House Democrats unanimously voted against legislation on Thursday that would prohibit federal officials from taking any action to squelch the sharing of views and opinions online, a bill Republicans called up after Twitter’s internal files showed the FBI was constantly pressuring that company to suppress certain stories – including stories related to Hunter Biden.
The GOP called up the Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act, and the Republican majority allowed it to pass in a narrow 219-206 vote. But each of the 206 Democrats who voted on Thursday voted against it.
House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., introduced the bill after Twitter released messages that showed dozens of FBI officials spent months pressuring Twitter to take down posts containing what they said was "disinformation."
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In a Feb. 8 hearing, Comer said the FBI spent considerable time pushing Twitter to discard stories about the laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden.
"The hearing exposed just how much the Biden administration attempted to normalize a policy of federal censorship," Comer said in floor debate Wednesday. "Biden administration officials have publicly called upon and privately coordinated with private-sector social media companies to ban specific accounts viewed as politically inconvenient."
"The federal government should not be able to decide what lawful speech is allowed. We have the First Amendment for a very good reason," he added. "Federal officials, no matter their rank or resources, must be prohibited from coercing the private sector to suppress certain information or limit the ability of citizens to freely express their own views on a private-sector internet platform."
Democrats rejected the bill on the grounds that the government has an important role to play making sure "disinformation" is silenced in the United States. Rep. Daniel Goldman, D-N.Y., said the bill would make it easier for China and Russia to use social media platforms to "wreak havoc on our democratic institutions."
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"It would do so by undermining the only defense that we have against these operations, which is the ability of our national security, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies to warn social media platforms and the public about the deployment of counterfeit accounts, disinformation and cyber surveillance by malign actors," he said.
Goldman said voting against the resolution to stop federal policing of online speech would be a way to "stand with free speech and American democracy."
Another Democrat, Greg Landsman of Ohio, implied that opinions that the U.S. should stop helping Ukraine and should leave Syria are signs that Russian propaganda has already penetrated the U.S.
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"Why are we being asked to ban American officials from trying to stop propaganda from foreign adversaries like Putin?" Landsman asked. "Why are some proposing we leave Syria, which Putin wants? Why is the call to abandon Ukraine continuing to emerge from some members?"
"Remember, Hitler did this," Landsman added. "He used Americans to spread his propaganda, and it cost millions their lives. Putin is doing the same thing."
But many other Republicans rejected these arguments and said the government has no place deciding what is truth and what is foreign propaganda.
"I certainly don't trust the federal government to make that distinction," said Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. "They were wrong about the Hunter Biden laptop. They were wrong about the vaccine mandates, about masks, about the Wuhan lab leak, wrong about shutting down churches and schools and businesses, and they are dead wrong to use their positions to attack Americans' free speech."