Black Caucus members seek Silicon Valley diversity

Rep. Barbara Lee will join Congressional Black Caucus Chairman G.K. Butterfield and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries on a Silicon Valley junket aimed at increasing African Americans’ representation in the tech industry.

lack of diversityLee, D-Oakland; Butterfield, D-N.C.; and Jeffries, D-N.Y., will spend this Sunday through Tuesday meeting with tech executives and local organizations as part of the caucus’ TECH 2020 initiative, a five-year diversity launched in May. The lawmakers will visit companies including Apple, Bloomberg, Google, Intel, Kapor Capital, Pandora, and SAP.

“Our goal for this trip is to encourage and partner with these organizations to implement a diversity plan that will place more African Americans in the tech pipeline,” Butterfield said in a news release. “This will potentially lead to a wide range of opportunities, from student internships to positions on the boards of tech companies. Building a coalition of leaders from the public and private sectors ensures greater diversity and full representation of African Americans at every level of tech by 2020.”

Lee said she’s pleased to welcome her peers to the Bay Area.

“This visit is another step toward opening doors of opportunity for African Americans in the booming tech sector,” she said in the release. “Increasing diversity and inclusion within the tech sector is not only a moral imperative, it’s good for business and vital to continue economic growth. As we work to advance the TECH 2020 initiative and achieve full representation of African Americans in the tech sector, I look forward to continuing to work with these companies. We must all play a role in finding innovative solutions that bring diversity to Silicon Valley.”

As part of its TECH 2020 plan, the caucus has outlined diversity principles, best practices, and resources for African American students and entrepreneurs, and has introduced legislation focused on increasing STEM education.


Barbara Lee leads effort to widen abortion access

Rep. Barbara Lee and two other House members led 70 Democrats in introducing a bill Wednesday that would require Medicaid and other taxpayer-funded health insurance to provide coverage for abortions.

The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act, or the EACH Woman Act, essentially would end the Hyde Amendment policy – a legislation “rider” attached to annual spending bills since 1976 that bans use of certain federal funds to pay for abortion except in cases of incest or rape.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“Each and every day, the rights of women are under attack in America – today, we push back because every person has a right to healthcare,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a news release. “The EACH Woman Act is a bold and groundbreaking step forward. This legislation would ensure that every woman can access all of her healthcare options, regardless of how much money she earns or where she lives.”

“Regardless of how someone personally feels about abortion, none of us, especially elected officials, should be interfering with a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions just because she is poor.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., joined Lee in introducing the bill – which probably is dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House.

Lee’s office quoted a recent poll by Hart Research which found 86 percent of voters agreed that “however we feel about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage because she is poor.” Support for that statement was strong across all age ranges, and stood at 79 percent of Republican surveyed.

The bill is supported by 33 national and state organizations. Policies like the Hyde Amendment and state insurance bans have withheld coverage for safe, legal abortion care for too long, said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation.

“It’s unconscionable that we have allowed politicians to take away some women’s decisions just because of where they live or their income level,” Saporta said. “The EACH Woman Act would ensure health coverage for abortion for every woman no matter what type of insurance she has, where she lives, or how much money she has.”

Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said most Americans agree a woman enrolled in Medicaid should have all of her pregnancy-related healthcare covered by insurance, including abortion.

“And among young people and people of color, that opinion is a tidal wave,” she said. “We are ready to change the game in Washington. We are organized, making phone calls, knocking on doors, and paying visits to our members of Congress. We are ready to do what it takes to make Hyde history.”

National Right to Life, the nation’s oldest and largest anti-abortion-rights organization, didn’t answer an email Wednesday seeking comment on the legislation.

UPDATE @ 10:19 A.M. THURSDAY: Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, got back to me Thursday morning.

“There is empirical evidence that well over one million Americans are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment, probably much closer to two million,” he said. “The one to two million Americans alive today because of the Hyde Amendment include, no doubt, many constituents of Congresswoman Lee. We think that each of these human lives has great worth. Contrary to the premises of the bill, we believe that pregnancy is not a disease, and we believe that elective abortion is not health care.”


Of Cuba, embassies and Barbara Lee

Rep. Barbara Lee was among those quick to praise President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday that the U.S. and Cuba will be opening reciprocal embassies soon – but she renewed her insistence that she’s not angling to be ambassador.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)Lee, D-Oakland, issued a statement calling the opening of embassies “another important step forward as we work to normalize relations after more than 50 years of failed policy. She urged Congress to follow the president’s lead by supporting H.R. 664, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, and H.R. 403, the Free Trade With Cuba Act. “It’s past time to end the failed embargo, lift the travel ban and fully normalize relations between our two countries.”

