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Barbara Lee meets with Raul Castro at U.N.

Rep. Barbara Lee met with Cuban President Raul Castro on Friday at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

President Obama earlier this month nominated Lee, D-Oakland, as a Representative of the United States to the 70th U.N. General Assembly. She’s been a longtime supporter of normalized relations with Cuba.

“I was particularly pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the renewed diplomatic relations between our two countries and to personally congratulate him on the historic steps taken toward normalizing relations with the United States,” Lee said in a news release. “I look forward to continuing to work in Congress to lifting the travel ban and ending the failed trade embargo. President Obama has shown bold leadership by opening up relations with Cuba – it’s past time for Congress to act as well.”

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Congressional reax to Pope Francis’ speech

Here’s how some of the Bay Area’s voices in Congress are responding to Pope Francis’ address today.

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a series of tweets:

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

Nancy Pelosi“The Holy Father Pope Francis’ address to Congress was extraordinary. With absolute clarity, beauty and moral urgency, Pope Francis called on all of us to be better stewards of Creation and instruments of God’s peace.

“Standing in the very heart of our democracy, Pope Francis spoke to the better angels of our nature and of the American people. He reminded us of our sacred and inescapable responsibility to those struggling to escape poverty, persecution and war. He challenged us to rescue our planet from the climate crisis that threatens the future of our children and the health of God’s creation – and to do so sensitive to the needs of the poor. His Holiness urged us to live our values and reach beyond our divisions.

“On a personal note, my husband Paul, my children and I have more than 100 years of Catholic education among us, and this has been a day of profound joy for my family. It has been an awesome privilege to welcome His Holiness to the Congress. My deepest thanks to the Pope for the honor of his historic visit and the elevating, illuminating leadership he continues to provide Catholics and non-Catholics the world over. May the Holy Father’s message of hope, peace and dialogue echo through the halls of the Capitol and across the country for a long time to come.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“During a joint-session of Congress today, His Holiness Pope Francis reminded us of our sacred duty: to protect and advocate for the most vulnerable and voiceless in our society and our world.

“His call for peace and justice should inspire Congress and our entire nation. As we work to address the immense challenges facing our nation – climate change, persistent poverty, and global conflicts – the Pope’s call for mutual understanding has never been more timely or necessary.‎ We must strive to end all injustices that devalue human dignity, especially inequality and war.

“During his speech, the Pope called on Congress ‘to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.’

“He is right – we cannot afford to delay cooperation, however difficult it might be, while our planet and our people suffer.”

From Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord:

Mark DeSaulnier“Pope Francis’ unprecedented address to Congress was truly aspirational. His message of shared social responsibility in the face of global challenges comes at an important time for our country. Of particular note, were his comments on President Lincoln ‘the guardian who labored tirelessly that this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a subsidiarity and solidarity.’ Whether addressing climate change, poverty and inequality or the global refugee crisis, it is my hope Members of Congress will embrace Pope Francis’ message of moral responsibility and working together for the common good.”

More, after the jump…
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Honda & Lee bring home bacon for BART, cops

‘Tis the season when members of Congress proudly trumpet the bacon they’re bringing home for local programs and institutions.

Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, announced Friday that the Department of Transportation has awarded $150 million to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority to fully fund the next year of construction on the BART Silicon Valley Berryessa extension. He said he used his Appropriations Committee seat to ensure the funding was included in the budget.

“Since coming to Congress, I have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that the BART Silicon Valley Extension receives federal funding,” he said in his news release. “In Silicon Valley, the capital of innovation and manufacturing, we lead in many industries, including progressive transportation projects that will reduce traffic on our roadways and protect our environment.”

He said he has previously worked with VTA and the Secretary of Transportation to secure the $900 million federal full-funding grant agreement needed for the BART extension, $700 million of which has now been brought home.

And Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, announced Monday that the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program is awarding $1.875 million to create or preserve jobs for 15 officers in Oakland; $250,000 for two officers in Alameda County; and $125,000 for one officer in Berkeley.

“At a time when departments face high resource constraints, these federal grants will help address public safety and promote community-oriented policing,” Lee, also an Appropriations Committee member, said in her news release. “As we work to build greater trust between law enforcement and our communities, especially communities of color, the COPS program has proven track record of re-focusing law enforcement efforts on the needs of the communities and promoting greater community trust. We must ensure this vital federal program has the resources it needs to support our communities and ensure public safety.”

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Oakland pastor is House’s guest chaplain

Pastor Brondon Reems from Oakland’s Center of Hope Community Church served as the House’s guest chaplain Thursday.

