Monday, October 2, 2017

Polis statement on racial incident at the Air Force Academy Prep School

Washington, D.C. - October 3, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., gave the following statement about racial slurs that targeted five cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy Prep School.

“As a member of the Air Force Academy Board of Visitors, I am particularly troubled and disgusted by the act of hate committed at the Air Force Academy Prep School. It is far beneath the dignity of the Air Force Academy, and I expect they will complete a full and thorough investigation and issue the appropriate punishment. We must remain committed to ensuring that the military is inclusive.  Anyone who is willing to serve our great country should be shown the utmost respect, and no one should ever be subjected to such hatefulness and bigotry,” said Polis

Deadly Shooting Prompts Vigil

Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Mayor Megan Barry, Sarah Trahern, CEO of CMA and Butch Spyridon, President/CEO, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp have released the following statement on the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas that has claimed the lives of more than 50 concert-goers and injured hundreds more:

“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the tragic event in Las Vegas, especially the victims, their families and friends, and the fans, artists and crews from our Country community in Vegas. This festival brought together people from all backgrounds united in enjoying life through music.

“Safety at all of our events is and will remain our top priority. We are constantly adjusting our event security measures year-round, partnering and consulting with experts at the federal, state and local levels through our full-time security team and the Metro Police Department. We will continue our efforts to provide the most comprehensive security possible.”

In an effort to offer Nashvillians an opportunity to show their love for the victims of this deadly shooting, a vigil is planned for Monday, October 2 at 6PM at Ascend Amphitheater. Free parking will be available at Nissan Stadium Lot R. Further details about the vigil will be announced later in the day.

Congressman Nadler Joins Members Filing Amicus Brief Opposing Sheriff Arpaio’s Motion To Vacate His Conviction Following President Trump’s Pardon

Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, joined with House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice Ranking Member Steve Cohen (D-TN), Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law Ranking Member David Cicilline (D-RI), Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA), and other Members of Congress, filed an amicus brief opposing Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s motion to vacate his conviction for criminal contempt of court on the ground that President Donald Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Arpaio was unconstitutional.

In 2011, a Federal court found that Sheriff Arpaio's police department routinely engaged in racial profiling of Latinos. The court ordered the department to cease its unconstitutional practices immediately, but Sheriff Arpaio and the department flouted the court's order, and continued to direct their staff to deprive thousands of people of their constitutional rights. This past July, Sheriff Arpaio was held in criminal contempt of court for repeatedly and blatantly ignoring the court’s injunction against him. Just three weeks later, however, President Trump pardoned his contempt conviction.

The Members released the following statement:

“The President's pardon of Sheriff Arpaio was not just disgraceful, but also represented what we believe to be an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers. As our brief argues, it is essential to the independence of the judiciary that courts be able to enforce compliance with their orders through the contempt power, especially those orders that protect the constitutional rights of private parties. By pardoning Sheriff Arpaio, the President threatened this fundamental judicial power. Furthermore, if the President’s pardon is allowed to stand, this case could have severe implications for Congress’s ability to compel compliance with its own investigations and orders.

“President Trump’s pardon was not intended to remedy an unduly harsh criminal punishment, or to correct a mistake in the enforcement of the criminal law—the intended purpose of the power—but to usurp the power of the judiciary to vindicate the authority of the courts and to uphold the rule of law. Despite common misconceptions, the pardon power is not absolute. As Laurence Tribe, one of the nation’s leading constitutional scholars, explained, ‘when the Constitution says that the president ‘shall have power,’ that does not mean unlimited power. It means power that is not inconsistent with other parts of the Constitution.’ In this case, the pardon power was used to upset the careful balance of power among the branches of government, and to undermine the rule of law.

“We agree with Professor Tribe and with numerous other scholars and commentators that the President’s pardon of Sheriff Arpaio was unconstitutional and, therefore, ask the court to deny Sheriff Arpaio’s motion to vacate his conviction.”

A copy of the brief is available here.

Pingree Says "Enough is Enough" After Mass Shooting in Las Vegas

Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Chellie Pingree released the following statement on the mass shooting in Las Vegas that has claimed 58 lives and injured more than 500.

