Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH), along with their bipartisan colleagues Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking the Treasury Department to work with Congress in order to ensure that the cryptocurrency provision included in the recently-enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is implemented effectively and in accordance with congressional intent. During consideration of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, Senators Portman and Warner conducted a colloquy on August 9 to clarify the scope and intent of a provision implementing information reporting requirements for cryptocurrency brokers.

This is the federal government’s first attempt at incorporating digital assets into our nation’s tax code, which has led to concern over how it will interpret the provision’s definition of “broker.” The senators have asked the Treasury Department to issue information or informal guidance regarding the definition of “broker” as discussed during the legislative process and if needed, the senators are prepared to offer legislation to further clarify that intent.

“We thank you and your team for working with us in implementing this IIJA provision. We ask that you carefully consider the characteristics of the technologies which drive this space, which may include differences in the consensus mechanisms of various distributed ledgers and second layer protocols. We have conveyed to our constituents that we will continue working with you to ensure that the provision is implemented as Congress intended, and we look forward to doing so,” wrote the sens.

“Digital assets could be impactful technological developments in certain sectors, and clear guidelines on tax reporting requirements will be important to those in this ecosystem. It will be important that we continue to work to provide further clarity, and to help ensure that the United States remains a global leader in financial innovation and development, while ensuring that this technology does not become a vector for illicit finance, tax evasion, or other criminal activity,” continued the sens.

The full text of the letter can be found here or below:

Dear Secretary Yellen, 

President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) into law on November 15, 2021. Now that this bill has become law, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that it is implemented effectively and in accordance with congressional intent.

Section 80603 of the IIJA standardizes information reporting by brokers of digital assets to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for tax purposes by modifying Section 6045 of the Internal Revenue Code. The aim of this provision is to provide more certainty for Americans looking to invest in these digital assets, ensuring that crypto investors receive the same tax documents, generally a Form 1099-B, from their brokers that stock traders receive, which in turn will enable them to file their taxes more easily and promote higher compliance. This provision is one of the first efforts by the Federal government to better incorporate digital assets, like virtual currency, into our nation’s tax code.

Some market participants have expressed concern that an overly-broad interpretation of this provision’s definition of “broker” could capture certain individuals who are solely involved with validating distributed ledger transactions through mining, staking, or other methods, and entities solely providing software or hardware solutions enabling users to maintain custody of their own digital asset wallets.

As Senator Portman and Senator Warner articulated in a colloquy on the floor of the Senate on August 9, 2021, “[t]he purpose of this provision is not to impose new reporting requirements on people who do not meet the definition of brokers.” Further, our understanding from both the Administration and the Joint Committee on Taxation is that they shared the same interpretation of the provision as its authors: that the reporting requirements only cover brokers who enable the transfer of digital assets for consideration —and not other parties which are ancillary to the process unless they are serving in an additional capacity as brokers.

We urge you to engage in rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in an expeditious manner. However, because of the need for certainty and the time required for rulemaking under the APA, we urge the Department of the Treasury to provide information or informal guidance as soon as possible – no later than the end of the current calendar year – regarding the definition of “broker” as discussed during the legislative process. We are also prepared to offer legislation to further clarify that intent.

We thank you and your team for working with us in implementing this IIJA provision. We ask that you carefully consider the characteristics of the technologies which drive this space, which may include differences in the consensus mechanisms of various distributed ledgers and second layer protocols. We have conveyed to our constituents that we will continue working with you to ensure that the provision is implemented as Congress intended, and we look forward to doing so.

Digital assets could be impactful technological developments in certain sectors, and clear guidelines on tax reporting requirements will be important to those in this ecosystem. It will be important that we continue to work to provide further clarity, and to help ensure that the United States remains a global leader in financial innovation and development, while ensuring that this technology does not become a vector for illicit finance, tax evasion, or other criminal activity.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner & Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined a bicameral letter led by Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi urging the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to address student voter registration and participation as it formulates higher education rulemaking. The letter comes as states across the country pass legislation designed to curb the voting rights of Black, Brown, and young people.

“Across the country, voting rights are under attack, and new laws restricting access to voting have been transparently intended to discourage students and people of color from participating in our elections. The Department can and should play a significant role in supporting democracy by creating additional nonpartisan opportunities for students to register to vote, keep their voter registration up to date, and participate in state and federal elections,” wrote the lawmakers.

“Participating in our democracy is consistent with the goals of federal financial aid, and the Department should take swift action to support access to voter registration and voting for students in this rulemaking process. Thank you for your attention to our request,” concluded the lawmakers.

