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Today’s congressional odds and ends

HONDA’S INTERNATIONAL COALITION: Rep. Mike Honda joined five other lawmakers from around the world Monday in launching an International Parliamentary Coalition for Victims of Sexual Slavery.

Honda’s office said the coalition’s purpose will be to promote international cooperation in raising awareness about modern-day slavery and human-rights violations committed to force residents in conflicts zones and places struck by natural disasters into sexual slavery.

honda.jpg“Victims of sexual slavery are not collateral damage,” Honda, D-San Jose, said in a news release. “Sexual slavery, whether in times of conflict or natural disasters, is not a cultural phenomenon. It is violence against women. And this must change. We must hold everyone accountable. Eliminating violence against women is going to require a major change in our humanity. We can start by not treating this as an afterthought or a sidebar issue. Ending violence against women must be front and center.”

Besides Honda, the coalition’s founding co-chairs are Canadian Senator Yonah Martin; New Zealand Member of Parliament Melissa Lee; South Korean Representative Jasmine Lee; British Member of Parliament Fiona Bruce; and Canadian Advisory Council Chairwoman Joy Smith.

Honda earlier this year introduced HR 500, to establish an advisory council led by survivors of human trafficking to advise lawmakers on policies and initiatives. It became part of S.178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, which President Obama signed into law in May.

FIGHTING FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Three California House members want the Justice Department to stop prosecuting California medical marijuana dispensaries that are following tougher new state laws.

Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa; and Sam Farr, D-Carmel, wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, urging her to reconsider action against dispensaries like the Berkeley Patients Group and Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, “given the comprehensive and stringent regulations signed into law by CA Governor Jerry Brown last month.”

“As you know, the package of bills signed into law creates an enforceable framework for governing virtually every aspect of the medicinal cannabis industry – from licensing and taxation to quality control, shipping, packaging and pesticide standards,” they wrote.

Yet the Justice Department “continues to threaten individuals and businesses acting within the scope of states law on the medicinal use of marijuana despite formal guidance on exercising prosecutorial discretion and recent changes to federal law,” they continued. “It is counterproductive and economically prohibitive to continue a path of hostility toward dispensaries. … The will of the both voters at the ballot box and in state legislatures across the country should be respected”

SPEIER GRILLED ON ISIS: Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, who sits on both the House Intelligence and Armed Services committees, took some tough questions from MSNBC this week about how Congress, the Obama administration, the military, and presidential candidates have dealt with the so-called Islamic State.

Posted on Wednesday, November 25th, 2015
Under: Barbara Lee, Jackie Speier, Mike Honda, Sam Farr, U.S. House | No Comments »

CA17: Ron Cohen lays out conservative platform

Ron Cohen, the Fremont Republican who recently joined the race to unseat Rep. Mike Honda next year, has fleshed out his policy positions on his campaign’s new website – and some of his staunch conservative views might be a hard sell in a district that’s only 19 percent Republican.

Ron CohenCohen, a 56-year-old accountant, said last week that if elected he would aim to join the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus – the Tea Party-dominated group of about three dozen Republicans that ousted former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and foiled Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, from succeeding him.

Judging from his website, Cohen’s political views are similar to those of libertarian-leaning Republicans such as former presidential candidate Texas Congressman Ron Paul. The “detailed analysis” part of his site says some parts are “a copy from the Rand Paul’s website and others, with whom I agree.”

Cohen says the most important issue is unsustainable federal spending and debt. “This is an existential threat to the nation.”

On immigration, “we must secure our borders, use E-Verify, have a Temporary Workers Program, tighten visitor and student visas, and have every illegal alien case reviewed by a judge to determine their future status,” Cohen wrote. “We are a compassionate nation and illegal immigrants must follow our laws. Pass Kate’s Law and end Sanctuary Cities.”

Regarding foreign policy and defense, Cohen said the United States must “avoid foreign entanglements” – particularly in the Middle East, where “our ‘friends’ soon become our enemies.”

“In light of the Paris attacks, close our borders to anyone suspected of association with ISIS or their beliefs, and search for ‘sleeper cells,’” Cohen writes. “This type of ‘profiling’ is legal in times of war. I would have Congress formally ‘declare war’ on ISIS, as I believe the Constitution requires.”