Today, America woke to the deadliest mass shooting in modern history. The fear, sadness, and heartbreak felt in Las Vegas reverberates in our communities and leaves us wondering how we could allow this to happen once again. The 58 dead and more than 500 injured deserve more than our sympathies and sentiments—they deserve to know their lives and losses prevented another tragedy.

Last June, in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, House Democrats demanded action on common-sense gun legislation. I sat with my Democratic colleagues on the floor of the U.S. House and said no one else should die at the hands of a reckless gunman because of Congressional inaction. Republicans blocked our effort and never allowed for debate on the bill. More than a year later, the nation is reeling from the most devastating mass shooting in modern history with no sign of a safer tomorrow.

Four out of five Americans support universal background checks, so why won't Congress listen to their constituents and pass a bill to prevent weapons from getting into the hands of irresponsible gun owners once again? Recently, House Republicans have pushed to take up bills that would reduce restrictions on silencers and allow greater access to armor piercing bullets. Not only are these bills completely out-of-touch, they would make it more difficult to know where gunshots are being fired and put law enforcement officers in danger.

Enough is enough.

Unless Congress stands on the side of public safety to pass common-sense gun legislation now, what happened in Las Vegas today could happen anywhere in America tomorrow. I urge Speaker Ryan to allow a vote on legislation that would help prevent future mass shootings immediately.

Norton to Introduce Bill to Remove Statue of Confederate General Pike from Judiciary Square

Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced that she will introduce a bill to remove a statue of Confederate General Albert Pike located in the District of Columbia after she had the opportunity today to meet with Sovereign Grand Commander Ronald Seale of the Supreme Council of Scottish Rite Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction, USA, which originally donated the Pike statue to the federal government. Norton sees a difference between the Pike statue, located on federal land under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (NPS) near Judiciary Square, and similar Confederate statues located in the U.S. Capitol and around the country, particularly given the Freemasons publicly-expressed support for removing the statue. Because the statue was installed by an act of Congress, congressional action must be taken for it to be removed.

“I appreciate the meeting I had with Mr. Seale today to discuss General Pike’s statue in Judiciary Square,” Norton said. “Mr. Seale had already said publicly prior to our meeting that the Freemasons ‘strive to bring people of all races and creeds together in harmony,’ and that, because of its potential divisive nature, his organization would support an ‘action…to remove the statue.’ Our meeting was very amicable and productive, and bodes well for future action.”

Pelosi Sends Letter to Speaker Ryan Calling For Immediate Creation of Select Committee on Gun Violence, Passage of King-Thompson Background Check Legislation

Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Speaker Ryan calling for the creation of a Select Committee on Gun Violence and to bring the King-Thompson Background Check Legislation to the House Floor for a vote following the attack in Las Vegas, the largest mass shooting in our history.

As Leader Pelosi writes, “I urge you to create a Select Committee on Gun Violence to study and report back common sense legislation to help end this crisis. The bipartisan committee would make recommendations to prevent unspeakable tragedies such as the mass shooting in Las Vegas and to restore confidence in the safety of our communities. Today is a day for prayer, mourning and love, but it must also be a day for action.”

Full text of the letter can be found below:

October 2, 2017

The Honorable Paul Ryan
Speaker of the House
H-232, United States Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr. Speaker:

The epidemic of gun violence in our country continues to challenge the conscience of our nation.

Today, our nation woke up to news of the worst mass shooting in our history, claiming the lives of at least 58 innocent men and women in Las Vegas. Nearly 12,000 Americans have been killed by guns in 273 mass shootings in 2017 – one for each day of the year. On average, more than 90 Americans lose their lives to gun violence every day, a daily toll of heartbreak and tragedy in communities across America.

Congress has a moral duty to address this horrific and heartbreaking epidemic. Charged with the solemn duty to protect and defend the American people, we must respond to these tragedies with courage, unity and decisive action.

First, Congress must pass the bipartisan King-Thompson legislation to strengthen the life-saving background checks that keep guns out of the wrong hands. But this is only a first step.

I urge you to create a Select Committee on Gun Violence to study and report back common sense legislation to help end this crisis. The bipartisan committee would make recommendations to prevent unspeakable tragedies such as the mass shooting in Las Vegas and to restore confidence in the safety of our communities.

Today is a day for prayer, mourning and love, but it must also be a day for action. As Members of Congress, our words of comfort to the families of the victims of the Las Vegas massacre will ring hollow unless we take long overdue action to ensure that no other family is forced to endure such an unimaginable tragedy.

