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The House has approved a bill to fight domestic terrorism

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he'll schedule a procedural vote next week on a bill aimed at addressing domestic terrorism. It's called the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022. The House passed it just days after the racist attack in Buffalo, N.Y., an attack President Biden has referred to as an act of domestic terrorism. But only one House Republican voted for it. Shortly after the vote, I spoke with House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer.

So let's start with why you think the country needs this law. Because I think of the Patriot Act passed over 20 years ago, and it led to the chipping away of constitutional liberties, government overreach, the racial and religious profiling of Arab and Muslim communities. Could this have the potential to do the same thing?

STENY HOYER: Well, I certainly hope not. But as you may recall, in this procedure, we had this bill and we were about to bring it to the floor. And there were a number of questions raised that it was not defined sufficiently, that the ACLU, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and a number of other organizations had concerns that its targeting would be not what was intended but in a broader way so that it would put at risk constitutional First Amendment rights. We took it back to the drawing boards, and we modified the language so to be sure that it was focused on domestic terrorism. But in any event, we think that we have ensured that this language will not adversely affect in the way that you just described.

FADEL: But the Republicans do sort of voice those grievances, that this would pin a domestic terrorism label on people, for example, parents who criticize their school boards.

HOYER: I think there's a clear distinction between bringing your grievances, making your points made, but you cross the line when you threaten people with death, as the insurrectionists of January 6 did, saying that they wanted to kill the vice president of the United States or they wanted to kill the speaker of the House of Representatives. That clearly is not the kind of political debate that our constitutional framers had in mind. And we think this bill makes that distinction and makes it properly.

FADEL: And how does that apply to white supremacism and white supremacist groups?

HOYER: The distinction is, is it a First Amendment - they articulated a particular position. That's one thing. But when they articulate a particular position and then plan or advocate and perpetrate acts of violence in furtherance of that ideology, whether it's a hate ideology, a bigoted ideology, a replacement ideology, if that leads to action and proposal for action and plans for action, then that crosses the line legally. And from a security standpoint, we need to have agencies that can deal with that before, as we saw in Buffalo, 10 people being killed or we've seen in too many places.

FADEL: What happens to this? I mean, will it even pass the Senate? Is there any hope for it?

HOYER: I don't know whether it'll pass the Senate. Unfortunately, the Senate is too frequently a place that good bills supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans go to die. And that's because of the filibuster and the need to pass a bill with 60 votes, not 50 votes. And I've urged to the Senate to eliminate the filibuster so that the majority could rule. Otherwise the people's will can be subverted by a minority.

FADEL: So does this bill then just become politics? I mean, we're coming up on the midterms. Is this an attempt by the Democrats to get something, anything done? I mean, you got a big infrastructure package passed but nothing on climate change, nothing on gun control. The child care tax credit wasn't extended. Is it an attempt to get something to stick?

HOYER: Certainly, we want to pass this. We want to see it become law because we think it's good policy and it's protection of people from the results of hate and prejudice and bigotry. Sadly, 40% of the American people are like 75% of the Senate. So the Senate is, in many ways, not a representative body of the majority of Americans. Having said that, we're going to keep trying to pass legislation that we think the American people thinks is appropriate. And I can't believe that the majority of American people do not believe that we are not - ought not to be trying to prevent hate groups engendering and inciting the kind of activity that we saw in Buffalo, N.Y., and that we've seen so many places around this country resulting in the deaths of many, many, many people.

FADEL: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, thank you so much for your time.

HOYER: You bet. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.