Washington Watch - 3/16/20

March 16, 2020
E-Newsletter Archive
Congress Takes Action to Address Coronavirus’ Economic Effects

EMERGENCY AID FOR AMERICAN FAMILIES AND BUSINESSES

Given the precautionary measures being taken across the United States and even here on Capitol Hill to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is easy to succumb to the alarm many may feel as a result. However, it is important to understand that there are simple steps you can take to keep yourself and your family safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also issued guidelines to help prevent COVID-19 from spreading throughout the community that everyone can follow.

President Trump has also taken action using his executive authority to extend travel restrictions from the European Union after having already done so for China and Iran where the outbreak has been particularly extensive. The European Union one of the hardest hit regions outside of China, with 70 percent of new cases world wide being linked to travel from Europe. Additionally, President Trump made a national emergency declaration on Friday to free up $40 billion of disaster relief funds to use towards the COVID-19 response and unburden our state and local health officials from regulatory red tape to expand and expedite testing.

In addition to the emergency supplemental Congress I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, the House has continued to take steps in response to the crisis. Early Saturday morning, the House came together to overwhelmingly pass a bipartisan economic stimulus package to contain the effects COVID-19 has had on families, businesses, and the labor market. Specifically, the bill – negotiated by the White House and House leadership – would provide free testing for the virus, ensure children who are dependent on free and reduced school lunch still have access to food during school closures, access to paid sick leave for those infected with the virus, access to paid family leave for those who must miss work to care for a loved one with the virus, and access to unemployment insurance for those who lost their job due to the outbreak.

It was encouraging to see partisanship put aside in the time of a crisis to deliver meaningful and targeted solutions for the American people. I am hopeful this sets the stage for further bipartisanship here in Congress as we continue to address the needs that arise from this outbreak, and the myriad other issues still pending legislative action after this crisis has subsided.

As I will continue to reference for the duration of the COVID-19 mitigation period, you can visit my website for resources on preventative measures and the latest developments from the CDC, or go to the Georgia Department of Public Health website for efforts being taken right in our state.

 

EXAMINING THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE’S BUDGET REQUEST FOR FY21

Last Tuesday, the House Budget Committee met to discuss a critically important piece of the federal government: the Department of Defense (DOD) budget. Members heard from U.S. Department of Defense Deputy Secretary David Norquist regarding the President’s proposed budget request for Fiscal Year 2021 on various aspects of the defense budget, from how DOD is furthering our national defense capabilities, to how failures in the appropriations process and continuing resolutions hinder DOD’s long-term readiness.

While our nation’s mandatory spending – roughly two-thirds of the federal budget – undeniably poses our biggest threat to fiscal responsibility, our nation’s defense spending accounts for the largest piece of the pie on the discretionary side, which is why we must ensure that every dollar is being maximized. Calls for fiscal accountability in our federal budget do not need to be at odds with our efforts to rebuild and restore our military capabilities and readiness to counter aggression from any number of adversaries. I applaud the Trump Administration and Deputy Secretary Norquist’s commitment to both of those goals in their budget request by providing our military with the resources they need to be effective while also adhering to spending caps set forth by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, in addition to completing the largest financial audit undertaken by a federal agency for Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019.

I had an opportunity to ask Deputy Secretary Norquist about the DOD’s efforts to balance those aforementioned goals as well as how the agency prioritizes other activities, like the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, among its larger national defense focus. You can watch that full exchange below.

Rep. Rob Woodall (GA-07) speaks with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary David Norquist during the House Budget Committee hearing on the President’s FY2021 Budget Request

I greatly appreciated the feedback and insights from Deputy Secretary Norquist, and I wish that those insights from all the heads of our federal agencies could be used to better this year’s federal budget. Unfortunately, House Leadership has, for the second year in a row, neglected its responsibility to produce a budget, reneging on the Committee’s primary responsibility. While I appreciate Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth’s work to ensure our budgeting process tomorrow is better than it is today, I hope he will also echo these calls to restore that commitment – and statutory duty – to produce a budget of our federal priorities and restore Congress’s power of the purse so that it can be the most effective. 

 

CONGRESS PASSES DIVIDED FAMILIES REUNIFICATION ACT & MODCOM

I’m pleased to report that last week the House passed, under suspension of the rules, H.R. 1771, the “Divided Families Reunification Act” and H.Res. 756, the “Moving Our Democracy and Congressional Operations towards Modernization Resolution,” or “MODCOM.”

As an original co-sponsor, I have been working on passing H.R. 1771 for over a year now. This bill, which I drafted along with my friend, Representative Grace Meng (D-NY), would create a new way for Korean Americans to reunite with family members still living in North Korea. I’m incredibly proud that the House recognized this tragedy and passed our bill to help Korean Americans see their long-lost relatives once again.

As for H.Res. 756 – this is a bill that consists of the good work produced by the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. Since the Committee’s inception, my colleagues and I have developed 45 recommendations to build a better Congress. In the MODCOM resolution, 30 of these recommendations will be implemented to improve internal operations and promote increased transparency in Congress. You can listen to my remarks on the House floor by clicking on the photo below.