Thank you for your solemn and swift consideration of this request.

best regards,

Democratic Leader

From what I understand, a machine gun was used. Am I wrong in remembering that machine guns are against the law already? Your laws did not prevent the killer from using it. What good is it going to do to put more regulations on law-abiding Americans?

Pocan Statement on Mass Shooting in Las Vegas

Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Representative Mark Pocan (WI-02) has released the following statement regarding the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. According to early news reports, the shooting claimed the lives of at least 50 people, surpassing the 2016 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida and making it the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

“My thoughts are with the victims of this senseless tragedy, their friends and families, and the City of Las Vegas. Much like the shooting in Orlando, these innocent Americans were doing something many of us have done, attend a concert. This attack was an act of terror and no one should have to experience a tragedy like the one that unfolded in Las Vegas.

“Members of Congress have the power to do something and we must do more than hold a moment of silence. We said never again after the shootings in Newtown, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando, and so many others. These events have become far too common and we can’t stay silent when thousands of Americans die from firearms every single year.

“As long as Congress fails to act, it is complicit in the deaths of innocent Americans. We must take commonsense actions like reinstating the assault weapons ban, ending the sale of high-capacity magazines, and closing loopholes in the background check system. For too long, Congress has rolled over when confronted by the NRA and the gun lobby and it’s time to finally take a stand. Congress must act now.”

Napolitano’s Statement on Mass Shooting in Las Vegas

Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (CA-32) released the following statement on the mass shooting last night near the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas, NV:

“This morning we learned yet another horrific act of gun violence had occurred in America; the deadliest mass shooting in our nation’s history. We grieve the tragic loss of over 50 innocent lives and extend our sympathies to all of the families and friends of the victims of the massacre. We pray for the more than 500 individuals who suffered injuries and those who are still waiting to hear from loved ones during this time of shock and horror. We thank all first responders who bravely rushed to the scene to rescue those in peril and prevent further casualties.

“The carnage that occurred breaks our hearts and confounds our minds. Additional counseling and supportive mental health services should be made available for all concert-goers, first responders, and the entire Las Vegas community. While we do not yet know all of the details, including the gunmen’s motive, we refuse to accept gun violence. Together we must act boldly to stop this epidemic and prevent tragedies. Our hearts remain with the city of Las Vegas and all Nevadans today.”

Napolitano serves as a Vice Chair of the House Democratic Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. She was appointed to the Task Force following the tragic shooting in Newtown, CT in 2012 to address mental health as a component of gun violence prevention. Napolitano is also the founder and Chair of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus.

If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional distress, call the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990.

And even more Tax Reform Statements from The House of Reps

Lamborn Statement on GOP Tax Reform
Doug Lamborn (R-CO, 5th)

“This new framework overhauls the 1986 tax code to reflect where we have come as a nation, taking tried and true principles and applying them for the biggest economic benefit. The code is not only simplified, but includes several measures that will help all Americans. Most notably it provides immediate expensing, which means businesses can immediately write off the cost of new investments for at least five years. This is an unprecedented opportunity for businesses to grow. Also, families at all levels of the tax bracket will benefit from the simple and fair new model with income tax rate cuts. It retains incentives, gives businesses deductions, brings trillions of dollars stranded overseas back home for investment, and creates more jobs with bigger paychecks.”

Lance Statement on Tax Reform Outline
Leonard Lance (R-NJ, 7th)

“There is a lot I agree with in the tax reform outline announced today. Lower individual rates on middle-class families and a competitive corporate rate will unleash tremendous economic growth and job creation. These reforms will have a positive effect on take-home pay in every state and should enjoy large bipartisan support. I hope these items are included in the final package.

Levin Statement on GOP Tax Reform Framework
Sander Levin (D-MI, 9th)

“While critical details have been left out, the general trajectory of the Republican tax plan is clear – too much help for the wealthy and an enormous deficit tax for everyone else.

Lewis on Tax Reform: Our Families Need Relief
Jason Lewis (R-MN, 2nd)

“American families and businesses suffer under some of the highest tax rates in the world, and consequently families have less income and businesses create fewer jobs. Our economy has been stuck in low gear for years, growing far slower than the post-WWII average of 3.3%. As a result, median family incomes have failed to keep pace since the 2007 recession.

