Bay Area House members headed to Armenia

Two Bay Area House members will be part of the presidential delegation that’s leaving Wednesday for Armenia to attend Friday’s centennial memorial of a 1915 ethnic cleansing that claimed more than a million lives.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto – both of whose mothers were of Armenian descent, making them the only House members with such ancestry – are making the trip. Other delegation members include Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew; Richard Mills, the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia; Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J.; and Rep. Dave Trott, R-Mich.

Speier issued a statement saying it’s “thrilling and humbling to represent the United States and the Armenian-American community in remembering the many whose lives were coldly extinguished.

“From an early age, my mother instilled in me the importance of recognizing the genocide and the anguish the Armenian people feel about the need to acknowledge it,” she said. “I intend to speak the truth wherever I go. It is long past time for all nations, including the United States, to recognize the full horror imposed by the Ottoman empire and talk clearly about history.”

Activists are sorely disappointed that President Obama still won’t refer to the 1915 killings as genocide, for fear of souring U.S. relations with Turkey – the founding fathers of which were responsible for the tragedy, as the Ottoman Empire fell apart. Speier and Eshoo are members of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, and both have strongly supported an as-yet-unsuccessful resolution recognizing the tragedy as genocide.


Rep. Eric Swalwell visited troops, officials in Iraq

Rep. Eric Swalwell returned Wednesday from a bipartisan congressional trip to Iraq.

Swalwell, D-Dublin, is a House Intelligence Committee member and was briefed in Iraq by senior military officials involved with Operation Inherent Resolve, the mission to roll back the self-proclaimed Islamic State. He also met with Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi, and he attended Easter Sunday service and brunch with enlisted troops.

Swalwell Easter brunch with troops in Iraq

“This trip gave me the opportunity to see up close the damage the Iraqi-led, U.S.-supported coalition is having on ISIL,” Swalwell said in a news release. “Because of the enduring work of our troops and intelligence community, we have ISIL on the ropes and are well-positioned to deliver a knockout blow. The real challenge, however, is what does Iraq look like post-ISIL? The United States can provide limited, short-term military aid to Iraq, but a longstanding peaceful future requires Iraqi leadership that puts an end to sectarian violence.”

“It was an honor to spend Easter Sunday in Iraq with my heroes, the brave men and women of our Armed Services and intelligence community,” he added. “I was moved by the commitment of our troops, who were spending Easter away from their loved ones, to serve our country.”


California lawmakers globe-trot to Cuba, Japan

With the Legislature in recess next week, California’s top lawmakers – and a few Bay Area members, too – are leaving Sacramento to do some globe-trotting.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Agriculture Committee Chair Henry Perea, D-Fresno, will lead a trade delegation of legislators, academics, and agriculture industry representatives to Cuba from Monday, March 30 to Friday, April 3.

They’re aiming to build ties with Cuban policymakers, farmers, and businesses, and to explore options for California and Cuba to collaborate not only in agriculture but also in telecommunications, construction and banking.

Toni Atkins“With the federal government moving forward with efforts to normalize diplomatic, economic, and commercial relations, it is important for California to also engage with Cuba and expand economic relationships that create new opportunities for businesses in our state,” Atkins said in a news release. “The Assembly wants to do everything we can to create more jobs and business in California, and this trade delegation is one way to help California companies gain a competitive edge.”

The partner organization for the trade delegation is Californians Building Bridges, a nonprofit with years of experience leading cultural, humanitarian and entrepreneurial exchanges between California and Cuba. No Assembly funds are being spent.

Also in the delegation are Bill Quirk, D-Hayward; Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond; Luis Alejo, D-Salinas; Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove; Adam Gray, D-Merced; Jose Medina, D-Riverside; and Rudy Salas Jr., D-Bakersfield – all Agriculture Committee members, or serving districts with agricultural interests. Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, and Republicans on the Agriculture Committee were invited but declined to attend.

Meanwhile, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, will lead a delegation including Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, to Japan from Monday, March 30 through Thursday, April 2. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, is going, too.

The lawmakers were invited by the Japanese government, and they’ll be discussing issues including transportation, seismic safety, clean energy, environmental protection and climate change.

Kevin de LeonThey’re scheduled to meet Monday in Tokyo with U.S. Embassy officials and Japanese officials including Issei Kitagawa, the state minister of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation and Tourism to discuss high-speed rail. They’ll also meet that day with people from Japan’s Reconstruction Agency, the main entity responsible for recovery from the March 2011 earthquake that devastated part of the nation.

