Posts

Corker Seeks Obama Administration Report on Lethal Aid for Ukraine

Press release from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; March 9, 2015:

WASHINGTON – In a letter to President Barack Obama today, U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked the administration to submit a report to Congress on plans for providing defensive lethal assistance to Ukraine. The report, required by law under the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, was due on February 15.

“We write to ask that you immediately submit to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a report on the provision of lethal military assistance to Ukraine as required by the Ukraine Freedom Support Act,” wrote Corker and Menendez in their letter to the president. “Now is the time for the United States to provide Ukraine with the means to defend itself from continued Russian aggression. We should not be misled by Vladimir Putin’s repeated efforts to exploit nominal ceasefire agreements.”

Corker and Menendez also noted the purpose of providing defensive weapons is to raise the cost for Russia’s hostile involvement in Ukraine and to create the conditions for a valid diplomatic resolution that guarantees Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“By equipping Ukraine with the means to impose a greater military cost on Russia, the United States will be contributing to a quicker, fairer, and more stable settlement of the conflict. After countless broken promises by the Kremlin, it is clear that Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine can only be stopped if Putin realizes that the United States and Europe are unequivocally committed to helping Kyiv impose this military cost on Russia,” Corker and Menenedez said in the letter.

The Ukraine Freedom Support Act, coauthored by Corker and Menendez, passed Congress with unanimous support and was signed into law in December. In addition to authorizing defensive lethal military and non-military assistance for Ukraine, the law imposes additional sanctions against Russia; provides Ukraine with energy, defense sector, and civil society assistance; and expands broadcasting programs to counter Russian propaganda in countries of the former Soviet Union.

Full text of the senators’ letter is included below and online here. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on U.S. policy in Ukraine tomorrow, Tuesday, March 10, at 10:00 a.m. ET. Details on the hearing are available here.

Dear President Obama,

We write to ask that you immediately submit to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a report on the provision of lethal military assistance to Ukraine as required by the Ukraine Freedom Support Act. The February 15,2015, deadline found in the law, which was unanimously passed by Congress in December 2014 and subsequently signed into law, has now passed. The provision of lethal assistance attracts broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and House. We urge you to submit this report to Congress as soon as possible.

Now is the time for the United States to provide Ukraine with the means to defend itself from continued Russian aggression. We should not be misled by Vladimir Putin’s repeated efforts to exploit nominal ceasefire agreements. As Ukraine negotiated the second Minsk ceasefire in good faith, Putin sent dozens of tanks, armored vehicles, and rocket launchers to the Russian backed rebels in eastern Ukraine mere hours before he consented to the supposed ceasefire. Since the agreement was signed on February 12, 2015, the rebels have retaken the strategic railway hub of Debaltseve, launched offensives near Mariupol, and reportedly organized terrorist attacks in the city of Kharkiv, which threatens to spread the conflict beyond the current area of hostilities.

We often hear that no amount of lethal military assistance to Ukraine would be sufficient to defeat the rebels and their Russian sponsors, but our objective is not to provide Ukraine with enough weapons to overwhelm the Russian military in a direct confrontation. Rather, the provision of lethal assistance aims to increase Ukraine’s defense capabilities in a way that will give Kyiv the ability to produce conditions on the ground favorable to a genuine peace process.

By equipping Ukraine with the means to impose a greater military cost on Russia, the United States will be contributing to a quicker, fairer, and more stable settlement of the conflict. After countless broken promises by the Kremlin, it is clear that Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine can only be stopped if Putin realizes that the United States and Europe are unequivocally committed to helping Kyiv impose this military cost on Russia.

We respectfully urge you to fulfill the provisions of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, recognize the strong bipartisan majority in Congress that favors U.S. lethal assistance to Ukraine, and move quickly to provide the Ukrainian government with the capabilities that will allow Kyiv to inflict serious military costs using defensive weapons against the Russian forces that are destabilizing its eastern regions. Given the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s jurisdiction over U.S. policy in Ukraine, including over any arms transfer or sale, we also urge your administration to work closely with the Committee and its members during this critical period.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.