Roger Marshall (R-KS, 1st)

More than anything else, the most common complaint I hear about the existing tax system is it's complexity. With this in mind, we aim to make it possible to file your taxes on a postcard. This simpler, quicker and easier system will give working and middle class Kansans the same access to the tax code as someone who has hired teams of accountants and lawyers to seek out every loophole.

House Freedom Caucus Supports Tax Reform Framework, Will Support House GOP Budget
Mark Meadows (R-NC, 11th)

"President Trump has delivered a forward looking tax reform framework that will let hard working Americans keep more of their money, simplify our system, end carve outs for special interests, and will help make our businesses competitive abroad. The Freedom Caucus looks forward to sending a final bill based on this framework to President Trump's desk as soon as possible."

GOP Tax Framework a “Serious, Thoughtful Path to Revamping a Broken Tax Code”
Pat Meehan (R-PA, 7th)

“Our tax code is a mess,” said Congressman Meehan. “It’s riddled with overlapping and conflicting provisions that leave taxpayers frustrated and confused. Its rates are too high, and too many loopholes enable the elites to avoid them. It’s holding us back in the modern economy. Too much of a middle class family’s paycheck is going to Washington. A top-to-bottom rewrite is long overdue.”

Rep. Messer Urges Support for Tax Cuts During President Trump’s Visit to Indiana
Luke Messer (R-IA, 6th)

"This is a great day for Indiana's workers and a great day for the American economy," Messer said. “President Trump's tax plan will bring more jobs, fairer taxes and bigger paychecks to Hoosiers. I’m excited the President is here in Indiana, where we’ve led the nation in delivering the kind of tax cuts and pro-growth policies that get our economy moving. I look forward to working closely with him and anyone else ready to deliver for Hoosier workers."


Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) voted in favor of legislation to provide for a 3-month extension of the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program at current funding levels. She released this statement following passage of the legislation:

“I’m glad we moved forward with a short-term extension of the THCGME program, but we also must advance a long-term solution to provide certainty for our teaching health centers, their residents, and their patients—which is what my bill, the Training the Next Generation of Primary Care Doctors Act would do. Without a sustainable funding level of $157,000 per resident, per year, as recommended in the HRSA funded study published last year, the program will unravel.”

During debate on the legislation, the Congresswoman gave remarks on the House floor on the importance of the THCGME program, but also the need to support long-term reauthorization at sustainable funding levels. In case you missed it, you can watch her full remarks here:

The short-term extension was included in H.R. 3823, the Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2017.

In July, the Congresswoman introduced the Training the Next Generation of Primary Care Doctors Act of 2017 to reauthorize the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program for three years. This legislation will also allow for the expansion of new programs within existing centers or the creation of entirely new teaching health centers while emphasizing the importance of establishing sustainable funding. The Congresswoman will continue to work to see this bill advanced and provide long-term certainty for the Spokane Teaching Health Clinic, and all those who rely on this important program.

McKinley Praises Move to Protect Reliability, Resiliency of Electric Grid

Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressman David B. McKinley, P.E. (R-WV) issued the following statement on the Department of Energy’s proposal to protect the reliability and resilience of the electric grid:

“The proposal released today is a clear recognition that reliability, resiliency, and fuel diversity are vital to our economic and national security. Coal and other baseload energy sources have attributes that are essential to the reliable delivery of electricity, and we must ensure that they remain part of our energy mix.

“From the Polar Vortex to Hurricane Harvey we’ve seen how weather and other external factors can stress our energy supply and threaten the grid. The federal government must take steps to reward energy sources that can guarantee they will be there in times of need.

“Today Secretary Perry took a bold step to protect the reliability and resiliency of our electricity infrastructure. Regulatory overreach and market challenges have led to hundreds of coal plants shutting down in the past few years. This proposal is an important move to protect existing plants and acknowledge the valuable role they play for our economy and our national security.”

The Department of Energy (DOE) requested the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to develop a rule that will address threats to our nation’s electrical grid reliability.

Namely, the proposed rule allows for the recovery of costs of fuel-secure (such as coal, nuclear, and hydropower) generation units frequently relied upon to make our grid reliable and resilient. Such resources provide:

  • Reliable capacity;
  • Resilient generation;
  • Frequency and voltage support; and
  • On-site fuel inventory.