Cohen calls for repealing the Affordable Care Act – “It’s bound to fail, anyway. Start again with a free-market solution.” He’s anti-abortion but says “the federal government has no business being in your doctor’s office… I would fund birth control and education to reduce the demand for abortions… I will not support any federal funding of abortions.”

He calls for eliminating the Department of Education, auditing the Federal Reserve, slashing business regulations, closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, imposing term limits on Congress, and freeing captive whales.

On gun control and gun rights, Cohen says “Americans have the right to be well-armed. More gun control laws are not the solutions to school shootings. I sadly encourage more armed police and staff at schools. Pure evil must be met with force.”

And regarding low-income housing in the district, “no more of these four or five story apartment blocks that we see being built,” Cohen wrote. “Not everyone can afford to live in the district and we should not take steps to make it possible. Our highways are already clogged full.”

Even if Cohen doesn’t get many votes beyond the GOP base, that could be bad news for Ro Khanna, the Fremont Democrat now making his second bid to unseat Honda, D-San Jose. Khanna’s campaign relies on building a coalition among moderate Democrats, independents and Republicans, and any votes Cohen gets would likely come out of Khanna’s pocket.

Posted on Wednesday, November 25th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Brace for Dungeness crab disaster, lawmakers urge

Four of California’s coastal congressmembers are urging Gov. Jerry Brown to be ready to ask the federal government for an economic disaster declaration if the Dungeness crab fishery remains closed for the season.

Reps. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Sam Farr, D-Carmel; and Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, wrote to Brown on Tuesday asking him to closely monitor domoic acid levels in Dungeness crab.

Dungeness crabCrabs off the California coast have abnormally high levels of this toxic acid in their bodies due to an unusually big algae bloom, due in turn to abnormally high water temperatures in the Pacific. Officials have delayed the start of the recreational and commercial crab fishing seasons until the acid decreases to safe levels.

But every passing day is a blow not only to Californians craving the delicacy for their holiday tables, but to coastal communities relying on a commercial fishery valued at $60 million last year.

“The closure of the Dungeness crab fishery would not only make the holidays a little less bright, it would deal a hard blow for North coast fishermen, who have already been impacted by a poor year for salmon landings,” Huffman said in a news release. “While Californians’ Thanksgiving celebrations may not feature Dungeness crab this year, we can at least provide the assurance that federal disaster relief will be available to fishermen and affected communities and businesses if we lose the fishery.”

Huffman said the lawmakers are keeping their fingers crossed for better conditions next month, “ but in the meantime we will be working closely with our state and federal partners — from the Governor’s office to the White House — so that we can respond quickly in the event of a total closure.”

Speier noted some fisherman rely on the crab season for half their annual income, yet still must pay for licenses and boat maintenance. “If the season doesn’t open soon, these men and women deserve a financial lifeline. I urge the governor to start preparing for a disaster declaration now.”

Posted on Tuesday, November 24th, 2015
Under: economy, Gov. Jerry Brown, Jackie Speier, Jared Huffman, Sam Farr, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Five California mayors urge welcome of refugees

The mayors of Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco, West Hollywood and West Sacramento are among 62 mayors from 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico who wrote to Congress on Friday urging it not to prevent screened Syrian refugees from entering the United States.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ letter to the House and Senate notes the conference adopted a resolution in June 2014 that “recognizes this nation’s leadership in protecting refugees and celebrates the contributions refugees make to their communities.”

That policy describes the U.S. refugee resettlement program, administered by the Departments of State and Health and Human Services, “as a unique and robust public-private partnership of the federal government, state and local governments, non-profit agencies, and individuals” which subjects people to “the most rigorous screening and security vetting of any category of traveler to the United States,” the letter said.

“Our nation has always been a beacon of hope for those seeking peace and protection from persecution,” the letter said. “We urge you to take no action that will jeopardize this rich and proud heritage.”

Among the signers were Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, West Hollywood Mayor Lindsey Horvath, and West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon.

Besides those from California, mayors from Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Puero Rico, South Caroline, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington signed the letter.

Though not a signer of this letter, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf – in whose city at least 16 Syrian refugees have re-settled since 2011 – said Monday that “now is a time for us, as Americans, as Oaklanders to turn toward each other – not on each other. We should not let fear and anger lull us into accepting the false choice between safety and compassion. We can keep our communities safe at the same time that we show compassion for those in need.”