Sincerely,

Senator Bob Corker
Chairman

Senator Robert Menenedez
Ranking Member

Corker Seeking Veto-proof Majority as Bipartisan Iran Nuclear Agreement Bill Comes Up For Senate Consideration

Statement on upcoming Senate consideration of the legislation also released

Press release from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; March 5, 2015:

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – With bipartisan momentum building in the Senate behind legislation to require congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran, U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued the following statement today regarding the effort to seek support from a supermajority of 67 senators to override a presidential veto of the bill, which the White House threatened last week.

“The strongest signal we can send to the U.S. negotiators is having a veto-proof majority in support of Congress weighing in on any final nuclear deal with Iran,” said Sen. Corker. “This week, our bipartisan legislation gained momentum with four additional Democrats offering their support for the bill. I greatly appreciate the Majority Leader’s commitment to getting the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act across the finish line by allowing the vote to occur at a time when we will more likely generate a veto-proof majority.”

In a letter yesterday, nine Democrats and one Independent pledged to support the Corker-Menendez bill after March 24. The legislation would then need only three additional Democratic votes for a veto-proof majority, assuming the backing of all 54 Republicans.

Last Friday, Senator Corker and Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. The legislation mandates the president submit the text of any agreement to Congress and prohibits the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement. The bill is also cosponsored by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Angus King (I-Maine), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 contains the following key provisions:

  • Congressional Review: Within five days of concluding a comprehensive agreement with Iran, the president must submit to Congress (1) the text of the agreement, (2) a verification assessment on Iranian compliance, and (3) a certification that the agreement meets U.S. non-proliferation objectives and does not jeopardize U.S. national security, including not allowing Iran to pursue nuclear-related military activities.
  • No Suspension of Congressional Sanctions for 60 Days: The president is prohibited from suspending, waiving or otherwise reducing congressional sanctions for 60 days. During this period, Congress may hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement. Passage of a joint resolution of approval, or no action, within the 60-day period would allow the President to move forward with congressional sanctions relief. Passage of a joint resolution of disapproval (overriding a presidential veto) within the 60-day period would block the president from implementing congressional sanctions relief under the agreement.
  • Congressional Oversight and Iranian Compliance: After the congressional review period, the president would be required to assess Iran’s compliance with the agreement every 90 days. In the event the president cannot certify compliance, or if the president determines there has been a material breach of the agreement, Congress could vote, on an expedited basis, to restore sanctions that had been waived or suspended under the agreement.

Full text of the bill is available here.

Press release from U.S. Sen. bob Corker, R-Tenn.; March 3, 2015:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he welcomed upcoming Senate consideration of his bipartisan bill requiring congressional review of any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced the legislation will be taken up on the Senate floor next week. Senator Corker indicated the Foreign Relations Committee could vote on the bill next Tuesday and the resulting legislation would be the version to be debated in the full Senate.

“I would think anybody who ran for the United States Senate and cares about the big issues facing our nation would want to support this piece of legislation,” said Corker. “I think everyone in America should want the House and the Senate to weigh in on this most important agreement that may be reached, and I’m glad we’re going to have the opportunity to do so.”

Last Friday, Senator Corker and Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. The legislation mandates the president submit the text of any agreement to Congress and prohibits the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement. The bill is also cosponsored by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Angus King (I-Maine).

Alexander Votes to Override Obama Keystone XL Veto

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; March 4, 2015:

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2015 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on energy appropriations, today voted to override the president’s veto of legislation passed by Congress to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. He released the following statement:

“The Keystone XL pipeline will create thousands of jobs for American workers and put our country one step closer to energy independence, and there is no reason for the president to have vetoed it. Our Republican majority allowed nearly double the number of roll call votes on amendments to this bipartisan Keystone XL pipeline legislation than Democrats did in all of 2014, and it stands as proof that Republicans are working to get things done.”

The legislation, introduced by Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and cosponsored by Alexander, all other members of the Republican majority, and six Democrats, would allow TransCanada to construct, connect, operate, and maintain the Keystone XL pipeline. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate’s majority leader, allowed dozens of amendments pertaining to a range of issues, including energy and the economy, to be debated and voted on during consideration of the Keystone Pipeline XL bill in January.

