Videos & Speeches

Mr. President, along with my colleagues, I have been in places across the country this past week. Most of my time was spent in Kansas, and certainly Kansans had a good opportunity to express to me some of their worries and concerns about what is going on in Washington, D.C.

One of the things that has become very dominant in those conversations is the concern that this administration — Washington, D.C. — that the Constitution, as we learned it, as we were taught even in high school government classes, does not seem to be being complied with. The concern is the constant efforts by this administration to do things unilaterally, to put in place executive orders and policies and regulations.

This has become a common conversation. It is pleasing to me that Kansans care so much about the structure of our government, the foundation that was created by the Framers of our Constitution, and they have a genuine concern that the Constitution is being violated. Often the conversation is: What are you doing about it?

The topic I want to talk about today is just one more example. This one has a reasonably positive ending, but I want to highlight something that has transpired in Washington, DC, that started last May at the Federal Communications Commission.

I just learned about this recently, and it became much more of a common topic with knowledge across the country as a result of one of the FCC Commissioners, Ajit Pai, and his opinion piece that appeared over the past few days in national publications.

What we learned was the Federal Communications Commission was considering — in fact, considered, put in place — a program in which they were going to survey the broadcasters they regulate. They hired an outside firm, as I understand it, and questions were prepared that were going to be asked of people in newsrooms across the country.

The pilot program was organized to occur in South Carolina. Among the kinds of questions that were going to be asked in newsrooms across the country by the FCC was: What is the news philosophy of this station? Who decides which stories are covered — whether a reporter ever wanted to cover a story and was told they could not do so.

It seems to me whether you have a conservative or liberal bent or you are down the middle of the road, you ought to have great concern when the agency that regulates the broadcasters decides they want to get into the newsroom to discover how news is developed at that station. That is not part of what the mandate of the FCC is, and it ought to raise genuine concerns from those who care about free speech. It certainly raised those concerns from me.

I came back to Washington, D.C., today with the intention of highlighting this issue for my colleagues, making the American people more aware of this tremendous affront to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The good news is that Chairman Wheeler at the FCC announced just a couple days ago that this proposal, as it included questions about how news was developed, was being withdrawn.

So in part I am here to express my genuine concern about how did we get so far as for anyone at the FCC or their contractor to think this is appropriate behavior for a regulator; and, secondly, I am here to say that I am relieved and pleased that Chairman Wheeler has stepped in to withdraw those kinds of questions.

The argument was made that this is a voluntary survey, but as Commissioner Pai indicated in his opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, it is hard to see how something the FCC is asking of a regulated broadcaster would be really considered voluntary.

The Commissioner says: Unlike the opinion surveys that many of us receive on the phone or in the mail, in which we can hang up the phone or never answer the phone or we can toss the survey into the trash, when the FCC sends someone to your station to ask you questions about how news is developed, it is hard for you to say: I am not going to answer the question, when the FCC has control over your license.

So I am here to make certain that this kind of approach is something that is in the past. I serve on the Appropriations subcommittee that is responsible for the FCC’s budget. When they come to tell us about their appropriations request, again I will thank Chairman Wheeler for withdrawing these questions, but I want to make certain there is a genuine concern on behalf of all of us in the Senate — Republicans and Democrats, whatever brand of philosophy you claim to espouse or believe, you ought to be worried when the FCC is making inroads into how news and opinion is formulated at broadcasting stations — television and radio — across the country.

So, Mr. President, the speech I had intended to give raising this topic is only given now in part. It is my view that every American citizen has certain civic responsibilities. Not just us Members of the Senate, every American citizen’s primary responsibility as a citizen is to make certain we pass on to the next generation of Americans a country in which the freedoms and liberties guaranteed by our Constitution are protected throughout the history of our Nation into the future.

So I ask my colleagues to be ever vigilant as we see an ever encroaching Washington, D.C., administration, even Congress, intruding in the lives of the American citizens, particularly as it relates to their opportunities for free speech.

I will be back later in the week to talk about other intrusions by the Federal Government into free speech and political advocacy. But again, Mr. President, thank you for the opportunity to be on the Senate floor today to highlight what I think would have been an egregious violation of the Constitution by one of our federal agencies.