As I pen these words, we are living through a time in our nation’s history when powerful forces are seeking to divide us one from another; when the legitimacy of our constitutional institutions is under attack; and when factually supported truth itself has come under relentless challenge.
I am among those who have not lost confidence in our ability to right the ship of American democratic life, but I also realize that we are in a fight — a fight for the soul of our democracy.
As an American of color, I have been able to receive an excellent public education, become an attorney, and serve my community and country in both the Maryland General Assembly and Congress because of one very important fact: Americans of conscience from every political vantage point took our Constitution seriously and fought for my right to be all that I could become.
This is the personal debt that I and so many others with my heritage owe to our democratic republic — to the 20-million-plus Americans who serve our republic and its values in our nation’s civil service.
And this is also why I, personally, will remain in the fight to preserve our republic and the humane and equitable values at its foundation for as long as I can draw breath.
It was to our Constitution — and not to any political perspective or party — that I gave my oath when I became an officer of the court, when I joined the Maryland legislature and when I was elected to serve in Congress.
It is this commitment that I bring to my work as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the committee that has direct oversight over our federal civil service. From my more than two decades of experience performing this oversight, I can confirm that our nation’s federal employees deserve our respect, gratitude and support.
When people in the leadership of the nation attack our courts, the members of our Congress, our civil servants and our media, they are attacking the glue that holds our diverse nation together as the United States of America.
And when these attackers do so on the basis of factually unfounded opinion, rather than verifiable evidence, they are engaged in demagoguery of the most dangerous sort.
This is why our civil service, committed to maintaining the rule of law and decision-making based on verifiable facts, is so important to maintaining the legitimacy of our government, both elected and appointed.
Under our democratic republic, elected leaders make policy but must rely on civil servants, appointed on the basis of merit, to implement those public policies. We must rely on the expertise of our merit-based civil service if we wish to have a government that addresses the factual realities of our lives (to the extent that human beings can ever achieve that goal).
This duty to find and implement the truth, as I have mentioned, is the province of our civil servants, whether they serve in Washington; our states; or in the law enforcement agencies of our country. This is not to say that our government agencies always get it right or that they never overreach. Human beings, however talented and well-meaning, make mistakes.
As citizens of the greatest democratic republic in the world, we have the privilege and duty to recall our nation’s founding and to engage our nation on the basis of those fundamental principles.
I hold fast to this conviction because the functioning — indeed, the very legitimacy — of our democratic system has been under attack for some time. I am speaking, of course, of the continuing attacks on our elections — from sources both foreign and domestic — and of the failure of too many of my colleagues in Congress and the White House to adequately defend us against those attacks.
For the unity and future of our republic, our Congress must reassert its constitutional obligation of oversight, seeking and obtaining the answers to serious questions of governance that, until now, have gone unanswered. We must perform this constitutional duty so effectively and convincingly that those Americans who support this president and his administration and those who disagree will reach a shared and united answer as to how our nation must proceed.
I remain confident that we can fulfill this historic duty. To succeed, however, we will need our federal civil service and the Americans who serve us there to give us their complete and unbiased cooperation. To the extent that we are required to do so, we will enforce that cooperation through action in our courts, but I sincerely hope that this route will seldom be necessary. Toward this end, I will close with this pledge. In the words of my heroine, former congresswoman Barbara Jordan, from 1974:
“My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, [or] the destruction of the Constitution. I hope and trust that all Americans feel — and will do — the same.”