Alexander is a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. He is also chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy & Water Development.

Black Condemns Persecution of Religious Minorities in Middle East, Calls on Obama to Act

Press release from U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn. 06; March 4, 2015:

Washington, D.C. – Today Congressman Diane Black (R-TN-06) announced the introduction of H. Res. 139, a resolution strongly condemning the persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East and reaffirming the United States’ commitment to providing protection and relief for those who are targeted because of their faith. Congressman Black released the following statement:

“While President Obama quibbles about the most politically correct way to describe our enemies and uses the National Prayer Breakfast to criticize Christianity, religious minorities continue to face extreme persecution in the Middle East and far corners of the world. From the kidnapping of Christian schoolgirls in Nigeria by Boko Haram, to the unjust imprisonment of Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran, to the savage beheading of 21 Coptic Christians at the hands of ISIS, there is an urgent need for both Congress and this Administration to speak out and engage in this fight to protect religious freedom abroad,” said Congressman Diane Black.

“We must send a message to those who are attacked for their faith that we stand with them and that we will not remain idle in the face of this injustice,” added Congressman Black. “A House resolution alone doesn’t solve this crisis, but we need to start the conversation now and plant a stake in the ground declaring the will of Congress on this critical issue. We need sanctions against nations like Iran that allow this persecution to continue. We need a robust plan to eradicate ISIS and, as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bold speech to Congress reminded us yesterday, we need continued support for our allies like Israel that face grave  dangers as they seek to live in peace in this unstable part of the world. I am hopeful that this resolution will spur us on towards taking these important next steps.”

Background:

Congressman Black’s resolution will:

  • Condemn violence against religious minorities in the Middle East and any actions that limit the free expression and practice of faith by these minorities;
  • Reaffirm the commitment of the United States to promoting religious freedom and tolerance around the world;
  • Call on the governments of the Middle East to uphold the internationally recognized human right to freedom from religious persecution and to end all forms of violence and discrimination against religious minorities;
  • Urge the Obama administration to appoint a Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Middle East, as Congress called for in 2014 with the passage of the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act.
  • Congressman Black’s resolution is supported by Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and Coptic Solidarity.

Fleischmann, Black, Blackburn Opposed to DHS Funding Bill that Allows Obama Amnesty

Press release from U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn. 03; March 3, 2015:

WASHINGTON− This afternoon, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann voted against H.R. 240, Senate-passed legislation that does not stop President Obama’s executive amnesty. After the vote, Rep. Fleischmann released the following statement.

“As a member of Congress, I swore to support and defend the Constitution, and my vote today did just that. The President’s attempt to bypass the U.S. immigration system through executive action is unconstitutional, and I could not support legislation that did nothing to stop his overreach.”

“In January, the House passed a bill to fund DHS while defunding the President’s illegal executive action. It’s unfortunate Senate Democrats filibustered that bill and refused to go to conference, pushing DHS to the brink of shutdown. I am hopeful that moving forward our chambers will be able to work together and stop governing from conflict to conflict.”

Press release from U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn 06: March 3, 2015:

Washington, D.C. – Today Congressman Diane Black (R-TN-06) released the below statement on her vote against the Senate-passed “clean” Department of Homeland Security (DHS) full-year funding bill that failed to address President Obama’s immigration overreach. Earlier today, Rep. Black also voted for a motion by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) to table consideration of the Senate’s version of this legislation. The motion was not adopted.

“I told my constituents that I would stand against any long-term DHS funding measure that allowed President Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty to go unchecked – and I meant it,” said Congressman Diane Black. “We in Congress swore an oath to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States’ and the President’s unilateral actions are an affront to this document’s clearly established separation of powers. Tennesseans know that I vote my convictions, even when that means standing opposite party leadership in Washington. This ‘clean’ appropriations bill does nothing to combat the President’s unconstitutional executive amnesty and, as such, it did not earn my support.”

