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Two NorCal Dems vote for Syrian refugee bill

The House approved the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act affecting the process by which the United States accepts refugees fleeing from Syria on a veto-proof 289-137 vote Thursday – and two Northern California Democrats were among those voting for it.

All refugees undergo an 18-to-24-month screening process involving various federal intelligence, law enforcement and diplomatic agencies before being allowed to come to America; Syrian refugees are subject to extra intelligence checks, said Obama administration officials this week.

But H.R. 4038 effectively would suspend admissions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees for now by obliging the heads of the FBI and Homeland Security Department and the director of national intelligence to certify to Congress that each refugee “is not a threat to the security of the United States.”

The entire Bay Area delegation opposed it, but among those voting for it were Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove.

From Garamendi:

John Garamendi“This bill strengthens the already stringent requirements for international refugees entering America. But strengthening the refugee program is a minor part of the reassessment we must make in the wake of the Paris attacks. For those wishing to come to America to do harm, the refugee program is the least likely way to get in and the most likely way to get caught. Of the millions of displaced Syrians, only around 2,200 have been admitted to the United States as refugees, and for a good reason: applicants are vetted through biometric and biographic checks for at least 18 months by every major American national security and law enforcement agency before they even set foot on American soil. Anyone whose identity and story cannot be precisely confirmed is not admitted to our country. Once they gain admission to the United States, their status is periodically reviewed by state and federal law enforcement.

“America must remain the refuge of people who flee from terror, war, hunger and persecution. We should welcome those refugees from Syria and Iraq who seek safety and meet our security requirements. While I strongly support tighter screening requirements for refugee applicants, Congress should focus on much more likely ways for attackers to gain entry to our country. Every single attacker in Paris with a confirmed identity was a citizen of either France or Belgium—countries whose citizens don’t even require a Visa to enter the United States because of our Visa waiver agreement with the European Union.

“We must be vigilant in every respect—refugees, students, and visitors, as well as homegrown terrorists. Remember that each of us has an important role to play. If we see something, we must say something to authorities.”

From Bera:

Ami_Bera_official_photo“It is critical that our first priority is to keep America safe – that is why I voted today for a bill to ensure that all Syrian refugees are thoroughly vetted. However, we can’t let the terrorists win and influence who we are as Americans. Our country has always been a place for those fleeing violence or oppression and we must stay true to those values. This additional screening step will ensure that we know those coming into the country are not a security threat.”

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, was among those who voted against the bill.

Sam Farr“The strength of our nation is found in our willingness to help those most in need. Turning our back on those fleeing terror and destruction would mean turning our back on the values that make this country great. America can stay true to those values without compromising our security.

“We already thoroughly vet anyone seeking refugee status. For most applications, it is a multi-year process that requires a stringent background check. If our security agencies cannot verify any detail of a refugee’s story, they are denied entrance. That is a higher level of security screening than we apply to immigrants and travelers visiting the United States.

“After the recent attacks in Paris, fear is an understandable emotion. However leadership requires us to not give into that fear. Syrian refugees fleeing their war torn country are not our enemy. They are grandparents, mothers, fathers and children who are only searching for safe haven for their family. As a humanitarian nation and the moral leader of the world, we have a responsibility to welcome them into our country.”

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Sam Farr will vote for Trade Promotion Authority

Rep. Sam Farr has broken with most of his fellow California Democrats, announcing Thursday morning that he’ll vote in support of the “fast-track” Trade Promotion Authority that the Obama Administration and Republican congressional leaders want.

Until Farr, D-Carmel, posted a statement to his constituents online Thursday, the only California House Democrat known to be supporting TPA was Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove – a second-term member in a vulnerable swing district, compared to the 12-term Farr’s safely deep-blue district. The House could vote on it Friday.

Sam FarrFarr wrote that the Central Coast’s economic strength lies in adapting to meet global demands, with local businesses relying on access to new markets in order to compete.

