Thursday, August 24, 2017

After Charlottesville Attack, 22 Democrat Senators Press DHS on Trump Administration’s De-emphasis of Domestic Terrorism Efforts

Newark, NJ - August 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- In the wake of the deadly attack stemming from a far-right demonstration in Charlottesville, Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and a group of 22 other lawmakers are pressing the Department of Homeland Security on questions arising from the Trump Administration’s alleged de-emphasis on protecting Americans from domestic terrorism, especially the Administration’s alleged decision to de-emphasize combating far-right extremism.

The Senators, led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), questioned DHS Acting Secretary Elaine Duke about the department’s apparent shift in focus.

“The alleged attack that killed one innocent person and injured at least nineteen others in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend was seemingly not just an ugly display of racist violence, it was likely also an incident of domestic terrorism,” the senators wrote. “Yet as our nation confronts the problem of growing racial, religious and even political hatred, we are concerned that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may not be adequately addressing one of the most significant threats of domestic terrorism.”
The senators noted that the Trump Administration revoked DHS funding to Life After Hate, an organization devoted to the rehabilitation of former neo-Nazis and other extremists.

“Several new grantees were added, but it now appears the focus on far-right extremism has been significantly reduced, if not completely eliminated,” the senators continued. They asked DHS to explain its decision, and to clarify reports that Trump transition team aide Katharine Gorka “may have played a role in the decisions about which groups would and would not receive [Countering Violent Extremism] grants.”

The senators expressed concern that “troubling indications of this Administration’s priorities are not limited to these developments. President Trump kept silent after the August 5, 2017, bombing of the Dar Al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota. And the President faced two days of mounting pressure before finally denouncing far-right groups after the Charlottesville attack, while declaring the next day that ‘I think there’s blame on both sides.’ Far-right extremist groups, including neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists, and other groups motivated by racial and ethnic hatred, present a significant risk of violence and domestic terrorism. It is critical that the Administration’s policies and priorities reflect this risk, and protect all Americans from violence and domestic terrorism.”

Senators joining Menendez, Booker and Leahy in signing the letter are: Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

A full copy of the letter can be found here.


Washington, D.C. - August 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released the following statement ahead of Secretary Mattis’s trip to Kiev tomorrow, urging the Trump administration to provide lethal defensive assistance to Ukraine:

“Secretary Mattis's visit to Kiev provides yet another opportunity for the United States to correct its policy toward Ukraine and provide the lethal defensive assistance the country needs to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Earlier this week, President Trump took a step forward when he changed course and departed from his predecessor's failed policy in Afghanistan. The President now has the same opportunity with regard to Ukraine.

“It is long past time for the United States to provide Ukraine the defensive lethal assistance it needs to deter and defend against further Russian aggression. Raising the cost of aggression may help to change Vladimir Putin's calculus, pressure Russia to fully comply with the Minsk agreements, and, ultimately, create more stable security conditions on the ground that are essential for peace. In other words, providing defensive lethal assistance to Ukraine is not opposed to a peaceful resolution of this conflict – it is essential to achieving it. As long as the status quo remains, Russia has no reason to change its behavior, and we should only expect more violence and more death.

“Several weeks ago, the President took the first significant step toward imposing costs on Russian aggression when he signed into law new sanctions passed by Congress. Changing U.S. policy to provide lethal defensive assistance to Ukraine would be another step in the right direction – sending a strong signal that the United States will stand by the sovereign right of its allies and partners to choose their own future.”

Senator Markey Leads Call for Ban on Menthol Cigarettes

Washington, D.C. - August 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today led a group of U.S. Senators in calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban menthol cigarettes. In 2011, the FDA conducted a scientific review that concluded “that menthol cigarettes pose a public health risk above that seen with non-menthol cigarettes.” Despite this finding and other supporting data, the FDA has yet to take action to address the risk of menthol in cigarettes. Recently, the agency indicated it would open another public comment period on menthol, an activity that will serve to further delay any action to protect public health from the dangers of menthol cigarettes. In their letter to FDA, the Senators point to one model that found that because of the availability of menthol cigarettes, nine million individuals would initiate smoking between 2010 and 2050. Another model showed that hundreds of thousands of deaths would be averted by removing menthol. The FDA’s own scientific assessment also found that menthol cigarettes frequently serve as a starter product for youth, are associated with increased nicotine dependence in young smokers, and make it more difficult to quit smoking.

