The top two Democrats in the House of Representatives quietly voted last week against defending the right of Congress to pass laws. The sanctity of democracy and Congress itself has been a major political talking point for Democrat leaders in recent years. But the vote showed the difficulty Democrat Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and other top Democrats have standing up to the intense pressure they face from left-wing billionaires and the environmental activist groups they run.
The vote dealt with litigation from left-wing environmental groups trying to stop provisions in the recently passed Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), which raised the debt limit. That bill, signed into law on June 5, 2023, contained provisions to ensure the completion of a 303-mile pipeline from natural gas fields in West Virginia to an existing pipeline in Southwest Virginia. Left-wing environmental groups funded by major Democrat donors and a foreign oligarch who finances much of the left’s “dark money” behemoth have fought the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline for years. While most of the pipeline has been constructed, the FRA directed expedited approval of the remaining permits, removal from any court the jurisdiction to review agency actions, and directing the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to oversee any claims challenging the pipeline.
Both Jeffries and Democrat Whip Katherine Clark voted for the legislation. Jeffries publicly stated he did so “without hesitation, reservation, or trepidation.” President Biden, the top Democrat in the country, signed it into law. His Department of Justice began implementing the law. But when the time came to defend both that legislation and the very right of Congress to pass laws, Jeffries and Clark refused.
The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), comprising the Speaker of the House and the leader and whip of each party, “speaks for, and articulates the institutional position of, the House in all litigation matters,” according to House rules. While it has at times been used in a partisan matter, most notably and aggressively under former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, it also routinely sees unanimous votes on key issues about the rights and powers of Congress.
Earlier this year, for example, all five members voted to intervene in an ongoing legal battle between the Department of Justice and Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn., over the department’s aggressive efforts to access the conservative member’s phone.
The vote last week was divided on party lines, even though it dealt with an issue that the BLAG had previously worked on twice before and involved a law that both Democrat members had voted for only weeks prior.
Blocking an energy pipeline in the region has been a top priority of left-wing activist groups for years. They had successfully asked the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to block and delay permits and approvals for the pipeline.
Once the debt limit bill passed, the Department of Justice moved to dismiss those cases. It argued that the bill had mooted the controversy by explicitly ratifying and approving all necessary permits and by changing the law governing the pipeline in such a way that it rendered meritless the claims put forth by the environmentalist groups.
The Wilderness Society and an array of other left-wing environmentalist groups opposed what the DOJ was doing and asked the Fourth Circuit to issue a stay. Left-wing Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss “has been a leading source of difficult-to-trace money to groups associated with Democrats,” according to an analysis from The New York Times. He serves on the board of governors of the Wilderness Society. That group argued the bill violated the separation of powers and that the Fourth Circuit remained the right court to hear their objections to the previous legislation. Without explaining its reasoning, a trio of judges on the Fourth Circuit that had previously ruled in favor of the environmental groups’ petitions issued a stay.
The pipeline company filed an emergency application at the Supreme Court to vacate the stays and have the Fourth Circuit dismiss the claims so the pipeline could be completed as directed by June’s legislation.
That’s why the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group voted on an amicus brief backing Congress’ own legislation and the right of Congress to pass legislation.
The amicus brief argues that the Fourth Circuit stays are at odds with Congress’s declaration that “the timely completion” of the pipeline “is required in the national interest.” It also notes that the House has twice prior defended the power of Congress to enact changes in law that affect the outcome of pending court cases, and the court upheld the constitutionality of doing so both times. Finally, it argues that the stays are erroneous; that nothing precludes Congress from changing laws simply because they end legal challenges to agency actions.
Jeffries and Clark are refusing to defend Congress, but their vote aligns them with the billionaire environmentalists. It does put them at odds with at least one Democrat lawmaker and the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the country’s “most progressive” union of construction workers.
“The jobs at stake are the exact type of jobs – blue collar jobs for skilled workers that provide good wages, health coverage, retirement security, and funding for training of current workers and new entrants to the industry – that are so badly needed in today’s economy,” the union wrote in its brief.
When Clark whipped for the bill she now refuses to defend, she praised Biden for “standing with our veterans, seniors, and working families” during the negotiations.
Neither Jeffries nor Clark responded to The Federalist’s request for comment.
Tristan Justice contributed to this reporting.