“Trade opens up those markets. It puts the goods we produce and the crops we grow here in California into the hands of more buyers around the world. More sales abroad create more jobs here at home. Trade is good for the Central Coast,” he wrote.

Trade Promotion Authority “simply defines the process Congress will use to vote on future trade deals,” Farr wrote, and “sets the strongest human rights, environmental and labor standards for trade in the history of our country. These are not ceilings but instead are floors that have to be met, giving President Obama the leverage necessary to push for even stronger standards when negotiating with other countries.”

Farr wrote that he expects the pending Trans Pacific Partnership – a trade deal with almost a dozen Pacific Rim nations, which will be the first pact to proceed under TPA – “to be the strongest trade deal ever negotiated. It will require all of the signatories to address issues like conditions in their factories or fair pay for their workers. It will also improve environmental standards leading to cleaner air and cleaner water.” But if it doesn’t contain adequate protections, he said, he’ll vote against it.

After listening to labor, human rights and environmental groups, as well as local businesses and growers, “I concluded voting for TPA is the right thing to do for our district, our economy and our environment,” he wrote.

“To put in bluntly, I trust President Obama to deliver a better trade deal than Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell,” Farr wrote. “Under TPA, any deal brought to Congress by the President will be made public and reviewed for 60 days. At the end of that time period, Congress will hold a simple up or down vote. Without TPA, the Republican controlled Congress would be able to strip out any of the tougher standards put in place by the White House.”

Farr acknowleged many in his party will disagree, and it would be easier to vote with them, “but I did not come to Congress to do what is easy. I came here to do what I feel is right, no matter how hard that vote will be. A yes vote on TPA is right. It means moving us forward while a no vote on TPA means remaining stuck.”

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NRCC targets six California House Dems for 2016

Six California House Democrats are among the National Republican Congressional Committee’s 19 top targets in 2016’s election.

“As Nancy Pelosi continues to pull her smaller and weaker caucus of House Democrats to the far left, we are going to make sure that these vulnerable Democrats are held responsible for their disastrous policies,” NRCC Communications Director Katie Martin said in a news release Wednesday. “As demonstrated in the past several elections, House Democrats have been oblivious to the will of the American people and it is time to end their toxic agenda which is bankrupting middle class families.”

In the NRCC’s crosshairs are John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove; Julia Brownley, D-Thousand Oaks; Pete Aguilar, D-Redlands; Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert; and Scott Peters, D-San Diego.

The list matches up pretty neatly with those identified last week by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as the first members of its Frontline program for the most vulnerable incumbents. Bera, Brownley, Aguilar, Ruiz and Peters all made that list, Roll Call reported, and so the DCCC will frontload them with fundraising and organizational support.

“Each one of these members knows what it takes to win tough elections: working hard, standing up for your district, and not taking anything for granted,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement. “We are adding them to our Frontline Program, led by Representative Dan Kildee, to maximize their resources and ensure they are able to keep fighting to strengthen middle class economics. You don’t add by subtracting, so the success of our Members is integral to our plan to stay on offense in 2016.”

It’s rather early to make predictions, given there’s little sense yet of what caliber of opponents these incumbents will draw in 2016. But I doubt John Garamendi – whose 3rd Congressional District has a 9.5-point registration edge for Democrats – is losing any sleep.

Garamendi won his fourth term in November by a margin of 5.4 percentage points; Bera won his second term by 0.8 of a percentage point; Brownley won her second term by 2.6 percentage points; Aguilar won his first term by 3.4 percentage points; Ruiz won his second term by 8.4 percentage points; and Peters won his second term by 3.2 percentage points.

Notably absent from the NRCC’s list: Jim Costa, D-Fresno, who won his sixth term in November by a scant 1.4 percentage points after a surprisingly strong showing by Republican challenger Johnny Tacherra. But the NRCC must believe that the 16.5-point registration edge that Democrats hold in that 16th Congressional District will be insurmountable in a presidential election year, when turnout will be much higher than in last year’s midterm.