Posted on Friday, November 20th, 2015
Under: Immigration, War on Terror | 14 Comments »

Two NorCal Dems vote for Syrian refugee bill

The House approved the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act affecting the process by which the United States accepts refugees fleeing from Syria on a veto-proof 289-137 vote Thursday – and two Northern California Democrats were among those voting for it.

All refugees undergo an 18-to-24-month screening process involving various federal intelligence, law enforcement and diplomatic agencies before being allowed to come to America; Syrian refugees are subject to extra intelligence checks, said Obama administration officials this week.

But H.R. 4038 effectively would suspend admissions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees for now by obliging the heads of the FBI and Homeland Security Department and the director of national intelligence to certify to Congress that each refugee “is not a threat to the security of the United States.”

The entire Bay Area delegation opposed it, but among those voting for it were Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove.

From Garamendi:

John Garamendi“This bill strengthens the already stringent requirements for international refugees entering America. But strengthening the refugee program is a minor part of the reassessment we must make in the wake of the Paris attacks. For those wishing to come to America to do harm, the refugee program is the least likely way to get in and the most likely way to get caught. Of the millions of displaced Syrians, only around 2,200 have been admitted to the United States as refugees, and for a good reason: applicants are vetted through biometric and biographic checks for at least 18 months by every major American national security and law enforcement agency before they even set foot on American soil. Anyone whose identity and story cannot be precisely confirmed is not admitted to our country. Once they gain admission to the United States, their status is periodically reviewed by state and federal law enforcement.

“America must remain the refuge of people who flee from terror, war, hunger and persecution. We should welcome those refugees from Syria and Iraq who seek safety and meet our security requirements. While I strongly support tighter screening requirements for refugee applicants, Congress should focus on much more likely ways for attackers to gain entry to our country. Every single attacker in Paris with a confirmed identity was a citizen of either France or Belgium—countries whose citizens don’t even require a Visa to enter the United States because of our Visa waiver agreement with the European Union.

“We must be vigilant in every respect—refugees, students, and visitors, as well as homegrown terrorists. Remember that each of us has an important role to play. If we see something, we must say something to authorities.”

From Bera:

Ami_Bera_official_photo“It is critical that our first priority is to keep America safe – that is why I voted today for a bill to ensure that all Syrian refugees are thoroughly vetted. However, we can’t let the terrorists win and influence who we are as Americans. Our country has always been a place for those fleeing violence or oppression and we must stay true to those values. This additional screening step will ensure that we know those coming into the country are not a security threat.”

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, was among those who voted against the bill.

Sam Farr“The strength of our nation is found in our willingness to help those most in need. Turning our back on those fleeing terror and destruction would mean turning our back on the values that make this country great. America can stay true to those values without compromising our security.

“We already thoroughly vet anyone seeking refugee status. For most applications, it is a multi-year process that requires a stringent background check. If our security agencies cannot verify any detail of a refugee’s story, they are denied entrance. That is a higher level of security screening than we apply to immigrants and travelers visiting the United States.

“After the recent attacks in Paris, fear is an understandable emotion. However leadership requires us to not give into that fear. Syrian refugees fleeing their war torn country are not our enemy. They are grandparents, mothers, fathers and children who are only searching for safe haven for their family. As a humanitarian nation and the moral leader of the world, we have a responsibility to welcome them into our country.”

Posted on Thursday, November 19th, 2015
Under: Ami Bera, John Garamendi, Sam Farr, U.S. House | No Comments »

Bay Area House members laud FAA noise plan

Three Bay Area House members are praising the Federal Aviation Administration for launching an initiative to address concerns about noise from air traffic above San Francsico, San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties.

Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; and Sam Farr, D-Carmel, released the FAA’s action plan to the public.

“My colleagues and I have worked tirelessly to engage the FAA’s leadership to take concrete steps to mitigate and address the noise from aircraft in our respective congressional districts,” Eshoo said in a news release. “As a result of our collaboration, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and FAA Regional Director Glen Martin met with local elected officials, community groups and individuals from our congressional districts to discuss the impacts of NextGen and additional issues prior to its implementation, including Surf Air at the San Carlos Airport.

“I welcome this important first step the FAA has developed. The FAA leadership will follow up with community meetings, coordinated through our offices, to explain in detail the FAA’s plan to address the noise problems being experienced in our region.”