“As Senators committed to the FDA’s mission to protect public health, we believe it is time for the FDA to act on the substantial scientific data and use the authority provided by the Tobacco Control Act to remove menthol cigarettes from the marketplace,” write the Senators in the letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “Continued delay on this issue will only further worsen this public health crisis, as a new generation of smokers are initiated and become addicted to menthol cigarettes.”

A copy of the letter to the FDA can be found HERE.

Also signing the letter are Senator Patty Murray (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

President Signs Manchin, Ernst Bipartisan Effort to Authorize Global War on Terrorism War Memorial

Washington, D.C. - August 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Last week, bipartisan legislation championed by U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), known as the Global War on Terrorism War Memorial Act, was signed into law by the President. The legislation authorizes the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation, a private foundation, to begin the process of pursuing the construction of a memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The memorial will honor our men and women in uniform, the fallen servicemembers, their families, and all those who are impacted by our nation’s longest war.

“The President’s recent announcement of increased troop levels in Afghanistan is a somber reminder that there are Americans serving in harm’s way. For the thousands of Americans who perished protecting our freedom, and the million more who were wounded or fought in the global war on terror, this memorial will forever honor their sacrifice to our great country,” Senator Manchin said. “I’m proud of the work done by my colleagues in approving the first step towards building a memorial that commemorates our sons and daughters who answered the call to fight. I thank the President for seeing to it that this memorial was quickly approved. In the coming weeks, there will be much debate on the President’s plans for Afghanistan; however, there is no debate that we have the greatest military in the world and we are indebted to their service.”

“I am thrilled the President has signed into law this important legislation authorizing the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation to begin creating a place of remembrance for those who served, their loved ones, and all impacted by this war,” said Senator Ernst, a combat veteran. “I am thankful this years-long process can now begin so the veterans of this war may have the opportunity to visit the tribute to their selfless service.”

This authorization is the first step in a process that will culminate with the design and construction of a Global War on Terror Memorial on the National Mall without using any federal funds.

The bill, sponsored by Congressmen Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Seth Moulton (D-MA), is a companion measure to S. 926 which Manchin and Ernst introduced in April. Additionally, this legislation has received support from The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US (VFW), Iraq And Afghanistan Veterans Of America (IAVA), Wounded Warrior Project, The Military Order of the Purple Heart, American Veterans (AMVETS), American Goldstar Mothers, Student Veterans of America, The Green Beret Foundation, Team Rubicon, The Mission Continues, Team Red White and Blue, Travis Manion Foundation, Got Your Six, Warrior Expeditions, Union Veteran Council of the AFL-CIO, and Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors (TAPS).

I wonder how long it will be before the "peaceful" Islamists start tearing this one down...

Trump's Border Visit

Below are a few statements offered about Trump's border visit in Yuma, Arizona. Keep checking back as this page will be updated over time:

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) released the following statement on President Trump’s visit to Yuma, Arizona to review operations of the U.S. Border Patrol:

“The President’s visit to Yuma, Arizona will be a critical step in highlighting the needs of our border patrol operations and evaluating the challenges they face in keeping our country safe. I applaud President Trump for his leadership on this issue and for his relentless commitment to keeping a promise that was central to his campaign. Congress would do well to join the President and follow through on our own promises by including funding for a border wall in upcoming spending bills--anything less will show that we are not serious about keeping our word to the American people.”

Mast Unveils Bill to Create First Federal Action Plan to Combat Harmful Algal Blooms in Greater Everglades Region

Stuart, FL - August 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Congressman Brian Mast (FL-18) today announced the introduction of the South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act. The bill will amend existing federal law aimed at combatting harmful algal blooms to require the first-ever specific federal assessment and action plan to reduce harmful algal blooms in the Greater Everglades region.

“Considering the massive damage algal blooms have caused in our community, it’s ridiculous that a federal program specifically designed to combat algal blooms has never done an Everglades-specific analysis,” Rep. Mast said. “This bill is a critical first step to developing a comprehensive plan that forces the state and federal government to work together to keep our water clean.”

