University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview Tuesday that it is “unclear” how quickly higher education legislation will make it through Congress given the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
“At the moment, given the fact that Congress is tied up with other issues — which are in the press daily — it's unclear what legislation is going to move forward,” Bacow said.
His comments come weeks after Democrats in the United States House of Representatives introduced the College Affordability Act — a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965 — and legislation to repeal a tax on university endowments, all amid the impeachment inquiry.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) initiated the impeachment inquiry Sept. 24 following revelations that Trump allegedly asked the Ukranian government to investigate former Vice President and current presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son. Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the matter.
Bacow has supported both pieces of legislation, personally meeting with legislators in both houses about these issues and lobbying them to enact proposals in favor of institutions of higher education.
Bacow said Tuesday that the University is trying to “mitigate” the impact of any delay in passing this legislation, especially efforts to repeal the endowment tax. The tax on universities’ endowment returns was originally signed into law in December 2017, and since its passage, Rep. Brendan F. Boyle (D-Pa.) introduced a bill to repeal the tax.
“It's unclear what legislation is going to move forward, given the fact that Washington is consumed at this point by the impeachment inquiry, what may turn out to be a trial. We'll see how that works out,” Bacow said. “But that's what we can do, is to try and mitigate the impact of that.”
Last month, Harvard and 30 other colleges and universities jointly submitted their opposition to the United States Treasury’s proposed rules for levying the endowment tax.
Boston College political science professor David A. Hopkins ’99 said though the impeachment inquiry will take up some time in Congress, there were already questions as to whether the College Affordability Act would progress through Congress even under normal circumstances.
“Even before impeachment, there was already a pretty complicated set of negotiations going on between the House and the Senate,” Hopkins said.
He added timing issues could be compounded if the House voted for impeachment and the Senate became tied up in a trial.
“We could see months or more of the Senate calendar being mostly taken up by an impeachment trial,” Hopkins said. “And that would, at that point, I think, present a possible obstacle to other legislative business getting done.”
M. Matthew Owens, the executive vice president for federal relations at the Association of American Universities said, however, that the political system is equipped to handle both impeachment proceedings and other legislative matters.
“There's a larger legislative and political environment that is already challenging here in Washington and as such, the impeachment inquiry is yet another factor in all of that,” Owens said.
Bacow noted Tuesday that the impeachment inquiry appears to be on the top of legislators’ agenda in Washington.
“I think anybody who watches what goes on in D.C. recognizes that there are a whole series of pressing issues in which there are legislative proposals pending, of which this is just one,” Bacow said. “And it seems like, and I say this just as an observer, lots of things seem to be grinding to a halt at the moment.”
—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.
—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.