Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX-01) released the following statement on the 2015 Taxpayers’ Friend Award presented to him by the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), the nation’s leading nonpartisan advocate for tax reform and free enterprise:
“It is quite an honor to be recognized by the National Taxpayers Union as a friend of the everyday American taxpayer. Preserving economic liberty and advocating for principles of limiting government when it infringes on American freedom has always been a top priority of mine in Washington, D.C.
The hard-earned dollars that the American people make sacrifices in order to pay should never be squandered by bloated government waste, fraud and abuse. It continues to be my commitment to East Texans to continue to stand unwavering in the fight for legislation that improves the lives of Americans now and in the next generation as well.”
The NTU’s Taxpayers’ Friend Award is reserved for lawmakers that consistently vote to cut federal spending, taxes, debt, and regulation, ultimately trying to resolve economic issues now instead of pushing the problem down for future generations to deal with.
The NTU’s Scorecard calculations include every roll call vote with a fiscal or significant regulatory impact. Rep. Gohmert received an “A” for 2015.
Congressman Gohmert is the Chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and the Vice Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Prior to being elected to serve in Congress, he was elected to three terms as State District Judge in Smith County, Texas and was appointed by then Texas Governor Rick Perry to complete a term as Chief Justice of the 12th Court of Appeals of Texas.
U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert visited constituents in Harrison County, touring the American TieTek LLC's manufacturing facility on Wednesday.
American TieTek produces recycled and recyclable composite products including cross ties, the rectangular support for rails in railroad tracks, and railroad highway crossings.
"I'm impressed. I see a lot of potential here," Gohmert said, after touring the facility. "A strong and effective railroad is crucial for getting East Texas goods to market. To see firsthand the extraordinary array of products TieTek is creating and the extent to which they literally help keep the economy rolling down the track in East Texas is simply stunning."
Leading the tour was President of LT Resources Linda Thomas. LT Resources is a small business, which specializes in the supply of environmentally friendly composite products such as highway-rail grade crossings and railroad ties. LT Resources is American TieTek's exclusive distributor in the U.S., Canada and Mexico for sustainable composite railroad ties.
During his visit Gohmert asked Thomas how much more wear could Tie Tek's cross ties take compared to normal cross ties.
"(Our cross ties) have a life expectancy of 50 years," Thomas said, indicating the ties are not only durable and affordable but are also made from materials that would otherwise have been disposed of. "Wood ties get about five years. There's not a whole lot of price differential. It's a very good value."
Walking through the facility, Gohmert was able to witness the ground up plastics that are used to form some of TieTek's products.
"Everything we use is recycled," TieTek Operations Manager Chad Sutton said, adding their products were at the mercy of other industries, most notably oil and gas. "HDPE (high-density polyethylene) is the only plastic that we use and it's an oil by-product; so, oil prices go up, plastic prices go up, recycled material goes up. Everybody thinks plastic is plastic, but the only part (of a regular water bottle) we would use is the cap. It's low density, you can hear it crumble and cracking, you wouldn't want that in your tie."
Gohmert asked if there was a process to convert low-density plastic to a high-density plastic.
"It's a molecular structure," Sutton said. "The reason we do not mix and reuse it as a filler is because the high-density doesn't bond with the low density as well. It doesn't make a homogeneous mix. But if you get a continuous flow of (high-density material) it will bond much better."
Ramthun informed Gohmert TieTek and LT Resources Inc. in part owe their environmentally conscious efforts to the way the plastic is rendered into their products.
"We don't use any heat to melt the plastic - it's friction," Ramthun said. "The plastic creates its own static friction. All we do is … push down on it, put pressure on it and it melts itself."
"That's significant in our carbon footprint," TieTek General Council Joe Dorman said. "We're not taking electricity out of the power grid to run parts of the machinery. Other people are heating the plastic - our carbon imprint is actually positive."
Last week, the country celebrated 40 years of the Hyde Amendment being in effect. This vital piece of legislation outlaws taxpayer dollars from being used to fund elective abortions through Medicaid. It not only protects the rights of the innocent unborn, but also advances the cause of human freedom, extends the inalienable rights enshrined in our Declaration of Independence to all human beings and preserves religious liberty.
It was a great honor for me to have served with Henry Hyde in the last years of his noble, selfless service in the United States Congress. One of the most vocal and persistent opponents of abortion during his time in Congress, he wholeheartedly believed every unborn life is a gift from God and should be cherished as such.