Lee has been a longtime advocate of normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations, and the Chronicle’s political gossip column alleged in January that Lee had a “gentlewoman’s agreement” with President Obama to name her as the U.S. ambassador to Cuba. She promptly replied with a statement saying she wouldn’t seek such a nomination, but rather would “continue the efforts to normalize relations with Cuba and the fight for our shared progressive values in Congress.”

Of course, “seeking” a nomination and being willing to accept one aren’t necessarily the same thing, so I asked her office Wednesday if she would accept it if it’s offered.

Her response, delivered by email through a spokesman: “I appreciate the faith that my constituents have invested in me, as their Member of Congress. I plan to continue working, in Congress, to lift the travel ban, end the embargo and advance the many important issues that affect my constituents’ daily lives.”


Barbara Lee bets on Golden State Warriors win

Rep. Barbara Lee and Rep. Marcia Fudge have laid a friendly bet over the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

If (ed. note: WHEN) the Warriors win, Fudge, D-Ohio, will send Lee chocolates, peanuts and pastries made in the heart of Cleveland. If (ed. note: impossibly) the Cavaliers win, Lee, D-Oakland, will supply Fudge with Clif bars, Ghirardelli chocolates, Peet’s coffee and an autographed photo of Stephen Curry, all in an Oaklandish tote bag.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“The Cleveland Cavaliers are a good team but the Warriors will win this, hands down,” Lee said in her news release. “With the strong support of the East Bay and leadership of MVP Stephen Curry, I am confident of a Warrior’s win! While I am proud to put some of the East Bay’s finest products on the line for this friendly wager, I look forward to enjoying the sweetness of a hometown victory along with Cleveland treats from my friend, Congresswoman Fudge.”

Fudge replied the Warriors “are a strong team, but it’s time to end our city’s 50-year championship drought. The Cavaliers will be victorious. Led by Akron’s own LeBron James, the Cavaliers have been relentless in their pursuit of victory. All of Northeast Ohio is ‘all in’ and proud of their determination to bring the championship home. While confident in our victory, I proudly wager chocolates from Malley’s, peanuts from Peterson’s and pastries from Davis Bakery. These delectable foods are the best in the nation, just like our home team.”

UPDATE @ 2:48 P.M.: U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have laid similar wagers with their Ohio counterparts.

Boxer put up Peet’s “Warriors Grounds” coffee and a case of Linden Street Brewery’s “New Oakland Glow” pilsner against beer that U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, will provide from Akron’s Hoppin’ Frog Brewery. The loser will deliver the bounty to the winner’s office while wearing a jersey from the victor’s team.

“The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in basketball all season long because of their selfless style of play and some of the best shooting that the NBA has ever seen,” Boxer said. “LeBron James is a huge talent, but he’s no match for Stephen and Riley Curry!”

And Feinstein bet some California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon against some of Cleveland’s Great Lakes beer on offer by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

“As mayor of San Francisco, I wagered with my fellow mayors on the Super Bowl and my 49ers came out on top four times. As senator, I bet on the World Series with my colleagues, and my Giants have been victorious three times in the last five years,” Feinstein said. “Now, I’m looking forward to yet another streak as the Golden State Warriors play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. … With Klay Thompson’s shooting and Andrew Bogut’s defense, not to mention Steph Curry’s MVP talent, this squad is set to bring another trophy to the Bay Area.”


House passes bill on NSA phone records program

The House voted 338-88 Wednesday to pass a bill that would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records, the Washington Post reports.

Supporters say the USA Freedom Act would keep phone “metadata” out of government hands and make other changes to surveillance practices; some critics say that it goes too far, others that it doesn’t go nearly far enough. The Senate still must take up the bill amending Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which without congressional action will expire June 1.

Sam Farr, D-Carmel; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, voted against the bill Wednesday, while the rest of the Bay Area’s all-Democrat delegation supported it.

“Congress may have changed the name but the USA Freedom Act is just a watered-down version of the Patriot Act,” Farr said in a news release. “I commend the bipartisan effort to adhere to the 2nd Circuit Court’s ruling and to develop more safeguards to protect our civil liberties. Unfortunately, this bill still contains too many provisions that threaten the privacy of American citizens.

“I cannot vote for a bill that does not protect the privacy rights enshrined in the 4th Amendment,” Farr added. “The risk of faulty information collection is not a risk I am willing to take with any American’s privacy. Upholding the Constitution is non-negotiable.”

But Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, issued a statement saying “our government has a responsibility to respect people’s civil liberties and protect our national security. This legislation does both.

“It ends the government’s bulk collection of metadata, it strengthens oversight and improves accountability, and it allows our intelligence community to continue their brave work to keep Americans safe,” Thompson said.

Records of phone numbers, call dates, times and durations would be kept by telecommunications companies under this bill, not by the government. Company employees could still search such records under a court order specifying a particular person, account or address, but not an entire phone or Internet company or a broad geographic region, such as a state, city or Zip code.