Congressman Black added, “The House voted back in January to fully fund DHS while addressing the President’s immigration overreach. Senate Democrats should be ashamed of themselves for spending a month filibustering our original funding bill and refusing to go to a conference committee to resolve our differences through regular order. It’s time to stop these legislative hijinks that prevent Congress from doing the work of our constituents. A 60-vote threshold for invoking cloture is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. If Senate Democrats won’t allow for an open, honest debate on House-passed legislation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell should enact a change in the Senate rules to help put an end to this obstructionism and political gamesmanship once and for all.”

Press release from U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. 07; March 3, 2015:

Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) today issued the following statement on her vote in opposition to funding President Barack Obama’s executive amnesty.

“A majority of the American public wants the President’s lawless and unconstitutional amnesty program stopped.The House acted appropriately on January 14th when we passed a bill to fund the DHS while also blocking amnesty policies that make our nation less safe.

“It is outrageous that Senate Democrats continue to put partisanship ahead of people by ignoring the law and taking actions to protect the President’s executive amnesty. It is noteworthy that two federal judges, one in Texas and one in Pennsylvania have each found the amnesty to be unconstitutional. Instead of working with House and Senate Republicans to solve this problem, the Senate Democrats have spent the last several weeks preaching to conservatives about the importance of protecting the country while turning a blind eye to the threat visited on this country every day by the President’s open borders policy. The duplicity of their actions is shameful. Any country that cannot protect their borders can not defend against threats, terrorists such as ISIS, and sleeper cells.”

Cooper, Cohen Split on Israeli PM’s Congressional Address

Tennessee’s only two Democratic legislators in Washington have taken divergent positions on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pending speech to Congress Tuesday.

Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen, a Jewish American and self-described “supporter of the state of Israel,” has announced his intention to boycott because he believes “the speech is political theater” for Netanyahu’s re-election efforts.

Cohen also took umbrage with Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation to the Israeli leader in light of the Obama administration’s ongoing negotiations in the Middle East. He accused House Republicans of “giving a foreign leader the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives as a forum to present a counterargument to the foreign policy peace efforts” of President Barack Obama.

“My lack of attendance does not mean I will not be aware of the content of the speech nor does it mean I won’t follow the commentary both pro and con but I will not be part of the spectacle,” Cohen said in a release.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, on the other hand, plans to attend, as he said he always does when a foreign leader addresses Congress. Cooper’s also planning to bring along the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Nashville to the speech as his guest.

According to a media advisory e-mailed late Monday, House Democrats, led by Cohen, will make a response to Netanyahu’s speech early Tuesday afternoon.

Dozens of Democrats from both chambers of Congress — the count has fluctuated over the past month from 54 members of congress to 34  — have announced that they will not attend Netanyahu’s speech.

Corker Introduces Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015

Also releases statement on Obama’s veto threat against bipartisan agreement

Press release from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; February 27, 2015:

Legislation Prohibits Suspension of Congressional Sanctions for 60 Days after President Submits Any Comprehensive Iran Nuclear Agreement to Congress

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced bipartisan legislation (S.615) requiring congressional review of any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran. The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 would mandate the president submit the text of any agreement to Congress and prohibit the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement.

“There are few national security priorities for our country more important than preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and any agreement that seeks to do this must include Congress having a say on the front end. Allowing Congress to play its critical and historic role of reviewing international agreements will help, not hinder, these negotiations by ensuring any comprehensive agreement is verifiable and will stand the test of time,” said Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It is important that we preserve the integrity of the congressional sanctions, so this bipartisan legislation creates a responsible review process that will allow Congress the opportunity to approve or disapprove the agreement before the administration could attempt to remove these sanctions.”

“As we enter the final weeks of negotiations, Congress is rightly pursuing a duel track approach to the Iran nuclear issue and applying responsible pressure on Iran to ensure the right outcome is reached at these talks. The Kirk-Menendez sanctions legislation passed earlier this month is poised to move forward if a political framework agreement is not reached by the March 24 deadline,” Menendez said. “At the same time, if a nuclear deal is reached, Congress will have an opportunity to review the agreement and more importantly, ensure its compliance after it goes into effect.  This legislation establishes that vital review and oversight process.”