Before the Hyde Amendment, the federal government spent about $50 million of taxpayer money annually between 1973 and 1977 to pay for approximately 300,000 abortions per year under Medicaid. Those tax dollars came from many who believed with all of their hearts that killing a child, even in the womb, was murder and did not want their hard earned money supporting such a practice. It is estimated that 2 million precious lives have been saved by this provision being added to the spending bill Congress must pass each year. In fact, 60,000 lives are preserved in the United States every year because of this effective measure.
As a father who has held a beautiful, prematurely born daughter in the palm of my hand and felt her tiny little hand grasp the end of my finger and literally hold on for dear life, it is heart breaking beyond words to think of anyone wanting to destroy such a child at the same age from conception.
The Hyde Amendment has always protected people of conscience. It was not until the Obama administration that elected leaders of the United States sought to compel people of faith to pay for things that violated their strongly held religious beliefs. Federal tax dollars forcibly collected from people whose faith teaches that abortion is murder should not be used to pay for abortions.
We have witnessed this administration turn a blind-eye and even defend the many heinous atrocities that were actually captured on video tape at Planned Parenthood. Their practices, as evidenced by undercover videos, are not only grotesque, but they shock the conscience of anyone whose sees a child as a gift of God.
Although it is my prayer that one day we will cut the abortion industry off from all sources of taxpayer funding, it is absolutely vital that this measure remains fully preserved.
This past month we had a hearing on a potential law that would prohibit anyone from killing a child who was the victim of an attempted abortion but was still born alive. The immorality of this administration was given a bright dose of sunlight as it opposed allowing a child to live even when born alive, if it was intended to be killed during an abortion. Just as President Obama opposed such a measure as a state senator, he opposed making it a law while he is President.
All children are endowed by their Creator with the unalienable right to life and should have the opportunity to grow. I am grateful to have served in Congress with Henry Hyde, and thrilled that he made his life count in the protection of so very many precious children who have been born and allowed to exercise their Creator-endowed right to live because of his work.
Congressman Gohmert is the Chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and the Vice Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Prior to being elected to serve in Congress, he was elected to three terms as State District Judge in Smith County.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX-01) released the following statement today in honor of the Hyde Amendment, the annual appropriations language that prohibits taxpayer funding of abortion, passed on September 30, 1976:
“Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, which outlawed taxpayer dollars from being used to fund abortion practices. This vital legislative provision not only protects the rights of the innocent unborn, but also advances the cause of human freedom, extends the inalienable rights enshrined in our Declaration of Independence to all human beings, and preserves religious liberty. It was a great honor for me to have served with Henry Hyde in the conclusive years of his noble, selfless service in Congress.”
“Unfortunately, protecting human life is no longer seen as a profound priority by many of today’s political leaders. We have witnessed this administration turn a blind-eye and even defend the many heinous atrocities unsurfaced at Planned Parenthood.”
“It is so very important that we take the time to understand, reflect and preserve this measure. It has already saved over 2 million precious lives. We cannot afford to lose such a crucial legislative safeguard to the right to life. Every life, whether born or unborn, is a gift from God and should be cherished as such.”
Congressman Gohmert is the Chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and the Vice Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Prior to being elected to serve in Congress, he was elected to three terms as State District Judge in Smith County, Texas and was appointed by then Texas Governor Rick Perry to complete a term as Chief Justice of the 12th Court of Appeals of Texas.Read More
“Over 38 years ago, Don Stephens had a vision of taking health care to places in the world filled with poverty and suffering, just as Jesus had done. Today, he is President and Founder of the humanitarian relief organization Mercy Ships, with international headquarters right in east Texas. He and all those who captured his vision have selflessly served along with Don and his wife, Deyon, to serve others in need. Through innovation and hard work, Mercy Ships’ large hospital ships have reached over 70 countries and have directly benefitted over 2.5 million people worldwide.”
“Having spent time on a Mercy Ship in West Africa, I can verify the incredible blessings this group brings. After the ship docks and starts seeing patients, the lame walk; the thousands blind from massive cataracts ultimately see; people with massive head and face tumors slowly choking off their air have them removed and get a new lease on life; women with intestinal or urinary fissures which caused them to be ostracized from family as unclean are rejoined with children they haven’t seen sometimes in decades; little children with no hope of a normal life, actually get that chance; and so much more.”
“Mercy Ships has become a beacon of light in some of the darkest parts of the world, and it represents the very best of America — compassion, service, and love for our neighbors. There are few who could merit this medal more than Don Stephens. I realize it is late in the Congress to file this, but it will give us a better chance to get it passed in the next Congress.”