Pastor Brondon ReemsReems’s mother, Bishop Ernestine Reems, founded the church. He also is co-founder of Oakland’s Potters House for Young Men, a 24-hour residential care facility for young teens.

“God’s timing is always right. It is a privilege and a blessing for me to be selected to represent God in the political field with prayer,” Reems said in a news release issued by Rep. Barbara Lee, who invited him. “I would like to thank Congresswoman Lee for this tremendous opportunity.”

Lee, D-Oakland, said Reems “has been a pillar of community and a champion for youth and the most vulnerable. I am so glad Congress had the chance to hear his message of peace and service today. His commitment to the East Bay community and his passion for serving others is an inspiration.”

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Where Bay Area lawmakers stand on the Iran deal

As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi continues rolling out Democratic supporters one by one, almost half of the Bay Area’s House delegation has not yet committed to support or oppose the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran.

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have said they’ll vote for the agreement, as have Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and representatives Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Sam Farr, D-Carmel; and Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.

Most recently on the bandwagon are Swalwell and Farr, both Wednesday, and then Speier on Friday. Speier said in her statement that this is “one of the most important votes I will ever cast.

Jackie Speier“To come to this decision I attended scores of hearings, classified briefings, and met with U.S. allies, my Republican and Democratic colleagues, foreign policy experts, nongovernmental groups, the military and intelligence communities, and my constituents. I also met with the President for over two hours to discuss this deal,” she said.

“As President Kennedy once urged, we must pursue ‘a more practical, more attainable peace, based… on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned.’ This deal, like those Kennedy pursued with the Soviet Union, is a first step away from catastrophe,” Speier said. “So as he said, ‘Let us persevere. Peace need not be impracticable and war need not be inevitable.’ ”

No Bay Area members of Congress have come out against the deal, but five still aren’t ready to say where they stand: Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

“It’s my first big, consequential foreign policy vote, so I wanted to avail myself to learn as much as I could,” DeSaulnier said Friday, adding that while he sees no need to rush the decision during this month-long recess, “I’m leaning very much to support the president’s agreement.”

Mark DeSaulnierHe said has met both with President Obama in Washington, and then with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his recent trip to Israel with other Democratic House freshmen. “I promised both sides I would listen to them.”

And he said he’s reserving final judgment until after he completes five town-hall meetings he has scheduled for constituents over the next few weeks. In fact, he’s dedicating the second half of his first such meeting – 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18 in the community room at Pleasant Hill Middle School, 1 Santa Barbara Road in Pleasant Hill – to this issue.

Honda spokeswoman Lauren Smith said Thursday her boss “is continuing to meet with people and get input and feedback, as well as fully considering all of the details of the deal. He will make a decision once he has collected all pertinent information.”

Lofgren’s chief of staff, Stacey Leavandosky, said Thursday her boss “is currently studying the agreement, meeting with constituents about it as well as hearing from Administration officials.”

McNerney spokesman Mike Naple said Thursday his boss “is still reviewing the agreement and hasn’t made a decision yet.”

And Huffman spokesman Paul Arden referred to his boss’s July 15 statement, in which he had said that “while I will vote based on the merits of the agreement, Iran’s credibility and trustworthiness are also considerations.”

UPDATE @ 1 P.M. THURSDAY 8/20: Mike Honda has just announced that he supports the deal.

UPDATE @ 2:55 P.M. THURSDAY 8/20: And now Jerry McNerney is on board, too.

UPDATE @ 5:30 P.M. FRIDAY 8/21: Lofgren now says she will vote in favor of the deal.

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Barbara Lee to attend U.S. flag-raising in Cuba

Rep. Barbara Lee will accompany Secretary of State John Kerry to the flag-raising Friday at the new U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“The opening of this embassy marks a new chapter in relations between the U.S. and Cuba. With renewed and regular diplomatic relations, diplomats will be able to engage their counterparts to advance a range of issues important to our nations,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a statement issued Thursday.

“While this delegation and the opening of an American embassy in Cuba is an important step forward, more work remains to end more than five decades of failed policy between the U.S. and Cuba,” Lee continued. “Congress must act now to remove the remaining barriers to normalized relations including lifting the travel ban and ending the failed embargo. These Cold War relics must be repealed as we chart a new path forward between our two nations.”

Lee has been a longtime, ardent supporter of normalized U.S.-Cuba relations and has visited Cuba more than 20 times, leading several congressional delegations. She’s a cosponsor of the bipartisan Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, H.R. 664, to lift the travel ban, and also of the Free Trade with Cuba Act, H.R. 403, to end the embargo.

The Washington Post reports the official delegation will include representatives from the Commerce, Defense and Treasury departments and eight members of Congress.