Ditto for Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, who won his fifth term in November by 4.8 percentage points. If that’s as close as the GOP could get in a midterm, the 12.7-point registration edge that Democrats hold in the 9th Congressional District must look like too high a hurdle to leap.

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California lawmakers’ State of the Union guests

Here’s a sampling of guests invited by California lawmakers to attend President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight:

FloresRep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose: Honda is bringing Claudia Flores, an immigration rights activist who was allowed to stay in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Flores and her family moved to San Jose from Honduras when she was a teenager; she became a leader at San Jose High School and in her community, eventually earning a full-ride scholarship to Santa Clara University. She was an intern in Honda’s office two summers ago and is now a public policy fellow with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. “This hard-working, bright woman, who has done so much in her young career, would have been deported if not for President Obama’s action in 2012,” Honda said. “She is exactly the type of person this policy was meant to encourage to stay in the United States.”

UsafiRep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin: Swalwell is bringing Mohammad Usafi, an Afghan interpreter who worked with U.S. Marines and after waiting nearly four years received a special immigrant visa to move to the Bay Area one year ago. The Taliban kidnapped Usafi’s young brother for ransom and killed his father because of the aid he had worked for American troops; after Swalwell and other House members helped friends and advocates petition the State Department, Usafi’s mother and seven siblings were granted humanitarian parole to join him here in December. “It’s a great relief that today Mohammad and his family live in the Bay Area, but more must be done and can be done in a bipartisan fashion to help interpreters like Mohammad,” Swalwell said.

ChristensenRep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo: Speier is bringing retired U.S. Air Force Col. Don Christensen, that branch’s longest-serving chief prosecutor and a leading advocate of military sexual assault reform. Christensen is president of Protect Our Defenders, a group that’s leading efforts to remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command. “I invited Colonel Christensen with the hope that he could witness President Obama announce his support of fundamental reform of the military justice system,” Speier said. “A year after requesting a report from the Pentagon, the president now has the results on his desk. He has all the information he needs. Tonight would be a perfect time for him to lead on this issue by supporting taking sexual assault cases out of the chain of command.”

MartinezRep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara: Capps is bringing Richard Martinez, whose son, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, 20, was among those slain in last May’s rampage near UC-Santa Barbara. Martinez, of Los Osos, became a face of the tragedy as he urged lawmakers to pursue stricter gun-control measures; he since has joined the staff of Everytown for Gun Safety. “As the 114th Congress begins their tenure, it is time they put the public safety of their constituents first, and that means making gun safety a priority to help reduce gun violence in America,” Martinez said.

OliverRep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove: Bera is bringing Susan Oliver, widow of Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver, who was shot to death in the line of duty in October by a gunman who also killed a Placer County deputy. Their lives “remind us that our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day for our safety,” Bera said. “They were true heroes and we are forever indebted to them and their loved ones. Let’s honor their memory by building understanding and trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, just like Deputy Oliver did.”

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.: Feinstein is bringing Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. He’s been mayor since 2013 and earlier was a councilman; Feinstein said they’ve worked together on issues such as funding for the Metro’s Purple Line extension and efforts to reduce homelessness among veterans.

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Rep. Ami Bera will join Obama on trip to India

Rep. Ami Bera will accompany President Barack Obama on the president’s trip to India this weekend, the California congressman announced Tuesday.

Ami_Bera_official_photoBera, D-Elk Grove, is the only Indian-American now serving in Congress and co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. He just beat back a serious electoral challenge last year from Republican former congressman Doug Ose; Bera kept his seat by just eight-tenths of a percentage point.

Bera will be part of the delegation traveling this Saturday to New Delhi, India, where he and the president will attend Republic Day events and meet with Indian leaders.

“As the son of Indian immigrants, I am extremely honored to be a part of this historic trip to India with the president,” Bera said in a news release. “Prime Minister Modi’s trip to the United States last year was a turning point in relations for our countries, and now this trip will be an important opportunity to continue to move the U.S.-India relationship forward.”