Congressman Gohmert is the Chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and the Vice Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. Prior to being elected to serve in Congress, he was elected to three terms as State District Judge in Smith County, Texas and was appointed by then Texas Governor Rick Perry to complete a term as Chief Justice of the 12th Court of Appeals of Texas.
# # #
FBI Director James Comey is passionately defending the integrity of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email set-up, arguing that critics are unfair to suggest that agents were biased or succumbed to political pressure.
"You can call us wrong, but don’t call us weasels. We are not weasels," Comey declared Thursday at a House Judiciary Committee hearing. "We are honest people and....whether or not you agree with the result, this was done the way you want it to be done."
The normally-stoic FBI chief grew emotional and emphatic as he rejected claims from Republican lawmakers that the FBI was essentially in the tank for Clinton when it recommended that neither she nor any of her aides be prosecuted in connection with the presence of classified information on Clinton's private email server. He acknowledged he has "no patience" for such allegations.
"I knew there were going to be all kinds of rocks thrown, but this organization and the people who did this are honest, independent people. We do not carry water for one side or the other — that’s hard for people to see because so much of our country, we see things through sides. … We are not on anybody’s side," Comey said. "This was done exactly the way you would want it to do to be done."
It was at least the third appearance Comey made on Capitol Hill since the Clinton email probe was closed, but the FBI director's assurances did not seem to satisfy House Republicans, who said the decision not to prosecute Clinton or her aides smacked of favoritism.
"I would be in big trouble and I should be in big trouble if I did something like that," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). "There seems to be different strokes for different folks. I think there’s a heavy hand coming from someplace else."
Comey insisted there was no double standard, though he said there would be serious consequences — short of criminal prosecution — if FBI personnel handled classified information as Clinton and her aides did.
"Mary or Joe, if they did this in the FBI, would not be prosecuted," the FBI director said. "They’d be in big trouble, but they would not be prosecuted. That wouldn’t be fair."
Republicans suggested there were numerous potential targets of prosecution in the case and repeatedly questioned prosecutors' decisions to grant forms of immunity to at least five people in connection with the probe.
"You cleaned the slate before you even knew. … You gave immunity to people that you were going to need to make a case if a case was to be made," said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).
GOP lawmakers focused in particular on the Justice Department's decision to give a form of immunity to Clinton lawyers Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson to obtain computers containing emails related to the case.
"Laptops don't go to the Bureau of Prisons," Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said. "The immunity was not for the laptop, it was for Cheryl Mills."
The FBI director repeated an explanation he gave for the first time at a Senate hearing Wednesday, that the deal to get the laptops was wise because subpoenaing computers from an attorney would be complex and time consuming.
"Anytime you know you're subpoenaing a laptop from a lawyer that involved a lawyer's practice of law, you know you’re getting into a big megillah," Comey said.
However, the FBI director said prosecution wasn't even remotely appropriate given the facts.
"As painful as this is for people, this was not a close call," Comey said. "This was done by pros in the right way."
Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX-01) released the following statement regarding a letter he sent to IRS Commissioner Koskinen to voice his concern with the closure of the Longview Tax Assistance Center:
“It is deeply troubling that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has decided to close the doors of the Longview Tax Assistance Center. This location provides helpful services to the constituents in the First District of Texas and its absence will have a profound impact on the hardworking, taxpaying citizens in east Texas who need help.”
“Sadly, this closure by the IRS is not just a local issue. Offices all over the country are being shuttered as the IRS blames a cut to their appropriations. Though there were cuts after Congress learned of massive waste, fraud, and abuse, in prior years, the fact is that the IRS appropriation was increased by almost $290 million dollars this year. Within a few short months of getting this huge increase, the IRS chiefs chose to reward the highest ranking in the IRS with outrageous bonuses, while punishing taxpayers seeking assistance. This money was appropriated to improve taxpayer services, to hire more employees, strengthen cybersecurity, and expand the agency’s ability to address identity theft, not to begin again the coronation of the highest ranking in the IRS.
“Unfortunately, appropriations do not seem to make their way to the rank and file IRS employees, nor to assist taxpayers with the thousands of pages of IRS regulations and requirements. The rampant waste and abuse at the IRS needs to be called out, and answers provided for what appears to be wanton mismanagement.”
# # #
A congressional investigative subcommittee requested documents Monday detailing nearly two decades of intentional — and apparently unpunished — energy data manipulation at a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) lab.
Analysts at an Energy Resources Program lab in Lakewood, Colo. manipulated raw data during two separate periods, first from 1996 to 2008, then from 2008 to 2014, The Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported.
