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Cohen Lauds Growing Bipartisan Support for Federal Medical Marijuana Legislation

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; March 31, 2015:

Bipartisan, bicameral CARERS Act is now cosponsored by 6 Republicans and 6 Democrats 

[MEMPHIS, TN] – Medical marijuana legislation led in the House by Congressmen Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Don Young (R-AK) and in the Senate by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is gaining more and more bipartisan support. Six Republicans and six Democrats have now cosponsored the bipartisan, bicameralCompassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which would let states set their own medical marijuana policies, recognize a legitimate medical use for marijuana at the federal level, and allow Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to recommend safe and effective marijuana-related treatments. The CARERS Act would also increase access to a non-psychoactive treatment that might have helped save the life of 3-year-old Memphian Chloe Grauer, who suffered from hundreds of seizures each day before tragically passing away late last year.

“Republicans and Democrats agree: federal law on medical marijuana is outdated, out of touch, and needs to change,” said Congressman Cohen. “Ailing patients deserve compassion, not prosecution, especially when they live in states that have legalized medical marijuana.  I thank my colleagues for supporting this bill and I hope their brave stances cause more Members of Congress help us pass this common-sense bill to respect states’ rights.”

“We need policies that empower states to legalize medical marijuana if they so choose—recognizing that there are Americans who can realize real medical benefits if this treatment option is brought out of the shadows,” said Senator Booker. “The growing momentum and bipartisan support for the CARERS Act in both the Senate and House are a clear indication that together, we can and will make medical marijuana accessible to the millions of Americans who could benefit from it.”

In addition to lead sponsors Senator Booker and Congressman Cohen, the CARERS Act is cosponsored by Senators Paul (R-KY), Gillbrand (D-NY), Heller (R-NV), and Boxer (D-CA) as well as Representatives Young (R-AK), Conyers (D-MI), Rohrabacher (R-CA), Nadler (D-NY), Hunter (R-CA), Lofgren (D-CA), Hanna (R-NY) and Norton (D-DC). This bipartisan legislation, which builds upon previous House efforts, would not legalize medical marijuana in any state but it would cause the federal government to respect states’ rights to set their own medical marijuana policies and prevent federal law enforcement from prosecuting patients, doctors and caregivers in those states.

“I welcome the support H.R. 1538 has received in recent days and look forward to building a broader coalition for states’ rights on the issue of marijuana,” said Congressman Don Young. “As I’ve said before, my support for the CARERS Act and similar efforts in Congress has always been based upon a strong belief in the 10th Amendment and the principals of federalism.  The CARERS Act is just one step towards protecting states that have legalized marijuana, and would allow them to properly enforce their laws and business practices.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have already legalized medical marijuana. Roughly a dozen additional states recognize a medical use for cannabidiol (CBD), a therapeutic compound derived from marijuana that has virtually no THC, the drug’s psychoactive ingredient, but that families have used successfully to treat their children’s seizures.

Memphis 3-year-old Chloe Grauer suffered from a rare neurological disease that caused her to have 100 to 200 seizures daily. Her family tried dozens of options to treat her disease including medications and surgery, but nothing stopped the seizures. Her family also tried to treat her with CBD, but were unable to because of marijuana’s Schedule I classification—the same highly-restrictive classification as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Sadly, Chloe passed away late last year. Despite current federal limits on marijuana research and medical usage, there is mounting evidence that the drug is an effective and safe treatment for nausea, pain, anxiety, and other disorders including certain symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

If passed and signed into law, the CARERS Act would:

  • Allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies and eliminate federal prosecution of patients, providers, and businesses in states with medical marijuana programs,
  • Reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, recognizing legitimate medical use
  • Allow for greater access to cannabidiol (CBD),
  • Allow access to banking services for marijuana-related businesses that are operating pursuant to state law,
  • Allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana, and
  • Cut red tape and expand opportunities for research on marijuana.

When the Controlled Substances Act first became law in 1970, Assistant Secretary of Health Roger Egeberg recommended that marijuana be placed on Schedule I temporarily until the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (known as the Shafer Commission) reported its findings on the drug. The Commission’s 1972 report recommended decriminalizing the drug, though that recommendation was never acted upon.

