Congressman José E. Serrano

Representing the 15th District of New York

Opening Statement of Chairman José E. Serrano at CJS Hearing on the Department of Commerce

Apr 3, 2019
Press Release

The subcommittee will come to order.

We have an unusual situation today.  We invited the Secretary of Commerce to come and testify before us this afternoon about his agency Department’s budget request, as secretaries of Commerce have done consistently for many decades.  After agreeing, he then communicated to us via others at the Department that he was backing out, and wanted to send another Department officialhis deputy in his place.  But Secretary Ross had no schedule conflicts to speak of, and no other excuse – other than the fact he simply didn’t want to appear before this subcommittee and be held personally accountable.

This is the second time this subcommittee has experienced this problem during the Trump Administration.  The first was two years ago, when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions became spooked by the Russia investigation.    The second is today.

I think that the Secretary’s actions today show a stunning disrespect for the mechanisms of our democracy, and the Article One powers of the Congress. As if we needed any reminding that the President and his staff couldn’t care less about our institutions of democracy, we see a clear manifestation of that problem this afternoon. 

I understand that the Deputy Secretary, Karen Dunn Kelley, has offered to testify.  That WILL NOT BE HAPPENING.  This Subcommittee invited Secretary Ross to testify, and he is the only one who will be allowed to testify at this hearing.  Neither Tthe Deputy Secretary nor any other department officials will not be recognized to give a statement or to answer questions.

I strongly believe in transparency and accountability.  And that starts at the top of every government agency- including the Commerce Department.  The Secretary has a lot of questions that he should answer directly. 

This is particularly true with regard to the Census, where at this hearing last year, the Secretary appeared to lie in response to questions from myself and Congresswoman Meng regarding the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census form.

It is also true for the overall Commerce Department budget, which shows a shocking disregard for the American people.  The Commerce Department budget proposes eliminating programs that specifically help rural and underserved communities- like the Economic Development Administration, and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program.  It undermines community safety and climate change research by proposing an 18 percent cut to NOAA, including the elimination of several dozen important grant, research, and educational programs.  The budget once again underfunds the Census Bureau, even for the critical census-taking year of 2020. It proposes to eliminate funding for minority business development centers.  The Secretary should be here to justify these harmful proposals rather than ducking our questions. 

Congress, through this Committee, controls the power of the purse, as specified in Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution.  Perhaps the Secretary has forgotten thatis, and needs some  a reminder.   

At this time, I will recognize Members of this Subcommittee for any statements that they may want to make, starting with the Ranking Member, Mr. Aderholt.

WHEN Members are finished speaking:                                                     

Until then, without objection this subcommittee will stand in recess, subject to the call of the Chair. 

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Congressman José E. Serrano has represented The Bronx in Congress since 1990.