House GOP accuses Obama of politicizing human trafficking with executive order

"I am saddened that the President plans to undermine months of our bipartisan, bicameral work by issuing a temporary executive order," Lankford said. "This is a serious issue that requires legislative solutions and deliberate action, not just political hype.

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"Today's executive order allows the President to jump in front of the moving crowd and claim leadership, when real leadership involves not just doing something but doing the right thing, at the right time," he said.

Both Lankford and House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the U.S. government is already the subject of several executive orders and regulations that have already failed to end the practice of human trafficking by government contractors. For that reason, they said another order is likely to perpetuate this problem, while Lankford's bill is a more certain step to ending it.

"Over twenty executive policies and regulations over the past decade have failed to fix this serious problem," Issa said. "I'm concerned that the announcement behind this press event will only add one more unimplemented policy to the list.

"If he's going to find time to go before the cameras and the international community to announce a half-measure policy, President Obama owes it to victims of trafficking to commit himself to personally engaging in the legislative effort to enact actual changes to federal criminal statutes."

The two House members said Obama's order, "Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts," borrows liberally from Lankford's bill, H.R. 4259. However, the executive order says it was "largely modeled on successful practices in the private sector."

According to the new Obama policy, agencies must take several steps to "strengthen the efficacy of the Government's zero-tolerance" for trafficking by contractors and subcontractors. It argues generally that as the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world, the U.S. government has a responsibility for ensuring that the companies it buys from do not engage in forced sex trafficking or forced servitude.

Republicans said that while it borrows from Lankford's bill, it does not include a key section that would strengthen the enforcement of this zero-tolerance policy on trafficking.

"While President Obama's executive order borrows many components from Congress' legislative effort, it does not include the most important part: expanding the criminal code to encompass foreign labor bondage for work performed outside the U.S. and cracking down on grants and grantees as well as just contractors," Issa said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took a more forgiving tone and praised the executive order as a "welcome step" to fight taxpayer funded human trafficking in government contracts. But he stressed the need to continue working on legislation to make it a legal change, rather than a weaker executive order that could be "rescinded at any time."

Rubio is one of the co-sponsors of the Senate bill from Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is another co-sponsor, and while he said he supports the executive order, he also said legislation is still needed.

"This executive order reaffirms the need for Congress to enact a comprehensive bill to end trafficking in government contracting at home and abroad," Blumenthal said.

In a separate statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) praised the order and said the United States "must do all we can to end this abhorrent practice." He said one additional step Congress can take is not to pass the End Human Trafficking Act, but to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Obama announced his executive order in a speech to the Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday, and said it would involve increased efforts to spotting and the stopping trafficking.

"We'll prepare a new assessment of human trafficking in the United States so we better understand the scope and scale of the problem," Obama said in his speech. "We'll strengthen training, so investigators and law enforcement are even better equipped to take action — and treat victims as victims, not as criminals."