House Republicans will vote next week on legislation that would prevent federal officials from taking steps to interfere with Americans’ free speech, just weeks after a hearing on the FBI’s effort to work with Twitter to suppress political stories.
The GOP will call up the Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act. House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., introduced the bill after Twitter itself released messages that showed dozens of FBI officials spent months pressuring Twitter to take down posts containing what they said was “disinformation.”
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 FBI advised senior Twitter executives to question the validity of any Hunter Biden story,” Comer said. “We also know that one of the witnesses before us today participated in an Aspen Institute exercise in September 2020 on a potential hack-and-dump operation related to Hunter Biden – other big tech companies and reporters who attended as well.”
In this past week, Comer’s committee approved the legislation, and it’s expected to hit the House floor sometime in the coming week.
“It is inappropriate and dangerous for the federal government to decide what lawful speech is allowed on a private sector platform,” Comer said this week. “The federal government should not be able to decide what lawful speech is allowed — we have the First Amendment for a very good reason.”
Comer said his bill “makes this type of behavior an unlawful activity for federal officials to engage in — subjecting those who attempt to censor the lawful speech of Americans to disciplinary actions and monetary penalties.”
He said the issue is much broader than the FBI’s attempt to influence Twitter. He noted, for example, that former White House press secretary Jen Psaki openly called on Facebook and other companies to ban certain accounts in an attempt to ban free speech.
Under the bill, federal officials would be prohibited from taking any action aimed at getting a private company to suppress, restrict or add disclaimers or alerts to lawfully protected speech.
“If the Biden administration needs to express its policy positions or political preferences, it has immense communication resources of its own through which to engage in the public square and offer its information and arguments,” Comer said. “If the administration feels it is losing the policy argument and the public’s confidence to stronger voices, the answer should never be to deploy the resources and power of the federal government to limit the speech of others.”