- Democratic congressman representing Massachusetts’ Fourth District
- Has voted numerous times to slash funding for the CIA, FBI, and U.S. military
- Worked to weaken immigration laws that barred entry to the U.S. by individuals with a history of terrorist ties or subversive activities
- Was reprimanded by the House of Representatives in 1990, for having “reflected discredit upon the House” with his involvement in a sex scandal
- Promoted government policies mandating that banks and other money-lending institutions lower their lending standards in order to ensure that larger numbers of undercapitalized borrowers — particularly nonwhite minorities — were approved for mortgage loans
Barnett “Barney” Frank was born in March 1940 to a Jewish family in Bayonne, New Jersey. He graduated from Harvard College in 1962. From 1968-1971, he served as chief assistant to Boston mayor Kevin White. He then spent a year as administrative assistant to Congressman Michael Harrington.
From 1972-1980, Frank was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. In 1977 he earned a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School; two years later he became a member of the Massachusetts Bar. Also during the 1970s, Frank was a part-time instructor at the University of Massachusetts (Boston), the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and Boston University.
In 1980 Frank, a Democrat, ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in Massachusetts’ Fourth Congressional District and won narrowly. In 1982 the Fourth District was reconfigured geographically, and Frank won re-election by a full 20 percentage points. Since then, he has been re-elected every two years, usually by wide margins.
In May 1986 Frank co-sponsored — along with Eleanor Holmes Norton, Gloria Steinem, and several other political and activist leaders — a “New Directions” conference in Washington, DC which was “supported” by the Democratic Socialists of America.
Also in the 1980s, Frank criticized a federal domestic-spying program — which monitored the activities of teachers, clerics and political activists suspected of being disloyal to America — as a “Cold War hangover” and “a waste of time.” A key supervisor of the program was former FBI special agent Robert Hanssen, who at the time was selling U.S. secrets to the Soviet Union.
As a member of the House of Representatives, Frank developed a reputation for consistently voting to slash funding for the CIA, the FBI, and the U.S. military. He also advocated the loosening of immigration-law exclusions that previously had served to prevent people holding totalitarian or anti-American ideologies from entering the country, and to facilitate the deportation of legal aliens who had caused unrest or had engaged in subversive activities on American soil. Frank derisively categorized such exclusions as “relics of the McCarthy era.”
Frank crafted a comprehensive immigration-exclusion amendment which, over the objections of the State Department, became temporary law in 1987. This amendment made it illegal for the government use ideological considerations as a basis for barring immigrants or other foreign nationals with radical views from entering the United States. It also greatly increased the difficulty of deporting such individuals once they were in the U.S. For his efforts in this regard, Frank received an award from the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee in 1989.
In 1990 Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, wherein Frank’s ideological-exclusions amendment remained mostly, though not entirely, intact. The final amendment stated, as Frank had stipulated, that an alien could not be excluded from entry into the U.S., nor deported once there, “because of any past, current or expected beliefs, statements or associations which, if engaged in by a United States citizen in the United States, would be protected under the Constitution.” Frank had wanted, in addition, to prevent the U.S. from denying entry to immigrants based on their past“activities,” but the Bush State Department pressured him to drop that word from the amendment’s verbiage.
“[T]he 1990 Immigration Act’s revision of exclusion grounds … made it much easier for aliens who hold radical, dangerous, anti-American or subversive political beliefs to enter and remain in the United States. This perversion of the First Amendment means the guy who preaches hatred, pollutes hearts and minds, steeps persuadable people in reasons to harm Americans and wage war from within against America … gets a free pass.”
In 1988 Frank voted against U.S. aid to the “Contras” who were fighting against the Marxist-Leninist Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
In January 2000, while Frank was a member of the House Subcommittee on Immigration Claims, terrorism expert Steven Emerson appeared before that Subcommittee and gave detailed testimony about the threat posed by the many foreign Islamic radicals who were entering the U.S. each year.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Patriot Act became law and Congressman Frank’s ideological exclusion amendment was effectively suspended; visa laws were significantly tightened and the enforcement of immigration laws was increased. Frank did not approve of these changes. “When 3,000 Americans were murdered by illegal immigrant terrorists on September 11,” he said, “that was the end of rational immigration policy in the United States.”
