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Transcript: Across the Aisle with Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. & Cathy McMorris Rodgers

MS. CALDWELL: Hello, welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Leigh Ann Caldwell. I’m an anchor at Washington Post Live, and also coauthor of the Early 202 newsletter.

Today, we have another edition of "Across the Aisle" where we work to bring members of both parties together to talk about legislation and things they're getting done in Congress. And today, we're talking about data privacy, and joining me to discuss this is the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone of New Jersey; and the top Republican on that same Committee, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, from Washington.

Thank you so much for joining me, today.

REP. PALLONE: Thank you.

REP. McMORRIS RODGERS: Thank you, great to be with you.

MS. CALDWELL: And a reminder to our viewers, we would love to hear from you. So, if you have any questions, feel free to tweet at us @PostLive.

So, Chairman Pallone, I want to start with you. On this legislation, data privacy legislation, that did pass out of the Energy and Commerce Committee with almost full, unanimous support; I think just two defectors. Can you just tell me generally what this legislation does?

REP. PALLONE: Well, it tries to minimize the use by these big tech companies of data that you provide them. It should only be that they can use and transfer data that they need for whatever that instance is, and not for--not that they can sell it or use it for other purposes that you are not aware of.

And so, I really want to stress that what we're trying to do is limit how they use your data, only with your permission, and not a situation where they--what they call notice and consent, now, where they notify you if they want to use it and you have to consent and say yes. No, it doesn't work that way. You don't get to use it, the data, unless you absolutely need it for the purpose that the technology demands, and that's a major change from what the situation is now, where your data is collected, sold. You know, you have no control whatsoever over it.

MS. CALDWELL: And Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers, you--the legislation allows people to sue tech companies if their data is used without their consent. How does that actually happen?

REP. McMORRIS RODGERS: This is the most robust privacy protections that have been proposed ever in the United States of America, and it does include--it's a narrow, private right of action. This is bipartisan, bicameral legislation that we have worked on for several years, now.

We need a national privacy standard, and so there's been negotiations in this bill, and one is to include a private right of action, a narrow private right of action, so if someone believes that their privacy has not been protected, it gives them the ability to go to the FTC, go to the Attorney General. But after a certain amount of time, they would be able to bring forward a lawsuit to enforce the privacy protection.

MS. CALDWELL: Chairman Pallone--

REP. PALLONE: Leigh Ann--

[Overlapping speakers]


REP. PALLONE: If I could just add, I mean, I don't want to emphasize the suit too much, because I don't think most people would ever bring suit. The point is that if they're using your data in a way that you don't want it, you have a right under this bill to correct that, you know, basically call them up and say, you're using my data; I don't want you to use it for this, or correct it if they are giving out false information about you.

So, you know, you have a lot of protections under this bill that are not necessarily related to bringing suit, because I don't think most people would ever think they're ever going to bring suit or, you know, want to do that. We're trying to minimize what they can use, and if they go beyond that, then you can call up and say, that's not allowed and you better correct it.

MS. CALDWELL: You know, you both mentioned that this has been something that has been in the works for years. And so, Chairman Pallone, can you talk about how you were finally able to get an agreement on this legislation, a bipartisan agreement, with Ranking Member McMorris Rodgers and other members of the Committee.

REP. PALLONE: Well, part of that's because Kathy Rodgers is so great, right, and she's easy to work with. You talk about across the aisle, we work on a lot of legislation across the aisle. In fact, there's very little that we work on that doesn't--that isn't bipartisan, because we want to get things done. So, I mean, to her credit, she's willing to work together and the Democrats and Republicans on the Committee want to get things done. You don't get anything done in Congress unless you cross the aisle, as you mentioned, Leigh Ann.

MS. CALDWELL: Congresswoman, your bill establishes a national privacy standard, so a federal standard that would prevent tech companies from tracking people's behavior.

How does that information stay private? So, does that mean there's no opting in, opting out? How does it work for the consumer? Will they have to worry about this?