Kaine, a former civil rights attorney, has long fought to protect voting rights and expand access to the ballot box. In September, Kaine introduced the Freedom to Vote Act, legislation cosponsored by Warner to improve access to the ballot for Americans, advance commonsense election integrity reforms, and protect our democracy from attacks. The Freedom to Vote Act elevates the voices of American voters by ending partisan gerrymandering and helping to eliminate the undue influence of secret money in our elections.

In October, Warner and Kaine helped introduce the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act legislation to restore the landmark Voting Rights Act and stop the spread of voter suppression.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary Cardona:

We write to urge the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) to address student voter registration and participation in upcoming rulemaking for higher education accountability and to provide additional guidance to institutions of higher education to facilitate civic engagement.

Across the country, voting rights are under attack, and new laws restricting access to voting have been transparently intended to discourage students and people of color from participating in our elections. The Department can and should play a significant role in supporting democracy by creating additional nonpartisan opportunities for students to register to vote, keep their voter registration up to date, and participate in state and federal elections.

Section 487(a)(23) of the Higher Education Act requires each institution of higher education that receives federal financial aid funds to make a “good faith effort” to distribute voter registration materials and to make such materials “widely available” to students. A college’s good faith effort to distribute voter registration information widely should reflect the most common methods by which individuals register to vote— including, increasingly, online registration—and the deadlines they must meet.

The Department has full authority to prescribe regulations to enforce the program participation agreement in Section 487(a)(23). In early 2022, as part of the upcoming institutional accountability rulemaking, the Department should propose regulations that specify the time, manner, and frequency by which voter registration materials are distributed to students.

Importantly, at least once per year, as part of the course registration or other institutional enrollment process, the rules should require institutions to distribute to student’s voter registration information, including, where possible, a direct and accessible web link to register to vote or to update their voter registration (such as providing a new address). The rules should also recommend institutions distribute voter registration materials to students during other interactions many students will have with institutions, such as student identification application processes. While the regulations should prioritize online voter registration options to ensure an easy and accessible process for students, they should also accommodate institutions in states that do not conduct online voter registration.

The Department should also swiftly issue sub-regulatory guidance that clarifies institutions’ responsibilities under current regulations. This guidance should remind colleges of their existing requirement to distribute voter registration information to students well in advance of state deadlines to register to vote. And, such guidance should strongly encourage institutions to adopt best practices for providing links to voter registration online and through direct notifications to students, including links during course registration and campus-wide email reminders. These reminders should also encourage students to check and update their voter registration information to ensure the most recent address is on file and explain current law on where students may register to vote based on their permanent residence. Finally, the guidance should make clear that Federal Work-Study funds can be used for nonpartisan voter registration, education, engagement, and poll watching activities—and can help institutions meet their community service requirements.

Participating in our democracy is consistent with the goals of federal financial aid, and the Department should take swift action to support access to voter registration and voting for students in this rulemaking process. Thank you for your attention to our request.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (D-VA), and U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) asked President Joe Biden to approve an appeal that would grant federal assistance to individual residents in and around Hurley, Va. who were affected by the severe flooding, landslides, and mudslides that occurred on August 30, 2021, causing extensive damage in the area.

Following the extreme rainfall event, Hurley, Va. and surrounding areas suffered extensive damage, including loss of life and destruction to homes, businesses, and critical infrastructure. On October 26, following strong advocacy by the lawmakers, FEMA approved a Major Disaster Declaration for Buchanan County, opening up a range of federal assistance programs for the area. However, it later denied a request for Individual Assistance, which would have allowed individual Virginians in the area to receive financial assistance and direct services.

“We write today to express our strong support for Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam’s request for an appeal of the denial of Individual Assistance (IA) for Buchanan County as part of your Major Disaster Declaration that was issued for the county on October 26, 2021,” wrote the lawmakers. “While we appreciate your recent issuance of a Major Disaster Declaration for Buchanan County, we concur with the Commonwealth’s assessment that IA should be made available to our constituents to assist in their recovery from this tragic flood event.”

“As you know, IA is an incredibly important tool for communities that have been devastated by natural disasters. FEMA provides IA directly to individuals and households who have sustained significant losses as a direct result of a natural disaster that received a federal disaster declaration. This assistance can include grants to help pay for temporary housing, emergency home repairs, uninsured and underinsured property losses, and other critical needs,” they continued. “The unlocking of IA for the residents of Hurley would go a long way towards helping this community recover from this extreme weather event.”