The lab was consequently closed on March 1, 2016, and affected clients were notified, but only months after each period was discovered.
The findings of internal and independent investigations “remain extremely troubling,” Rep. Louie Gohmert said in a letter to USGS officials. Gohmert, a Texas Republican, is chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
“In both of the briefings to the subcommittee, the USGS briefers could not assess the entirety of the damage attributable to the intentional, chronic scientific data manipulation with requisite specificity,” Gohmert said in the letter.
Gohmert made 30 requests asking for documents containing information ranging from the actions taken against employees responsible for the data manipulation, internal memos regarding the incidents, and copies of contracts for projects undertaken by the lab and an explanation of how they were affected.
USGS officials have refused to say who, if anyone, has been punished for the fraud.
“The first documented instance of scientific misconduct at the inorganic laboratory occurred between 1996 and 2008 when a laboratory worker improperly adjusted raw data and failed to retest samples as required,” the letter, which was addressed to agency Director Suzette Kimball, said.
The manipulation resulted in analyses that were “outside of acceptable standards by more than 20 percent” in “25 to 30 percent of the samples,” a 2015 Department of the Interior inspector general (IG) report found.
A scientific integrity review panel found in the second instance that a chemist “‘intentionally manipulated’ data derived from the inorganic laboratory’s mass spectrometer,” Gohmert said. “The panel also noted that the laboratory demonstrated a ‘chronic patter of scientific misconduct’ in its operations.”
A second IG report also found that both USGS employees and clients suspected problems with the laboratory for years.
“While the two cases share similar facts of repetitive, intentional manipulation by USGS personnel and weak quality management procedures, that allowed them to continue for years, the USGS describes these as separate events,” Gohmert wrote.
USGS officials told the IG they would contract an external audit of the Energy Resources Program, but that has yet to happen, TheDCNF previously revealed.Read More
Lekeisha Rockwell's grandfather died from Alzheimer's disease in 2008, and since that time, she's participated in his honor at the East Texas Walk to End Alzheimer's.
"We're very hopeful," Rockwell said Saturday at this year's walk. "We just want to do something because it could be hereditary in our family, and we see other people suffering. We just want to be a part of the movement."
People diagnosed with the disease, caretakers of those afflicted and supporters raising money and awareness for Alzheimer's research gathered early Saturday at Heritage Plaza for the annual event.
The walk supports the efforts of the Alzheimer's Association in researching the disease and providing support for the people and families affected by it. Participants traveled a three-mile journey around the eastern edge of downtown Longview before heading northeast to the Trinity School of Texas and back.
But before the walk, the crowd danced to warm-up music, honored the memories of those who died from the disease and made a promise to work together for a cure.
"This disease has already gone too far," emcee and Fox 51 news anchor Caroline Hamilton said. "We're here because we know that together we can go further by walking towards methods of treatment, prevention and ultimately a cure.
"Are you with me in this fight?" Hamilton asked.
U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert , speaking to the crowd, said he believed efforts such as Saturday's walk make a difference.
"We've made incredible strides in saving our bodies, and yet we know so little about how to save the mind," he said. "So thank you for what you're doing."
Walkers received their own Promise Garden flower at Saturday's event, the color of which signified their connection to the disease: blue for someone with Alzheimer's or dementia; purple for people who have lost someone to Alzheimer's; yellow for people taking care of someone with Alzheimer's; and orange for people who support efforts to rid the world of the disease.
Rockwell wore a purple shirt and carried a purple flower for her grandfather. Seeing him deal with the disease was hard, she said.
"It was a difficult process in dealing with him starting to lose his memory and being unable to care for himself," she said. "He was always very independent. So it was hard to see him lose himself and to become trapped in his own body."
Mike and Renee Hawkins carried yellow flowers for Mike's father, Robert. They have been caring for him for the past three years and spoke Saturday about the struggles caregivers face while helping those with Alzheimer's.
Mike Hawkins regularly takes his father fishing, with Robert sitting in the car and watching Mike fish. On the 45-minute drive home, the two share the memory of their latest fishing trip.
"He relives the time we spent on the lake for that 45 minutes, critiquing my fly-fishing abilities, whether we caught fish or didn't catch fish that day and when we get home. He always says, 'Well, I enjoyed it a lot,' " Hawkins said. "I know for those 45 minutes, he's made a memory, and maybe that's the most important job of a caregiver: to make those little memories count."Read More
Sen. Christopher Coons doesn’t get much sleep. Unlike most senators, the lawmaker from Delaware commutes to the capital via Amtrak, often returning home late at night to his wife, three kids, and two dogs.