  • McHenry and Booker Introduce Fintech Bill to Automate Income Verification

    Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry (R, NC-10), the Vice Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the IRS Data Verification Modernization Act of 2017. This bipartisan bill will require the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to automate the Income Verification Express Services process by creating an Application Programming Interface (API) allowing small businesses and consumers to access accurate credit assessments more efficiently. Joining McHenry as an original cosponsor of H.R. 3860 is Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D, OR-03), a senior member of the House Committee on Ways and Means.

    “Innovation in financial services has created more convenient and secure ways to meet the demands of American consumers," said Congressman McHenry. "For financial innovation to succeed, however, Washington must update its information technology infrastructure to keep up with the growth and creativity in the private sector.

    "Our federal government needs to do a better job in updating and securing its technology to make lending more accessible for all Americans," McHenry continued. "In light of the recent SEC and Equifax breaches, now is the time for Congress to take a leading role in creating a more safe and affordable process so that consumers are protected.  This bill takes a small but important step in that direction by modernizing one of the most important processes in the financial system: income verification.”

    “Helping small businesses access capital is one of the best things we can do to support their development and grow the economy," said Senator Booker. "Our commonsense bill simplifies the loan process for small businesses and entrepreneurs by providing lenders quicker access to financial records and data, while safeguarding private information. This bill will cut red tape and unreasonably lengthy waiting periods, making the process more efficient in getting much-needed capital into the hands of small businesses.”

    Joining Senator Booker as an original cosponsor to the Senate companion legislation to H.R. 3860 is Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID).

    Background: As part of the loan and mortgage processes for consumers and small businesses, each applicant completes an IRS form called a “4506-T,” which gives the lender the right to access a summarized version of their tax transcript, which is used to confirm certain data points on their application.  According to industry reports, this manual process at the IRS takes two to eight days, which creates needless delay for fintech companies and banks that rely on leveraging data and technology to make faster, informed decision for consumer and small business lending.

    U.S. Rep. McGovern Statement on U.S. Embassy in Cuba, Travel Warning to Cuba

    Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA), a senior House Democrat and leading voice on U.S.-Cuba relations, released the following statement regarding Secretary Tillerson’s recent meeting with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla and the decision to withdraw all non-essential personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Havana and issue a travel advisory warning Americans not to travel to Cuba:

    “Keeping our American diplomats safe and secure must always be our first priority. I strongly support U.S. and Cuban efforts to determine who is responsible for the harmful sonar attacks and ensure they are held accountable.

    “Today’s announcement and indefinite suspension of visa processing and consular services by the Trump Administration, however, is a dramatic overreaction and the latest example of a White House with a stunning ignorance on how to best conduct foreign policy. This would make it even harder for Cuban and American families to travel and visit loved ones.

    “It is essential that the State Department immediately develop practical contingency plans to continue to allow families to travel from Cuba. Americans with family and loved ones in Cuba should not be forced to face such unnecessary barriers, especially when so many are still recovering from the devastating hurricanes that have hit the region.

    “Americans cannot afford a return to the failed Cold War isolationist policies that divided families for 50 years. Hundreds of thousands of Americans visit Cuba every year. Our businesses are engaged in agricultural sales and other business opportunities. U.S. and Cuban agencies engage in cooperation on drug trafficking, human smuggling, search and rescue operations, and other security issues. An Embassy presence is vital to maintaining those relationships.

    “Any move to sever or diminish diplomatic ties or travel would be a dangerous step backward that would jeopardize the progress our countries have made. Americans need strong leadership, but the Trump administration seems more interested in abandoning diplomacy when we need it most. Our nations must work together to ensure the safety of American personnel without dividing families.”

    McEachin Statement Responding to President Trump's Tweets Attacking San Juan's Mayor

    Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) issued this statement in response to President Trump’s tweetstorm directed at the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico:

    “This morning’s tweets were disappointing, insensitive and unhelpful to say the least. As the people of Puerto Rico despair of having the most basic of life’s needs – food, water and shelter, our President, and their president, I might add, chooses to attack the mayor rather than invest in meaningful solutions to the ever-mounting problems there.