Cohen Co-sponsoring U.S. House Version of Paul/Booker Federal Medical Marijuana Legislation

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; March 24, 2015:

Bipartisan, bicameral legislation would increase states’ rights to regulate marijuana and allow veterans and other patients to access safe, effective & state-legal treatments without risking federal prosecution

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressmen Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Don Young (AK-AL) have introduced H.R. 1538, the bipartisan House companion to the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act that Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced in the Senate this month. The legislation would let states set their own medical marijuana policies, recognize a legitimate medical use for marijuana at the federal level, allow Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to recommend safe and effective marijuana-related treatments, let states set their own medical marijuana policies, and increase access to a non-psychoactive treatment that could have helped save the life of 3-year-old Memphian Chloe Grauer, who suffered from hundreds of seizures each day before tragically passing away late last year.

“Drug policy reform is long overdue, but I am pleased that today it is an issue that unites both Democrats and Republicans,” said Congressman Cohen. “The science has been in for a long time, and keeping marijuana on Schedule I—with heroin and LSD—is ludicrous. I am pleased to join with Congressman Don Young in introducing this important bill to bring the federal government in line with the science and the American people, respect states’ rights, remove the threat of federal prosecution in states with medical marijuana, and help our citizens access the treatments they need.”

“The topic of medical and recreational marijuana has always been an issue of state’ rights for me, a position based upon a strong belief in the 10th Amendment and the principals of federalism established by our Founders,” said Congressman Don Young.“The CARERS Act aims to protect states that have legalized medical marijuana and allow them to properly enforce their own laws. My position aims to reaffirm the states’ rights to determine the nature of criminal activity within their own jurisdictions, which I believe is critical for states to effectively legislate within their borders.”

This bipartisan legislation, which builds upon previous House efforts, would not legalize medical marijuana in any state but it would cause the federal government to respect states’ rights to set their own medical marijuana policies and prevent federal law enforcement from prosecuting patients, doctors and caregivers in those states. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have already legalized medical marijuana. Roughly a dozen additional states recognize a medical use for cannabidiol (CBD), a therapeutic compound derived from marijuana that has virtually no THC, the drug’s psychoactive ingredient, but that families have used successfully to treat their children’s seizures.

Memphis 3-year-old Chloe Grauer suffered from a rare neurological disease that caused her to have 100 to 200 seizures daily. Her family tried dozens of options to treat her disease including medications and surgery, but nothing stopped the seizures. Her family also tried to treat her with CBD, but were unable to because of marijuana’s Schedule I classification—the same highly-restrictive classification as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Sadly, Chloe passed away late last year. Despite current federal limits on marijuana research and medical usage, there is mounting evidence that the drug is an effective and safe treatment for nausea, pain, anxiety, and other disorders including certain symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

If passed and signed into law, the CARERS Act would:

  • Allow states to set their own medical marijuana policies and eliminate federal prosecution of patients, providers, and businesses in states with medical marijuana programs,
  • Reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, recognizing legitimate medical use
  • Allow for greater access to cannabidiol (CBD),
  • Allow access to banking services for marijuana-related businesses that are operating pursuant to state law,
  • Allow VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana, and
  • Cut red tape and expand opportunities for research on marijuana.

When the Controlled Substances Act first became law in 1970, Assistant Secretary of Health Roger Egeberg recommended that marijuana be placed on Schedule I temporarily until the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (known as the Shafer Commission) reported its findings on the drug. The Commission’s 1972 report recommended decriminalizing the drug, though that recommendation was never acted upon.

Alexander, Cohen Statements on King v. Burwell Oral Arguments

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

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 4 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate health committee, released the following statement on today’s Supreme Court oral arguments in the King v. Burwell case, which Alexander attended:

“Hopefully the Supreme Court will rule that the law means what it says. If the court does, states will have two options for the 6 million Americans who today receive tax credit subsidies. First, states without exchanges can still create them, but Republicans in Congress will provide a better option. We will act to provide financial assistance those Americans hurt by this as well as offer states more flexibility in offering lower cost insurance policies to their citizens.”