On Wednesdays, though, the Democrat gets up extra early, at 5:30 a.m., so he can catch the train from Wilmington to Washington, arriving about 8:20. If he walks straight to the Capitol from the station, he can make the second half of the Senate prayer breakfast, a bipartisan hour of personal reflection and faith-sharing among senators.
“It’s the best hour of the week,” says Senator Coons, who is working on a book about the faith journeys of senators, “Profiles in Spirit,” with Elizabeth McCloskey of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics in St. Louis.
After a simple buffet of eggs, bacon, fruit, and other offerings, anywhere from 15 to 30 senators from both parties break spiritual bread at this nondenominational feast. They sing a hymn, share cares and concerns, pray for each other, and hear an inspirational talk from a current or former senator, often about a deeply personal experience. The speakers alternate weekly by party.
On those days when Coons is tempted to ignore the alarm clock, wondering why he should make the effort to listen to a senator who is his political antithesis, he reminds himself “how energizing and insightful those 30 minutes can be,” no matter the ideology of the speaker. Attending the breakfast is his one big piece of advice to incoming senators.
The prayer breakfast is one of the few venues on the Hill where members of both parties mix socially. In a typical week, about a quarter of the Senate shows up, including members of leadership from both parties, according to Coons. Participants drop politics at the door. They observe strict confidentiality. No staff. No journalists. It’s just the senators and the chamber’s chaplain, who leads the singing.
The Senate breakfast and its companion in the House are invisible to the public. Yet that is exactly what makes them so beneficial, say attendees. The confidentiality of the breakfasts allows lawmakers to get to know each other as human beings. They hear about each other’s personal struggles and joys, about concern for family members, friends, and staff. That builds trust and friendship. It can even lead to bipartisan legislation. One participant says that it’s the only time when a senator is speaking and others are really listening.
The meetings have their share of critics, who see them as too clubby, too secretive, and too much religious talk under the rotunda. But in a world where religion can divide people and nations, faith is helping to bridge the political chasm in Congress. While no one thinks the breakfasts will fundamentally change the tenor of one of the most divisive periods in Washington history, they are acting as a moderating influence – and helping to promote a sense of civility and understanding on the Hill.
As Coons puts it, “If you hold hands with someone in prayer in the morning, it’s tough for [that] someone to throw a punch at you in the afternoon.”
Prayer has always been a presence on Capitol Hill. In the 19th century, religious services were actually held in the House chamber because it was the biggest space in a town still under construction and lacking public buildings.
“The House was used for church services, but it wasn’t a church,” says Donald Ritchie, former Senate historian. “It was used for funerals, but it wasn’t a funeral parlor. It was a space that was available.”
Those practices ended in the 1840s, when enough churches had been built to accommodate lawmakers and their families. What still survives from the First Congress of 1789 to this day – and which many secularists object to – are two chaplains, one for the House and one for the Senate, underwritten by US taxpayers. The chaplains, or a guest, offer a prayer at the opening of each day that Congress is in session, and they minister to the members, their staffs, and their families.
When he was the Senate historian, Mr. Ritchie says he often had to answer queries from outraged citizens and visitors who viewed the chaplaincy and opening prayers as a violation of the separation of church and state. But Article 1 of the Constitution allows the chambers to “chuse” their officers, and the chaplains have always been officers, the historian says. As the current Senate chaplain, Barry Black, notes on his web page, the chamber honors the separation of church and state, “but not the separation of God and State.”
The Supreme Court agrees. In 1983, it held that a chaplaincy and opening prayers in legislatures do not violate the Constitution (Marsh v. Chambers). In 2014, it upheld opening prayers at municipal meetings, so long as the practice is not discriminatory. That ruling could soon get a test. Dan Barker, an atheist who founded the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is suing the House chaplain and speaker for barring him from offering a secular invocation in Congress. The group also objects to the prayer breakfasts, which are organized by the lawmakers.
The Senate and House prayer meetings are rooted in the days of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower and the first National Prayer Breakfast in 1953. The two congressional prayer groups host that annual breakfast, which is organized by the Fellowship Foundation, a Christian group. The big attraction is the main speaker, the US president, along with a guest speaker.
The forum offers a rare opportunity for Congress, the president, other American leaders, and emissaries from around the world to put politics aside and address the role of faith in public life.
