Washington Watch - 11/19/18
I have heard from many of you about the need to reform our nation’s federal prison system, and Congress has been looking for innovative ways to both reduce the cost of Federal incarceration and provide those who have served their time with an opportunity to contribute positively to their communities. That is why I was pleased when President Trump invited law enforcement officials and members of the House and Senate to join him in announcing his support for H.R. 5682, the “First Step Act,” which is sponsored by my friend and colleague Representative Doug Collins (R-GA). The bill reforms sentencing requirements, implements programs to reduce prisoner recidivism, and more justly applies the law. We passed this bill on the House floor back in May by an overwhelming bipartisan margin, and since then, the Senate has been working to make even more changes that would give judges more discretion when sentencing individuals and retroactively addressing the disparity in some sentencing guidelines. It’s clear that our criminal justice system can and must perform better, and I look forward to voting on the final package once it clears the Senate.
- Washington Post. Trump endorses bipartisan criminal-justice reform bill
- USA Today. Trump embraces bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation
I often hear from folks who are passionate about the preservation of our wild and native animal and plant populations, and chief among their concerns is the strengthening of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We often hear about animals being placed on the endangered species list, but we don’t often hear about animals coming off the list. The great news is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimates that the number of gray wolves in the U.S. has rebounded to such an extent that they have exceeded population targets by as much as 300%. Even with this success, judicial interventions have prevented the gray wolf from being properly delisted. That’s why the House took action and passed H.R. 6784, the “Manage Our Wolves Act,” which removes the gray wolf from the ESA’s List of Endangered and Threatened Species so states can have the authority to manage gray wolf populations.
The truth is that delisting a species is always good news and is an undeniable sign that the ESA’s recovery efforts are working. Even President Obama’s Administration wanted to delist the gray wolf years ago! I was happy to support H.R. 6784, and I hope that our Senators will approve it and send it to the President soon.
As many of you know, the raging California wildfires have displaced hundreds and thousands of families, burned cities and neighborhoods to the ground, and have unfortunately resulted in the loss of too many precious lives. Additionally, more than 900 individuals had been reported missing as of last Sunday in northern California just about a week after the Camp Fire tore through the town of Paradise. The Camp Fire, which is blazing nearly 90 miles from Sacramento, has been declared the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California state history. To the south, the Woolsey fire near Malibu has killed three, burned more than 96,000 acres, and has destroyed more than 1,400 structures, including the home of one of my Congressional colleagues, former Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier.
It is undeniable that the communities, individuals, and families affected by these fires will need all the time and resources they can get to rebuild. To help in that process, President Trump approved California Governor Jerry Brown’s Major Disaster Declaration last week, making federal disaster assistance available to the state to help supplement recovery efforts in the areas that have been ravaged by the wildfires. While President Trump’s approval of the declaration frees up much needed federal funds to help these localities, businesses, and individuals, there is still much more that can – and must – be done to thwart wildfires from escalating to this level of destruction.
That said, when it comes to fixing the wildfire funding crises at the federal level, much of the issue lies in the fact that federal agencies working to suppress and contain wildfires have been underfunded for too long, and as a result, they are forced to borrow funds from non-fire accounts – funds that would typically go towards forest management activities that work to prevent catastrophic fires through responsible forest thinning and other practices. In fact, the House passed a bill earlier this year that would work to resolve this very funding crises – H.R. 2936, the “Resilient Federal Forests Act,” a bill that provides a fiscally responsible budget fix that would prohibit the borrowing of funds while simultaneously enacting smart, targeted forest management reforms. I certainly understand that a legislative fix won’t reverse the devastating impacts these deadly and devastating wildfires have had on the people and state of California, and I also understand that proper forest management is only a single risk factor in the larger issue at hand, but I do believe that it is our responsibility to consider any and all solutions so that we can be proactive when it comes to making decisions rather than being reactive when disaster strikes.
- CBS News. California wildfires: nearly 1,000 unaccounted for in Camp Fire
- KSLA News. Here’s how you can help those affected by the California wildfires
On Thursday, my colleagues and I on the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform (JSCBAPR) began considering a bill that will move our nation to a biennial budgeting system among other important reforms. Working on this committee with members from the House and Senate and from both sides of the political aisle has been tremendously rewarding, and it is a testament to how we can work together even during a contentious election season. In fact, the committee unanimously approved an amendment that I offered along with my colleagues Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to strengthen the budget reconciliation process. While we will finish our mark-up of the bill after the Thanksgiving break, I am proud of how far we have come to this point, and I know that we will have a bill to present to the full House and Senate soon.