In 1987 Frank publicly announced that he was a homosexual. Three years later the House of Representatives, acting on the recommendation of the House Ethics Committee, voted by a 408-18 margin to reprimand the congressman for having “reflected discredit upon the House.” At issue was the fact that Frank had paid for sex from a male prostitute named Steve Gobie, whom he subsequently hired as a personal “aide.” Frank also had paid for Gobie’s psychiatric treatments; had used his political influence to dismiss 33 parking tickets for the prostitute; and had written, on congressional stationery, letters on Gobie’s behalf to Virginia probation officials. Gobie, for his part, had used Frank’s Capitol Hill apartment as a house of prostitution for 18 months. The congressman later claimed that he had been unaware of Gobie’s illegal activities inside the apartment, and that he had fired the aide upon learning of them.
Reflecting later on the nature of his relationship with Gobie, Frank characterized himself as an unwitting “good liberal” who had gotten “suckered” and “victimized” while “trying to help” the young sex worker. “Thinking I was going to be Henry Higgins and trying to turn him into Pygmalion was the biggest mistake I’ve made,” Frank said at a news conference. In a 2004 retrospective discussion about the Gobie affair, Frank accused Republicans and conservative media outlets of “plotting to ruin my social life,” and suggested that he, like the sex-scandal-plagued former President Bill Clinton, was fighting a “fundamental battle for the soul of America.”
Congressman Frank and the Housing / Financial Crisis of 2008
Frank has had numerous close ties to the mortgage-lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both of which suffered economic collapse in 2008 as a result of government policies — most notably the Community Reinvestment Act — mandating that they lower their lending standards in order to ensure that larger numbers of undercapitalized borrowers — particularly nonwhite minorities — could be approved for mortgage loans (so-called “subprime loans”). Frank, who between 1989 and 2008 received campaign contributions totaling $42,350 from Fannie and Freddie, actively promoted these policies.
Starting in the early 1990s, Frank sought to stifle efforts by regulators, Congress, and the White House to place some oversight over Fannie and Freddie’s risky lending practices. In 1991, when Frank was just beginning a seven-year personal relationship with Fannie Mae executive Herb Moses (who helped develop many of Fannie’s housing-related lending programs), the congressman pushed for reduced restrictions on two- and three-family home mortgages, even though they were defaulting at twice and five times the rate of single-family homes, respectively. During that 1991-98 period, Frank was a member of the House Banking Committee, which had jurisdiction over Fannie Mae.
When Republican Congressman Jim Leach sought to impose stronger regulation on Fannie and Freddie in 1992, Frank worked to block the move. In 2000 Frank rejected yet another attempt to regulate the Fannie-Freddie loans, calling such regulation unnecessary because there was “no federal liability there whatsoever.”
In 2001, White House chief economist N. Gregory Mankiw warned that the government’s “implicit subsidy” of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, coupled with loans to unqualified borrowers, was placing the entire American financial system at great risk. Frank, who wielded immense influence as the ranking member of the House Committee on Financial Services (which oversees the housing and banking industries), denounced Mankiw and declared that he (Frank) had no “concern about housing.”
Even after federal regulators discovered in 2003 that Fannie and Freddie executives had inflated their earnings statements by some $10.6 billion in order to boost their own bonuses, and after President Bush called for what the New York Times described as the housing-finance industry’s “most significant regulatory overhaul” in a decade, Frank maintained: “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not facing any kind of financial crisis…. The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.”
Also in 2003, Frank lauded Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for having “played a very useful role in helping make housing more affordable.” Critics of their lending practices, he said, “exaggerate a threat of safety” and “conjure up the possibility of serious financial losses to the Treasury, which I do not see.”