It doesn’t always succeed at that. In 2013, for instance, guest speaker Benjamin Carson, at the time a little-known neurosurgeon, created a stir by criticizing President Obama’s health-care program and progressive tax policies as the president sat just two seats away. Many believe the breakfast launched Mr. Carson’s presidential bid last year.
The House and Senate prayer breakfasts, Bible study groups, and other faith-related meetings on the Hill are far more intimate affairs. But they’ve gained in importance – particularly in the Senate – as socializing across parties has declined, according to Ritchie. With only 100 members, the Senate is a very personal institution, where relationships are important. “Anything that enables them to understand each other better as people is an asset,” he says. “The prayer breakfast has become a greater asset as other events and opportunities have really fallen away.”
To be sure, lawmakers mix now at the Senate and House gyms, at breakfasts for military veterans, and at the annual congressional women’s softball game – to name a few neutral gatherings. But the days of golfing together and attending the recitals of each other’s children have vanished.
Lawmakers don’t live in Washington anymore. That would look bad – making them seem too cozy with the government (even though they are the government). And it would separate them too much from their constituents. Neither do they have much time to socialize during their short workweek in Washington.
“We’re all strangers here. None of us belongs here or lives here,” says Coons, a Presbyterian who holds a master’s degree in ethics from Yale Divinity School and who sometimes guest-preaches on Sundays at various churches in Delaware. The prayer breakfast, he says, “helps humanize this place.”
Both the House and Senate breakfasts strive to include speakers from diverse faiths, and Coons says the Senate breakfast reflects the “wide range of beliefs and backgrounds” of the chamber: liberal Democrats, conservative Republicans, Jews, Roman Catholics, Mormons, and mainline and evangelical Protestants.
People attend for a variety of reasons. The meetings offer a spiritual respite from an otherwise hectic life. They help lawmakers cope with demoralizing gridlock. They reveal something about their colleagues that they otherwise might never see. Then there’s the literal breaking of bread – uninterrupted visiting time over pastries and coffee.
“You’re off the grid,” says Sen. John Boozman (R) of Arkansas, who co-chairs the Senate breakfast along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D) of Virginia, a devout Catholic who is now Hillary Clinton’s running mate. Aside from the faith part of the hour, it’s “almost like a coffee club,” says Senator Boozman, who is a Southern Baptist. “Once a week, you’re sitting around with people who have become your friends.”
Indeed, this soft-spoken former football player for the Arkansas Razorbacks (his framed jersey hangs in his office) says he would never have really gotten to know his harmonica-playing co-chair were it not for the breakfast.
Yet that is one reason some lawmakers are critical of the meetings – they seem too much like a clannish club. “People think, oh it’s kind of secret, it’s kind of a cabal,” says Senator Kaine. “It’s only secretive because you want people to be free to be really candid about who they are.” He’s been on a mission to invite non-Christian senators to share their stories – as long as what’s said inside the meetings, stays inside the meetings.
One of the oddest political couples in Washington is Rep. Louie Gohmert (R) of Texas and Rep. Janice Hahn (D) of California. Choose your antonyms – fire and ice, North and South, oil and water – politically, they are each other’s polar opposite.
“I can’t listen to him on the floor,” says Congresswoman Hahn, seated on a blue leather sofa in her office. Representative Gohmert is famous to C-SPAN viewers for his long end-of-the-day speeches in the House chamber, excoriating the president. The Texan is a favorite among tea party groups. “I can’t watch him,” she reiterates.
Yet there they were in 2014, co-hosting the National Prayer Breakfast. The duo bantered, joked, took little digs at each other, and then turned serious when talking about the teachings of their common Christian faith. He’s a devout member of a Southern Baptist church; she’s Church of Christ.
They also pray together every Thursday morning at 8:00, when their small group of 20 or so Republicans and Democrats meets in a room just off the members’ large dining hall. Along the way, they’ve discovered commonalities: They each have three children – one with the same name; he was a judge and her brother’s a judge; she went to a Christian college in Texas, his home state.
“We’ve become friends, and people find this [particular friendship] the most strange,” says Hahn.
Her Democratic colleagues are surprised when she walks through the tunnels beneath the Capitol complex and Republicans greet her cheerily by name or ask about a family member. “They’re like, ‘How do you know these people?’ I’m like, ‘I’m in this weekly prayer breakfast.’ ” She also attends a small bipartisan, bicameral women’s Bible study group on Wednesday mornings.
Her staff fiercely protects these time slots from other scheduling intrusions. Both Hahn and Gohmert say that scheduling creep of various caucus meetings during the time traditionally reserved for the House prayer breakfast has led to a decline in attendance. Even in the more robust days when the group was twice the size it is now, it still represented only a fraction of the 435 House members.