Rep. Rob Woodall speaks on the House floor in favor of H.Res. 756

 

CONSTITUENT SPOTLIGHT: INCREASING ACCOUNTABILITY IN THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) has been one of the more controversial pieces of legislation Congress has debated since it was first signed into law in 1978. The law has been used to investigate foreign actors who have threatened Americans and is an important of protecting our national security. However, after changes were made in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, it’s been criticized for its potential use to violate the 4th Amendment rights of Americans, lack of oversight into its use, and absence of due process for those it may target. Last week the House considered the reauthorization of the law for the next three years. Here is what many of you had to say about the bill: 

Patricia from Cumming:

Dear Rep. Woodall As provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and USA PATRIOT Act are being considered, I urge you to support the following surveillance reforms: (1) require additional notice and disclosure for individuals targeted and/or prosecuted using information obtained via surveillance under FISA; (2) limit the types of records that can be obtained by the government under the Patriot Act; and (3) reform the FISA court process to enhance accountability, oversight and transparency. Right now you have an opportunity —and responsibility to your constituents —to reform our surveillance laws and better protect our privacy rights. The government has far too often abused its foreign intelligence surveillance powers to spy on Americans, including political activists, dissidents, and communities of color. You can’t just look the other way. We're demanding our privacy rights back. Congress must rein in the government's spying powers and enact meaningful reforms that prevent discriminatory surveillance practices and shield First Amendment-protected activities.

Lisa from Lawrenceville:

As your constituent, I implore you to vote NO on any straight-up or “clean” reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act’s Section 215.We cannot bring unnecessary and invasive surveillance powers into the new decade. This is our chance to bring serious reforms to a flawed and opaque foreign intelligence system, ensure more accountability for citizens who may be targeted by surveillance, and end the broken Call Detail Records program that has collected information on millions of Americans. In an era of political upheaval and uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to pass serious reforms of Section 215.

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In the past, I have voted against reauthorizing individual FISA programs that I felt did not go far enough to protect Americans’ privacy and strike the proper balance between liberty and security. In fact, in the last reauthorization, I voted for Representative Justin Amash’s (R-MI) amendment, commonly known as the “USA RIGHTS Act,” which would have gone even further in reforming FISA programs to protect Americans’ privacy. However, when that amendment failed, I supported more modest reforms in the underlying bill that I believe protect our privacy while giving our intelligence community and our law enforcement officials the tools they need to keep Americans safe.

That was the case with H.R. 6172, the “USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act.” This bill was a bipartisan product that included input from Attorney General Barr and others involved in the Intelligence Community to enhance the privacy of Americans. New Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a staunch advocate for individual liberty himself, offered his support for the bill.

Specifically, the legislation would reauthorize the roving wiretap authority, required for suspects who frequently change their phone numbers; preserves the lone wolf definition for a foreign individual not part of an international terrorist organization but inspired by one; and amend FISA authorities related to “tangible things” collection regarding business records. The bill would also place new limitations on FISA authorities, including ending the NSA’s authority to collect call detail records on an ongoing basis, prohibiting the government from collecting any records if a warrant would be required to collect the same records for law enforcement purposes to include cell site location or GPS information, and limits the government from retaining materials for more than five years, subject to limitations. In addition to greater transparency guarantees within the reauthorization, the underlying bill also includes provisions to ensure integrity in the FISA process regarding accuracy, remedies for misconduct, and ensuring compliance.

We must continue to be vigilant, and continually reexamine the FISA process so that we can always make certain that we are protecting security, liberty, and privacy. I fully expect Congress to make further changes to FISA when this authorization lapses in 2023.

 

GWINNETT HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS RECOGNIZED AT THE 2020 MUSIC TECHNOLOGY SHOWCASE

The Seventh District’s exceptional school system continues to pride itself on producing talented students. Last week, Isaac Baquerizo, a Brookwood High School student, and Julie Morris, a Peachtree Ridge High School student, accepted certificates in recognition for their projects being named Best in Show at the 2020 Music Technology showcase. Earlier this year, over 70 students across the state submitted their original works to the Georgia Music Educators Association (GMEA) for a chance to be featured in the Music Technology Showcase at the GMEA State In-service Conference. Of these students, Isaac and Julie tied for Best in Show for their digital music composition. With this award, they received various digital materials and a chance to meet in a professional studio with industry professionals.

I would like to extend my sincere congratulations to Isaac and Julie for achieving such an outstanding award. Students like these exemplify the incredible talent that comes from the 7th District.

 

FORSYTH SCOUTS BRING PINEWOOD DERBY TO CHOA

Time and time again, the Seventh District proves it is home to a strong community of service-minded volunteers. This week we recognize eighth-grader Tristan Sarrica for his thoughtful Eagle Scout project, bringing the Pinewood Derby to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) Egleston Hospital. On March 7th, Tristan and several scouts from Troop 1109 arrived at CHOA to set up a miniature racetrack for the patients to play with. Participating patients were given miniature white pinewood derby cars to decorate before setting off to race their cars on the track. After three hours of derby racing, the participants of the CHOA Pinewood Derby received medals to commemorate the special event.

I would like to thank Tristan and his fellow scouts for brightening the day for all those children who participated in the CHOA Pinewood Derby. We are so proud that you call our district home!

 

THE WEEK AHEAD

This week, the House is not in session, but the Senate will be in Washington, D.C., working on reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and on passing the most recent Covid-19 supplemental appropriations measure. I know my colleagues in the Senate are going to work together – as the House did last week – to bring the American people the relief that they need and ensure we are safe from foreign terrorist threats. While I had planned on attending a number of community and school events this week right here in Georgia, as you can imagine, all of those events have been temporarily suspended. The good news, however, is that technology is allowing us to continue working. I will be using conference calls this week instead of in-person meetings, and while my D.C. and Lawrenceville offices will be closed, my phone lines are open during regular business hours (9am-6pm), and my staff will still be working hard to serve you.

Sincerely,

Rob Woodall
Member of Congress