In their letter today, the lawmakers stress the need for help at the individual level to ensure a fulsome recovery, and urge the President’s full and fair consideration of Virginia’s appeal for Individual Assistance for our constituents in and around Hurley.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

President

1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20500


Dear Mr. President:

We write today to express our strong support for Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam’s request for an appeal of the denial of Individual Assistance (IA) for Buchanan County as part of your Major Disaster Declaration that was issued for the county on October 26, 2021.

While we appreciate your recent issuance of a Major Disaster Declaration for Buchanan County, we concur with the Commonwealth’s assessment that IA should be made available to our constituents to assist in their recovery from this tragic flood event.

On August 31, 2021, Governor Northam declared a state of emergency in the Commonwealth of Virginia following severe flooding, landslides, and mudslides that occurred on August 30, 2021. On this date, the unincorporated area of Hurley, Virginia, experienced an extreme rainfall event resulting in 8-10 inches of rain being released in a short amount of time. This rainfall event caused heavy floods, landslides, and mudslides that resulted in extensive damage in and around Hurley.

On October 26, 2021, we were pleased that you approved Virginia’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration, which provided Public Assistance for Buchanan County and Hazard Mitigation for the Commonwealth of Virginia. However, on October 29, 2021, we were disappointed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a formal denial of Governor Northam’s request for Individual Assistance for Buchanan County.

As you know, IA is an incredibly important tool for communities that have been devastated by natural disasters. FEMA provides IA directly to individuals and households who have sustained significant losses as a direct result of a natural disaster that received a federal disaster declaration. This assistance can include grants to help pay for temporary housing, emergency home repairs, uninsured and underinsured property losses, and other critical needs. The unlocking of IA for the residents of Hurley would go a long way towards helping this community recover from this extreme weather event.

Again, we thank you for your continued support for the residents of Buchanan County, Virginia, following the August 30, 2021 flood event. To ensure a fulsome recovery for this community, we urge your full and fair consideration of Virginia’s appeal for Individual Assistance for our constituents in and around Hurley.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and please let us know if we can be helpful to you in any way.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expressing concern that the FAA is considering closing the Air Traffic Control Tower at Richmond International Airport between the hours of midnight and 5:00 a.m. In their letter, the Senators highlight the need for the Control Tower to continue to be operational on a 24/7 basis for airport safety.

“The FAA’s analysis should take into account the critical need for the Control Tower to be open at a busy commercial service airport like Richmond International Airport.  For example, airlines often have flights that are scheduled to arrive before midnight but are delayed and land later,” the Senators wrote.

“We urge the FAA to reconsider the proposed closure of the Control Tower between midnight and 5:00 a.m. We also request a briefing on this matter before any further action is taken,” concluded the Senators.

A copy of the Senators’ letter can be found here and below.

The Honorable Stephen M. Dickson

Administrator

Federal Aviation Administration

800 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20591

Dear Administrator Dickson: 

We are writing to express our concern that the FAA is considering closing the Air Traffic Control Tower at Richmond International Airport between the hours of midnight and 5:00 a.m.  With passenger airlines and cargo aircraft taking off and landing at the Richmond Airport and maintenance crews and other workers having to be on, or crossing over, the airfield during these hours, the need to ensure safety requires that the Control Tower continue to be operational on a 24/7 basis. 

On October 1, the FAA’s Safety Risk Management Panel hosted a virtual meeting with Richmond Airport officials and various stakeholders.  We understand that the FAA’s proposal has been met with strong opposition from the Richmond Airport, passenger airlines, cargo carriers, the fixed base operators, the air traffic controllers at the Airport, and other stakeholders.

The FAA’s analysis should take into account the critical need for the Control Tower to be open at a busy commercial service airport like Richmond International Airport.  For example, airlines often have flights that are scheduled to arrive before midnight but are delayed and land later.  The Richmond Airport is also an alternate site when airlines must divert flights from landing at other airports due to weather conditions.  The Control Tower also plays an important role in coordinating early morning flights.  Although the flights might take off after 5:00 a.m., coordination between the pilots and the Control Tower may begin before 5:00 a.m. and, consequently, the Control Tower needs to be available. 

We also urge the FAA to consider the Control Tower’s critical role in directing ground traffic at an airport such as the Richmond International Airport, where airfield maintenance and aircraft re-positioning often occur between midnight and 5:00 a.m. 

In summary, given the above concerns, we urge the FAA to reconsider the proposed closure of the Control Tower between midnight and 5:00 a.m.  We also request a briefing on this matter before any further action is taken.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine today sent a letter to the White House recommending candidates for the vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA), which was created when Judge John A. Gibney, Jr. assumed senior status effective November 1, 2021. In their letter, the Senators recommended U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Hanes, who has served as a Federal Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District since 2020, and Ms. Melissa O’Boyle, who has been an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District since 2007.

