Washington Watch - 10/21/19
The Middle East was on the minds of policy makers last week as Turkey began military operations in Northern Syria following the withdrawal of American forces from the region. Despite warnings from the Trump Administration that the U.S. would retaliate if Turkey moved into Syria, Turkish President Recep Erdogan ordered his military to do just that, justifying the invasion as an attempt to fight terrorism and to create a safe zone in Northern Syria for the 3.6 million Syrian refugees that have had to find a safe haven in Turkey. That said, as evidenced by the recent violence, there is little doubt that this military action is a move to attack the Kurdish population near the Syrian-Turkish border.
The Kurds have been a key ally and integral to our military success against ISIS, but Turkey considers the ethnic minority group as terrorists. Since the Turkish military incursion began, the Kurdish-majority Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) have suffered hundreds of casualties among other reported atrocities, including civilian deaths.
Initially, President Trump announced that the U.S. would place sanctions on top Turkish officials, stop negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey, and increase steel tariffs to 50%. However, Turkey continued its efforts. In response, the House voted on H. J. Res. 77 to call on Turkey to immediately cease military action. This resolution passed with my support by a wide bipartisan margin. I also cosponsored H.R. 4692, the “Countering Turkish Aggression Act of 2019,” which was introduced by my friend Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), to impose more severe sanctions on Turkey for its military actions.
Bowing to growing pressure from both Congress and the White House, Turkey has agreed to a five-day ceasefire, set to end early this week, but it is my hope that our combined efforts will stop Turkey from bringing even more violence to a region that has seen non-stop tragedy for the better part of ten years.
- NBC. U.S., Turkey agree to cease-fire to allow Kurdish forces to retreat
- The New York Times. In Bipartisan Rebuke, House Majority Condemns Trump for Syria Withdrawal
- The Hill. Cheney unveils Turkey sanctions legislation
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit held a hearing last week to provide lawmakers the opportunity to learn more about Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), companies like Uber, Lyft, and other ride sharing companies, and the important role they play in connecting people. While TNCs face a wide array of challenges, passenger and driver safety remained at the forefront of the conversation. That’s because safety across all modes of transportation is not a Republican or Democratic ideal, it’s a bipartisan one that lawmakers on the Committee have always embraced. While many TNCs have taken steps to improve safety, there is always more that can be done.
One such proposal from last week’s hearing was “Sami’s Law,” H.R. 3262, introduced by Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Thomas Suozzi (D-NY). The bill is named after Samantha Josephson, a 21 year-old student at the University of South Carolina who was tragically killed earlier this year after she got into a car she thought was her Uber ride. In an effort to prevent such tragedies, H.R. 3262 would enact a host of safety measures such as requiring TNC drivers to display a consistent and distinctive signage at all times, making it unlawful for non-TNC drivers to display said signage, displaying QR codes on the side of the car to match passengers and drivers, and mandating front and rear passenger plates, just to name a few of the bill’s notable provisions.
Though I am not yet convinced that “Sami’s Law” is the best solution to protect ride sharing passengers and drivers alike, I laud the bill’s sponsors for proffering solutions and igniting this important conversation at the federal level. While Congress continues reviewing such proposals to improve TNC safety for all, including “Sami’s Law,” the good news is that nothing prohibits states from enacting many of the proposals “Sami’s Law” puts forward. For instance, Georgia is one of the nineteen states that does not require vehicles to display front and rear license plates. If Georgia wants to join the thirty-one states that already require this, I would certainly support the state’s decision to do so.
To that end, I want to take this opportunity to share with you some of the best practices ride-sharing passengers can employ to better protect themselves and their drivers. While most all ride-sharing platforms have made an in-app “Call 911” feature readily available to both passengers and drivers, the bottom line is that you – whether you are a passenger or a driver – should never hesitate to call the police when you feel unsafe, to report a crime, or to report an attempted crime.
What are some steps that you can take to keep you and your rideshare driver safe?
- Verify the vehicle. Always cross-check the license plate and vehicle information (vehicle make, model, and color) provided to you via the digital app platform or directly by the rideshare/vanpool company via email or over the phone to make sure the vehicle that arrives is in fact the correct vehicle.
- Verify the driver. Ask the driver the following questions upon arrival: “Who are you picking up?” You can follow this question by asking the driver for his or her name to cross-check the driver’s name already provided to you. You can also make sure the driver matches his or her photo, if previously provided.
- Always wait for your ride in a safe, well-lit place. Similarly, exit the vehicle in a safe, well-lit location. Be mindful of other roadway traffic and bicyclers when entering and exiting the vehicle.
- Use trip sharing features, if available, so trusted individuals can follow your route. Most all major ride-hailing companies offer a feature for you to share your trip details and live updates with a loved one. If no trip sharing feature is available, leave the details of your ride with someone you trust, or call them along the way to provide your estimated time of arrival.
Again, these are just a few of the most common steps you can take to keep yourself and your driver safe. You can click HERE to learn more about how Lyft is working to put safety first, and HERE to learn about how Uber is doing the same.
