Price Floor Remarks Supporting Open World Leadership Program
I appreciate my colleague from Florida yielding, and I appreciate the work that she and colleagues on both sides of the aisle have done on this bill. I want to commend them for their work.
Mr. Chairman, I do want to address an amendment yet to come, one that I hope this body will reject. This is an amendment that will be offered by the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Ratcliffe. It will be an amendment to undo the bipartisan work of our Appropriations Committee. It would terminate the Open World program at the Library of Congress, which is a major outreach effort of our legislative branch in Russia and former Soviet and Soviet bloc countries.
At a time when these countries' democracies and sovereignty are under threat, the Open World program, I believe, is more important than ever. This isn't President Putin's favorite activity, as others have stated. That puts it very mildly, believe me. But he has not been able to stop it.
It is now more important than ever, not just in Russia but in fragile democracies and would-be democracies, such as Ukraine, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia.
This is the best program of its kind that I have ever seen. And I have a lot of personal experience with Open World groups that have come to Washington and have come to my district.
This is a program unique in both scope and concept. Most participants aren't the people who typically participate in international exchange programs. They are teachers, judges, local officials, young activists, people who live in rural areas and small towns. This program penetrates deeply, rather than just being another run-of-the-mill exchange program.
I invite any colleague to talk to any of our diplomats in the participant countries. You will leave with no doubt about how unique and how valuable the network of Open World participants is in the struggle for democracy in those countries and for the way our country is regarded, and there is a long list of veterans of Open World who are now public and private sector leaders in their countries.
Mr. Chairman, some may question the placement of Open World in the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill. In fact, I think that is a huge asset. Because the program is not tied to a specific administration with its goals and politics, there is no hurdle to participation. There is no possibility that it will get lost as the State Department focuses on our other regions or on other priorities.
Now, unlike the other programs in this bill, sure enough, Open World is not about us. It is not about our salaries. It is not about our staffs. It is not about our operations. It is not about us. But I assure you, it is about our country. It is about what we stand for at home and around the world. It is about projecting the value of our democratic principles to countries with histories of oppressive rule.
The Appropriations Committee included funding for Open World following a bipartisan effort led by Representatives FORTENBERRY and FARR. Hopefully, today that wise decision will be sustained.
I strongly encourage this body to stand with the pro-democracy advocates, many, many brave and courageous people in a critical part of the world. Oppose the Ratcliffe amendment.