    “Today’s tweets were just the latest in a pattern that speaks to excuses and diversions, rather than solutions. He speaks bombastically of his ability to destroy far off North Korea, but then claimed that he can’t get better aid to Puerto Rico because we are separated by an ocean.

    “This morning, rather than acknowledge that Puerto Ricans are in dire need and that, every day on our tv screens, we are seeing scenes of horrific devastation and suffering, he attacks the mayor in personal terms and accuses her of partisan politics. Mr. President, when it comes to needless partisan attacks as a diversion, look in the mirror.

    “As the President careens from complimenting himself and his administration on their response to Puerto Rico to bombastic insults directed at San Juan’s mayor, Mayor Yulin Cruz continues to make every effort to help her community recover.

    “I call on the President to remember that disasters are not Democratic or Republican, that Puerto Ricans are American citizens and that when we see people in need and suffering, our responsibility and history as Americans is to go to their aid, relieve the suffering and leave partisan politics behind.”


    Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.), Ranking Member of the House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, today wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke requesting specific details of his noncommercial flights at taxpayer expense.

    The Washington Post reported that Secretary Zinke “chartered a flight from Las Vegas to near his home in Montana this summer aboard a plane owned by oil-and-gas executives” that cost taxpayers $12,375. In addition, Secretary Zinke apparently chartered private flights at taxpayer expense during a visit to the United States Virgin Islands in March. Secretary Zinke joins other senior Trump administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt who have apparently abused taxpayer dollars with excessively expensive private travel.

    “Congress and the American people deserve an explanation for this extravagant use of taxpayer funds. Combined with similar reports of excessively expensive private travel by numerous senior Trump administration officials, there seems to be a disturbing pattern of limitless spending on noncommercial flights without reasonable justification,” Congresswoman McCollum wrote. “Additionally, your decision to fly on an aircraft owned by an oil and gas corporation, in a sector over which the Department of the Interior has direct leasing and regulatory authority, creates the appearance of a serious conflict of interest.”


    Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Earlier this month it was revealed that a massive data breach at Equifax Inc. had compromised the financial and personal information of more than 143 million Americans’ and exposed them to identity theft and credit card fraud.  Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) today introduced legislation in the House to allow consumers to protect themselves from financial fraud at no cost. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the senior Democrat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, recently introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

    Lujan’s and Wyden’s bill, known as the Free Credit Freeze Act would guarantee all consumers can use PIN numbers to freeze and thaw their credit – free-of-charge – to stop hackers and others from creating new financial accounts with stolen information. The Equifax data breach, which exposed credit information of nearly a quarter million Americans, as well as Social Security numbers, birthdates and driver’s license numbers of an estimated 143 million more people, has highlighted the vulnerabilities of large data systems and underscored the importance of credit freezes.

    Currently, credit reporting agencies like Equifax, charge consumers recurring fees as high as $15 each time they use their PIN numbers to freeze or thaw their credit reports. Luján, who sits on the House Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, noted that as data breaches have become more frequent, consumers need to have a reliable cost-free way to protect themselves when their sensitive personal information is compromised.

    “In the 21st Century, data is currency – companies like Equifax make money through the accumulation of Americans’ most sensitive personal data, and hackers steal millions each year by pilfering this data,” said Luján. “Americans who want to protect their personal and credit information from criminals should not be charged as they take steps to guard against financial fraud – especially when those fees are being charged by the very companies who failed to protect their data in the first place. The Free Credit Freeze Act stops companies from charging consumers to protect their credit by requiring credit agencies to allow consumers to freeze their credit at no charge.”

    Luján noted that as massive data breaches become more frequent, companies must do more to protect their databases from intrusion. He also said consumers need a reliable way to get information about whether their personal information was compromised and the ability to take steps to protect themselves once there is a data breach. Cybersecurity experts and the Federal Trade Commission recommend credit freezes as a dependable method of protecting against identity theft and financial fraud.

    “Companies like Equifax that have stockpiled massive, insecure databases of Americans’ most sensitive personal data must make security the top priority at every single stage,” Wyden said. “Given the frequency of these mega breaches, it is simply unacceptable for the credit agencies to continue to charge hardworking Americans who want to protect their credit and their identity from fraudsters. The Free Credit Freeze Act gives power back to consumers by requiring credit reporting agencies to provide credit freezes to consumers at no cost. Thanks to Congressman Luján, the Free Credit Freeze Act now has support in both Houses of Congress.”