On Monday, Alexander, along with U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah (chairman of the Senate Finance Committee) and John Barrasso of Wyoming (chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee) published an op-ed in the Washington Post about what Congress should do if the Court decides against the president in this case.

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; March 4, 2015:

As the United States Supreme Court hears oral arguments in King v. Burwell, the case regarding the legality of tax subsidies going to consumers of health insurance purchased through the federal health care marketplace, Tennesseans should be made aware of what is actually at stake in this lawsuit.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 187,856 Tennesseans currently receive monthly pro-rated tax subsidies to help them afford insurance coverage purchased through the federally-run marketplace. Nationwide, these subsidies average $268 per person, per month. In the event that the Court rules in favor of the Burwell plaintiffs (a ruling that would directly contradict Congressional intent as it has been clearly and explicitly expressed by the law’s authors) 187,856 Tennessee citizens would immediately lose these subsidies, effectively causing their monthly insurance premiums to skyrocket by hundreds of dollars each month and making health coverage unaffordable for many, if not all.

Estimates from the Urban Institute indicate that, despite years of the number of uninsured Americans falling because of the President Affordable Care Act, the United States uninsured rate would jump by 30%, disproportionately in the South, should the Court rule in favor of the plaintiffs. This is an unacceptable outcome, and it would throw our state’s—and our nation’s—health insurance systems into chaos while measurably and significantly harming the health of our citizens.

Alexander, Corker, Blackburn File Legislation to Allow Songwriters to Receive Fair Market Compensation

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

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2015 – U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), along with U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and others, today introduced legislation that would allow songwriters to receive compensation based on the fair market value of their songs.

The Songwriter Equity Act would amend federal law to allow songwriters to receive market-based compensation and would remove government price controls. Hatch is a songwriter himself and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee that would consider the legislation. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) is also a cosponsor in the Senate. Collins serves as the Vice Chair of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property. In addition to Blackburn and Collins, U.S. Reps.Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) are also cosponsors in the House.

Alexander said: “Italy has its art, Egypt has its pyramids, Napa Valley has its wines and Nashville has its songwriters. Songwriters are the lifeblood of Music City, and their paychecks ought to be based on the fair market value of their songs – so that when they write a hit heard around the world, you can see it in their billfolds. My hope is that in this new Congress, we will pass this legislation to help give our nation’s songwriters the fair pay they have earned.”

Corker said: “Music showcases the incredible talent and vision of Tennesseans – its songwriters, musicians, and small and large businesses – across the country and around the world. Unfortunately, it’s easy for some to forget the countless people who bring to life the music we enjoy each day. We turn the knob, hit the button, click the mouse, and our favorite songs are there. As technology advances, it’s important that we remember where the music begins and modernize the way songwriters are compensated for their work.”

Hatch said: “The music business is among the toughest and most competitive industries, and our songwriters and composers should not have to accept below-market rates for their work. Ensuring that they are able to receive the fair market value for their songs is the right thing to do.”

Blackburn said: “Behind every great song is a great songwriter who deserves to be fairly compensated for their creative works. I am happy to once again join my House and Senate colleagues in this bipartisan effort to ensure fairness for our songwriters.”

Collins said: “In my home state of Georgia alone, there are close to 50,000 songwriters who have dedicated their lives to a talent and a calling that, in my view, God gave them. It is critical to ensure that songwriters – the engines that drive the music industry – are compensated fairly for their work. Copyright laws were never intended to create barriers to creativity that forces songwriters to sell their intellectual property at below-market rates. Congress should write laws that not only promote creation and pay creators, but also remain relevant even in times of rapid technological change. The Songwriter Equity Act is a vital step toward a music licensing system built on free market principles and fair compensation to creators. ”

The legislation would allow songwriters to receive market-based compensation and remove government price controls in two ways:

  • First, it would direct the Copyright Royalty Board to set compensation according to the fair market value when songs are sold, such as through music downloads and CD purchases, replacing the current below-market standard.
  • Second, it would remove a provision of law that narrows the scope of evidence the federal rate court may examine when asked to set songwriter compensation for when their song is played, such as in a restaurant or at a concert.