Like the Senate prayer breakfast, the House version relies heavily on testimonials about a faith journey given by a member or guest. Participants ask for prayers, and prayers are given. Praying together over a marriage that’s dissolving, a child’s drug problem, or an ailing parent, or listening to a person’s faith story, “really does begin to break down barriers,” says Hahn. “You realize everyone’s the same.”
She says it’s not easy to worship with people who don’t share your political beliefs, especially if they advance policies that you consider “disgusting.” But that’s also strengthened her faith.
For many of her Democratic friends, however, that challenge holds no allure. “I’ve heard my colleagues say it’s very difficult to pray with [Republicans] in the morning and have them cut food stamps in the afternoon,” Hahn says. “We think taking care of the homeless, feeding the poor, creating jobs for people – that is our faith. They, I’m sure, feel the same way about us. It’s very hard for them to pray with us after we’ve talked about being pro-choice and funding Planned Parenthood.”
In a phone interview, Gohmert laments the rhetoric of the recent gun debate, and cites Democratic characterizations of Republicans as uncaring and indifferent over gun deaths. That gets “a little demoralizing,” the Texan admits.
But coming together in prayer is something else. “Janice and I have very different views ... but we work well with each other. We share Christian love,” he says. “There’s a bond with Janice that transcends political situations.”
She says much the same thing about him. And they both agree on this: The practical upshot of their friendship is to show others that such a relationship is possible.
Since the duo hosted the National Prayer Breakfast, “people have commented how amazing and how enjoyable it was to see two people that clearly liked each other, got along well, and were from different parties,” says Gohmert.
Hahn agrees. “We were Exhibit A.”
The question is whether – or how much – a faith-supported friendship can actually lead to legislative bipartisanship and problem solving. Kaine offers one answer from his time in state politics, as Virginia’s lieutenant governor and then governor.
For eight years, he participated in a Tuesday prayer group when the state legislature was in session. They called themselves the “dog patrol” because they met at 6:30 a.m.
“I really got to know my colleagues,” he said in a May interview, as bluegrass music streamed from a computer in his office. “Then there’d be a vote on something that would be important to me and someone would vote against it. The first couple of times I’m like, ‘Well, that makes me mad. I mean, I thought we were friends.’ ”
But then he thought about it more. Was he putting in that hour a week just to win three more votes on a bill? He realized that wasn’t the right motive. Neither was he going to fundamentally change another person’s politics, nor would someone fundamentally change his.
For him, the effect of the prayer breakfast in the US Senate is more subtle. The 15-minute testimonials from fellow lawmakers – which range from “churchy” and “doctrinal” to accounts of how a senator grew up or overcame a painful experience, or a member’s aspirations in life – reveal what motivates a person. That’s what helps with the bridge building.
“They know what motivates me and I know what motivates them.” As a result, he says, “I do think they’ll give me a fair shake on the merits.”
One of his Democratic colleagues, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, sees an even more direct connection between the relationships forged in the prayer breakfast and work in the halls of Congress. “I’ve gotten to know people through that prayer breakfast. That has led to some positive legislative developments,” Senator Klobuchar says.
She cites her work on international adoptions. It was through the breakfast, which she co-chaired in 2009 and 2010, that she learned Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma has a personal interest in adoption. His daughter, Molly, adopted a baby girl from an orphanage in Ethiopia.
Senator Inhofe ended up being one of two Republican cosponsors on a 2009 adoption bill by Klobuchar. It allows US parents who have already completed international adoptions to bring in older siblings who are above the legal adoption age. The bill became law in 2010.
Klobuchar also notes that “it tends to be the prayer-breakfast people” who prevent reductions in the US foreign aid budget – which is a favorite target for cutbacks. She describes a group of Republicans who attend the breakfast as “very faith-focused, and who like to go to Africa, and believe in helping people in other countries.... [They] have been key to continuing funding foreign aid.”
The Senate and House prayer breakfasts are hardly the only faith-based gatherings on the Hill, though they’re the best known. Lawmakers – and staff – also gather in other groups, often quite small and intimate.
Some people aren’t comfortable with the testimonial aspect of prayer breakfasts. Some aren’t used to the free-form Protestant way of praying – as opposed to set prayers, such as in the Catholic faith. Still others prefer more readings and study of Scripture.
But it’s not the form of worship, it’s the togetherness that helps bridge the divide in Congress, say lawmakers. Take the Bible study led by Inhofe on Thursday afternoons at noon. It includes three more Republicans and three Democrats, according to Sen. Tim Scott (R) of South Carolina.