With the 2018 midterm elections finally winding down, we now turn to the future and the beginning of the 116th Congress. On January 3rd, we will welcome over 100 newly-elected legislators to Congress, including the largest class of women in our history, 92 combat veterans, and the first Muslim and Native American women members. The past week was filled with orientation and training for those new members and the selection of who will lead the two parties in each chamber. Here on the House side, my colleagues and I chose Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to be the Minority Leader of the House Republican Conference. Over in the Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was re-elected to be the Majority Leader of the Senate Republicans and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was also re-elected to be Minority Leader of the Senate Democrats. House Democrats will select their leaders later this month after returning from the Thanksgiving holiday, and by all accounts, it could be a very interesting race.
The end of the 115th Congress also marks the end of the terms for many colleagues and friends whom I have had the pleasure of working with over the years. I wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors, and I look forward to working with the newly-elected members from both parties to serve the American people in the 116th Congress.
- Washington Post. Congressional leadership elections: House Republicans elect Kevin McCarthy as next leader; Pelosi seeks to shore up votes for speaker
It’s been an active and productive year – and some might even say a hectic one. Sometimes in that grind, we get distracted from certain things. We all have so much going on with many demands on our time, resources, and energy. In a community such as ours, there is also no shortage of generosity, but there is great need as well, and sometimes we unintentionally lose sight of that. What I know about our character, though, is that we answer the call, so I wanted to share a need that has recently come to my attention.
Meals by Grace is a wonderful organization started by Forsyth residents Suellen and Stephen Daniels to help ensure no child and no child’s family goes hungry. I know the Daniels Family personally and have had the opportunity to visit their organization and see the inspiring work they are doing on a daily basis. Food insecurity is a very real problem that affects far too many in our community and across the country, but thanks to folks like Suellen, Steve, and their team, it affects far fewer than it would otherwise.
Just days before Thanksgiving, however, the shelves at Meals by Grace are noticeably bare. None of us want to see that, and right now, it’s our partnership that Meals by Grace needs to continue serving our community in the remarkable way that they have been doing for years. If you are able, I would encourage you to consider partnering with them. I know they will certainly appreciate it, and I can assure you that your time and resources will be put to great use in the service of others. During this time of year when we pause to give special thanks for the blessings in our lives, one of the things for which I am most grateful is a community that cares for one another as we do. Challenging times are always present, and thankfully here at home, so are those ready and willing to meet them.
- Forsyth County News. Why the shelves of Meals by Grace are empty a week before Thanksgiving (and how you can help)
For the third consecutive year, we had the opportunity last week to celebrate our first-responders at the Red, Blue and You luncheon in their honor. I love this about who we are! Men and women going to great lengths to not only be good neighbors, but also to be certain those who make sacrifices on our behalf are aware of just how much they are appreciated. My friend Raymer Sale took it upon himself to not only come up with the idea for this event, but also to do the hard work of making it a reality. Those are the kind of folks that make up our community – and I couldn’t be prouder or more grateful.
Sadly, this year’s celebration had a somber tone to it as friends, family members, colleagues, and many more reflected on the life and service of Gwinnett County Police Officer Antwan Toney. Less than one month ago, Officer Toney was killed in the line of duty while responding to a call. The senselessness of this act is heartbreaking, and I continue to pray for those close to him as they have suffered an unimaginable loss. Officer Toney was a native of California but had chosen our community to call home and serve all of us every day. He not only made us safer, he also made us better by way of his actions and example. His love for his work, his community, his brothers and sisters in uniform, and the strangers he encountered every day was evident to all. Officer Toney’s legacy is one of selflessness and joy, and it is my great honor to have been touched by it.
I had the honor of sharing Officer Toney with the American people last week on the floor of the House of Representatives.
- Gwinnett Daily Post. Third annual luncheon honors first responders, remembers Gwinnett Officer Antwan Toney
Every year, Americans from all walks of life, all religions, and all backgrounds come together to celebrate the most American of holidays – Thanksgiving. This time of year allows us to spend time with loved ones and reflect on all our many blessings. As young people, we don’t often take the time to think about how important Thanksgiving is. We’re consumed with Black Friday sales, food, and football. As we grow older, however, if you’re anything like me, you realize how special Thanksgiving is for the things that can’t be bought or watched. Thanksgiving is about gathering around your family and friends, talking about the Thanksgivings of the past when relatives long departed from us are remembered fondly. It’s about welcoming new people to our families and making new memories with them. It’s about taking time to say thank you to whatever God you believe in for all that we have; for those great things like religious freedom, freedom of speech, and the right to vote, and for those small things like family, friends, health, and happiness. This Thanksgiving, as Americans put politics and elections behind us, let’s remember that whether you’re spending this holiday with the family you were born into or with the family that you chose to be part of, we’re all hoping for a restful, peaceful, and celebratory Thanksgiving.
Member of Congress