Songwriter compensation is dictated by the federal government. The rate of compensation that is set by the Copyright Royalty Board has increased only 7 cents over 100 years, and is currently 9.1 cents per song. The so-called “federal rate court” determines compensation rates for public performances, occasionally requiring songwriters to engage in complex litigation to be paid reasonable fees for their work.

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.

Cohen Files Bill to Reduce Police Involvement in Non-violent Juvenile Incidents on School Property

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; February 24, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) this week introduced an amendment to reduce youth incarceration in America by helping train school personnel such as teachers and counselors in innovative conflict resolution methods that are less likely to result in non-violent juveniles entering the penal system. Currently, many school systems involve the police in non-violent incidents on school property, which helps feed the “school-to-prison” pipeline that is both expensive and harmful to America’s youth.

“Unless dealt with early and effectively, young perpetrators of minor, non-violent offenses can unnecessarily fall into a pattern of violent conduct later in life,” said Congressman Cohen. “By training educators in alternative conflict resolution methods that yield better results for everyone, we can keep our young people out of jail, help improve the healing process for victims, and save our country money.”

Congressman Cohen’s amendment would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to allow local education agencies and school districts to use their current federal funding to provide training in “restorative justice” methods. Restorative justice can serve as cost-effective and useful alternatives to the more punitive conflict resolution methods used by many schools to resolve minor student conflicts, such as involving the police.

The victim-centered restorative justice process holds offenders accountable to their victims and their communities, helps offenders understand the impact of their actions, and gives the wronged party an opportunity to have a voice in resolving the conflict—which can assist in the healing process and prevent victims from becoming aggressors.

Congressman Cohen has introduced similar legislation, the Restorative Justice in Schools Act, in 2013 and 2011.

Cohen Not Attending Netanyahu Congressional Address

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; February 24, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today issued the following statement regarding his decision not to attend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned address to Congress next week:

“As a supporter of the state of Israel and a Jewish American, I have been placed in a difficult position regarding the anticipated speech of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the United States Congress.  After deliberation, I have decided I cannot in good conscience attend the Prime Minister’s speech. My decision not to attend is not a reflection of my support for Israel and its continued existence as a state and home for the Jewish people.  I have always strongly supported Israel and I always will. However, I believe, as do many conscientious Members of Congress, that the speech is political theater by Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Likud party, just two weeks before the elections in Israel.  However, the Prime Minister could not speak on the House floor without an invitation from the Speaker of the House John Boehner.  Speaker Boehner and other Republicans supporting the speech are 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 the President of the United States who has constitutional authority over foreign affairs.  This speech is high theater for a re-election campaign in Israel and a political tool wielded against our President and his Administration by the Speaker of the House. Further, it is not a coincidence that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress will be during the Washington D.C. convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) with whom Speaker Boehner is currying favor.”

“The United States House of Representatives Chamber should be sacrosanct. Congressional rules do not allow the use of videos of House floor or committee activity in political campaign advertisements.  In 2013, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to Congress and then used video clips of that speech in his re-election campaign ad to great advantage. It is expected Mr. Netanyahu will do the same again.  Congress cannot make laws that govern his conduct in Israel but the Prime Minister should honor the spirit of our campaign laws. Knowing his past use, any invitation for him to speak before Congress should include the condition that his speech to Congress not be used in a campaign ad.”

“Protocol in inviting a foreign leader to speak before Congress includes coordinating with the Administration because foreign affairs are the province of the President.  Not only did Speaker Boehner not coordinate with or inform the President of the invitation, he also asked the Israeli Ambassador not to inform the President.  The Speaker’s invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu is political gamesmanship and it is a very dangerous game.  The Prime Minister’s use of the U.S. House chamber as a stage to argue against the comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, which is currently being negotiated among Iran and the P5+1 — the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom and Germany, is reckless.   While Americans and members of Congress may disagree on anything, even foreign policy, providing a forum of such immense prestige and power to the leader of another country who is opposing our nation’s foreign policy is beyond the pale. It endangers the negotiations, insults the good faith of the other nations involved in the negotiations and emboldens Iran who may well view this schism in our government as an opportunity for advantage.  While we can disagree with our President, we as a nation should be as one on our foreign policy and any disagreements should be presented in a respectful, appropriate and time-honored manner.”