REP. McMORRIS RODGERS: Well, what it does is it puts the individual back in charge of their data. It gives Americans the right to know what data has been collected, the profiles that have been created. It gives them a right to know that.

As the Chairman mentioned, for the business, they're limited on what data they can even collect in the first place. It has to be for business purposes, and anything beyond that, they would only be able to do with permission. It allows the individual to opt out of ads if they don't want to have their personal information collected, their location data, their browsing history. All of this personal, personally identifiable information that is collected right now, it gives the individual the right to know what's being collected and then if it's going to be used beyond the business purposes or sold to a third party, a data broker. The individual would have the right to say they do not want their information shared or sold. It's putting Americans back in charge of their data. And this isn't a partisan issue; this is a priority for Americans. And I'm proud of the work that the Energy and Commerce Committee has done, that we have come together and hammered out the most comprehensive privacy protections ever, and people are desperate for it.

And for parents--I'm a mom with three school-age kids, and the protections that are in here for kids are especially important. For under the age of 17, they're prohibited from collecting the personal, sensitive data on children. So, very important protections for our kids. And what it would do is it would eliminate a patchwork of state laws are being developed. I believe a national standard is very important for a business then who does business across state lines or an individual that crosses beyond state lines. We need the national standard to provide that certainty, no matter where you live, if you're in California, New Jersey, or Washington State.

REP. PALLONE: And Leigh Ann, the ads part is particularly--what they do now is these tech companies will collect your data and then they'll target kids with ads based on that data.

For example, you know, they'll figure out that a kid maybe is overweight and is sensitive to their weight. And so, they'll target them with ads about taking diet pills or something like that. That is totally prohibited. You cannot target ads to kids under 17.

REP. McMORRIS RODGERS: And if I might add, also, it would stop big tech from listening to or storing private conversations, like your emails, your text, your voice mails, photos, videos without your permission, putting people back in charge of their data.

MS. CALDWELL: Yeah, I can't even count the number of times that I would have a conversation with a friend or a family member, and next time I open Instagram, there's an ad about that product that I was discussing.

So, Chairman Pallone, though, Ranking Member Rodgers just mentioned California and a national standard. Those two things have actually been problematic in this legislation, because even though it got the support of 53 members on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Speaker Pelosi put out a statement saying that, it quote, "Does not guarantee the same essential consumer protections as California's existing privacy laws." What does that mean for it being brought up on the floor this year? There's not a lot of time left and Speaker Pelosi doesn't support this entire legislation.

REP. PALLONE: Well, we're meeting and talking to Speaker Pelosi about this to try to address her concerns. And you know, there is time. Obviously, we're still in session for another three months and we're working hard to try to get there to have this pass the House as well as the Senate and send it to the president, and I think we can do it in this time period.

But I would say, look, I believe that the bill is actually stronger than the California law. So, for example, in California doesn't really have as effective minimization of the data. The whole approach here is to try to minimize the data that can be collected, and I think we're much stronger than California when it comes to that.

And also, you know, we allow states where they haven't addressed certain issues to continue to innovate and have their own laws. So, it's a question of really trying to convince the Californians, which I think we did for the most part in the Committee, that this is actually a stronger law and it doesn't preclude them from innovation.

MS. CALDWELL: So, you think that the changes that are necessary to placate Pelosi is not necessarily actual altering the legislative text, but informing her and convincing her that California is still able to enact its own laws.

REP. PALLONE: Well, it may be a little bit of both. In other words, we do have to convince not only her but others who might have their doubts that this is a very strong national standard. But on the other hand, as you know, as we move through this process, either in the House or the Senate, there may have to be some additional changes. We're not opposed to that. But we want to make sure that it's bipartisan and that it's a strong national standard because otherwise, it won't pass and it won't be effective. And right now, we do believe that the bill is a strong national standard and that it does really protect people's privacy.

So, it's a combination: Convince her and others that this is strong and it doesn't need much in the way of change, but if there are some changes that need to be made, we're certainly open to it.