“[W]e believe either of these individuals would win confirmation from the Senate and serve capably on the bench,” wrote the Senators to President Biden. 

The White House will now nominate one individual for the vacancy to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The nominations are subject to confirmation by the full Senate. 

A copy of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Mr. President:

We are pleased to recommend U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Hanes and Ms. Melissa O’Boyle for the vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia following the decision by Judge John A. Gibney, Jr. to take senior status effective November 1, 2021. Both would serve with great distinction and have our highest recommendation. Judge Hanes has served as a Federal Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District since 2020.

Prior to joining the bench, Judge Hanes worked in private practice with Consumer Litigation Associates from 2016 to 2020 in Richmond and Newport News. She also served in the office of the Federal Public Defender in Richmond from 2009 to 2016. In addition, before becoming an attorney, Judge Hanes worked in New York in corporate finance, but left that job to serve as an AmeriCorp VISTA volunteer in West Virginia, where she helped to establish and run a nonprofit organization providing services to abused children and crime victims. Together, these experiences qualify Judge Hanes for this nomination and we are honored to recommend her.

Ms. O’Boyle has been an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia since 2007. She currently serves as the Criminal Chief of the Norfolk Division and has expertise in public corruption and financial fraud cases. Ms. O’Boyle has prosecuted some of the highest profile and impactful trials in the Eastern District of Virginia, including the 2016 public corruption case against Norfolk Vice Mayor Anthony Burfoot, the 2013 bank fraud case against former Bank of the Commonwealth President Edward Woodward, the 2010 public corruption case against former Norfolk Police Homicide Police Detective Robert Glenn Ford, and the 2009 Ponzi scheme case against Troy Titus. This experience gives us confidence that Ms. O’Boyle would make an excellent nominee for this seat.

Ultimately, we believe either of these individuals would win confirmation from the Senate and serve capably on the bench. We are honored to recommend them to you.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) in a bicameral letter with over 50 of their colleagues to President Joe Biden and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging the Administration to provide critical protections to Cameroonians in the midst of the current humanitarian crisis facing the nation. Senator Van Hollen is the Chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy and Congresswoman Bass is the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.

The lawmakers begin, “We write to you today to request that you issue an immediate 18-month designation of either Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Cameroon. A humanitarian crisis and civil war characterized by massive internal displacement, war crimes, and shortages of essentials like water, food, healthcare, and housing make safe return impossible, and we must act quickly to extend protection against deportation to Cameroonian nationals in the United States (U.S.).”

They go on to underscore the worsening crisis in Cameroon, noting, “Based on the high risk of armed conflict and kidnapping, the U.S. State Department has issued ‘Do Not Travel’ warnings for six regions: the North, Far North, North-West, South- West, East, and parts of Adamawa. In its most recent human rights report on Cameroon, the State Department identified a troubling catalogue of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention, violence against women and children, and targeted attacks against members of the LGBTQ+ community. The United Nations estimates that 4.4 million people in Cameroon need assistance, with over 1.5 million people internally displaced and another 67,000 Cameroonian refugees displaced in Nigeria. An estimated 38,790 Cameroonians currently living in the U.S. would benefit from a DED or TPS designation for Cameroon.”

“Cameroon is facing three separate humanitarian crises sprawling across its ten regions: conflict with the armed Islamist group Boko Haram in the Far North region; a political and humanitarian crisis in the Anglophone North-West and South-West regions; and a refugee crisis in the East, near the border with the Central African Republic. Inter-communal violence has also affected several regions. The government’s continued crackdowns on peaceful political opposition and security forces’ documented use of incommunicado detention and torture contribute to the danger of return.5 Deportees from the U.S. are at particular risk of being targeted for actual or imputed opposition to the government and have experienced arbitrary detention and other abuses upon return,” they continue.

The lawmakers close the letter urging, “Announcing a TPS or DED designation for Cameroon would serve as a key and strategic part of the U.S. government’s commitment to human rights and international stability, safeguarding Cameroonians in the U.S. from a return to these dangerous conditions. We call upon this administration to do its part to protect Cameroonians. Given that the devastating human consequences of these humanitarian crises in Cameroon have escalated in recent months, this protection is urgently needed now more than ever.”

