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Rep. Mark DeSaulnier discloses cancer diagnosis

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Click here for an exclusive on Rep. Mark DeSaulnier’s cancer scare. DeSaulnier, D-Concord, was diagnosed with leukemia last summer, but he has responded well to treatment and is planning to run for re-election this year.

Our story is by Dan Borenstein, who survived his own bout with cancer and is well acquainted with  DeSaulnier.

When he was the Contra Costa Times political editor, Borenstein wrote a 3,000 word profile on DeSaulnier, who was then a county supervisor. It’s hard to imagine any paper these days devoting so many words to a politician deciding on his next move, but it is a heck of a read. Check it out here, if you have a little spare time.

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Your House member’s State of the Union guest

Here are the special guests whom Bay Area members of Congress are bringing to President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland: Black Lives Matter movement co-founder Alicia Garza

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin: Fremont Police Chief Richard Lucero, a gun-control advocate

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough: Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who first published findings on the impact of chronic traumatic encephalopathy on football players; Omalu is portrayed by Will Smith in the film Concussion.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord: Amanda Wilcox, the legislation and policy chair for the California Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence; Wilcox’s daughter, Laura, was shot to death in 2001.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael: Ali Rezaian, brother of Jason Rezaian, the Iranian-American journalist and Washington Post Tehran bureau chief who has been imprisoned in Iran since July 2014; the brothers are Marin County natives.

Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose: Irene Bueno, whose family immigrated to the United States from the Philippines; due to the slow legal process, her aunt and cousins were separated for many years. Honda will introduce family reunification immigration legislation in March.

Rep Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose: Sameena Usman, government relations coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ San Francisco Bay Area chapter.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto: Intuit CEO Brad Smith, who hosted Eshoo and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew for a tour and Q&A with company executives.

UPDATE @ 3:34 P.M.: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson earlier Tuesday questioned the wisdom of allowing two members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, to attend the State of the Union. Both Lofgren and Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., brought them as invited guests.

“They have done things that are clearly, you know, not pro-American,” Carson said on CNN. “If they are our buddies, let’s put that clearly out there. And if they’re not our buddies, let’s not be giving them access to the ability to further carry on what they call a civilization jihad and to change us from a Judeo-Christian foundation to a Muslim foundation. We have got to be smarter than that.”

But Lofgren told me this afternoon that Carson’s comments are “sadly misinformed,” and she was delighted that Usman had accepted her invitation as a means of “highlighting patriotic Americans who are also Muslims.”

“She has been a terrific leader in our community for civil rights” not only among Muslims but in the Bay Area at large, Lofgren said. “To suggest somehow that she is un-American is just pathetic … It’s ignorant and sad, but luckily it’s very clear Dr. Carson will not be our president, so I guess he’s entitled to his ignorant statements.”

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DeSaulnier bill would lower student loan rates

Student loan borrowers would be able to refinance their interest rates at the rate offered to banks by the Federal Reserve, under a bill announced Monday by Rep. Mark DeSaulnier.

DeSaulnier, D-Concord, held an event at the University of California, Berkeley to roll out H.R. 3675, the Student Borrower Fairness Act, which would offset its costs by increasing corporate tax rates on companies that pay their CEOs or highest paid employees more than 100 times the median compensation of all employees.

Mark DeSaulnier“It is patently unfair that the same big banks that toppled our economy borrow from the federal government at extremely low interest rates while student borrowers are struggling to pay back their loans,” DeSaulnier said in a news release. “Meanwhile, people of all ages are buried in student loan debt which holds them back from being able to buy a car, purchase a home, save for retirement, or start a family. This bill is a first step toward making sure our students can emerge from under their piles of crippling debt and enter tomorrow’s highly-trained workforce.”

Congress acted on student loan rates in 2013, but the changes only applied to new borrowers.

UC-Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks applauded the bill. “College students and their families depend on student loans to access higher education,” Dirks said in the congressman’s release. “At Berkeley, we are proud that 61 percent of our undergraduates graduate without debt and the average debt of students who do borrow is only $17,584, much lower than the national average. This legislation would benefit all borrowers because it will help them manage their debt and repayment.”

James Donahue, president of St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, said his college “is built on the idea that education has the power to transform lives. The Student Borrower Fairness Act will provide opportunities for all students to pursue their dreams of a higher education, and ultimately highly successful lives. Student loan debt is a national issue and reducing it must be a national priority.”

DeSaulnier’s office said outstanding student loans now total more than $1.3 trillion, surpassing total credit card debt. More than 37 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt, with an average outstanding balance of $29,400 for those who borrowed to get a bachelor’s degree. From 2004 to 2012, student loan debt rose an average of 14 percent per year.