Speier said her constituents long have been affected by noise from San Francisco International Airport and more recently from the San Carlos and Half Moon Bay airports. The FAA’s initiative “is a compilation of the ideas that were offered by the public regarding SFO at the FAA’s recent meetings in our three congressional districts, as well as requests made by the SFO Airport Community Roundtable. Some of these ideas may be deemed workable by the FAA and some may not.

“However, having previously been resistant to taking community suggestions, the FAA, for the first time in many years, has committed to studying ideas submitted by the affected communities,” Speier said. “I am gratified that the FAA is rolling up its sleeves to come up with solutions. The health of those who live under constant bombardment of airplane noise is being seriously compromised and the FAA has a responsibility to take action to address it.”

Farr said the action plan “is evidence the FAA is willing to consider the changes proposed by the community. For months, the commercial aircraft noise in Santa Cruz and the surrounding area has been terrible. From the beginning, I have told the FAA that they created this mess so it is up to them to fix it.”

“This is only a first step but it is a good one,” he said. “It shows everyone is committed to developing some real solutions. I hope the FAA will continue to listen to the communities it serves and work with them to solve any problems that arise from the switch to the NextGen flight plan.”

Posted on Monday, November 16th, 2015
Under: Anna Eshoo, Jackie Speier, Sam Farr, Transportation, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

Speier named to committee on Planned Parenhood

Rep. Jackie Speier is one of six Democrats who’ll serve on the 13-member select committee that Republican House leaders have convened to investigate Planned Parenthood.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, picked Speier, D-San Mateo, and the other five Democrats for what she calls the “Select Committee to Attack Women’s Health.”

Speier, an outspoken defender of abortion rights, made headlines in 2011 when she disclosed her own decision to have an abortion during a House floor debate on a proposal to defund Planned Parenthood. On Wednesday, she issued a statement calling this new committee “part of an obsessive vendetta that Republicans have.”

Jackie Speier“On their first day in power as a majority in 2011, Republicans introduced H.R. 1, a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. They have introduced bills attacking women’s health with a vengeance ever since, and earlier this year they threatened to shut down the government unless we de-fund Planned Parenthood,” she said.

“Now they’ve set up a Select Committee with no apparent purpose but to spend millions of taxpayer dollars demonizing Planned Parenthood. We have to make sure the public gets the truth: That 2.7 million women and men a year use Planned Parenthood for health services like cancer screenings, pap smears, and STD tests, and those services save lives,” she continued. “Rest assured I will fight to make sure the needs of millions of people who use Planned Parenthood and are often ignored in this ideological debate — people whose lives will be deeply affected by the outcome — will be heard.”

Pelosi named Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., on Wednesday to be the select committee’s ranking member, and in addition to Speier, named Reps. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.; Diana DeGette, D-Colo.; Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.; and Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., as members.

Former Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, ordered the committee’s creation last month in the wake of a series of videos, filmed secretly and heavily edited by an anti-abortion group, in which Planned Parenthood officials discuss prices for procuring fetal tissue for research. It will be chaired by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

Posted on Wednesday, November 4th, 2015
Under: Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Mike Honda pitches ‘Gun Violence Research Act’

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would regain the authority to research the causes, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of gun injuries, under a bill proposed Wednesday by Rep. Mike Honda.

Honda’s Gun Violence Research Act, inspired by a spate of mass shootings on top of the nation’s high death-by-gun rate, also would encourage improvement and expansion of the CDC’s already existing National Violent Death Reporting System, and would give doctors the right to ask patients about firearm possession, speak to them about gun safety, and report a patient’s threat of violence to authorities.

honda.jpg“In Silicon Valley, we recognize the power of research. My Gun Violence Research Act seeks to bring this data-driven approach to the public sphere so that we may develop a more pointed strategy to understand and ultimately better address the public health crisis of gun violence,” Honda, D-San Jose, said in his news release.

“It is my hope that by conducting research into the causes of gun violence, we can better identify warning signs, address any loopholes in oversight, and get people who are prone to gun violence the assistance they need,” he added. “How many times must we bury our loved ones from senseless acts of gun violence before we pass commonsense legislation to understand the problem our society is facing?”

The House Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment in July that would’ve let the CDC study the underlying causes of gun violence. That same month, a federal appeals court upheld a Florida law that limits doctors’ ability to ask questions and record information about patients’ gun ownership.