The bill amends the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act to require an assessment and action plan for reducing harmful algal blooms and hypoxia in the Greater Everglades region. Under the direction of this existing federal law, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science have developed numerous reports over the last two decades researching harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and nationally. However, there has never been an Everglades-specific report.

The South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act directs the task force to complete an assessment that examines the causes, consequences and potential approaches to reduce harmful algal blooms and hypoxia in the Greater Everglades region, including how ongoing South Florida ecosystem restoration efforts are impacting the distribution of algal blooms. Based on the assessment, the task force is then directed to submit a plan to Congress for reducing, mitigating and controlling harmful algal blooms in the Greater Everglades region.

Maloney Introduces First Time Homeowner Savings Plan Act to Help Families Invest in First Home

Middletown, NY - August 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Amid a national rental affordability crisis, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) announced his introduction of the bipartisan First Time Homeowner Savings Plan Act. The bill will allow Americans to withdraw up to $25,000 from their IRA for the purchase of their first home without being penalized when they file their taxes. Experts agree that homeownership is one of the best ways for middle class Americans to save for retirement.

“Rental costs are out of control and housing isn’t getting any cheaper,” said Rep. Maloney. “It doesn’t make any sense for the government to penalize people who want to make a smart investment in their first home, and my bill would fix that.”

“I support this bill wholeheartedly because I have three grown children, and they’re about to look for a permanent place to live,” said Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther. “I’m hoping this legislation will pass quickly in Washington – I don’t think anybody could oppose it.”

“Being allowed to invest up to $25,000 is just investing in yourself and your future,” said Orange County Legislator Mike Paduch.“I’m very proud to support it.”

“Homeownership is the American Dream,” said Wallkill Town Councilman Eric Johnson. “At the local level, it builds communities that we need, it builds a tax base, it builds a foundation that makes a safe place to grow up and for families to live.”

“I am thrilled to see Rep. Maloney’s continued and consistent efforts to help residents in the Hudson Valley,” said New York State Association of Realtors Vice President for the Lower Hudson Valley Katheryn DeClerck. “I hope the word gets out to people all around the country to support this bill. Homeownership matters to everybody, it contributes to strong communities, people who purchase a home buy furniture and landscaping and invest in their communities.”

“Homeownership is the foundation of our community,” said Executive Director of the Orange County Rural Development Advisory Corporation Faith Moore. “This provision will be an opportunity to add another tool to our assistance.”

"We strongly support Congressman Maloney's First Time Homeowner Savings Plan Act,” said Connie Fagan, Director of the Putnam County Housing Corporation. “Putnam County Housing Corporation's Housing Needs Assessment (January 2014) prepared by the Center for Housing Solutions, Pattern for Progress revealed, Eighty-eight percent (88%) of owners and renters in Putnam county, regardless of income level, are living in Unaffordable and Severely Cost Burdened Housing.' This bill would assist more young individuals and families in realizing the dream of owning a home in their community."

High rents and high housing costs are making it increasingly difficult for first-time homebuyers to save money and invest in a home. Experts agree that home ownership is one of the best ways for middle-income families to achieve retirement security. Yet, first-time homebuyers make up only 32% of all buyers, which is the lowest rate since 1987. Additionally, the number of renters dedicating at least half of their income toward housing hit a record high of 11 million people in 2014, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

In 1997, Congress passed legislation allowing first time homebuyers to withdraw up to $10,000 from their IRA without incurring a penalty. Under current law, individuals who withdraw more than $10,000 from their IRA before age 59.5 incur a 10% tax in addition to having the withdrawal subject to income taxes. Rep. Maloney’s First Time Homeowner Savings Plan Act would increase the limit to $25,000 and index it to account for inflation.

Rep. Maloney Reaffirms US Commitment to Denuclearized Korean Peninsula during official Congressional Delegation Visit to Seoul

Washington, D.C. - August 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), who is currently on a Congressional Delegation trip led by Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), the senior Democrat on the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee’s East Asia Subcommittee, released the following statement after meetings with U.S. military personnel and leaders of South Korea’s government and military.