He calls his study group a “classic example” of a faith-based way to establish trust between members of the two parties. “Once you establish trust, you typically work toward a friendship, and that friendship will lead toward legislative solutions that are bipartisan,” says Senator Scott, who does not attend the Senate prayer breakfast.
One example of that trust is Scott’s legislative effort to make body cameras more widely available to police. It grew out of last year’s fatal shooting of Walter Scott, an African-American who ran from a white police officer after being pulled over for a broken brake light in North Charleston, S.C. – the senator’s hometown. The black man was shot from behind while fleeing, as shown on a private video that surfaced.
The South Carolina senator, the only Republican African-American in the Senate, reached out to Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, the only black Democrat in the Senate, to work on the police camera legislation. Senator Booker is also in Inhofe’s Bible study group.
“The fact that we’re both attending the Bible study helps a lot,” Scott says, “and once I pushed the legislation forward I called his office and asked him to participate in it, and he said ‘yes.’ ” The legislation, however, is stalled for now.
Scott was recently at the nexus of another faith-based bipartisan push to improve race relations. In March, he and Rep. James Clyburn, a Democrat also from the Palmetto State, cohosted a congressional civil rights “pilgrimage” to South Carolina, organized by the Faith & Politics Institute. The institute is a nonprofit that brings members of Congress together in interfaith reflection and travel. It focuses on racial, religious, and political reconciliation.
The spring pilgrimage, which included senior congressional leadership from both parties and chambers, toured historical sites in Columbia, Orangeburg, and Charleston, and culminated in a Palm Sunday service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston. Last year, a young white man, Dylann Roof, killed nine black worshipers at the church who had welcomed him as a stranger. Much of the country was amazed at the unconditional forgiveness expressed by the church community toward the shooter after the massacre.
Judging from a documentary film made about the trip, the pilgrimage appeared to move the members of Congress. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) of Rhode Island said he had never heard of the 1968 “Orangeburg massacre,” in which state highway patrol officers shot at protesters on the South Carolina State University campus, a historically black college in Orangeburg. Three black men were killed and nearly 30 people were injured in the protests over a whites-only bowling alley. “It’s been moving, and also a little bit stunning” to learn about the massacre, the senator says in the film.
A younger member of the touring congressional group, Rep. Will Hurd (R) of Texas, expressed amazement at his close encounter with civil rights history. Congressman Hurd, a Republican, was born in San Antonio in 1977, nearly a decade after the crucible year of 1968. He’s the son of a mixed-race couple – his father is African-American. “It’s hard for me to understand what you all went through,” he says in the film. “That’s one of the things about these trips. [It] helps me understand that.”
Commenting at a panel discussion about the documentary after a screening at the Capitol in July, Scott said that the response at Emanuel church after the shooting has “significantly” affected his leadership style. “We all seem to be knuckleheads at times,” he said about Congress. “We need to get our act together ... and one of the ways that we do that is by paying attention to a family, a church family, who’s done so.”
Many Americans might come to the same conclusion about members of Congress – that they need to sit down and talk with each other more civilly. Prayer groups are one way they’re doing that.
2243 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Serving his fifth term in the United States House of Representatives, Congressman Louie Gohmert was first sworn in January 4, 2005. He proudly represents the First District of Texas which encompasses over 12 counties stretching nearly 120 miles down the state’s eastern border.
During these trying economic times, Rep. Gohmert is developing innovative solutions to jumpstart our economy and offering practical alternatives to the government’s bailout frenzy. His “Federal Income Tax Holiday” gained widespread national support from the grassroots level to national leaders, allowing taxpayers to decide how best to spend their hard-earned money. Louie has repeatedly called for an end to the socialization of our economy and decried the notion that Washington Bureaucrats know better than American taxpayers.
Louie serves on numerous House committees and subcommittees. He was recently named Vice Chair of the Judiciary subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security due to his extensive knowledge stemming from years in the court room.
Prior to being elected to serve in Congress, Louie was elected to three terms as District Judge in Smith County, Texas. During his tenure on the bench, he gained national and international attention for some of his innovative rulings. He was later appointed by Texas Governor Rick Perry to complete a term as Chief Justice of the 12th Court of Appeals.
Louie received his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University and later graduated from Baylor School of Law. He is also a veteran having served his country as Captain in the U.S. Army.
Today, he and his wife Kathy are the proud parents of three daughters. Their family attends Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, where Louie has served as a deacon and still teaches Sunday school.