    Days after the Equifax breach was reported, Luján and his Democratic colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee wrote a letter to Equifax Chairman and CEO Richard Smith seeking detailed information about how the data breach occurred, what steps Equifax is taking to make affected consumers whole, and what the company is doing to safeguard against security breaches in the future.

    Among the consumer protection and advocacy organizations have endorsed the Free Credit Freeze Act are the Consumer Federation of America, and the National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients)

    “As consumers, we can’t control how securely our sensitive personal information is held by the credit reporting agencies, but we should at least have the right to freeze that data whenever we want, at no charge, to limit the damage that can occur if it’s exposed to identity thieves,” said Susan Grant, Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at Consumer Federation of America. 

    Lujan Grisham Introduces Bill to Crack Down on Fake Organics, Support Organic Farmers

    Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- U.S. Representatives Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) and John Faso (R-NY) announced the introduction of bipartisan legislation, the Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act.

    “Organic farming and ranching is the fastest growing segment of agriculture in New Mexico,” said Rep. Lujan Grisham. “However, fraudulent organic imports threaten the integrity of the USDA Organic label that so many New Mexicans rely on. The bipartisan Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act will provide the National Organic Program at USDA with the resources needed to update their tracking technology and the authority necessary to crack down on fraudulent organic imports for years to come.”

    Congressman Faso said, “Fraudulent ‘organic’ grain and feed originating overseas is not only deceptive to consumers, but it artificially drives down the price of real organics, hurting legitimate organic farmers in Upstate New York and across the country. I am proud to introduce the Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act alongside Congresswoman Lujan Grisham as it will crack down on these fake organics. This is commonsense legislation that puts American consumers and farmers first.”

    The Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act provides for a modernization of organic import documentation, new technology advancements and stricter enforcement of organic products entering the US.

    When fraudulent organic products enter the US, local producers are hurt by lower prices and our consumers are hurt by inauthentic products.

    “Organic farming and ranching is not only a fast growing segment of agriculture in New Mexico, but across the United States,” said Jeff M. Witte, New Mexico Director/Secretary of Agriculture. “This is a market ripe for fraud and deception, especially from products imported and out of reach of US inspectors and certifiers.  This act will provide much needed resources and authority to USDA to protect the integrity of organic agriculture in the United States and continue assuring the consumers they are getting what they intended to purchase.”

    Lipinski Helps Introduce Bill to Protect Electric Grid from Cyberattacks

    Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3) has helped introduce the Securing the Electric Grid to Protect Military Readiness Act of 2017, which requires the Department of Defense to put together a comprehensive report on significant cybersecurity risks to the national electric grid and the potential consequences for military readiness if the grid is attacked.  This legislation will improve America’s defenses and make the power grid we all rely on more secure.

    “This bill will help protect our electric grid from attacks by America’s enemies who are trying to take down our defenses,” Rep. Lipinski said.  “It will also help us harden our entire electric grid against cyberattacks, protecting Americans and American businesses from attempts by online adversaries to disrupt our lives.”

    The Securing the Electric Grid to Protect Military Readiness Act of 2017, which has a companion bill that was recently introduced in the Senate, requires the Secretaries of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, as well as the Director of National Intelligence, to issue a report to Congress identifying significant cybersecurity risks to critical defense infrastructure, assessing the potential effects of such risks on the readiness of America's Armed Forces, evaluating the strategic benefits and challenges of isolating military infrastructure from the electric grid, and recommending a path forward to address these security risks.


    Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D | Los Angeles County) issued the following statement on the resignation of Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

    “It’s great that Price took responsibility for his reckless actions but this doesn’t change the Trump Administration’s culture of self-dealing. Tom Price was just one example of numerous department heads who were more concerned with their comfort than with serving the public. At a time when agency heads are slashing programs for sick people, veterans, children, and the elderly, these swamp flyers are sticking the American people with the bill for wasteful – and possibly illegal – travel in private jets around the country

    If Trump were serious about draining the swamp, he would also fire Secretary Mnuchin and Administrator Pruitt, who have also taken luxury private travel on the taxpayer’s dime. I couldn’t believe I had to introduce a bill this week curbing private plane travel for senior political appointees. What a ridiculous state of affairs we’re in that we have to push to codify basic standards of ethics and good governance."