This Saturday, October 26, is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. I hope you’ll join me as we take another step in combating the opioid crisis. Take Back Day provides a safe and responsible way to dispose of excess prescription drugs. In addition, it gives us an opportunity to educate our friends, family members, and neighbors about the potential for medication abuse. To locate a collection site near you, CLICK HERE or on the image below.
Peter from Lilburn:
I am very concerned that congress is wasting my money doing nothing but hate and divide. I feel it is time for all of you to get back to work. I value what you pass – not what you vote against. Getting a bill passed means all sides have made some compromises. That is a success. I urge you to get back to work for us and shake the one next to you and "urge" him/her to do the same.
Dwayne from Duluth:
I’m deeply concerned about our current political climate. It seems as though both parties are equally unwilling to work together. Where are the real leaders? Who are the men and women from both parties willing to call out their party leaders when they are wrong? In my humble opinion our congressional leaders lack courage. We need men and women within their own parties to begin to hold their own party accountable to do what is RIGHT and NOT just side with the party lines as a blind follower. Where are the leaders with courage?
I would like to thank both Peter and Dwayne for contacting my office and sharing their concerns about Congress and our government. Let me start by saying I share your frustration with partisan politics. Too often, people believe that politicians are sent to Capitol Hill to best their political opponents and force a partisan agenda through Congress. I reject that interpretation entirely. We have been sent to Congress to work across the aisle to create solutions that improve the lives of all Americans.
People sometimes erroneously conclude that progress stops when the government is divided – but that is simply not the case. In fact, sometimes Congress can craft and pass the most meaningful legislation when bipartisanship is required rather than simply desired. While laws are created more easily when a single party controls Congress and the White House, the effect can be swinging the pendulum too far to the left or to the right and ignoring the viewpoints of the opposing party which represents a sizable portion of our country. However, with today’s divided government made up of a Democratic House, a Republican Senate, and Republican White House, the time is right to work on the big issues where legislation can include everyone’s fingerprints. When everyone has a stake in the solution, we can move the country in a positive direction on even the toughest issues.
I made just that point last week during debate on the House floor.
Instead of focusing on polarizing ideas, we should look at proposed legislation in areas like trade, drug pricing, and surprise medical billing that could pass Congress tomorrow and get to work making our country a better place to live. For my part in Congress, I will continue to be an advocate for overcoming party politics and passing bipartisan solutions on behalf of the 7th District.
The bottom line is that no political party has a monopoly on good ideas. We can disagree about policy and the best path forward for our nation. We can even be vocal about those disagreements. But political grandstanding gets us nowhere. What will move us forward is men and women of good character in Congress and the Administration coming together and working hard to help the American people.
The 7th District has a long and revered history of success when it comes to education excellence. Certainly, there are ways that we and schools across Georgia can improve the quality of our students’ education, and direct input from students is undeniably critical to furthering that goal. In that effort, earlier this summer the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) began its search for enthusiastic and bright young minds to be a part of its Student Advisory Council. Out of a pool of roughly 1,000 applicants, 130 middle and high school students from across the state were selected for this great honor, including nine students from Gwinnett and Forsyth County Schools. I have no doubt these students will represent our community well, and I am excited to hear about their work with Superintendent Woods as this academic year continues!
As you may remember from earlier this year, Lambert High School’s International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team earned top honors when competing at the national level. And as I’m sure we all suspected, their good work isn’t done yet. Their team’s captain, Abby, and biotechnology and science teacher, Janet Standeven, were selected to take part in the White House’s Summit on America’s Bioeconomy earlier this month to discuss challenges the U.S. faces in this field as well as opportunities our nation can better capitalize on to bolster our success. This event brought out key leaders of industry, federal officials, and experts in bioeconomy issues– ranging from health care, information systems, agriculture, manufacturing, and more. Few among us can say they have had the great honor of being selected to share ideas at the highest levels of government, and I want to congratulate these two for all their hard work that led to this great opportunity.
- Forsyth County News. Lambert student, teacher invited to White House for bioeconomy summit
This week the Rules Committee will bring two bills to the House floor: H.R. 2513 and H.R. 4617. H.R. 2513 is a controversial measure coming from the House Financial Services Committee that attempts to help law enforcement better crack-down on illegal money laundering activities, which we all support of course, but it does so in a manner that could infringe upon an American’s Constitutional right to due process. I want to help law enforcement stop criminals from using our financial system to launder money being used in drug and human trafficking, but stopping criminals can be done without giving away our rights.
The other measure, H.R. 4617, is the third “election security” bill that has come before the House this year. We all know that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and we all want foreign influences to stay away from the 2020 election, but this bill is not the answer. Instead of empowering the Federal Election Commission or the FBI or the Justice Department to go after foreign influences, this bill is a political power grab. It empowers the federal government to decide what the definition of “legitimate journalistic activities” is, and presumably, whatever doesn’t fall within the government’s definition would be subject to censorship. Just as I’m not willing to trade away your or my right to due process under the Constitution, I’m equally unwilling to trade away our right to First Amendment protected speech. Politics should never get in the way of the Constitution.
Member of Congress