31 House Democrats Join the GOP’s Latest Assault on Higher Ed

Jonathan Cohn
3 min readDec 13, 2023

The House GOP’s attacks on Ivy League university presidents have dominated the news lately, but the House GOP also led a less-covered attack on higher ed last week.

That was the passage of the DETERRENT Act, which occurred last Wednesday with a vote of 246 to 170.

As the report from Democrats on the House Education and the Workforce Committee laid out, the bill would force colleges and universities to comply with burdensome and duplicative reporting requirements with no discernible increase of security or oversight and jeopardize essential global research partnerships.

Ranking Democrat Bobby Scott (VA-03) explained the absurdity and potential harmfulness of the new reporting requirements:

“For example, colleges must report any gift from a representative of a “country of concern” no matter the value — even a cup of coffee. The faculty’s information is then shared in a publicly searchable database, regardless of whether the action was nefarious or not.

“This is so excessive and burdensome — to say nothing about the potential discriminatory effect — that it would disincentivize universities from conducting critical research using collaborative partners from around the world.

He also explained how the bill could damage work to combat discrimination on campus:

“Students and faculties are already calling on Congress to improve our higher education system and address discrimination on campus. However, certain provisions in this bill would only exacerbate the ongoing culture wars that have consumed my colleagues in Congress.

“For example, the legislation singles out partnerships with certain countries, targeting researchers based solely on their nationality.

“And as I’ve said before, we can achieve accountability and compliance without contributing to anti-Asian, antisemitic, or Islamophobic animosity.

Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Judy Chu (CA-28) likewise criticized the bill for the chilling effect it could have on the Asian American research community:

“From the incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II to racial profiling of Chinese American scientists under the failed China Initiative, countless Asian Americans have had their lives destroyed because our government falsely accused them of being spies.Already, seventy two percent of Asian American academic researchers report feeling unsafe.

A group of higher education coalitions also highlighted how the language in the bill was so broad that it could threaten academic and cultural exchange programs.

Democrats offered numerous amendments in committee and on the floor to address their concerns, and House Republicans repeatedly voted them down, committed to fostering xenophobia and attacking research.

Unfortunately, despite the clear words of their colleagues, 31 House Democrats joined the GOP in voting for it:

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Jonathan Cohn

Editor. Bibliophile. Gadfly. Environmentalist. Super-volunteer for progressive campaigns. Boston by way of Baltimore, London, NYC, DC, and Philly.