In addition to Senator Van Hollen and Congresswoman Bass, the letter was signed by Senators Kaine, Shaheen, Murray, Padilla, Booker, Markey, Cardin, Brown, Warren, Smith, Klobuchar, Warner, and Warnock and Representatives Nadler, Lofgren, Velazquez, Ruppersberger, Vargas, Beatty, Gwen Moore, Norton, Johnson, Jr., Brown, Lee, McGovern, Schakowsky, Espaillat, Connolly, Raskin, Lieu, Jacobs, Sewell, Evans, Garamendi, Tlaib, Jayapal, Adam Smith, Lowenthal, Ocasio-Cortez, Jones, Cicilline, Meng, Rush, Watson Coleman, Quigley, Castro, Dean, McCollum, Chu, Napolitano, Garcia, Gallego, Pressley, Khanna, and Clarke.

The full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas:

We write to you today to request that you issue an immediate 18-month designation of either Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Cameroon. A humanitarian crisis and civil war characterized by massive internal displacement, war crimes, and shortages of essentials like water, food, healthcare, and housing make safe return impossible, and we must act quickly to extend protection against deportation to Cameroonian nationals in the United States (U.S.).

TPS is a form of statutory deferred action afforded to nationals of a country living in the U.S. if conditions in the country make return unsafe. The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may designate a country for TPS if conditions in the country meet requirements regarding ongoing armed conflict, natural disasters, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions in the country that prevent safe return. TPS provides protection from deportation and permission to work in the U.S. for the duration of the designation.

DED serves as a vital foreign policy tool of the President and another mechanism to protect foreign nationals in the U.S. from civil, political, and humanitarian crises in their home country that make it unsafe for them to return, or whose suspension of deportation serves other U.S. foreign policy or domestic interests. DED provides similar protections as TPS, but it does not require registration and is only triggered when an individual is identified for removal. A DED designation uses minimal administrative resources and has an immediate effect for eligible individuals.

Based on the high risk of armed conflict and kidnapping, the U.S. State Department has issued “Do Not Travel” warnings for six regions: the North, Far North, North-West, South- West, East, and parts of Adamawa. In its most recent human rights report on Cameroon, the State Department identified a troubling catalogue of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention, violence against women and children, and targeted attacks against members of the LGBTQ+ community. The United Nations estimates that 4.4 million people in Cameroon need assistance, with over 1.5 million people internally displaced and another 67,000 Cameroonian refugees displaced in Nigeria. An estimated 38,790 Cameroonians currently living in the U.S. would benefit from a DED or TPS designation for Cameroon.

Cameroon is facing three separate humanitarian crises sprawling across its ten regions: conflict with the armed Islamist group Boko Haram in the Far North region; a political and humanitarian crisis in the Anglophone North-West and South-West regions; and a refugee crisis in the East, near the border with the Central African Republic. Inter-communal violence has also affected several regions. The government’s continued crackdowns on peaceful political opposition and security forces’ documented use of incommunicado detention and torture contribute to the danger of return. Deportees from the U.S. are at particular risk of being targeted for actual or imputed opposition to the government and have experienced arbitrary detention and other abuses upon return.

Since late 2016, Cameroon, a bilingual country with eight Francophone and two Anglophone regions, has faced a protracted humanitarian crisis in its Anglophone North-West and South- West regions resulting in the internal displacement of more than 712,000 civilians and the displacement of over 67,000 Cameroonian refugees across the border to Nigeria. Grassroots advocacy in the Anglophone regions in late 2016 called for more political autonomy or secession. In response, government security forces cracked down on protests and non-state armed groups continued to seek independence, with both sides committing serious and widespread human rights violations. As a result of this crisis, at least 4,000 civilians have been killed in the Anglophone regions alone.

The Far North region of Cameroon has been severely impacted by armed conflict between government forces and the armed Islamist group Boko Haram and its splinter faction, the Islamic State in West Africa Province. The Boko Haram insurgency, which began in Nigeria in 2009 and spread to Cameroon in 2014, has led to the deaths of more than 3,000 Cameroonians and has resulted in the internal displacement of over 340,000.

Conflict in the neighboring Central African Republic (CAR) also impacts Cameroon, which currently hosts over 330,000 refugees from the CAR in its East, Adamawa, and Northern regions after a new wave of refugees crossed the border following election-related violence in CAR in late 2020. The influx of refugees has put significant pressure on the already limited natural resources and basic social services in host communities, severely exacerbating pre- existing vulnerabilities and leading to increased incidents of criminality, kidnappings, and inter-communal violence.

The conflict in the Far North and the crisis in the Anglophone regions have also exacerbated long-standing inter-communal tensions over natural resources, resulting in violence and increased civilian casualties. In August 2021 in the Far North Region, clashes between ethnic Choa Arab herders and ethnic Mousgoum fishermen and farmers killed at least 32, injured at least 74 people, and razed at least 19 villages, representing the most violent inter-communal attack to date in Cameroon.