The bill has the rare combined support of House Republican leaders and President Obama.

“In order to stay secure in these dangerous times, we must have the tools to track terrorists and spies. But the American people have strong concerns about a big government watching over our phone calls, collecting our metadata, and possibly invading our privacy,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said in a news release.

“So the House has looked at the facts on the ground and recalibrated our approach to keep America safe while protecting civil liberties,” he said. “The USA FREEDOM Act stops bulk data collection while still making sure those fighting terrorism have access to what they need so they can do their job and prevent future terror attacks. That’s what makes it a good, bipartisan bill.”

But in the wake of last week’s 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that struck down the NSA’s phone-records collection program as illegal, civil libertarians aren’t happy with this bill.

“Last week’s historic court decision makes clear that this bill must be strengthened to protect privacy rights,” Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, had said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“Following the court’s ruling, the House should have amended the bill to prevent the government from amassing and keeping the information of innocent Americans. The Senate should not make the same mistake and instead remedy the bill’s many deficiencies, which have been criticized on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “Letting Section 215 expire would be preferable to passing the current version of this bill, which fails to adequately protect Americans’ information from unwarranted government intrusion.”


Reactions to Loretta Lynch’s confirmation as AG

The U.S. Senate voted 56-43 Thursday to confirm federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch as the next U.S. Attorney General, ending one of the longest cabinet confirmation delays in the nation’s history.

Ten Republicans joined with all Democrats to confirm Lynch, 55, whom President Obama nominated in early November. The only Senator not voting was presidential candidate Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

From U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.:

“Loretta Lynch is one of the best I’ve seen in my 22 years in the Senate and I’m confident that she will be a stellar Attorney General. Her record as U.S. attorney is impeccable, and she’s proven herself as a tough but fair prosecutor and effective leader.

“As Attorney General, she will focus on a range of important issues including our national security, improving community policing and combatting human trafficking.

“I regret that this confirmation vote was delayed by months. No one questions Loretta Lynch’s qualifications for this position and she did not deserve this unnecessary delay. Nonetheless, I know that she will hit the ground running and continue to serve this country with distinction.”

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

“After an inexcusable delay by Senate Republicans, history has been made today with the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as our next Attorney General. When this country lives up to its promise as the land of opportunity for all, it is a moment to be celebrated.

“Loretta Lynch is an extraordinary nominee with an extraordinary record, and she is just the Attorney General we need during these challenging times.”

From U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder:

“Loretta Lynch is a gifted attorney, a consummate professional, and a dedicated public servant. I am pleased that the United States Senate has recognized her clear qualifications and the need for her confirmation as Attorney General of the United States.

“At every stage of her career, Loretta has earned the trust and high regard of allies and adversaries alike, both in Washington and throughout the country. She is respected by law enforcement officers, civil rights leaders, and criminal justice officials of all political stripes. In every case and every circumstance, she has demonstrated an unfailing commitment to the rule of law and a steadfast fidelity to the pursuit to justice.

“I have known and worked closely with Loretta for many years, and I know that she will continue the vital work that this Administration has set in motion and leave her own innovative mark on the Department in which we have both been privileged to serve. I am confident that Loretta will be an outstanding Attorney General, a dedicated guardian of the Constitution, and a devoted champion of all those whom the law protects and empowers. I congratulate her on her confirmation, and I look forward to all that the Department of Justice will do and achieve under her exemplary leadership.”

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

“Today, the Senate has finally confirmed Loretta Lynch as the first-ever African American woman Attorney General of the United States. As the nation’s highest ranking law enforcement official, Attorney General Lynch will continue to be a resolute, tenacious advocate for justice.

“As the daughter of a North Carolina preacher active in the civil rights movement, Attorney General Lynch has dedicated her career to promoting civil rights and ensuring that equality, dignity, and justice belong to all Americans. In the Eastern District of New York, she has already shown her resolve in fighting for survivors of human trafficking, and prosecuting terrorism and corruption.

“We have full faith that Attorney General Lynch will continue the incredible legacy of progress left by Attorney General Eric Holder. His bold vision and resolve to protect access to the ballot box, ensure that law enforcement practices are consistent with the Constitution, and end the epidemic of incarceration are vital to improving America’s future. It is with great pride that we congratulate Attorney General Lynch as she continues to reaffirm the bedrock American principle of equal justice under law.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

“Today’s vote to confirm Loretta Lynch as our nation’s next Attorney General is historic. It is not only historic because she is the first woman of color to hold the nation’s highest law enforcement post but also because of her excellent qualifications for the role.

“I was proud to join many women of the Congressional Black Caucus on the Senate floor for this historic vote.
However, it is shameful that she had to wait more than 160 days for her confirmation vote, longer than the wait for the last seven Attorneys General combined.

“It’s past time to stop playing political games with qualified nominees and start working to address the critical issues facing our nation.”