Rep. Sam Farr is retiring; peers sing his praises

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, announced Thursday he won’t seek another term next year, ending his House run of more than two decades – and some of his local peers are singing his praises.

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

“For 23 years in the Congress, Sam Farr has served as a tenacious, far-sighted champion for California’s Central Coast and hard-working families across America. With a career in public service that stretches across five decades, Congressman Farr has truly devoted his life building a better future for his communities, our country, and our world.

“Congressman Farr’s determined leadership on behalf of veterans, farmers, the environment and working families has left an indelible mark on California and our country. As Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development and FDA, Congressman Farr has championed safe, sustainable and nutritious food and hard-working farmers, ranchers and producers. As the longest-serving Democrat on the Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Congressman Farr has stood strong for ensuring all veterans have access to the health care and resources their service and sacrifice have earned. As founder of the House Oceans Caucus, Sam Farr has been a leader for our climate and an invaluable voice for preserving the beauty and bounty of the oceans for future generations.

“From his early service in the Peace Corps through his decades in the Congress, Sam Farr has defined courageous and thoughtful leadership. When he leaves the House, he will be missed by friends and colleagues on both sides of the aisle. We wish him, his wife Shary, and the entire Farr family all the best in their next adventures together.”

From Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose:

“Sam Farr has been a valued member of the California Democratic Delegation and champion of the Central Coast in Congress for 23 years. A former Delegation Chair, Sam serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and is the Ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee for Agricultural Development, Food and Drug Administration where he championed safe and nutritious food for consumers, farmers, and producers.

“He has dedicated his life to public service, from his early service in the Peace Corps in Columbia, to representing his wonderful home on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors for 6 years, and the California State Assembly for 12 years before being elected to Congress. A national leader on protecting our oceans, he founded the House Oceans Caucus and authored the Oceans Act, which created the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. While on the Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Farr helped convert the Fort Ord Military Base into the biggest California coastal ocean park in modern history, with Cal State University Monterey as its crown jewel. Sam stands for peace and diplomacy and always stands up for the “little guy.” We wish him well as he retires and know he will enjoy the serene beauty of the region he has spent a lifetime protecting.”

From Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose:

“Sam Farr has led a long and honorable life dedicated to public service. I had the pleasure of serving with him in Congress and on the House Appropriations Committee where he distinguished himself as the champion for our oceans and precious coastline. A fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Congressman Farr has continued his commitment to a just foreign policy, particularly in our relationship with Latin America, and specifically with Colombia. Sam’s fingerprints will be indelible from his work as an Appropriator. Sam cared about our veterans, our oceans, and our future global relationships because of his Peace Corps service. I know he will continue to work passionately in his future endeavors, and I wish the best for him and his family. I’ll miss his humor, counsel, and photos. I’m proud to call him my Peace Corps buddy, my friend and colleague.”


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.


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.”


Marijuana reform advocates win 3 of 4 in House

Marijuana reform advocates won three of four battles in the House on Wednesday, as lawmakers approved amendments that forbid federal interference in state laws allowing medical use of marijuana and marijuana-based oils or industrial hemp uses.

“There’s unprecedented support on both sides of the aisle for ending the federal war on marijuana and letting states set their own drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights,” Bill Piper, the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs director, said in a news release. “The more the DEA blocks sensible reforms the more they will see their agency’s power and budget come under deeper scrutiny.”

California is one of 23 states, plus the District of Columbia and Guam, that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The House voted 242-186 for an amendment by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, and Sam Farr, D-Carmel, that prohibits the federal government from using any funds to arrest or prosecute medical marijuana patients or providers that are in a compliance with their state’s laws. This amendment also passed the House last year with strong bipartisan support – after a decade of failed efforts – and made it into the final spending bill signed into law, but because it was attached to an annual spending bill, it will expire later this year unless Congress renews it.

“The majority of the states have said they want medical marijuana patients to have access to the medicine they need without fear of prosecution,” Farr said in a news release. “For the second year in a row, the people’s house has listened to the will of the people and voted to give them that access.”

The House voted 297-130 to pass an amendment by Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., that protects laws in 16 states allowing use of CBD oils, a non-psychotropic marijuana component that’s been shown to be effective in managing children’s epileptic seizures.

And the House voted 282-146 to pass an amendment by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kent., prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Administration from undermining state laws allowing the industrial use of hemp. A similar amendment passed the House last year.

Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and voters in California, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada are expected to face legalization ballot initiatives next year. But an amendment by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville, and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., to bar the DEA and Justice Department from undermining such state laws narrowly failed on a 206-222 vote.

Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy staffer who now is president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said his anti-legalization group is “re-energized” by the recreational amendment’s defeat.

“This is a victory for the science, and it’s a victory for our nation’s kids,” Sabet said in a news release. “It’s a crushing blow to the new Big Marijuana industry special interest group. Legalization is not inevitable and we will continue to discuss why today’s high THC marijuana runs counter to mental health and basic principles of public health and road safety.”

But Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, issued a statement saying “now that the House has gone on record with strong bipartisan votes for two years in a row to oppose using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, it’s time for Congress to take up comprehensive legislation to actually change federal law.”

“That’s what a growing majority of Americans wants, and these votes show that lawmakers are on board as well,” Angell said. “Congress clearly wants to stop the Justice Department from spending money to impose failed marijuana prohibition policies onto states, so there’s absolutely no reason those policies themselves should remain on the lawbooks any longer.”


Telling fish stories in the House

The House voted 225-152 Monday to pass a bill reauthorizing the nation’s marine fisheries management law – but two Californians had very different takes on what the legislation really means.

H.R. 1335, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, reauthorizes and alters the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 2006. The vote was mostly along party lines, with the entire Bay Area delegation opposed.

From House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield:

Kevin McCarthy“Our domestic seafood industry supports hundreds of thousands of jobs and generates billions in revenue each year. But the current regulations and data that govern our fisheries need to be updated to best manage our domestic supply of fish.

“This bill improves the management of federal fisheries by reforming some of the rigid and broad-sweeping regulations that impede economic and job growth in the seafood industry. This legislation requires government to work in conjunction with local fishermen and outside groups, empowering local decision-making and keeping government accountable.

“I would like to extend my thanks to Rep. Don Young (AK-AL), Chairman Bishop (UT-01), and the Natural Resources Committee for their work on this important bill that will grow jobs throughout the fishing industry in the U.S.”

From Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel:

Sam Farr“The Republicans’ favorite game in Washington is to give a bill a wonderful sounding name and then have it do the exact opposite. Bills like the Clear Skies Act, which was nothing more than a free license for polluters to dump more toxins into the air. Now the Republican leadership has taken aim at our oceans.

“Today, House Republicans passed the so-called Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act – a rather long name for a bill that does none of those things. Instead it actually weakens fishing communities and threatens to destroy many local economies that were saved by the original Magnuson-Stevens Act.

“The long-term health of the industry is dependent upon smart management of our greatest natural resource. Thanks to the original Magnuson-Stevens Act, overfished stocks are at an all time low leaving an abundant amount of most species for commercial and recreational fisherman. Thanks to this vote, we now risk returning to the days of overfishing that almost destroyed the entire industry. Only in this Congress would you take a policy that is working and toss it out for a bill this harmful.”


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.”