“The stakes of these negotiations with Iran are so important to our own national security that Congress should review and vote on any agreement before it becomes binding,” said Graham. “It would be a blessing if the Obama Administration were to strike a good deal which controls the Iranian nuclear ambitions.  A bad deal however, will be a nightmare for the region, Israel, and own our long-term national security interests.”

“I am a strong supporter of President Obama’s effort to find a diplomatic path to guarantee that Iran does not have the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon,” said Kaine, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “The interim deal reached by the P5+1 has been good for the United States – and the world – because it has rolled back the Iranian program and given us unprecedented inspection rights to make sure Iran is meeting its obligations. The content of any final deal is of great significance to the national security of the United States, our allies, and to international peace and stability. Iran is fully aware that its ultimate goal – elimination of statutory sanctions created by Congress – will require Congressional approval.  But long before Congress considers that repeal, a deal with Iran will involve up-front relief from a sanctions regime that was approved by Congress and implemented by the Administration. I believe Congress should weigh in on the content of the deal given the centrality of the congressional sanctions to the entire negotiation and the significant security interests involved.  This legislation sets up a clear and constructive process for Congressional review of statutory sanctions relief under a standard that is appropriately deferential to the executive branch negotiating the deal. I wish the P5+1 negotiators well in this final phase of negotiation and hope to work with my colleagues to provide support for a  diplomatic deal that effectively ends Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

The legislation also is cosponsored by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), andAngus King (I-Maine).

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 contains the following key provisions:

  • Congressional Review: Within five days of concluding a comprehensive agreement with Iran, the president must submit to Congress (1) the text of the agreement, (2) a verification assessment on Iranian compliance, and (3) a certification that the agreement meets U.S. non-proliferation objectives and does not jeopardize U.S. national security, including not allowing Iran to pursue nuclear-related military activities.
  • No Suspension of Congressional Sanctions for 60 Days: The president is prohibited from suspending, waiving or otherwise reducing congressional sanctions for 60 days. During this period, Congress may hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement. Passage of a joint resolution of approval, or no action, within the 60-day period would allow the President to move forward with congressional sanctions relief. Passage of a joint resolution of disapproval (overriding a presidential veto) within the 60-day period would block the president from implementing congressional sanctions relief under the agreement.
  • Congressional Oversight and Iranian Compliance: After the congressional review period, the president would be required to assess Iran’s compliance with the agreement every 90 days. In the event the president cannot certify compliance, or if the president determines there has been a material breach of the agreement, Congress could vote, on an expedited basis, to restore sanctions that had been waived or suspended under the agreement.

Full text of the bill is available here.

Press release from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; February 28, 2015: 

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made the following statement regarding the White House’s threat of a presidential veto against his bipartisan bill requiring congressional review of any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.

“It is disappointing that the president feels he is the only one who speaks for the citizens of our country,” said Corker. “Congress put these sanctions in place and helped bring Iran to the table with the administration working against the effort the whole way. As a result, Congress should decide whether a final nuclear deal with Iran is appropriate enough to have the congressionally mandated sanctions removed.”

On Friday, Senator Corker and Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. The legislation mandates the president submit the text of any agreement to Congress and prohibits the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement.

Black, Others Introduce Health Care Conscience Rights Act

Press release from U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn. 06; February 26, 2015: 

Bill Offers Full Exemption from Obamacare’s HHS Mandate, Conscience Protections for Health Care Entities that Refuse to Provide Abortions 

Washington, D.C. – Today Congressman Diane Black (R-TN-06), Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-01), and Congressman John Fleming (R-LA-04) announced the reintroduction of H.R. 940, the Health Care Conscience Rights Act. The bill would protect Americans’ freedom of conscience and stop the Obama Administration’s attack on religious liberty. H.R. 940 offers full exemption from Obamacare’s Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate and ensures protections for individuals and healthcare entities that refuse to provide, pay for, or refer patients to abortion providers because of their deeply held beliefs.