REP. McMORRIS RODGERS: Advocacy groups--advocacy groups agree with the Chairman. The advocacy groups for privacy legislation in the United States of America believe that this bill is the most robust privacy protections ever and that they are stronger than any current state law.

Now, and we went through committee. We have hammered out section by section on this bill. We worked through many amendments. Members from all over the country, including California, offering their amendments. And we ultimately gained the support of several members from the California delegation that are on the Committee. This is a bill that it is as strong as it is--stronger than any current state law because of the work of our Committee. We've done the hard work necessary to legislate, and we have a better product because of that, a better bill. And it's a national standard and I don't believe one state should be dictating to the rest of the country what, in this case, the privacy law should be.

MS. CALDWELL: Ranking Member McMorris Rodgers, if Speaker Pelosi does not bring this up before the end of the year and if Republicans take control of the House of Representatives after these midterm elections for next year, has Leader McCarthy committed to you to bring this up? He is also from California.

REP. McMORRIS RODGERS: The privacy protections are important for Republicans and Democrats and every person in this country. And certainly, the Republicans have put together--it's a big tech accountability package of bills.

One of the pillars in holding big tech accountable is privacy protections. But I'm going to keep--so, it's a priority for the Republicans. It's a priority for everyone, though. And I am locking arms with the Chairman of the Committee to impress upon the Speaker the importance of getting this bill to the floor, for her to respect the work of the Committee, members from all over the country, including eight members from California, who have hammered out this bill, which is the strongest privacy protections that any state has in place.

And I'm hopeful the Chairman and other members of the Committee are meeting with the Speaker. We're going to continue to hear what her feedback is, but I'm really proud of the work of the Committee, and I believe that this is the--this is the way that you restore hope, you restore trust and confidence in representative government, when the Committee does its work, and that's why I'm really proud of the work that we've done. And it's really important for Americans.

REP. PALLONE: Across the aisle, Leigh Ann, across the aisle.

MS. CALDWELL: We love across the aisle. Congresswoman, does this bill go far enough for Republicans? You did note that this--you know, addressing big tech is going to be a big priority for them should they be in the majority. Does this do enough for them, especially if they have the reins of power?

REP. McMORRIS RODGERS: This is one pillar. This is one big pillar that needs to be addressed, the privacy protections that Americans need as well as to protect our kids from the damage of social media and the importance of protecting our children online. So, this is definitely one of the pillars. The Republicans also are very concerned about free speech and protecting free speech online. And so, we have legislation around ensuring that free speech is protected and to stop the censorship.

We also have other legislation around--you know, there's a big package of bills, but this is one of the pillars, and I am encouraged that we've been able to pass this bill out of committee. A national privacy standard, that's what the Republicans have been calling for, is a national privacy standard. We're concerned about a patchwork of state laws. And we were able to address other issues. And this really is an example of Republicans and Democrats coming together, recognizing that no one has all the best answers and hammering out a bill. And I believe, because we worked through it the way we have--we've been very diligent in doing our work in the Committee that we have a very strong product. And the advocacy groups will have told us it is stronger than any state law.

REP. PALLONE: The other thing, Leigh Ann, I wanted to mention, is that, remember, most states have no laws, or practically no law. You'll hear a lot from states saying, oh, we're going to do this; we're going to do that. But the reality is, most states have practically nothing. And so, all of these--I mean, you know, we've had the whistleblowers come in to talk to us about how terrible big tech is. Big tech keeps saying, oh, we're going to correct this. Whatever problems are raised by the whistleblowers, we're going to correct, but they don't correct anything.

And so, I don't want anybody to think that somehow, out there, there's protection now. There isn't for most purposes. And to rely on big tech to protect you and change what they're doing and not monetize and make money on all this is just not going to happen. That's why we need this bill. We need a federal bill, because it's not going to happen otherwise, either by the industry or by the states, in my opinion.