    Congresswoman Lee Statement on Travel Warning & U.S. Embassy Drawdown in Cuba

    Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Lee released the following statement on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s announcement removing personnel from the U.S. embassy in Cuba and issuing a travel warning for Americans:

    “The safety and security of Foreign Service personnel must always be our priority, regardless of where they serve. I appreciate the cooperation of the Cuban government in the investigation of attacks on U.S. diplomats and their families and I strongly support efforts to hold those responsible accountable.

    “Today’s announcement suspending visa processing and consular services indefinitely is an overreaction that will only serve to harm Cuban and American families. Especially in light of the recent hurricanes affecting the region, the United States government should be doing everything in our power to ensure loved ones can reach each other in their time of need. Similarly, the travel warning issued by the State Department is an overly-broad and unnecessary response. Instead, the State Department should be developing contingency plans so that families can continue to travel from Cuba safely.

    “It is my hope that responsible diplomacy will prevail, so we can get to the bottom of these attacks. I will continue to urge this Administration to reject the extreme calls within its party to further escalate tensions, and instead work to protect diplomatic ties with Cuba. We simply cannot afford to return to the failed Cold War policies that divided our nations and families for far too long.”

    Congresswoman Lawrence on Michigan State Police Director-“It’s Time for a Change”

    Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (MI-14) issued the following statement on Michigan State Police Director Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue’s  statement on Facebook concerning National Football League (NFL) protests against inequality and racial injustice:

    “A statement posted on Etue’s Facebook page referenced the recent NFL protests and referred to those players in a manner that was extremely offensive, ill-informed, and grossly unfitting of anyone in our police force, let alone the state Police Director. Etue’s actions were not only inappropriate, but a disturbing indicator of the lack of unbiased judgement that is required from law enforcement leadership.

    “The very point and purpose behind the NFL players taking a knee is to protest police brutality and to bring awareness to racial injustice.  While most of our police force truly serve, protect and respect their communities; racial disparities in the criminal justice system which disproportionately affect African Americans is a very real issue in this country and in the state of Michigan. Etue’s actions demonstrated that she is unaware or unmoved by the sense of outrage, vulnerability and fear among minorities toward the criminal justice system.   

    “Etue’s expressions through the open space of her social media page calls into question her judgment and ability to fairly and justly perform her duties as the Director of Police when much of her words and actions in her professional capacity are far less public.  This is very concerning.

    “The people of Michigan deserve law enforcement officers who embody the motto “to serve and protect.” They deserve law enforcement leadership who can help to improve police-community relations, not further divide.

    “While Director Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue did apologize for posting to her Facebook page, her apology was not an admission of wrongdoing nor for spreading these judgmental and ill-willed comments.  This behavior is far from what we should ever expect or tolerate from Michigan’s Police Director whose standard should be of the highest moral character.  There are times when change is inevitable; and there are times when change is imperative. It’s time for a change.” 

    Congressman Krishnamoorthi Responds To Price Resignation, Urges Next HHS Secretary To Cease Sabotage Of Affordable Care Act Protections

    Washington, D.C. - October 2, 2017 - (The Ponder News) -- Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price regarding planned outages. Congressman Krishnamoorthi released the following statement in response to Secretary Price’s resignation:

    “Health and Human Services Secretary Price’s decision to resign in the wake of his private jet scandal is the right one, and necessary to restore confidence in our public servants.

    As Acting Secretary Don J. Wright steps into his new role, I urge him to fully comply with the request for documents that Ranking Member Cummings and I sent to the Secretary earlier today. Former Sec. Price’s decision to conduct maintenance outages on HealthCare.Gov during the open enrollment period has the potential to hinder millions of Americans as they purchase insurance on the federal exchange. Ranking Member Cummings and I are seeking documents regarding the decision to perform this maintenance during open enrollment, and have invited HHS officials to fully brief Congress on this proposal.

    As the Senate moves to confirm President Trump’s new HHS nominee, I urge HELP Committee Senators to seek assurances that he or she will fully and faithfully execute all laws and not seek to undermine the protections of the Affordable Care Act. Over 9 million Americans – including over 300,000 in Illinois – depend on the smooth and regular functioning of HealthCare.Gov.“