Bera said the United States and India should seek ways to grow strategic and economic partnerships. “That will help bring stability to the Southeast Asia region and benefit our economy, in particular opening markets to California and Sacramento County products and creating new jobs. As the oldest and largest democracies in the world, our countries have many common interests and I hope this will be another step toward realizing the full potential of the U.S.-India partnership.”

Bera made his first official visit to India in 2013, during which he helped broker some cooperative deals between the Confederation of Indian Industry and UC-Davis. But his support of Modi – a controversial figure whom opponents say has oppressed Muslims, Sikhs and Christians – caused some Indian-Americans to oppose his re-election bid last year and stage protests in cities including Rancho Cordova and Davis.

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California’s House water war continues

The California House delegation’s internecine water war continues.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, announced Wednesday morning that H.R. 5781 – the California Drought Relief Act, introduced by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford – will be scheduled for a floor vote next week. McCarthy said:

“California is facing the worst drought in a century, which has led to barren farms and drastic water shortages in our communities. We have reached this point after years of inaction by Senate Democrats while ill-conceived policies have continued to prioritize the well-being of fish above people. Though only Mother Nature can dictate the duration of the drought, the situation demands immediate action to address government-created barriers to ensure available water flows throughout our state and not washed out to the ocean.

“After the House and Senate passed separate California water bills this year, months were spent working on a bipartisan compromise for a long-term solution. Unfortunately, the Senate was pressured to quit negotiations at the last minute.

“This crisis cannot go unanswered, and the House’s unwavering commitment to find a solution has led to the California Emergency Drought Relief Act, introduced by Congressman David Valadao. Due to the urgent nature of the water crisis, the House will vote on this legislation next week.

“The first storms of the season are currently over California, with hopefully more to come in the subsequent months. It would be reckless and irresponsible to let the water from these storms be released into the ocean rather than directed to our local communities in need. The California Emergency Drought Relief Act contains provisions from the original Senate-passed bill and from the House’s negotiations with the Senate. Absent action now, California will continue to lose the water from storms in this water year and will face another year of devastating water-crisis. While more must be done toward a long-term solution, this legislation is another critical step to provide relief to our communities suffering from the drought, which is why the House and Senate must act on this bill.”

The Fresno Bee’s write-up on the bill characterizes it as “friendly to farmers and frightening to environmentalists.” The bill’s co-sponsors include McCarthy; Devin Nunes, R-Tulare; Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay; Ken Calvert, R-Corona; Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville; and Jim Costa, D-Fresno.

Bay- and Delta-area Democrats including Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; George Miller, D-Martinez; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; and Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, responded with a joint statement Wednesday afternoon:

“With just a few days left in the legislative session, the House plans to pass yet another divisive, dishonest, and potentially devastating California water bill without any public input or legislative oversight. This is unconscionable, and just the latest chapter in Republicans’reckless approach to micromanaging the state’s water during one of the worst droughts in our history.

“The idea that this bill is a ‘compromise’ is laughable. It is clear that this bill was thrown together without any input from anyone other than those who stand to benefit from its passage. This bill was not reviewed by the Natural Resources Committee, nor has it received input from federal agencies, the state, affected local water agencies, the fishing industry, tribes, or communities. Legislation this sweeping should be the subject of public hearings and input from all affected stakeholders.

“The bill makes it more difficult for state and federal agencies to make real-time water decisions, undermines state water rights priorities, misstates current law, and explicitly overrides the Endangered Species Act. These sweeping changes would place the west coast’s environment, tribes, communities, and the fishing industry in harm’s way in the next drought year.

“The drought does not stop at the edge of congressional districts, yet this bill insulates some parts of the state from the tough water decisions that will be made in the next year. We’re all in this together, and Congress should not tie water managers’ hands nor should we address drought conditions in some parts of the state at the expense of others.”