Washington – Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pressed administration officials on their plan to engage in the statutorily required consultation with Congress on refugee policy. Under current federal law, the administration is required to consult annually before a President can set the refugee admissions cap. Both Democratic and Republican administrations have failed to engage in a meaningful consultation process and respect Congress’s co-equal role in determining our nation’s refugee admission policy.
“The administration has a legal obligation to consult with Congress before it issues its refugee admissions number. Last year they failed to do so, giving information to the press before talking to Chairman Grassley and I. I hope that’s not repeated this year. The administration needs to follow the law and engage in real consultation,” Feinstein said.
“Though many issues have become polarizing and partisan, keeping Congress informed is not one of them. The administration has an important opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to keeping Congress up-to-date on an issue that grows in importance every year. As we both said last year, an eleventh-hour meeting to check a legal box is not sufficient. I expect this—and any—administration that cares about the rule of law to follow it,” Grassley said.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, HHS Secretary Alex Azar and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the Judiciary Committee leaders sought a timeline for how the administration intends to carry out its legal obligation to consult with Congress and whether the agencies will takes steps to inform and brief members and staff of the committees of jurisdiction.
“Unfortunately, over the last decade the annual consultation process and the periodic updates required by law have increasingly become both pro-forma and effectively meaningless. To be clear—and fair—this is not a new problem unique to the Trump Administration. The Executive Branch has failed to engage in a meaningful and appropriate consultation with Congressional leaders for decades, suggesting this problem is a systemic one. The Executive Branch simply cannot continue to repeat these mistakes and must take steps to ensure that the consultation process is both consistent with federal law and meaningful,” the senators wrote.
Last year, Feinstein and Grassley expressed their frustration with the minimal notice and lack of engagement before the administration decided on a refugee admissions cap.
Full text of the letter to Pompeo, Azar and Nielsen follows.
August 7, 2018
VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
The Honorable Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520
The Honorable Alex M. Azar II
Secretary of Health and Human Services
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
The Honorable Kirstjen M. Nielsen
Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Nebraska Avenue Complex
3801 Nebraska Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20528
Dear Secretaries Pompeo, Azar, and Nielsen:
We write to you today regarding the statutorily required refugee consultation process. As you are well aware federal law requires a Cabinet level designee of the President to engage in an “appropriate consultation” with both the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. This consultation is required before the President can set the annual refugee admission ceiling for the coming fiscal year.
Current law requires the annual include not only “discussions in person . . . to review the refugee situation or emergency refugee situation,” but also the submission of a report before the annual consultation discussing the number of refugees who will need to be resettled in the coming year and the anticipated allocation of refugee admissions. The reason federal law requires the submission of this report before the consultation is simple: it gives the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Committees of Jurisdiction ample time to review the administration’s findings and prepare to engage in a meaningful discussion regarding our nation’s refugee admission policies. To further promote this goal, the law requires the President or his designee to also provide “periodic discussions” regarding the changes in the worldwide refugee situation and the progress of refugee admissions.
Unfortunately, over the last decade the annual consultation process and the periodic updates required by law have increasingly become both pro-forma and effectively meaningless. To be clear—and fair—this is not a new problem unique to the Trump Administration. The Executive Branch has failed to engage in a meaningful and appropriate consultation with Congressional leaders for decades, suggesting this problem is a systemic one. The Executive Branch simply cannot continue to repeat these mistakes and must take steps to ensure that the consultation process is both consistent with federal law and meaningful.
Accordingly, please answer the following questions by no later than September 1, 2018:
- Where possible, federal law requires the draft refugee consultation report be delivered two weeks prior to the scheduled consultation to ensure that Members have adequate time to prepare. What is the timeline for delivering the draft report to Congress this year?
- Will this timeline be consistent with federal law?
- Is the timeline consistent with the date of transmittal of the draft report in prior years?
- What specific steps will your respective agencies take to ensure that the draft report is transmitted to Congress in accordance with the timeline?
- Do you plan on transmitting the draft report to Congress electronically as well as in print?
- After the transmission of the draft report, when are you planning on holding a briefing for congressional staff?
- What specific steps will your respective agencies take to ensure that this year’s staff briefing occurs after Congress receives the draft report and prior to the actual consultation?
- What steps will your respective agencies take to ensure that Congress is briefed on the draft report before the press is briefed?
- What steps will your agencies take this coming fiscal year to engage in periodic discussions regarding the change in the worldwide refugee situation and the progress of refugee admissions?
- Will you commit to have appropriate staffers from your agencies brief interested members of our staff and the Committee at least quarterly on these issues?
- Will you commit to having a Cabinet level designee of the President brief us and our House counterparts prior to any change in the refugee admission ceiling in the coming fiscal year?
Thank you in advance for your attention to our concerns and for your response. We look forward to working with you to ensure this year’s consultation follows both the letter and spirit of the law.
Senate Judiciary Committee
Charles E. Grassley
Senate Judiciary Committee