republican-led Senate, that kind of bipartisan partnership does lead to good outcomes for our constituents back home. I am hopeful that we will be able to see that come to fruition.

Today, however, we do not have the COVID package. We have the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. Mr. Speaker, I have long said that we needed to have a bill like this on the floor of the House. My friend from Massachusetts tells me we have debated more marijuana amendments in the past 2 years than we have in the past 20 years. I take him at his word that that is true. I don't think this is a topic that we have not been spending enough time on. I think it is a topic that has received more than its fair share of attention in this Congress.

The racial equities that my friend talks about deserve better than to be part of a partisan package that goes nowhere. The generational disparities that my friend from Massachusetts talks about deserve better than to be part of a package that has been cobbled together for the floor rather than built together for the President's desk.

I agree with absolutely every heartfelt comment my friend from Massachusetts shared, from the time being now, to the opportunities that have been wasted, to the inability to have these discussions when we need to and the ability that we have had recently to have them more.

So to have all of that truth there to be wasted on a December 3 package that will not be moving anywhere, I would say to my friend, I believe hurts me as much as I know it will hurt him. He does not go through these efforts to simply be a part of the motion; he goes through these efforts because he believes in the goal. I regret that this appears to be another messaging exercise in front of us today.

NDAA, Mr. Speaker, National Defense Authorization Act, a bill that we have come together as Republicans and Democrats to speak with one voice on for over 60 years, still hangs out there, needs to be done by this year; funding of the Federal Government, not just because of all the healthcare items, but because of those more mundane items, from transportation to education to our veterans--all of those dollars need to be provided.

Reauthorization of program after program, like the United States Coast Guard, for example, we have priority after priority after priority that this House still has left to accomplish, not in a partisan way, but in a unified way that can move through the United States Senate and on to the President's desk. I know we are going to get to these priorities, but it is not without some frustration that I find myself on the floor here again talking about bills that will not be on their way to the President's desk.

I find myself talking in a disappointed tone with my friend from Massachusetts about opportunities that we have to make a difference for families, but opportunities that are going to be missed because of the way we have crafted it.

Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to defeat this rule and give us a chance to do better. In the absence of that, I also will have an opportunity to defeat the previous question and bring up some of those COVID packages that really can make a difference for our friends back home.


Mr. WOODALL. Mr. Speaker, it is now my pleasure to yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from Oklahoma (Mr. Cole), one of our former colleagues on the House Budget Committee, currently the leader of the Republican side of the House Committee on Rules.

Mr. WOODALL. Mr. Speaker, if we defeat the previous question, I will amend the rule to allow for consideration of a bill that will assist our struggling small businesses as we enter the winter months and folks are anticipating increased risks of having to shut their doors.

Mr. Speaker, I think about how many times the gentleman from Ohio has been down here to do exactly what he has just done, which is to say: I have a bill that is ready to go, a bill that I know will get bipartisan support here on the floor of the House, a bill my friends in the Senate will be anxious to move, and a bill that I know the President will put his signature on.

I appreciate his efforts in that, and I know it is not a Johnny-come- lately commitment to these struggling businesses. I remember when we were sitting down trying to work out that very first package in the spring, and the very productive role that the gentleman from Ohio played in bringing people together to get that done.

You remember that, Mr. Speaker.

We didn't have a bunch of debates on the floor of the House, a bunch of previous questions to defeat, a bunch of amendments designed to confuse or distract. No. We worked it all out together, both sides. Both sides, politically here in the House, both sides bicamerally here in the Congress, both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.


Because we all felt that sense of urgency to get something done, and we did it.

Mr. Speaker, I tell constituents back home that the thing most freshmen are going to learn in the first 6 months that they didn't know when they got here is how hardworking and conscientious all of their colleagues turn out to be. All you see are these faces on FOX News or MSNBC fussing with one another, but the truth is that behind the scenes it is a very powerful orchestra of men and women trying to get the people's business done.

Mr. Speaker, I want to say to my friend from Massachusetts, first and probably most importantly, I wish he was not chairman of the Rules Committee. I wish a Republican was chairman of the Rules Committee because the American people felt in their wisdom that Republicans should be running this institution. There are a lot of reasons why it didn't happen. I am not here to place blame on that today.