MS. CALDWELL: Yeah, Chairman Pallone, another obstacle you have is the Senate. Senator Maria Cantwell who runs the Committee--your counterpart committee over in the Senate, she told my colleague, Cristiano Lima, author of the Technology 202, that the legislation has, quote, "major enforcement holes and is too weak as it stands to warrant passing a federal law."

What is your reaction to that?

REP. PALLONE: Well, first of all, I do think that Senator Cantwell wants to pass a law, and wants to pass something this year, so I want to stress that.

You know, I think she feels that, you know, more can be done particularly for example with the right to sue. But I mean, there is significant enforcement, here. First of all, there's enforcement by the federal agency; there's enforcement by state attorney generals, and there is a private right of action, which you don't really have--I mean, none of those are really effective right now, okay? They either don't exist or the states or the federal agencies really aren't doing much.

And so, and I'm not trying to be critical of them. They all say, oh, we're going to do this; we're going to do that, just like the state legislators say, we're going to pass these laws, but it doesn't happen. And so, I think that we have a supporter in Senator Cantwell, ultimately. Of course, the Senate is always more difficult. I mean, I've got to be honest, we passed so many bills out of the Energy and Commerce Committee that are bipartisan. We pass them in the House, send them to the Senate, and I can sit here and be critical of the Senate, in general. But I just--I do think that she, Senator Cantwell, wants to get something done and that we can do it together.

MS. CALDWELL: We have a viewer question that I want to bring up, from Robert Zimmerman from Massachusetts who asks, "What specific types of data would be afforded greater protection under the proposed legislation? Is this blanket for all data or are there some carveouts?"

Ranking Member McMorris Rodgers?

REP. McMORRIS RODGERS: Well, what it does is that it would stop apps from sharing, selling people's data without permission; it puts them in control.

So, if you--like, your search history, it would stop the data brokers, these third-party entities or big tech from accessing, storing, selling sensitive information like your location data, credit card purchases, log-in information, your browsing history without your permission.

And for parents, as I mentioned, it includes very strong protections for children's privacy online. Under the age of 17 is protected online.

MS. CALDWELL: And Chairman Pallone, what type of pushback have you seen from big tech companies that uses data often? Like, where has the most powerful lobby been and what is their argument against some of this?

REP. PALLONE: Well, big tech really doesn't want to be regulated at all, as you can imagine, because right now they're not. And so, they're biggest concern is they're not going to be able to sell this information. And they keep saying over and over again, oh, don't worry, we'll do what has to be done, what's necessary, to protect the public.

But the two things I would say is why that's just not true is first there's no data minimization. In other words, we are saying, you're only going to be collecting the data that you need for this specific purpose. They're never going to support that notion, because they want to sell this data. And you know, they're very much--the second thing is they're very much into this notice and choice concept. In other words, we'll notify you if we're going to use your data and then you can choose not to. But that doesn't work, because either the notice is ineffective or people don't realize that they can opt out or opt in, and it should be that they're not allowed to use it at all, unless it's absolutely necessary.

MS. CALDWELL: Ranking Member McMorris Rodgers, why has it been so difficult--why has it taken so long to find consensus on this issue, and what is something that you had to compromise on?

REP. McMORRIS RODGERS: The two biggest sticking points have been around the national standard, a federal preemption, to put in place what would be a national standard across all 50 states.

And then, the other has been the enforcement, it's been the private right of action. So, we've been working for years on all the details within this privacy bill. I was really pleased. Even before covid, we had released a bipartisan staff draft from the Energy and Commerce Committee. So, that was in--I believe that was in 2019. And then, you know, we were getting feedback on that, and then covid hit, which certainly delayed it, but it has been at the forefront of our Committee for years. We know that we need a national data privacy standard and we're taking steps to get that done.

And so, it's not easy to work something like this out. There's a lot of considerations, but proud that we have taken the time to get to this place, and I just encourage people to take a look at it and voice their support.

MS. CALDWELL: Chairman Pallone, we just have a couple minutes left, and I have to ask a very timely question about the midterms. We're about five-and-a-half weeks away from the midterms. Course control of the House of Representatives is up in the air.