The Cameroonian government and security forces create risks for deportees nationwide, including crackdowns on political dissent, the security forces’ documented use of torture, and criminalization of and targeted violence towards LGBTQ+ people. Political and ethnic tensions in Cameroon have been further frayed by uprisings and violence following the 2018 presidential and 2020 local elections.

On three known deportation flights in October, November, and September of 2020 the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported an estimated 80-90 Cameroonians en masse. According to press reports and interviews with deportees, Cameroonian authorities confiscated the identification documents of most Cameroonians deported on the October and November 2020 flights.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified the humanitarian crises and human rights issues in Cameroon, where violence and heavy rains have catastrophically degraded infrastructure essential to the delivery of humanitarian aid and pandemic relief. Citing limited medical resources and a high risk of contracting the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against all but essential travel to Cameroon. The Cameroonian government has also been criticized for its lack of transparency on the misuse of millions of dollars in pandemic relief funds.

Announcing a TPS or DED designation for Cameroon would serve as a key and strategic part of the U.S. government’s commitment to human rights and international stability, safeguarding Cameroonians in the U.S. from a return to these dangerous conditions. We call upon this administration to do its part to protect Cameroonians. Given that the devastating human consequences of these humanitarian crises in Cameroon have escalated in recent months, this protection is urgently needed now more than ever.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Senators and India Caucus Co-Chairs Mark Warner (D-VA) and John Cornyn (R-TX) sent a letter to President Biden encouraging him to waive Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions against India for buying military arms from Russia.

They wrote: “While India has taken significant steps to reduce its purchases of Russian military equipment, it has a long history of purchasing arms from the Soviet Union, and later Russia. In 2018, India formally agreed to purchase Russian S-400 Triumf air-defense systems after having signed an initial agreement with Russia two years prior. We are concerned that the upcoming transfer of these systems will trigger sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was enacted to hold Russia accountable for its malign behavior.”

“As such, we strongly encourage you to grant a CAATSA waiver to India for its planned purchase of the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system. In cases where granting a waiver would advance the national security interests of the U.S., this waiver authority, as written into the law by Congress, allows the President additional discretion in applying sanctions.”

“We share your concerns regarding the purchase and the continued Indian integration of Russian equipment, even with these declining sales. We would encourage your administration to continue reinforcing this concern to Indian officials, and engaging with them constructively to continue supporting alternatives to their purchasing Russian equipment.”

 

October 26, 2021

 

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

President

The White House

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear Mr. President:

We commend the steps you have taken to deepen the U.S.-India partnership since you have taken office. The robust and swift support that your administration provided to India during its devastating COVID surge earlier this year undoubtedly saved many lives and demonstrated the strength of our countries’ bond. Your revitalization of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, of which India is a core member, has served as an additional mechanism for closer cooperation between our two countries. In the midst of this strengthening bilateral relationship, we are concerned that possible upcoming sanctions against India could reverse or slow this progress. 

While India has taken significant steps to reduce its purchases of Russian military equipment, it has a long history of purchasing arms from the Soviet Union, and later Russia. In 2018, India formally agreed to purchase Russian S-400 Triumf air-defense systems after having signed an initial agreement with Russia two years prior. We are concerned that the upcoming transfer of these systems will trigger sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was enacted to hold Russia accountable for its malign behavior.

CAATSA’s provisions, including sanctions targeting Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors, serve as an important tool for the U.S. government to discourage Russian arms purchases around the world. However, in the case of this current S-400 transaction involving India, we believe that the application of CAATSA sanctions could have a deleterious effect on a strategic partnership with India, while at the same time, not achieve the intended purpose of deterring Russian arms sales.

As such, we strongly encourage you to grant a CAATSA waiver to India for its planned purchase of the S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system. In cases where granting a waiver would advance the national security interests of the U.S., this waiver authority, as written into the law by Congress, allows the President additional discretion in applying sanctions.

Congress established criteria for determining the appropriateness of waiving CAATSA sanctions. Specifically, the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act allows the President to issue a waiver if doing so is in the national interest, and if it would not endanger U.S. national security, adversely affect U.S. military operations, or compromise U.S. defense systems. We believe that a waiver for India is appropriate for several reasons.

First, India has taken significant steps to reduce its imports of Russian military hardware in recent years. From 2016 to 2020, there was a 53 percent drop in Russian arms exports to India compared to the preceding five-year period. Meanwhile, India has shown its intent to purchase equipment from the United States, with sales reaching $3.4 billion in FY20. These are positive trends that show India’s effort to reduce reliance on Russian equipment, and a desire to take advantage of its new status as a Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) partner.