Honda’s bill has 36 original cosponsors include Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, but about zero likelihood of getting even a committee hearing in the Republican-led House.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence supports it.

“When the cause of death is the same for 32,000 people every year, that’s a public health crisis that demands attention. That’s why it is so important that the Centers for Disease Control study gun violence causes, effects and solutions,” campaign president Dan Gross said. “If this were any other issue — food poisoning, seat belts, anything else — this would be a non-issue, which speaks to the corporate gun lobby’s stranglehold on Washington.”

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said gun violence in cities like Oakland is “intolerable and truly represents a public-health crisis.”

“We are also just beginning to understand the long-term and crushing effects of the trauma inflicted upon children and families whose lives are forever altered by gun violence,” she said. “It is vitally important that the CDC be able to study gun violence and its repercussions in order to combat this epidemic in a meaningful and smart way.”

Posted on Wednesday, November 4th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

CA17: Two former Honda backers turn to Khanna

Two South Bay politicians who endorsed Rep. Mike Honda for re-election last year are now supporting Democratic challenger Ro Khanna instead.

Debi DavisSanta Clara Vice Mayor Debi Davis and former two-time Milpitas Mayor Bob Livengood now prefer Khanna, a former Obama administration official who lives in Fremont, to the eight-term Honda, D-San Jose.

“I’m convinced that Ro Khanna is the type of principled, energetic fighter Santa Clarans need in Washington to get things done for our families,” Davis, who is registered as an independent voter, said in Khanna’s news release. “I am impressed with his focus on education and preparing our young folks for citizenship and jobs in the 21st century. His ideas for revitalizing our manufacturing base and strengthening the middle class also make me proud to endorse his candidacy.”

Bob LivengoodLivengood, a Democrat, said Khanna’s priorities “are in line with the people of Milpitas, from public safety, to job creation, to bringing the highest ethical standards to Washington, he’s proven he’s not only the right choice for CD-17, but to bring leadership free from the grip of the special interests to Washington.”

Those comments about “highest ethical standards” and “the grip of the special interests” seem to be thinly veiled referrals to the ongoing House Ethics Committee investigation of whether Honda’s campaign and office blurred or crossed their lines.

After several prominent Democrats endorsed Khanna last month, Honda campaign spokesman Adam Alberti had noted nobody who backed Honda in 2014 had endorsed Khanna for 2016. Davis and Livengood are the first two public “defections” from the ranks of Honda’s former backers.

“While the Congressman is sorry to have lost the support of Debi Davis and Bob Livengood, we are confident that with the continued support of the California Democratic congressional delegation and the vast majority of the party he will continue his efforts in Congress, fighting for working class families and a better life for all residents of Silicon Valley,” Alberti said Wednesday.

Khanna said he’s grateful for the faith they’ve put in him.

“Debi has been a strong advocate for working Californians, and I look forward to joining her side as we take on that fight in Washington,” he said. “After three decades of service, Bob has shown the proven ability to get things done to make our community safer and more prosperous. I look forward to being their partner and advocate in Washington and delivering results for the families of the South Bay.”

Posted on Wednesday, October 21st, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

CA17: This is not the Ro Khanna you’re looking for.

As I and my colleagues sifted through a database of the East Bay Municipal Utilities District’s biggest water wasters Thursday, we found the name “Rohit Khanna” in there.

It took only a few moments, however, to determine that the Ro Khanna who owns property in San Ramon isn’t the Ro Khanna who’s challenging Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, for a second time in the 17th Congressional District. The candidate, 39, lives in Fremont and was born in Pennsylvania; voter-registration records show the Ro Khanna of San Ramon is 44 and was born in India.

“Only in the Bay Area can there be two Rohit Khannas!” candidate Khanna quipped Friday. “I guess we’ve come a long way from when I was growing up outside Philadelphia in the 1980s, one of a few Asian-American kids in a public high school class of over 800. In those days, when I went up to bat folks would say, ‘Ro can’t hit.’ So, my name has always been a source of amusement.”

“I am glad in this case I am working for a company focused on water conservation and efficiency,” he added, referring to the job he took earlier this year with Smart Utility Systems. “The tale of two Rohits!”

Posted on Friday, October 16th, 2015
Under: Mike Honda, U.S. House | 12 Comments »