The legislation would also specifically address the unlawful violation of religious freedom in California, where the state Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) issued a directive requiring that all insurance plans offered on the state exchange include coverage for abortions, including plans provided by churches, religious entities, and others with conscionable objections to such procedures. The Health Care Conscience Rights Act has the bipartisan support of 110 cosponsors.

“Religious freedom is a bedrock value of our society but, on President Obama’s watch, this time-honored principle is under assault,” said Congressman Diane Black. “From Obamacare’s coercive HHS mandate to the unlawful, pro-abortion directive by the state boards in California, it is clear that Congress must act where the White House will not and reverse this infringement of our First Amendment rights. That is why our bill offers full exemption from the HHS mandate and provides needed legal protections for healthcare entities who refuse to partake in the barbaric practice of abortion. As a nurse for more than 40 years, I am proud to introduce this legislation that will safeguard the conscience rights of every American and ensure that more unborn lives can be saved in the process.”

“The rights of conscience and religious freedom preexist the government. They are rights grounded by the demands of human dignity and are enshrined in our Constitution. It is a true poverty—that in the name of health care—this most cherished American principle is under assault, violating longstanding legislative agreement and precedent. The Health Care Conscience Rights Act restores this principle for all Americans,” said Congressman Jeff Fortenberry.

“The Administration’s actions are a direct assault on Americans’ religious liberties, forcing people of faith to violate their deeply held religious beliefs,” said Congressman John Fleming. “H.R. 940 will get at the heart of the issue: providing protections against coercive government practices; codifying the Weldon amendment to allow physicians and health care entities to provide quality care without being forced to participate in an abortion;  and providing a private right of action so that victims of government discrimination can seek justice.”

Relevant Background:

Supreme Court Hobby Lobby Ruling
The Supreme Court rejected Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate in favor of family businesses in last year’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stories, Inc. verdict, however Congressional action is still needed to bring clarity to this debate. Following the court’s ruling, HHS devised an “accommodation” that still requires closely held, faith-based businesses to contract out with insurance companies that will provide coverage for the morally objectionable drugs and devices. The Obama Administration’s workaround does nothing to allow small business owners the freedom to provide health care plans that match their values, it simply removes the employers’ “fingerprints” from the transaction.

California Abortion Directive
On August 22, 2014, California’s DMHC issued a directive requiring that all plans offered on their exchanges – including those purchased by churches and religious charities – to include coverage for abortion. This is a direct violation of a longstanding federal law known as the Weldon Amendment. Reps. Fleming, Black, and Fortenberry – among other members – led a November 25, 2014 letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell calling attention to this injustice. To date, the Administration has not responded.  The Health Care Conscience Rights Act would specifically address this overreach.

Alexander, DesJarlais Respond to Obama’s Veto of Keystone XL

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; February 24, 2015:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2015 – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on energy appropriations, today released the following statement on President Obama’s veto of legislation passed by Congress to approve the Keystone XL pipeline:

“There is simply no reason whatsoever for the president not to approve this project that will create thousands of jobs for American workers and put our country one step closer to energy independence. Our Republican majority allowed nearly double the number of roll call votes on amendments to this bipartisan Keystone XL pipeline legislation than Democrats did on all legislation in 2014, which is proof that Republicans are working to get things done. And yet, the president decided to veto this legislation before he even saw it in its final form, instead of working with Congress.”

The legislation, introduced by Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and cosponsored by Alexander, all other members of the Republican majority, and six Democrats, would allow TransCanada to construct, connect, operate, and maintain the Keystone XL pipeline. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate’s majority leader, allowed dozens of amendments pertaining to a range of issues, including energy and the economy to be debated and voted on during consideration of the Keystone Pipeline XL bill in January.

Alexander is a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. He is also chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy & Water Development.

***

Press release from U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn. 04; February 24, 2015:

Congressman Scott DesJarlais, M.D. (TN-04) released the following statement in response to President Obama’s veto of S.1, the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act, which passed Congress with bipartisan support:

“President Obama’s veto of this bipartisan legislation makes it clear the White House is more concerned about partisan politics than American jobs. Not only would building the pipeline create more than 42,000 good-paying jobs, it would provide energy security by reducing our reliance on oil from unstable Middle Eastern countries. After conducting five safety and environmental reviews, the president’s own State Department determined the pipeline’s construction is environmentally safe. I hope Congress will find another way to move this vital jobs project forward.”

