As President Joe Biden spent his first full day as commander-in-chief, U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, said the nation is entering a new period with the opportunity for the president to bring people together by working in a bipartisan way.
Hill attended Wednesday’s inauguration, along with most other members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation and Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The 2nd district congressman called President Biden’s address “from the heart” and a call to unity. He said with Democrats having a narrow majority in the House of Representatives and the two parties being evenly split in the Senate, and with Vice President Kamala Harris available to break tie votes, he hopes the president will seek compromise to move issues forward.
Hill called the unprecedented level of security needed for the inauguration “sad in some ways to see more guardsmen than spectators,” but was glad the event was held without incident two weeks after the attempted insurrection by supporters of President Trump.
As razor wire fencing was coming down Wednesday and security was slowly being loosened, Hill spoke with KUAR during All Things Considered. Below are some highlights from the interview.
Thoughts on President Biden taking office and the transfer of power:
First, I would say it’s going to be an interesting period, I think. We have a tied Senate with 50 senators on each side of the aisle, with ties potentially broken by Vice President Harris, and we have a House Democratic majority that’s been cut a little more than in half, and is going to shrink some more as some of the Democrats in the House resign to join the Biden administration. So, Congress is as narrowly split as possible. I think that opens opportunity, should the president want to use it, for compromise in moving some issues forward. In other words, it could lead to a centrist set of policies. We’ll have to wait and see. I’m cautiously optimistic.
Regarding President Biden’s inaugural address:
I found the address genuine. That’s the word I’d use to describe it. It sounded like Joe Biden. It was from the heart, it was his love of country… that Americans can rise above their individual sector or cultural differences and work together for the betterment of the whole country. So that’s how I’d describe his talk. He called for unity, and I think the president is uniquely positioned to, with that evenly split House and Senate, to try to achieve center-based policies that could lead to a more unified American people.
On Biden’s recently unveiled $1.9 trillion economic recovery plan which is among the first items being pitched to Congress. It includes stimulus payments of $1,400 to most Americans, an extension of the eviction and foreclosure moratorium until September, and a national vaccination program, which states are currently tasked with handling.
I believe that the plan has got some good elements as it relates to more rapid focus and distribution of the vaccines. I think that we can step that up now that we have the two vaccines, plus Johnson & Johnson’s is near. That seems to be the best priority for our country right now is getting the vaccine fully distributed. As it relates to the $1.9 trillion cost, that seems to me to be premature. I say that because just in March and April we’ve put right at $3 trillion into our state and local education, health resources, and then in December we added another $900 billion, so nearly another trillion. When you add those together in roughly nine months, we will have appropriated as much money as we spent in an entire year for the entire federal budget just for fighting COVID-19 and trying to get the economy back open. So, I’m cautious for the need at this moment for Congress acting to spend more money, and my budget would be, let’s look at the vaccine rollout. Let’s focus on that and see where we are in late March, early April, and also see the success of the $900 billion that Congress approved in December.
Inauguration Day came two weeks after the uprising at the Capitol by Trump supporters. Hill has since worked with a Democratic colleague to introduce a bill honoring U.S. Capitol Police. What’s the status of that?
After working it over two or three days, we have over a hundred cosponsors now. My friend [Rep.] Ed Perlmutter is a lawyer. He represents part of Denver, Colo. in the House, he’s a Democrat. We’ve introduced HR39 which focuses on honoring the rank and file Capitol Police, D.C. Police officers that defended the Capitol on the fateful day of Jan. 6. We had two officers killed, we had really, as you know, a desperate mayhem there, and we wanted all members of the House and Senate to recognize the bravery of these individual officers and that’s the purpose of HR39.
Where was Hill when this attempted insurrection happened?
I was in the Longworth House Office Building because of the COVID-19 distancing requirements in the House. I had not walked over to the House chamber yet to listen to the debate on the objection to Arizona. In fact, I was just getting ready to leave my office and you could hear the noise on the west front. I could see the west front of the Capitol from my office. You could see the crowd building. You could hear the periodic teargas cannisters going off, but we had no idea of the violence or the mayhem taking place on the west front of the Capitol. And just as I was walking to the elevator the alert went off. We all had a cell phone security alert telling us that the Capitol was officially on lockdown and that all members and all staff should stay where they are and shelter in place, so I was not in the chamber at the worst of what happened on Jan. 6.
In an interview with KUAR News on Dec. 18, Hill said that after courts had repeatedly rejected President Trump’s challenges to November’s election results, he recognized Biden as the president-elect. Was he surprised at the turn of events as Congress was working to certify the electoral college vote?
I was shocked by a rally of citizens that turned into a group of criminal thugs who broke into United States Capitol. I was surprised by it. I was shocked at the violence and the mayhem of it and depressed by it. I thought it was a very sad day for our country and a sad day for our historic Capitol. It could have been much, much worse and I’m so glad that it wasn’t. But I was refreshed by the fact that once again our constitution and our republic is strong and we demonstrated that in the inauguration ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.