“During this Congressional trip, we have been briefed by senior U.S. military officials and leaders of South Korea’s government and military. It is clear that our alliance is stronger than ever and our shared commitment to regional security is unwavering. The U.S. and our allies remain united in condemning North Korean actions and rhetoric that threaten its neighbors and in seeking effective diplomatic approaches to ensure stability in the region.

“It is imperative that we denuclearize the Korean peninsula as quickly as possible. In a world with so much disagreement, all of us – Republicans and Democrats and our partners in countries around the world – agree on this objective. Especially today, that is saying a lot.

“We will continue to work closely with countries in this region and the United Nations to hold North Korea accountable for any breaches of international sanctions and use every tool at our disposal to get the regime to de-escalate tensions.”

Along with Senator Markey, Rep. Maloney was joined by U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and U.S. Representative Ann Wagner (MO-02) to Korea, Japan and China. The lawmakers are meeting with elected leaders, military and government officials, and energy and technology companies, and many others to discuss the threat from North Korea to the region, security issues, diplomatic partnerships and economic development opportunities amongst the countries. The delegation is also visiting the China-North Korea border and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Letter to the Editor: Charlottesville and Toxic Rhetoric

by Tom MacArthur (R-NJ, 3rd)

As an entrepreneur and business owner, I was proud to build a multinational company with thousands of employees representing every gender, ethnicity, color and creed. Our diversity helped the company to grow, helped families to build better lives, and opened doors of opportunity for some people that may not have been open for their parents and grandparents.

I tell that story because in my life, whether it was in business or now in public service, or through the work of our family charitable foundation across the globe, or at our church, and especially when my wife and I adopted two beautiful children from Korea – the color of one's skin or their ethnicity was never the measure of a person for me. What is far more important, as Dr. King reminded us, is the content of one’s character.

The Courier-Post recently published a letter to the editor that stated: "Now people are dead in Charlottesville. Tom MacArthur's hands are still not clean." So, upon entering politics, while I expected to be called many things, an unrepentant racist who was complicit in the murder of innocent people hundreds of miles away wasn't one of them.

But, unfortunately, that's the state of public discourse in America right now. It is toxic and hate-filled. People across the partisan spectrum are increasingly using inflammatory rhetoric to make their point, or attract attention to their agenda or themselves.

We need to be better than this. President Donald Trump must be better; members of Congress and politicians in both parties must be better; the media, which is too often biased and even dishonest, must be better; and Americans on the fringe of the political left and political right must be better. Each has played a role in getting us to this point, and each has an obligation to move us past it.

What happened in Charlottesville was despicable and tragic. Decent people must utterly reject white supremacists, the KKK, and their hateful and perverse ideology. Many of our parents or grandparents fought in World War II to rid the world of Nazism across Europe; allowing it to rise again on our shores is unacceptable. People of good moral conscience must stand against it.

We must call out prejudice, intolerance and violence wherever it exists, whoever perpetrates it, and whatever part of the political spectrum with which they identify.

We, as a nation, should have an open and honest dialogue about all that is dividing us, but let's recognize that this can't happen if we're screaming at and vilifying each other.

Each of us must look in the mirror and honestly consider whether we are helping to heal our nation or widening the divide. May God help us to be healers. I'm asking all of you reading this to help lower the volume. Only then will we be able to hear one another speak.

U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur

R-3rd Congressional District

This Letter to the Editor first appeared in the Courier-Post here

Connecticut Congressional Delegation Presses Administration on "Dangerous Mixed Messages About Americans' Health Care"

Washington, D.C. - August 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The Connecticut Congressional Delegation wrote U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price urging the Administration to permanently fund the cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) that are central to the stability and affordability of the individual marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced August 15 that President Trump’s refusal to fund CSRs would lead to a 20 percent spike in health insurance premiums and would increase the federal deficit by almost $200 billion. President Trump has continued to play politics with Americans’ healthcare, threatening each month to refuse funding for CSRs sowing instability in the ACA marketplaces.

Although President Trump announced last week he would fund CSRs for the month of August, continued uncertainty could contribute to substantial premium increases for American consumers. The Trump Administration has yet to announce if they will continue to make these payments, placing severe burdens on the healthcare market and consumers.