In September of 2008—more than six years ago—Canadian pipeline company TransCanada filed an application with the United States Department of State to construct the Keystone XL Pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border. The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement issued by the Secretary of State in January of 2014 determined that no significant environmental impact would be caused by the pipeline.

Cohen: TN Promise ‘Robs’ Existing Lottery Scholarships

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; February 23, 2015:

[MEMPHIS, TN] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), who is known across the state for his twenty-year fight to create a state lottery as “The Father of the Tennessee Education Lottery” and because Tennessee Lottery money is the source of the funding for Tennessee Promise has already been dubbed by some as “The Grandfather of the Funding of Tennessee Promise,” released the following statement regarding Governor Bill Haslam’s recent criticisms of America’s College Promise, which is President Obama’s new plan to provide two free years of community college:

“Governor Haslam says he is ‘flattered’ that President Obama used Tennessee Promise as a model for the national America’s College Promise program. But, in reality, the biggest correlation between the two programs is the name.

First, as Governor Haslam acknowledged this week, Tennessee’s program does not come out of the general budget. Instead, Tennessee Promise robs the existing Lottery Scholarship programs. Tennessee Promise takes $500 per year from college students who worked hard in high school to earn the Tennessee HOPE Lottery Scholarship to attend a four-year college or community college. It reduces by $125 per semester the HOPE Access Grants for achieving, low-income students to attend four-year colleges. Tennessee Promise also eliminates future growth of the HOPE Lottery Scholarships.  As a result, the HOPE Lottery Scholarships will now cover less and less of the cost of college as tuition continues to increase. Unlike the Tennessee Promise, the President’s plan would not destroy Pell grants or other current programs designed to provide opportunity to attend college.  America’s College Promise would supplement, not supplant, those programs.

Second, Tennessee Promise is a “last dollar” program, which means that it will only cover the cost of tuition and will not provide any financial support for housing, books or school-related expenses. Because it reduces the HOPE Lottery scholarships for students attending community college, some students who earn that scholarship will have less money for non-tuition expenses than they would have had before the enactment of Tennessee Promise. The federal program would allow for students to receive more than the cost of tuition to help cover those extra costs of attending college.

Third, Tennessee Promise will help the wealthier and less-accomplished students attend community college.  The Tennessee Education Lottery already provides scholarships for students who worked hard and achieved in high school to attend 4-year colleges and universities, community colleges and technical schools.  Since the last increase in 2007, the base HOPE Scholarship awards have covered $4,000 at 4-year schools and $1,500 at community colleges.  The Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills grant provide $2,000 for students to attend technical schools, which covers nearly two-thirds the cost of attendance.

Finally, President Obama set reasonable requirements in order to maintain America’s College Promise. Students benefitting from the President’s plan would need to maintain at least a 2.5 GPA in order to remain in the program.  Conversely, Governor Haslam’s plan had no academic standards when he proposed the program and no academic standards when it passed the legislature. Eventually, a 2.0 minimum college GPA requirement was set for the Tennessee Promise program.

Prior to the Governor’s unveiling of the Tennessee Promise program, I spoke and wrote to him suggesting that the income threshold for the HOPE Access grants be raised or that the value of those awards be increased to allow more opportunities for the most disadvantaged.  I remain disappointed that so much of the opportunity for the growth of the HOPE Scholarship programs has been destroyed by Tennessee Promise.

I will be extremely interested to see how Tennessee Promise performs during its first year in effect which begins this fall.  I suspect community college students will receive more financial aid dollars from the HOPE Scholarship program and Pell grants than from the Tennessee Promise program.

I hope that Governor Haslam and the legislature will consider increasing the amount of the HOPE Lottery programs this year, as they have not been raised to compensate for the rise in tuition during the past eight years—and, in fact, were lowered by the passage of Tennessee Promise.”