Rep. LaHood talks Biden impeachment, an immigration deal, and why the farm bill was backburnered
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood voted to move ahead with an investigation of potential impeachable offenses by President Biden. All House Republicans did so.
LaHood, who represents parts of Bloomington-Normal, told WGLT it's important to make the distinction that it is not impeachment, it is an inquiry. Most of the allegations so far center on the president's son, Hunter Biden. There have been no allegations that President Biden benefitted financially or directly from anything Hunter Biden may have done.
"I maintain an open mind on this, following the facts and evidence. That's my individual judgment and I think how we ought to direct this. And I think the inquiry will get us to those facts and evidence. Have I seen a smoking gun yet that ties it to the president? I have not," said LaHood.
LaHood said several things factored into his vote in favor of the inquiry. Among them were accounts from two whistleblowers who spoke under oath to the Ways and Means Committee and said the Justice Department treated Hunter Biden differently.
“That to me was alarming when you have whistleblowers, one that was a Democrat that came forward,” said LaHood.
A judge also made the unusual decision to reject a plea agreement for Hunter Biden, said LaHood, adding a nine-count tax fraud indictment against Hunter Biden in California contributed to his vote.
Roth IRA legislation
There's a bipartisan effort in Congress to expand incentives to save for retirement. Progressive Democrat Linda Sanchez of California and the conservative Republican LaHood said they have a bill to allow people to move money from Roth Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) to some 401K-style Roth accounts offered by employers.
A Roth account allows owners to pay income tax on the money before they invest and then get the investment growth without taxation. Traditional IRAs tax retiree withdrawals of money from an IRA at a current income bracket rather than the higher tax bracket people were at during their peak earning years.
LaHood said there are administrative hurdles to clear when someone changes jobs and the Roth 401 remains with the previous employer.
"To transfer money from your Roth 401k retirement to some of these other funds has been problematic and costs taxpayers. "You have to pay some fees on that. We waive a number of those fees to allow a seamless transition," said LaHood, adding he’s not aware of any significant opposition to the measure at this point.
“We worked with a lot of the stakeholders on this,” said LaHood.
Nearly 7 million people have Roth IRAs.
There's a logjam of issues in Congress that LaHood said could result in a deal on immigration reform. He thinks there could be real bipartisan support for a measure that offers more money in widely different areas like aid to Ukraine and border reform to address the influx of migrants.
"I think the framework could be put in place when we get back in January to tie border funding to Ukraine funding along with funding for Israel and funding for Taiwan," said LaHood.
Republicans tend to prioritize the border issue. Democrats promote funding for Ukraine.
“I'm open minded on supporting Ukraine. We can't give them a blank check. But I also I don't want Putin to win. Putin is a thug and a dictator. And I want to support freedom and democracy. That is Ukraine. But I'm not going to do that unless we fix our southern border. And I think that opinion is shared by many Republicans and Democrats,” said LaHood.
Aid packages for Israel and Taiwan also have different partisan constituencies in Congress.
LaHood said efforts to renew a trillion-dollar farm bill are unfortunately on the back burner. Since Congress moved to extend farm programs through next September, LaHood said several other issues have taken precedence. He said it's even possible the farm bill will stall out as election season gets under way and lawmakers lose appetite for sustained negotiations.
"I hope not, but I think if it's not done by the end of the second quarter, it won't get done in 2024," said LaHood.
Republicans say a farm bill must include increases in prices for commodity support programs. Freeing the money to do that would require cuts in other areas like the nutrition or conservation programs that Democrats favor.
LaHood said the farm bill will have to compete with government funding measures,including supplemental aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, and a package deal on immigration at the southern border.
LaHood said he agrees with the Biden administration decision to block a resolution critical of Israel's conduct of its war against Hamas in Gaza.
“Israel is our number one ally in the Middle East. They are the only democracy. We have supported them. We need to allow them to do everything they can to dismantle Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization. It hurts its own people,” said LaHood.
Some in the U.S. have been critical of the rising number of civilian casualties inflicted by the Israeli military. In talking with WGLT, LaHood is not.
"Is that sad? Yes, it is. But I blame that on Hamas. They're the one that put their own people in that jeopardy. They're the ones that are in hospitals in Gaza, that are hiding behind the veneer of a hospital, and they are terrorists," said LaHood.
The U.S. should continue to support Israel, he said, even though he favors holding up additional funding for Israel and Ukraine until Congress reaches a deal on the issue of migrants at the border.
Congress failed to reauthorize a surveillance program before its end-of-the-year expiration date. But LaHood said he thinks it eventually will succeed.
“We did reauthorize a continuance of the current 702 surveillance law until April 19. But I envision between now and then we'll pass our reform bill,” said LaHood.
LaHood chairs the bipartisan FISA 702 working group in charge of evaluating a part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA] and suggesting potential changes. FISA 702 allows court-approved use of electronic surveillance that can include communications by some Americans overseas.
Critics have said the FBI has overused and abused provisions of the law, lied about it, and that it was used to spark a politically motivated investigation.
LaHood supports a bipartisan bill in the House Intelligence Committee that curbs FBI authority to use foreign intelligence and adds transparency to the FISA court that rules on surveillance requests.
“We now will have transcripts we'll have an independent lawyer appointed when any American is targeted. We reduced the query opportunities for the FBI. These are significant reforms that put us in the best place possible protect civil liberties and privacy,” said LaHood.
He said the biggest distinction between that measure and another proposal before the judiciary committee is a requirement to get a warrant instead of a simpler court approval procedure.
“The intelligence committee bill that I support, is supported by Mike Pompeo (former Secretary of State), Robert O'Brien, who is President Trump's National Security Adviser, Devin Nunez, former Intel chair, John Radcliffe, and by Bill Barr (former Attorney General). The warrant requirement, if you talk to them, would definitively hurt national security."