On Tuesday, they’re scheduled to visit Japan’s National Diet, the legislature, as well as to tour the High Speed Rail Operation Center and to ride in a new fuel-cell car produced by Toyota.

On Wednesday they’ll travel to Kobe to meet with the mayor and tour a facility memorializing the January 1995 earthquake that killed more than 5,000 and destroyed tens of thousands of homes, and the recovery efforts that followed. And on Thursday they’ll start in Osaka and then head for Kyoto, to meet the mayor for a briefing on the city’s economy and history.


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.


CA17: Khanna’s endorsers & Honda’s border visit

With today’s 17th Congressional District news dominated by the candidates’ agreement on debate terms and Ro Khanna’s rally outside Rep. Mike Honda’s San Jose office, I didn’t have room in the story for Khanna’s latest endorsements and Honda’s run for the border.

Khanna is touting new endorsements from San Jose City Councilmen Pete Constant and Johnny Khamis; Santa Clara County School Board Trustee Grace Mah; Fremont Unified School Board Member Lily Mei; and former Fremont Vice Mayor and City Councilmember Steve Cho.

Constant, Khamis and Cho are Republicans, while Mah and Mei are registered without party affiliation.

“I’m very proud that my grassroots campaign is supported by so many leaders from different backgrounds and across the political spectrum,” Khanna said in a news release. “While my opponent has relied on national and special interest backing, our campaign has worked hard to gain the trust and respect of those who actually live and work in the 17th district. I look forward to taking this inclusive and accessible approach to Congress.”

Constant said Khanna “has had strong bipartisan support since he launched his campaign, and I’m proud to be part of that. Unfortunately, Mike Honda has never been interested in working across the aisle, which is a stark departure from the long tradition of pragmatic leadership in Silicon Valley. Given Ro’s common sense approach and his unique understanding of economic issues, I’m confident he’ll be an effective representative for our region.”

Meanwhile, Honda will be part of a bipartisan congressional delegation that tours the U.S.-Mexico border near McAllen, Tex., on Thursday and Friday.

“The recent surge of unaccompanied children coming across our border brought to the light the need for greater resources and understanding for our immigration and asylum processes,” Honda said in a news release. “This trip will help us learn more about what happens when someone comes to the border, how they are treated, and what both the US and Mexico need to improve the situation.”

Honda, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said such knowledge will help him and his colleagues work with their peers and the White House to “better appropriate funds so they meet the specific needs of those who are working on the US/Mexico Border.”

Along with Honda, the delegation includes Phil Roe, R-Tenn.; Mark Takano, D-Riverside; Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo.; Dina Titus, D-Nev.; Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M. They’ll visit the Hidalgo International Bridge, the McAllen Border Patrol Station, and the Department of Health and Human Services BCFS Harlingen Children’s Facility. They’ll meet with the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, key U.S. border patrol and enforcement officials, and a Mexican government delegation.


Steinberg, Corbett to lead trip to Central America

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Majority Leader Ellen Corbett will lead a delegation of state lawmakers to Central America next week, in part to explore the political, economic and social situation driving a flood of unaccompanied children to the U.S. border.

centralamerica-political-mapThe lawmakers will meet with an array of officials in El Salvador and Guatemala to probe the situation and find out what states like California can do to meet the humanitarian challenge presented by the undocumented immigrant tsunami. Dangerous conditions in those nations and Honduras have driven parents to send more than 52,000 children north to the U.S. border in recent months.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Corbett, D-Hayward, will be joined on the trip by Legislative Latino Caucus members Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside; Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno; Assemblyman V. Manuel Peréz, D-Coachella; and caucus vice-chair Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville.

The trip, from July 14 through 23, will include a stop in Panama to learn about the Canal Zone’s expansion. Some transportation, security and interpreting service costs are being borne by the host countries, and the remaining expenses – including airfare and hotels – will be paid by the lawmakers.

In El Salvador, the lawmakers are scheduled to meet with Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, Vice President Oscar Ortiz, Foreign Affairs Minister Hugo Martinez, Economy Minsiter Tharsis Salomon Lopez Guzman; Legislative Assembly President Sigfrido Reyes; and U.S. Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte. In Guatemala, they’re scheduled to meet with Vice-minister of Foreign Relations Oscar Padilla Lam; Paul Briere, President of the Congressional Committee for Migrants of Guatemala; and U.S. Charge d’Affaires Charisse Phillips. And in Panama, they’re scheduled to meet with the Panama Canal Authority and U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Farrar.