But I will say to the gentleman that if it cannot be a Republican who leads the Rules Committee, how pleased I am that the gentleman has led the Rules Committee, because his love for this institution far transcends whatever the political passions of the day are.

The Rules Committee has had to do a lot of difficult decisionmaking in this Congress, Mr. Speaker. I wish we did not have proxy voting in this institution today. We do. That is the product of a Rules Committee effort. In many cases, the effort of the wisdom of Solomon trying to figure out how to protect an institution and all of its practices, where we are just caretakers of this institution, going to pass it on to the next generation, while we have had to grapple with some challenges that we never anticipated grappling with, and hopefully will never have to grapple with again.

Mr. Speaker, the gentleman from Massachusetts has brought an incredible amount of not just leadership, but a great amount of love for this institution, and for the members of his committee. And I don't want to embarrass the gentleman by pointing out some of these circumstances, but I can go through a list of times this year where the gentleman from Massachusetts stood not on behalf of the Democratic Caucus, but on behalf of the Rules Committee against some other undercurrents in the United States Congress, to stand up on behalf of his 13 members and the work that we have to get done there together. That's never an easy thing to do, and I want to tell the gentleman how much I appreciate and notice those efforts.

Mr. Speaker, to do the really big things that we all know need to get done, not the least of which are on the committee you and I serve on, the Budget Committee, it takes strong men and women, men and women of conviction, but also men and women of faith, not just faith in their Lord, but faith in this institution that we can bring out the very best in one another as opposed to bringing out the very worst.

Far too often we have bills like the one before us today that could be bills that we were talking about with one voice.

When is the right time to decide that edible marijuana for our children should be banned at the Federal level? Is it after 50 States have grappled with these decisions? Is it before?

Well, we have made that decision in terms of alcohol. We have made that decision in terms of tobacco. It seems like the easy time to make that would be now. But we have not made that decision in the underlying bill. We have not made those amendments in order.

Mr. Speaker, I said at the beginning, and I will say here at the end: I am glad we are taking up this legislation.

It offends me, as one who loves the law, that we ask Federal law enforcement officers to enforce one set of rules while the State and local law enforcement officers may be enforcing a completely different set of rules. It offends me that we would put Federal law enforcement officers in harm's way for an industry that, as my friend from Massachusetts pointed out, is a multibillion-dollar cash cow legalized by State jurisdictions across the country.

I am troubled by having two sets of laws in this country. Laws we choose to follow and laws we choose not to follow. This is the institution to solve that. Having this discussion for the first time is a step in the right direction. Having this conversation end today, because it is a partisan package that is not well thought through serves none of us.

Mr. Speaker, I would again encourage my colleagues to defeat the rule so we don't go down that road.

Mr. Speaker, my friend from Massachusetts mentioned Janet Rossi on my team. I have Nick Scoufaras on my team, sitting beside me. We all are surrounded by great people that we get to work with day in and day out.

When you go to work for a member on the Rules Committee, that means you will work early, and you will work late, and you can work often. It is an amazing opportunity that we have to serve in this institution. It is also an amazing opportunity that folks that we get to surround ourselves with have to serve in this institution.

There is no more humbling space than having someone who can do anything they want to with his or her life say, Rob, I will join you; I will sit here with you; we will work side by side and we will accomplish things together.

While I appreciate the very heartfelt comments from my friend from Massachusetts and my friend from Oklahoma, one thing that occurs to me on my way out the door is how much less one would be able to do without all the greatness that folks are surrounded by.

Mr. Speaker, I get to thank Nick because he is here. I can thank Janet because she is here. But I would just say to each of my colleagues who are here, we are all so lucky folks are surrounding us in order to help us all lift this great Nation up. We often get sucked into the drumbeat of whatever the activity of the day is if you have not had an opportunity to recognize the greatness of those staffers around you, and occasionally even the Members around you, even those who sit on the other side of the aisle.

Mr. Speaker, there is a lot to be concerned about in America today, but a lot of opportunities for optimism. And many of those opportunities sit here, and sit here, and sit there, and sit here. I am grateful to be a part of that.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask my colleagues to defeat the previous question so that we can bring the Chabot legislation to the floor. If we can't defeat the previous question, defeat the rule so that we can go back and make sure all voices are heard.