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Rep. Hill Objects To Countries Like Russia, China And Iran Getting COVID Funds

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, questions Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen Tuesday during a meeting of the House Committee on Financial Services about what counties will get COVID-19 assistance funds.
U.S. House of Representatives

The world’s seven largest economies, including the U.S., have agreed to support developing countries battling COVID-19. But U.S. Rep. French Hill, a Republican of Arkansas’ 2nd district, is objecting to Russia, China and Iran being including among the countries sharing about $650 billion.

As a senior Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, Hill questioned Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen Tuesday about the plan, with a funding amount that is below the threshold that would require congressional approval.

In an interview the following day with KUAR News, Hill said “my concern is that rogue regimes can use this axis of hard currency to continue sponsoring terrorism around the country, buying weapons of mass destruction or limiting the rights of their people in their country.”

In the interview, Hill was also asked about a call from President Joe Biden for Congress to pass new gun control measures after two mass shooting in the span of a week. You can listen to the interview above or read a transcript below.

On the Biden administration’s support of a plan to provide financial assistance to countries to help in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic through the International Monetary Fund and a Special Drawing Rights allocation.

REP. FRENCH HILL: I believe that we all share a desire to help countries that are in severe financial distress from the pandemic, and there are very good, capable and existing ways of doing that. For example, the World Bank is targeting the poorest countries with about $160 billion in concessional loans and $16 billion directly for a vaccine distribution in those hard-hit countries. And likewise, the IMF that you referenced, the International Monetary Fund, has made critical loans for about 80 countries that are in foreign exchange and cash flow distress from the pandemic. The proposal that the Biden Administration has made and that Secretary Yellen and I discussed yesterday is not targeted at poor countries. When you do what's called a Special Drawing Rights allocation at the International Monetary Fund, it has to, by law, benefit every country that’s a member of the International Monetary Fund on a pro-rata basis. So, a rich country like the Netherlands, gets billions of more dollars in support than a poor country like Nigeria or Tanzania that needs the help. And likewise, as you noted, rogue nations that we have sanctions against for financial purposes like Iran or [President Bashar al-]Assad in Syria or Venezuela or big states that don't need any more money like China still get the benefit of the Special Drawing Rights.

KUAR’s MICHAEL HIBBLEN: So, tell me about how Secretary Yellen responded yesterday.

HILL: I suggested to her, can she block any countries from getting it like China that doesn't need it? She said no, China would get the money. And I asked her, is there a way to limit a rogue regime, say, [President Nicolás] Maduro in Venezuela or Assad in Syria or the ayatollahs in Iran? Is there a way for the developed countries to prohibit them from making use of these SDRs? She said that was worth talking about. She didn't have a direct answer. But my concern is that rogue regimes can use this axis of hard currency to continue sponsoring terrorism around the country, buying weapons of mass destruction or limiting the rights of their people in their country, or they could even use these hard currency assets to pay back Chinese loans that are non-transparent and were predatory in their nature. So, my personal view is that there are just too many problems with this very large untargeted support of the IMF in this matter.

HIBBLEN: And the amount discussed falls below the threshold that would require Congress to give its approval.

HILL: That's correct, and that was done intentionally, I think, by the advocates. They originally had talked about a $3 trillion Special Drawing Rights allocation at the IMF. They've cut that back to $650 billion, which puts it below, as you say, the U.S. congressional oversight level.

HIBBLEN: On another topic, the second mass shooting in a week has led to President Biden urging Congress to pass gun control legislation, close loopholes in the background check system and ban assault weapons. That's faced immediate opposition from Republicans. What's your take?

HILL: Well, my take is that in many of these instances, we are not keeping guns out of the hands of people who are dangerous and unstable, and we have a background check system that works, but there are gaps in it and we've provided more money to the states. We provide more money to government agencies to robustly report the background check system. We've also, I've also sponsored legislation to fill the gap and what's called the Charleston loophole or some of these others, and those are the directions we ought to take. Keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them by enforcing our background check system and making sure that it's funded in the right way and report it in the right way.

HIBBLEN: So, you don't think this current congressional action is going anywhere?

HILL: I'm uncertain, I don't know. I saw the report of the president's pronouncement. But, you know, for example, limiting… he mentioned limiting high capacity magazines, which my memory is that it's 10 or more rounds. That's been attempted in California, for example, it was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. So, these sort of efforts, we need to always keep in mind what the Second Amendment facilitates, what the federal laws or what the federal courts have supported before we, you know, propose changes. So, I'll look forward to seeing what the Biden administration proposes.

HIBBLEN: Well finally, Congressman Hill, on a lighter note, you're sponsoring legislation to honor someone who played a leading role in preserving the Buffalo River and making it the first river in the country to get designated as a national river. We're talking about Neil Compton. What prompted this?

HILL: Yeah, well I've always… the Buffalo River has been a special place in my life. I've lived long enough now where I've been paddling on the Buffalo and hiking in the region for 50 years, which is amazing when I look back on it, but I love the Buffalo River. Neil Compton was somebody I've always admired. He was a founder of the Ozark Society. He alone protected the river from being dammed by the Corps of Engineers, and then he created the political environment that allowed [former U.S. Rep.] John Paul Hammerschmidt and others to name the Buffalo River, the first national river. So here we are at the golden anniversary in 2022 of the Buffalo becoming America's first national river and I'm proposing that we honor Neil Compton's leadership five decades ago by providing a site to memorialize his efforts [by renaming the] Tyler Bend Visitors Center in north central Arkansas [in honor of Compton].

HIBBLEN: And next year being the 50th anniversary. What's the significance of being a national river?

HILL: I think it's facilitated Arkansas being on the map for so many people who love outdoor recreation and love the archaeology and geology and topography of the Buffalo River Valley. It's a unique place in American outdoor recreation. It's got the highest waterfall at Hemmed-In Hollow between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians and just a great central focus for outdoor recreation in this part of the country. I’m proud that it's in Arkansas and proud that Neil Compton was there to protect it.