“As Connecticut works to finalize rates for next year and insurers make decisions on whether or not to remain on Connecticut’s exchange, it is essential that the Trump administration stop playing political games with the affordability and stability of our health insurance market. We urge you to immediately and permanently fund cost-sharing reductions at least through the end of 2018 so insurers in Connecticut and around the country have the certainty they need to operate effectively on ACA exchanges,” wrote the Delegation.

5G Internet On the Way

Murray Hill, NJ - August 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Leonard Lance (NJ-07) used a tour of historic Nokia Bell Labs in Murray Hill, N.J. to showcase the work of the U.S. House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, where he serves as the Vice Chair. Lance welcomed Commissioner Michael O’Rielly of the Federal Communications Commission to help lead a round table discussion on the next generation of wireless networks and 5G technology. Lance also welcomed several businesses from the Seventh Congressional District that are helping to pave the way for 5G innovation, including Nokia, Verizon, AT&T, Qualcomm and Samsung. CTIA, the wireless industry trade association, also participated.

“The Internet touches nearly all aspects of American life and the U.S. economy. Every user wants faster speed, better reliability and affordable options. That’s why I’m working to help make the 5G economy a reality and to keep companies like Nokia Bell Labs at the center of this innovation. New Jersey is leading the world and we need to keep it that way,” said Lance. “Many American households now have a number of mobile devices. And small businesses are fully integrated into cutting-edge technology. We have to make sure the laws coming out of Washington are keeping up and allowing these technological advancements to continue to transform public health, the economy and education.”

The panel discussed the potential 5G innovation has to revolutionize wireless communications and the American economy and how the private and public sectors should work together to speed deployment. There was broad agreement among the industry and government stakeholders that removing barriers to deployment such as federal siting rules for small cells and a robust spectrum pipeline are essential to deploying 5G. Head of Policy and Government Relations at Nokia, Brian Hendricks, thanked Congressman Lance for his advocacy on the issue, “Congressman Lance's leadership on technology policy has been an important part of creating a positive investment environment to enable deployment of the next generation of broadband. It will be critical for Congress and the FCC to remain aggressive in removing regulatory barriers to deployment and freeing additional spectrum for mobile broadband.”

Bernardsville Mayor Kevin Sooy attended and highlighted how Bernardsville is one of 11 cities nationwide that Verizon is using to test 5G service. New Providence Mayor Al Morgan also attended and coined #5GinNP. “Thank you to the Nokia Corporation of Murray Hill and Congressman Leonard Lance for inviting me to participate. 5G Technology can potentially improve data rates and speeds for consumers, and for commercial applications in the health, energy, and manufacturing industries. We here in our district will be a hub of 5G development, leading the effort to maintain the United States as a leader in wireless innovation. Very cool indeed!”

Lance sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee and is Vice Chair of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee. The committee is the oldest standing legislative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives and has broad jurisdiction over the commerce of the United States, including the telecommunications and technology industries, through its oversight of the Federal Communications Commission. One of the top priorities of the Committee this Congress is increasing access to broadband internet and encouraging private innovation.


Washington, D.C. - August 24, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- House Representative Raul R. Labrador (R-ID, 1st), Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, released the following statement in advance of President Trump’s speech in Arizona:

“I agree with President Trump that border wall funding must be included in the next government funding bill. President Trump would never have become President without his promise to enforce our immigration laws, and I want to do everything I can to help him succeed. Securing the border is a critical step, but not the only step, in ending illegal immigration as we know it. The House has already passed Kate’s Law and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, with my support. Now it’s time for the Senate to act. We also need a House floor vote on the Davis-Oliver Act, which I introduced in May to bolster interior enforcement. The time for excuses is over, and the time for action is now.”

On May 24, the House Judiciary approved Rep. Labrador’s bill, H.R. 2431, the Davis-Oliver Act. This bill gives states and localities the authority to enforce federal immigration laws, strengthens the ability of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to do their job, and makes it more difficult for terrorists and criminals to enter our country.

On June 29, Rep. Labrador voted for and the House passed Kate’s Law and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act. Kate’s Law increases penalties for deported felons who return to the U.S. The No Sanctuary for Criminals Act combats dangerous sanctuary policies that shield illegal immigrants from federal immigration enforcement. These bills include provisions from the Davis-Oliver Act.