2

Honda, Lee, Farr vote against Visa Waiver reform

The House voted 407-19 Tuesday to tighten the Visa Waiver Program that lets people from certain countries travel to the United States without first obtaining a visa – a reaction to fear of terrorism, particularly given the roles of French and Belgian nationals in last month’s Paris attacks.

But three Northern California members – Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel – were among the few who voted against HR 158.

The bill would require visas for anyone who’s been in Iraq or Syria in the previous five years; exceptions are made for official government visits and military service. Countries in the visa waiver program would also be required to share counterterror information with the U.S. or face expulsion from the program. All travelers would be checked against Interpol databases, and visa waiver countries would be required to issue “e-passports” with biometric information.

Sam FarrFarr this evening said the bill “casts too wide a net to be effective. Throwing anyone who travels to Syria or Iraq into the same category as suspected terrorists won’t help us catch the bad guys but it will harm humanitarian efforts there. Investing in better human intel is how we will stop them, not by disrupting tourist travel to the United States.”

Honda went into more detail, noting that although he strongly supports the need for increased security in the Visa Waiver Program, he voted against this bill “because it unjustly targets individuals based on their nationality.”

He said the program, used by 20 million people per year from 38 countries, is far less secure than the two-year screening process to which refugees are subjected, and needs to be improved. He said he supports some parts of this bill, including requiring all travelers to be checked against INTERPOL databases, using fraud-resistant e-passports with biometric information to protect against false identities, and strengthening background check procedures and information-sharing.

honda.jpg“I cannot, however, vote for a bill that categorically bars access to the Visa Waiver Program for dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Iran and people who have traveled in the last 5 years to Iraq and Syria, including humanitarian workers,” Honda said. “Under this bill, a French citizen of Syrian descent who has never been to Syria would still fall into this blanket category. Since the Visa Waiver Program functions on reciprocity, I am also concerned that this bill will trigger restrictions from other countries on travel for Iraqi, Syrian, Sudanese, and Iranian Americans.”

“I reject the stereotype that Arabs and Muslims are terrorists and I strongly oppose the targeting of people from these specific countries,” he continued. “I know what it is be singled out as a threat and potential enemy due to nationality, despite a lack of evidence and despite being an American citizen. We can and must protect Americans without compromising American values. It is time to refuse wartime hysteria and prejudice based on nationality, and instead show true political leadership.”

UPDATE @ 12:14 P.M. WEDNESDAY: Lee said she shares “the concerns of the ACLU, AILA, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and others that this bill would allow for the discrimination of individuals based on their nationality. We cannot let fear drive us to create bad policies. Congress can and should carefully examine the visa waiver program and I will work to support changes which do not open the door for blanket discrimination.”

0

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.

0

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.”

4

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.”

5

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.”

14

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.”