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Congressional reax to Pope Francis’ speech

Here’s how some of the Bay Area’s voices in Congress are responding to Pope Francis’ address today.

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a series of tweets:

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

Nancy Pelosi“The Holy Father Pope Francis’ address to Congress was extraordinary. With absolute clarity, beauty and moral urgency, Pope Francis called on all of us to be better stewards of Creation and instruments of God’s peace.

“Standing in the very heart of our democracy, Pope Francis spoke to the better angels of our nature and of the American people. He reminded us of our sacred and inescapable responsibility to those struggling to escape poverty, persecution and war. He challenged us to rescue our planet from the climate crisis that threatens the future of our children and the health of God’s creation – and to do so sensitive to the needs of the poor. His Holiness urged us to live our values and reach beyond our divisions.

“On a personal note, my husband Paul, my children and I have more than 100 years of Catholic education among us, and this has been a day of profound joy for my family. It has been an awesome privilege to welcome His Holiness to the Congress. My deepest thanks to the Pope for the honor of his historic visit and the elevating, illuminating leadership he continues to provide Catholics and non-Catholics the world over. May the Holy Father’s message of hope, peace and dialogue echo through the halls of the Capitol and across the country for a long time to come.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“During a joint-session of Congress today, His Holiness Pope Francis reminded us of our sacred duty: to protect and advocate for the most vulnerable and voiceless in our society and our world.

“His call for peace and justice should inspire Congress and our entire nation. As we work to address the immense challenges facing our nation – climate change, persistent poverty, and global conflicts – the Pope’s call for mutual understanding has never been more timely or necessary.‎ We must strive to end all injustices that devalue human dignity, especially inequality and war.

“During his speech, the Pope called on Congress ‘to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.’

“He is right – we cannot afford to delay cooperation, however difficult it might be, while our planet and our people suffer.”

From Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord:

Mark DeSaulnier“Pope Francis’ unprecedented address to Congress was truly aspirational. His message of shared social responsibility in the face of global challenges comes at an important time for our country. Of particular note, were his comments on President Lincoln ‘the guardian who labored tirelessly that this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a subsidiarity and solidarity.’ Whether addressing climate change, poverty and inequality or the global refugee crisis, it is my hope Members of Congress will embrace Pope Francis’ message of moral responsibility and working together for the common good.”

More, after the jump…
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House OKs John Muir park expansion

The House on Wednesday approved Rep. Mark DeSaulnier’s bill to expand the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, sending it on to the U.S. Senate.

H.R. 1289, DeSaulnier’s first stand-alone bill as a House member, would add 44 acres of donated land to the existing 330-acre plot, improving access to the park and its scenic trails. DeSaulnier’s predecessor, Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, had introduced the same bill last year; the House approved it but the Senate failed to vote on it before adjourning.

“This historic site is the place where Muir, the father of the National Park system, championed the revolutionary idea that wild spaces should be set aside for all to enjoy,” DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said in his news release. “I look forward to seeing this bill passed by the Senate and signed into law.”

Linus Eukel, executive director of the John Muir Land Trust, said Muir “often walked this land with his two daughters, to admire the coast live oak that grow there, as well as the annual wildflowers that punctuate its grassy hillsides. Expansion of the John Muir Historic Site will forever protect this beautiful property and allow future generations to share in the same delights as Muir’s daughters,”

DeSaulnier’s bill has 31 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has introduced companion legislation.

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Go talk to your congressman

With only two weeks left in Congress’ summer recess, there are still a few chances to see and be heard by your lawmaker.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, has several events coming up. First, I’ll moderate a Commonwealth Club of California discussion with him at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25 in the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd. Tickets cost $12 for club members, $20 for non-members or $7 for students, and are available online.

DeSaulnier also is continuing his series of free, public town-hall meetings as well. The remaining three are scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 26 in the Harding Elementary School auditorium, 7230 Fairmount Avenue in El Cerrito; Wednesday, Sept. 2 in the Orinda Library Auditorium, 26 Orinda Way; and Thursday, Sept. 3 in the Clayton Library’s Hoyer Hall, 6125 Clayton Road. All three will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, will host a town hall forum on Social Security at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25 in the Florence Douglas Senior Center, 333 Amador St. in Vallejo. Special guests will include Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and Sandy Goodman, District Manager of the Vallejo Social Security Administration field office.

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, will host a California drought solutions forum from 10 to noon Tuesday, Aug. 25, in the San Joaquin County Robert J. Cabral Agricultural Center, 2101 E. Earhart Ave. in Stockton. Open to the public, the forum will feature experts and voices that include farmers, water technology innovators, policy makers, federal and state government, academia, and others.