Bay Area lawmakers offer tix for Pope’s visit

A few Bay Area House members are holding lotteries in which their constituents can win tickets to see Pope Francis during his U.S. visit later this month.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, is offering tickets for the pontiff’s address to a joint session of Congress on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 24, to residents of her 18th Congressional District; Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, is doing the same for her 14th District constituents; and Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, is doing it in his 9th District. Ticket holders will be able to view the address from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol via televised broadcast.

“I’m excited to be able to extend an opportunity to my constituents to take part in this historic event,” Eshoo said in a news release. “While not all who wish to attend will be awarded a ticket, my office is working to ensure the lottery is conducted fairly and make the process a good one.”

Speier said Pope Francis “has become a focal point across the world for prioritizing peace over war, care of the planet over consumption, forgiveness over accusation, and neighbor over self. I’m excited that 50 of my constituents have the opportunity to be on the West Lawn of the Capitol to watch the broadcast of the Pope’s address to members of Congress. My only regret is that I can’t make these tickets available to everyone.”

McNerney said it’s “sure to be a momentous occasion. This is the first time that the Pope will deliver an address to Congress, and I look forward to hearing his message for the American people.”

The deadline to enter McNerney’s lottery is tomorrow, Friday, Sept. 4; the deadline to enter Eshoo’s lottery is noon Pacific Time next Tuesday, Sept. 8; and the deadline to enter Speier’s lottery is midnight next Thursday, Sept. 10. Only constituents of those districts may enter, only one entry is allowed per person, and each winner will receive two tickets.


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.


Speier offers bill to allow alcohol via U.S. Mail

A Bay Area congresswoman wants to lift the ban on shipping alcohol through the U.S. Mail.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, said she’s joined by 24 original cosponsors in introducing the bipartisan USPS Shipping Equity Act, which would change the Prohibition-era law preventing shipping of beer, wine, distilled spirits and other alcoholic drinks to consumers by mail.

Jackie Speier“Prohibition is history, and this ban should be too,” Speier said in a news release “It’s ridiculous that we’re allowing UPS, FedEx, and other companies to ship spirits, wine, and beer to consumers, while banning the U.S. Postal Service from doing the exact same thing. As more states allow direct to consumer delivery, we need to lift this dated ban on so-called ‘spirituous, vinous, malted, fermented, or other intoxicating liquors,’ to give consumers more shipping choices when they check out.”

Speier said the ban puts the Postal Service at a competitive disadvantage and limits shipping options for manufacturers and customers. Her H.R. 3412 would let the Postal Service ship alcoholic beverages directly from licensed producers and retailers to consumers over the age of 21. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that it would provide the Postal Service with an additional $50 million per year.

This bill is endorsed by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, WineAmerica, the American Postal Workers Union, the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, the National Association of Postmasters of the United States, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, and the National Association of Letter Carriers.


Speier & Sanchez seek equality for female athletes

Two California congresswomen introduced a resolution Wednesday urging the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) to provide the same pay for female soccer athletes as it does for male athletes.

Jackie SpeierRep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, and Rep. Linda Sánchez, D-Lakewood, were joined by 33 original cosponsors, while U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced the resolution in the Senate.

The USA Women’s Soccer team clinched its third World Cup victory July 5 – the most-viewed soccer series in U.S. history, attracting more viewers than the NBA finals, the World Series and the men’s World Cup, the lawmakers note. Yet women’s soccer players still make 40 times less than their male counterparts, and the USA Women’s World Cup team received four times less for winning than the men’s World Cup team was paid for losing in the 2014 tournament’s first elimination round.

“Whether you’re a soccer mom or a starter on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, women in our country deserve equal pay,” Speier said in a news release. “I’m proud to introduce this resolution demanding that FIFA ensure our champion women’s team is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. This is the 21st century and we need to stop shortchanging women’s sports worldwide.”


Bay Area lawmakers OK medical device tax repeal

Three Bay Area House members were among the 46 Democrats who joined with Republicans on Thursday to approve repealing the medical-device tax enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act.

As the Associated Press reports, the tax took effect two years ago and was designed to help pay for expanded coverage for millions of people. It’s levied on equipment like artificial hearts and X-ray machines but not on items used by individuals, like eye glasses. Foes of its repeal say that this and other taxes the law imposed on the health care industry were outweighed by added customers the law has created, and that repealing it means paying that $24 billion, 10-year cost with bigger federal deficits.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, which passed on a 280-140 vote. Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; and Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton voted for it, while the rest of the Bay Area delegation was opposed.

“I support the Affordable Care Act and policies that improve our ability to conquer illnesses and diseases before they conquer us,” Swalwell said in a statement emailed later Thursday. “Today’s vote will help more start-up bio-innovation companies create devices that have the potential to make us healthier.”

McNerney emailed a statement saying that “medical research and technology contribute significantly to California’s economy with more than 75,000 jobs, and advancements in the field are resulting in new treatments and cures that improve the lives of people across the country.

“We should be doing everything to encourage further innovation by removing unnecessary barriers that hinder new research and job growth – especially in California, the home to more medical device companies than any other state in the nation,” he said. “As I’ve said before, this law is not perfect and we should continue to look at ways to improve it. Doing so will not only benefit medical innovation, but lower costs and improve care for individuals and families as well.”

Speier’s office said she was on a plane Thursday afternoon and couldn’t be reached for comment.


Speier touts 15 amendments to Pentagon budget

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, is touting 15 amendments she successfully attached to the Pentagon’s budget during an Armed Services Committee markup session Wednesday, 11 of which deal with sexual assaults in the military.

Jackie SpeierSpeier’s amendments would make it easier to track military sex offenders after they leave the service; make more records public from courts-martial; require that military sex-offense victims be advised a special counsel is available to them before they’re interviewed by investigators; make those special counsels available to former dependents of current and former servicemembers; and ensure those special counsels can represent the victims if they face retaliation for reporting crimes.

Other amendments would give military sexual assault victims access to hearing officers’ case analyses at the same time they’re delivered to the alleged offenders; require the Defense Department to prepare a complete trial record for all courts-martial, regardless of the verdict or sentence; require retention of investigators’ case notes for at least 50 years; and require the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office‘s annual report to include statistics on sexual harassment, sexual assaults related to domestic violence, and retaliations against those reporting sexual assaults.

Still others would let victims take part in proceedings where their attackers are non-judicial punishment or administrative separation, with access to those proceedings’ records; and would direct the Defense Department Inspector General to review cases in which those who’ve reported sexual assaults leave military service.

“This collection of reforms will make the Uniform Code of Military Justice more fair and responsive to victims of military sexual assault,” Speier said in a news release. “We are nowhere near eliminating this epidemic, but today we have made concrete progress toward adopting a modern military code that treats victims with the respect they deserve.”

Speier also successfully amended the military spending bill to let veterans who change their gender identity after leaving the service update their discharge papers to reflect their new name, so the documents are easier to use for official purposes such as job, college and loan applications. Other amendments would guarantee that servicewomen deployed for long periods of time are dispensed enough of whatever contraception their doctor prescribes to cover their full deployment; and would make reduce the burden of proof for whistleblowers to show that they suffered retaliation for their actions, bringing it in line with civilian court standards.

Speier didn’t win on everything, however. The committee killed her amendment to shift $589 million (out of a proposed $1 billion) away from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and into an equipment account for the National Guard and Reserves.