Second, we believe there is a national security imperative to waiving sanctions. Imposing sanctions at this time could derail deepening cooperation with India across all aspects of our bilateral relationship – from vaccines to defense cooperation, from energy strategy to technology sharing. Furthermore, sanctions have the potential to embolden critics within India who warn that the United States will not be a consistent and reliable partner for cooperation, and to thwart the Indian government’s efforts and long-term strategy to reduce Russian purchases and reliance on Russian defense hardware. 

We share your concerns regarding the purchase and the continued Indian integration of Russian equipment, even with these declining sales. We would encourage your administration to continue reinforcing this concern to Indian officials, and engaging with them constructively to continue supporting alternatives to their purchasing Russian equipment. We also propose that your administration establish a bilateral working group to identify ways to promote the security of U.S. technology, and to chart a path forward to develop strategies to enhance U.S.-India military interoperability. We believe these actions reinforce India’s status as a Major Defense Partner and will provide another avenue to counter PRC influence in the Indo-Pacific.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON  – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) today led 48 of their Senate colleagues in writing a bipartisan letter requesting President Joe Biden to receive His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew next week in a manner befitting the spiritual leader of the second largest Christian church in the world. His All Holiness’ trip to Washington comes during the 30th anniversary year of his election as Ecumenical Patriarch.

“We appreciate the fact that His All Holiness is a world-leading advocate for interfaith dialogue and peace,” the senators wrote, specifically commending his historic dialogue and prayer for peace with Pope Francis at Christ’s tomb in Jerusalem in 2014 and noting the high regard within which the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is held as a preeminent international environmental leader. “This visit is an excellent opportunity for our Congress and your Executive Branch to follow in the Ecumenical Patriarch’s footsteps and demonstrate our mutual desire for the spirit of peace and cooperation.”

The senators also lauded President Biden’s previous exceptional welcome of His All Holiness in 2009 in addition to his assistance in securing His All Holiness’ Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest honor, in 1997.

Joining Chairman Menendez and Senator Rubio in signing the letter were Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Angus King (I-Maine), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Bob Casey Jr. (D-Penn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Mike Rounds (S.D.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

Find a copy of the letter HERE and below.

Dear Mr. President:

With our many constituents in the Orthodox Christian community across the country, we are looking forward to your welcome of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew the last week of October, 2021. We are hopeful that this trip to Washington, D.C. will be met in the extraordinary manner and appropriate protocol with which you hosted him as Vice President in 2009. This year marks the 30th Anniversary of his election as Ecumenical Patriarch.  As you know, an exceptional welcome is appropriate for the spiritual leader of the second largest Christian Church in the world and a person of his many valuable accomplishments.

We appreciate the fact that His All Holiness is a world-leading advocate for interfaith dialogue and peace. We value his historic dialogue and prayer for peace with Pope Francis at Christ’s tomb in Jerusalem in 2014.  As you know, this brotherly gathering was appropriate as the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Pope are the brother-Apostles Andrew and Peter’ 268th and 265th direct successors, respectively.  We know that Peter began his Church and ministry in Rome and Andrew began his in what is today Turkey, the locale of His All Holiness’ headquarters and Ecumenical Patriarchate.  

We admire the high regard within which Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is held as a preeminent international environmental leader, sometimes known as the “Green Patriarch.”  We are pleased that his recognitions include our Congress’ highest honor – the Congressional Gold Medal – which we understand you helped secure in 1997.

This visit is an excellent opportunity for our Congress and your Executive Branch to follow in the Ecumenical Patriarch’s footsteps and demonstrate our mutual desire for the spirit of peace and cooperation. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,
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WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, and 17 other colleagues in a letter to the Department of Justice seeking an update on the actions of the Department’s Election Threats Task Force, which was established in July to receive and assess reports of threats against election workers. The Senators specifically requested information on the Task Force’s plans to facilitate the reporting, investigation, and prosecution of threats against election officials and election workers. This request follows a survey of election workers earlier this year which found that nearly one in three felt unsafe because of their job, nearly one in six received threats of violence, and more than one in six were concerned about their lives being threatened.

“In the last year, we have seen election officials and election workers face a barrage of threats and abusive conduct from those seeking to interfere with the certification of the 2020 election or overturn the results,” the Senators wrote.

“While existing laws protect voters from intimidation and violence, additional specific protections are needed for officials, workers, and volunteers responsible for operating polling stations, counting and processing ballots, and certifying election results. The lack of clear guidance for law enforcement left many election workers at risk, and in some instances election workers were told that threats against their safety are ‘protected political speech.’ The Department of Justice has previously acknowledged the ‘inadequate’ response to threats against election workers, and the need to do more to protect them from harm,” they continued.