One of the biggest issues plaguing Democrats is inflation. Have Democrats been able to do enough to address inflation and do they have a plan--just very briefly, what can they do to address it in the future?

REP. PALLONE: Well, I think the combination of what the president has been doing and what the Democratic majority in the Congress has been doing, right?

So, obviously, we passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which seeks to reduce the budget, which I think is a major factor in ultimately reducing inflation. We've also--I mean, the president obviously, you know, with the Fed in terms of trying to deal with interest rate has been a factor. With regard to gas prices in particular we have taken actions by releasing the strategic petroleum reserve to try to get more product into the market which has resulted in gas prices going down on a weekly basis, now, for I guess over a month.

And we're trying to also address the supply chain issues. You know, during the covid crisis, a lot of the problems with supply chain increased inflation because, you know, people were demanding things but they couldn't get them. And so, you know, we passed the CHIPS Act which is trying to address some of the supply chain to get more goods manufactured here in the United States so we're not relying on other countries.

You know, there are a number of things that are being done now to address inflation and, you know, basically improve the economy. And I think those actions, if you see them unfold over the last couple of months and the next couple of months, people will respond to that. I'm bullish on the fact that the Democrats are going to keep the majority. I also think that the actions of the Supreme Court have energized a lot of people because they were not happy with the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and trying to restrict privacy.

MS. CALDWELL: And Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers, inflation is obviously a big issue for voters, abortion has also become a big issue for voters. Have Republicans overreached on this issue, on abortion?

REP. McMORRIS RODGERS: I believe the Democrats have overreached on abortion. I was on the floor when the Democrats passed the most radical, extreme abortion bill ever. It's abortion up--nine months up until birth for any reason: sex, race, disability, including downs syndrome, taxpayer funded. It puts the United States in the same camp as China and North Korea. There's only a handful of countries that have that extreme of a bill. That's the extreme position, and I think it's unfortunate.

You know, the Republicans, we have long advocated for no taxpayer funding of abortion. We've stood by a "pain capable" bill we've--I've supported several times, protecting babies after four months. And it's really--I think the extreme position is the one that the Democrats are supporting right now.

MS. CALDWELL: And do you support--just very briefly, do you support an all-out ban, or should there be 6 weeks, 15 weeks, what is your line?

REP. McMORRIS RODGERS: Well, I've long support--the Republicans have passed pain capable, which is 20 weeks, several times after--in the years that we've been in the majority. So, that's after four months, protecting babies after four months. I think that's in alignment with a lot of the European Union countries, and that's where the Republican position has been. And for the most part, Republicans are wanting to see this at the state level.

I think, but you know, the issue--the issues that I hear about home really continue to be around inflation and rising--the cost of gas, hundreds of dollars more per year that people have to pay when they go to the gas pump or they go to the grocery store. That's hitting people the most and hardest. It's make--many of the policies, unfortunately, that have been promoted by the Biden administration are making it harder on people. Energy prices, housing prices, rental prices, the cost of living that continues to go up hundreds of dollars. And I believe that that is--that is on the forefront of people's minds as they're going to vote this fall.

MS. CALDWELL: Great, thank you. One last question, Chairman Pallone, is the government going to shut down? It has to be funded, passed by the Senate and then the House, before midnight tomorrow night.

REP. PALLONE: No, you can rest assured the government is not going to shut down. We expect the Senate--they're always slow, unfortunately. We expect the Senate to pass a continuing resolution tonight and then we will take it up tomorrow and pass it, and the government will not shut down.

I don't think anybody on either side of the aisle wants the government to shut down. So, again, across the aisle, everyone wants the government to stay open.

MS. CALDWELL: Great. And we are so over time. Thank your staff who's probably screaming in the background that I've kept you four minutes over. I really appreciate your time today for both of you. Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone of New Jersey; and Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, thank you for this great conversation.

REP. PALLONE: Thank you.


MS. CALDWELL: And thank you to our viewers for tuning in. You can find this and all of our programs on Thank you so much.

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