Two weeks ago, the United States Senate unanimously passed the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, following a successful activist campaign to overcome one senator’s attempt to block it. The act passed with more bipartisan cosponsors than any Africa-focused legislation in at least three decades, showing the extraordinary results of nationwide lobbying efforts.
If this bill is signed into law, it will constitute the most significant action our leaders have taken to end LRA violence and restore lasting peace in the war’s 24-year history. But before the president can put pen to paper, the House of Representatives must follow the Senate. Getting past this final milestone is going to require one last concerted activist push to add cosponsors to the bill and shore up support from a handful of influential Members of Congress. And all of it has to happen in the next few weeks.
Here’s what you need to know:
First, there are a few key Representatives who lead the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and hold the power to determine the bill’s fate. Before the bill gets voted on by the full House of Representatives, it has to first pass out of committee. So while getting the bill through the House will not require attaining Unanimous Consent, as the Senate bill did, four leaders on the Foreign Affairs Committee nonetheless are able to decide whether or not the bill moves forward. They are Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA), Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Republican on the Committee on Foreign Affairs; Donald Payne (D-NJ), Chair of the Africa Subcommittee; and Chris Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Republican on the Africa Subcommittee.
Without all four of these representatives in agreement about seeing this bill passed quickly, ensuing political battles could easily result in the bill’s death. Crucially, all four Representatives must also agree to pass identical text as the Senate, to avoid a lengthy process of reconciling the two versions of the bill that could endanger its final passage and would further delay action to stop ongoing LRA atrocities.
None of these four are yet cosponsors of the bill, but Representatives Berman (D-CA) and Payne (D-NJ) have both verbally confirmed that they support passing the Senate version of the bill as quickly as possible. Representatives Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Smith (R-NJ) have remained silent so far. That means that if you live near Miami or central New Jersey, your voice could make a critical difference in seeing the bill passed, and we invite you to join the Rep. Ros-Lehtinen call-in blitz or the Rep. Smith call-in blitz campaigns on Facebook today.
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen and Congressman Smith both have longstanding records in support of ending conflict and defending human rights in Africa, so we are hopeful that as they determine their plans they will choose to support the bill’s immediate passage.
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen is an outspoken advocate for victims of violence in Darfur, where elements of the LRA recently made an incursion. Congressman Smith has a long history of advocating for an end to LRA atrocities, and even spoke at the first ever Lobby Days for Northern Uganda in 2006. But the time to influence their decisions on this legislation is now, as we expect the Committee to consider the bill in the next three weeks.
The second key to getting the bill through the House of Representatives is to simply add more cosponsors. So far, committed activists have attained 164 bipartisan cosponsors in the House, already an accomplishment of historic proportions. Adding more will only increase the pressure on leaders in the House of Representatives to pass the bill quickly and send a clear signal to President Obama about the urgent need for action. Our goal is to reach 218 cosponsors, or 51 percent of the House.
The best thing you can do to help reach this goal is to sign up now to join our final push for Hometown Shakedown meetings with your Representative in their local office. The Hometown Shakedown was launched November 18, 2009, and since then more than a hundred meetings have taken place that have resulted in dozens of new cosponsors for the bill. Your representatives will be home for the April recess until April 9, which will be the final day of the campaign. So sign up now!
This is it: the final push to see this bill passed. If we succeed, President Obama will have to become the first American President in the history of this war to speak publicly about how our country will help put an end to Joseph Kony’s campaign of senseless violence once and for all. We have come so far, so let’s get this done.