Because he saw no threat that financial calamity might result from the subprime loans that had become so commonplace in the mortgage industry, Frank pushed for Fannie and Freddie to make even greater numbers of those loans. “I believe that we, as the Federal Government,” the congressman said, “have probably done too little rather than too much to push [Fannie and Freddie] to meet the goals of affordable housing and to set reasonable goals.” “I would like to get Fannie and Freddie more deeply into low-income housing and possibly moving into something that is more explicitly a subsidy,” said Frank. “… I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation towards subsidized housing.” Moreover, Frank worried that critics of lower lending standards might create “pressure” which would, in turn, lead to “less … affordable housing.”
In 2004 Frank and 75 other House Democrats (including such notables as Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters, and Charles Rangel) took exception to George W. Bush’s public expression of concern about the risky loans that Fannie Mae and and Freddie Mac were making. The Representatives sent the President a letter warning that “an exclusive focus on safety and soundness is likely to come, in practice, at the expense of affordable housing.”
In June 2005, Frank said the following about his – and the House Financial Services Committee’s – efforts to promote home-ownership for low-income people:
“Obviously, speculation is never a good thing. But those who argue now that housing prices are now at the point of a bubble seem to me to be missing a very important point. Unlike previous examples we have had, where substantial excessive inflation of prices later caused some problems, we are talking here about an entity, home ownership. Homes, where there is not the degree of leverage that we’ve seen elsewhere. This is not the dot-com situation, where you had problems when people invested in a business plan where there was no reality. People building fiber optic cable for which there was no need. Homes that are occupied may see ebb and flow of price at a certain percentage level, but you’re not going to see the collapse that you see when people talk about a bubble. So those of us on our committee will continue to push for home ownership.”
When the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, or OFHEO (the agency responsible for overseeing Fannie and Freddie), in 2004 issued a 211-page report condemning irregularities in Fannie Mae’s accounting, Frank said: “It is clear that a leadership change at OFHEO is overdue.”
In 2007 Frank became chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. That same year the mortgage crisis first began to manifest itself, as a result of the large number of defaults on the subprime loans which Frank had long advocated. Yet the congressman attributed the crisis not to the lending policies he had been espousing, but rather to the allegedly greedy practices of banks and inadequate regulatory oversight. “The subprime crisis,” he said, “demonstrates the serious economic and social consequences that result from too little regulation.” In 2008 Frank similarly blamed the crisis on “excessive deregulation” and “bad decisions that were made by people in the private sector thanks to a conservative philosophy that says the market knows best.”
Frank has defended ACORN and other, likeminded activist groups which have spearheaded the movement demanding that underqualified minority borrowers be given access to subprime loans and lower eligibility standards. According to the congressman, these organizations are composed of “people who are trying very hard to preserve some equity and some social justice,” and “people whose only crime was to offend powerful political interests because they cared about equity.”
In 2008 Frank was asked how the U.S. government ought to address the nation’s financial crisis. He replied:
“I think at this point there needs to be a focus on an immediate increase in spending, and I think this is a time when deficit fear has to take a second seat. I do think this is a time for a very important kind of dose of Keynesianism. Yes, I believe later on, there should be tax increases. Speaking personally, I think there are a lot of very rich people out there whom we can tax at a point down the road and recover some of this money.”
Frank endorsed the massive government bailouts of the banking industry (under the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP) in 2008 and 2009, saying: “This is equivalent to what FDR had to do … to save capitalism from its own excesses.” In February 2009, Frank pledged that he would not accept campaign donations from any banks that had received TARP money, or from political action committees (PACs) tied to such institutions. But in fact, he went on to take more than $40,000 in contributions from such banks and their PACs in 2009 and 2010.
