Everyone in politics dreams of shutting up opponents, but the wise and reasonable understand that in a free society it’s not nice to do that. The First Amendment guarantees free speech to everybody. Earlier this week Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah introduced a Senate version of the Financial Institution Customer Protection Act, designed to stop, once and for all, the U.S. Justice Department’s scheme to deny credit and banking services to businesses the White House doesn’t approve of. A version of the legislation was passed by the House of Representatives in February with bipartisan support.
Operation Choke Point, the aptly named scheme, would choke off money to businesses that are legal, ethical and law-abiding, but in disfavor at the White House. The scheme was viewed skeptically by Congress from the beginning but only the passage of time inspired curiosity about what was actually going on. By 2015, it was clear that the Obama administration was targeting gun dealers, pawn shop owners and payday lenders around the country, who were told by their banks that they would no longer process their credit card receipts, or even allow them to maintain accounts in their banks. Some of these depositors had been customers for decades.
Bank regulators were telling bankers that, although the government doesn’t have the authority to order them to discontinue relationships with legitimate businesses they disapprove of, certain kinds of businesses would likely attract more frequent visits from bank examiners. Bankers usually don’t come into town on the turnip truck, and many took the not-so-subtle hint.
Frank Keating, the former governor of Oklahoma and once a federal prosecutor who was once the president of the American Bankers Association, said Operation Choke Point “is asking banks to identify customers doing something the government officials don’t like. Banks then ‘choke off’ those customers’ access to financial services, shutting down their accounts.” In 2014, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigated Operation Choke Point and concluded that it was necessary to “disavow and dismantle Operation Choke Point.”
The increasingly lawless Obama administration has still not done that, and the White House said even if the legislation to dismantle Operation Choke Point passed both the House and Senate, Mr. Obama would veto it. The Senate should pass the legislation, anyway, and with the same bipartisan margin it enjoyed in the House, and send it to the president who boasts that he always wants to do the right thing. Signing the legislation into law is what a majority in Congress clearly thinks is “the right thing.” But it’s the president’s constitutional right to tell Congress and the public that he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. His veto would speak with more force than a thousand words.