“I have given due consideration to my decision not to attend Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address before Congress.  I have attended the Prime Minister’s previous speech and my support of Israel has not wavered but I believe that this speech at this time and brought forth in this manner is dangerous to Israel as well as inappropriate.  Nothing should come between our two nations.  The actions of the Speaker and the Prime Minister have caused a breach between Democrats in Congress and Israel as well as the administrations of the United States and Israel.  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: 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.”

Cohen, Other Dems Call on Boehner to Postpone Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis 09; February 19, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Maxine Waters(D-CA) sent a letter today to Speaker of the House John Boehner urging him to postpone Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before a joint session of Congress. The letter was cosigned by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), André Carson (D-IN), John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Danny Davis (D-IL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), Henry “Hank” Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), James McGovern (D-MA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Donald Payne (D-NJ), Chellie Pingrie (D-ME), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Mark Takano (D-CA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Peter Welch (D-VT), and John Yarmuth (D-KY).

The lawmakers expressed concern about the invitation’s proximity to Israel’s elections and the use of a close foreign ally as a tool in a domestic political dispute.

The text of the letter is below and a PDF is available here.

The Honorable John Boehner
Speaker of House of Representatives
H-232 Capitol

Washington, DC  20515

Dear Mr. Speaker:

We write to urge you to postpone your invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress in March. Israel is a valued ally and Israeli Prime Ministers have a long history of addressing Congress. As members of Congress who support Israel, we share concern that it appears that you are using a foreign leader as a political tool against the President. We very much appreciate that Prime Minister Netanyahu has twice had the honor of speaking before a joint session.

However, at this time your invitation is contrary to the standards by which our Congress operates and has the potential to harm U.S. Foreign policy.

The timing of this invitation and lack of coordination with the White House indicate that this is not an ordinary diplomatic visit. Rather this appears to be an attempt to promote new sanctions legislation against Iran that could undermine critical negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran. At the State of the Union President Obama made it clear that he will veto new Iran sanctions legislation. The invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu enlists a foreign leader to influence a Presidential policy initiative. We should be able to disagree on foreign policy within our American political system and without undermining the presidency.

Aside from being improper, this places Israel, a close and valued ally, in the middle of a policy debate between Congress and the White House. We should not turn our diplomatic friendship into a partisan issue. Beyond threatening our diplomatic priorities, the timing of this invitation offers the Congressional platform to elevate a candidate in a foreign election.

A visit from Israel’s Prime Minister would normally be an occasion for bipartisan cooperation and support. Our relationship with Israel is too important to use as a pawn in political gamesmanship. We strongly urge you to postpone this invitation until Israelis have cast their ballots and the deadline for diplomatic negotiations with Iran has passed. When the Israeli Prime Minister visits us outside the specter of partisan politics, we will be delighted and honored to greet him or her on the Floor of the House.

Cohen Announces $5.6 M in Federal Funds to Address HIV/Aids Epidemic

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; February 18, 2015:

[MEMPHIS, TN] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) announced today that Shelby County has been awarded $5,653,472 in federal funding to help address the HIV/AIDS epidemic and provide care for those living with HIV. This funding comes through the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which helps local governments provide HIV-related services to more than half a million people each year who do not have sufficient health care coverage or financial resources for coping with the disease.

“While there have been major breakthroughs in treatment in recent years, HIV continues to plague the Ninth District,” said Congressman Cohen. “This Ryan White Program funding will help thousands of Memphians living with this terrible disease access the high-quality, comprehensive care they need and deserve.”

During Congressman Cohen’s time in the United States House of Representatives, the Ninth District has received nearly $20 million in Ryan White Program funds to fight AIDS and HIV. The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program is the single largest federal program designed specifically for people with HIV/AIDS. First enacted in 1990, it provides care and support services to individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS, functioning as the “payer of last resort”; that is, it fills the gaps in care for those who have no other source of coverage or face coverage limits. This funding comes through Part A of the program, which provides assistance to locales most severely affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.