In December 2008, Frank improperly inserted into the TARP bill a provision which helped OneUnited Bank, a minority-owned institution with close ties to Rep. Maxine Waters (whose husband was a former OneUnited director) and a long history of mismanagement, to get $12 million in TARP funds. When he was later asked about the scandal, Frank admitted that he had spoken to a “federal regulator” but said he could not remember whom it was. In 2010, however, Judicial Watch revealed that the supposedly nameless bureaucrat was actually then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
On September 16, 2009, the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services met to discuss the Community Reinvestment Modernization Act of 2009, which was designed to expand the scope of the original Community Reinvestment Act to include non-bank financial institutions, such as credit unions. Presiding over those hearings was Barney Frank.
More on Congressman Frank
Frank has been a guest speaker at the national convention of the American Constitution Society.
In 2003 Frank served on the advisory committee of the Progressive Majority, a political networking group dedicated to electing leftist candidates to public office.
In 2005 Frank joined the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus.
In 2006 Frank was one of only three members of the House of Representatives to vote against the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act, which restricted political protests — most notably those led by the anti-gay, anti-war activist Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church — at U.S. soldiers’ funerals. Frank opposed the bill, which the Senate passed unanimously, on civil liberties and constitutional grounds.
In January 2007, Frank chastised the Bush administration for its initial “incompetence” in responding to Hurrican Katrina, which had devastated New Orleans in 2005. Adding that the administration, since then, had done “virtually nothing to alleviate” the loss of housing by the (mostly black) poor in that city, Frank continued: “What I believe is, at this point, you’re not talking about incompetence, you’re talking about values … when in a calculated way you refuse to do anything for well over a year after the disaster. The policy, I think, is ethnic cleansing by inaction.”
In 2008 Frank called for a 25 percent reduction in U.S. military spending. “The math is compelling,” he wrote. “If we do not make reductions approximating 25 percent of the military budget starting fairly soon, it will be impossible to continue to fund an adequate level of domestic activity.”
On December 2, 2009, Congressman Frank and Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd together proposed, in the House of Representatives, a financial-reform bill designed to minimize the chances that another financial crisis like that of 2008 would occur. The conference committee that reported on June 29, 2010 voted to name the bill “The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.” Nearly 2,000 pages long, this legislation, according to the conservative Heritage Foundation, “represents the largest expansion of Washington’s role in the financial industry since the Great Depression” and increases the likelihood of another crisis. To view the Heritage Foundation’s analysis of the bill, click here and here.
In October 2011, Frank said that he supported the Occupy Wall Street movement “to the extent that they obey the law.” Frank added that he wished “that kind of energy was around two years ago when we were voting on the financial reform bill. We’d have a tougher bill.”
Frank serves as an honorary president of Americans for Democratic Action, along with such notables as John Lewis, Jim McDermott, George McGovern, and Charles Rangel. He is also a member of the socialist-leaning Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives.
On November 28, 2011, Frank announced that he would retire from Congress at the conclusion of his term in January 2013.
On May 26, 2012, Frank was a guest speaker at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth undergraduate commencement, where he received the Chancellor’s Distinguished Service Medal. In the course of his remarks, Frank made a controversial comment (eliciting an audible gasp from the audience) about Hubie Jones, an African American who received an honorary doctorate. Referencing a recent incident where a “white Hispanic” man in Florida had shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a black teenager whose hooded sweatshirt may have led the gunman to suspect that the youngster was engaged in criminal activity, Frank said the following about (and to) Hubie Jones: “I’m particularly pleased that Hubie got an honorary degree today. You know, when you get an honorary degree they give you one of these [a hood signifying the recipient’s honor] and Hubie, I think you now got a hoodie you can wear and no one will shoot at you. So, I think you’ll feel, I hope, pretty protected by that.”
On July 7, 2012, Frank wed his longtime partner, 42-year-old James Ready, thereby becoming the first sitting congressman to enter into a same-sex marriage.
For an overview of Frank’s voting record on an array of key issues during his career in Congress, click here.
A portion of this profile is adapted from the article “Immigrating Terror,” authored by Rocco DiPippo and published by FrontPagemag.com on April 3, 2006.