“We commend the Department of Justice for taking these threats seriously and establishing the Election Threats Task Force earlier this year to receive and assess allegations and reports of threats against election workers,” they concluded. 

Senators Warner and Kaine, who were in the Capitol during the violent attack orchestrated by people wanting to overturn an election, have long supported commonsense measures to protect our democracy from attacks. Kaine, a former civil rights lawyer, recently introduced his Freedom to Vote Act, comprehensive legislation that reflects feedback from state and local election officials to advance commonsense election integrity reforms — including expanding access to the ballot, protecting our democracy against election interference, ensuring transparency of election expenditures, and ending partisan gerrymandering. The Senate will vote on the bill tomorrow.

The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Angus King (I-ME), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

Full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Attorney General Garland:

We write to express our concerns regarding the unprecedented rise in threats against election officials and election workers in recent months and to request an update on the efforts of the Department of Justice’s recently established Election Threats Task Force. We appreciate the Department’s commitment to combating these threats to our democracy.

In the last year, we have seen election officials and election workers face a barrage of threats and abusive conduct from those seeking to interfere with the certification of the 2020 election or overturn the results. This is despite the Trump Administration’s Department of Homeland Security calling the election “the most secure in American history.”  We must respond to these threats head on to protect those who are working on the frontlines of our democracy.

The increase in threats is widespread. According to a survey of election workers earlier this year, nearly one in three felt unsafe because of their job, nearly one in six received threats of violence, and more than one in six were concerned about their lives being threatened.  This onslaught of threats against election workers is unacceptable, and it also raises serious concerns about the ability to recruit and retain election workers needed to administer future elections. 

While existing laws protect voters from intimidation and violence, additional specific protections are needed for officials, workers, and volunteers responsible for operating polling stations, counting and processing ballots, and certifying election results. The lack of clear guidance for law enforcement left many election workers at risk, and in some instances election workers were told that threats against their safety are “protected political speech.” The Department of Justice has previously acknowledged the “inadequate” response to threats against election workers, and the need to do more to protect them from harm.  

One investigation identified hundreds of hostile messages received by election workers or their families following the 2020 election, 102 of which were threats of death or violence.  However, that same investigation found only four known arrests and none of those resulted in a conviction. 

We must ensure that election workers are able to do their jobs free from threats, intimidation, or other improper influence. While Congress must pass stronger protections for election workers such as those in the Protecting Election Administration from Interference Act, the Preventing Election Subversion Act, the Election Worker and Polling Place Protection Act, and the Freedom to Vote Act, we also urge the Justice Department to take additional action under existing law. It is for this reason that we respectfully request an update on the actions that the Department’s Task Force has taken so far and on its plans to facilitate the reporting, investigation, and prosecution of threats against election officials and election workers. We also ask that you provide the following information:

  1. The number of threats against election workers, officials, volunteers or their families that have been identified by the Task Force, broken down by state.
  2. The number of completed and ongoing investigations based upon those identified threats.
  3. Any guidance issued to or by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or United States Attorney’s Offices regarding the prioritization of investigations and prosecutions of threats against election officials and election workers.

We commend the Department of Justice for taking these threats seriously and establishing the Election Threats Task Force earlier this year to receive and assess allegations and reports of threats against election workers. The Task Force makes clear that the Justice Department is prioritizing the identification, investigation, and prosecution of those who threaten or seek to harm election workers.

Thank you for your attention to the important matter and for your efforts to protect the election workers who administer the free and fair elections essential to our democracy.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), along with Reps. Dean Phillips (D-MN-3) and David Cicilline (D-RI-1) led a number of their congressional colleagues in a bicameral request urging President Biden to form an initiative to coordinate federal policies that will reshape and rebuild the economy so that it works for all. In a pair of letters penned by the three Senators and 18 House Representatives, the lawmakers requested that the proposed White House Initiative on Inclusive Economic Growth – originally envisioned by a coalition of impact-oriented organizations – build on the Administration’s ongoing efforts to address three monumental crises facing the nation: the COVID-19 economic fallout; a widening racial wealth gap; and climate change.

“While we support passing much of your Build Back Better Agenda through a budget reconciliation package, we believe it is also essential that the Administration prioritize executive action to reform capitalism in such a way that short-term profits and shareholder primacy no longer take center stage,” wrote the Senators. “A White House Initiative on Inclusive Economic Growth could play a central coordinating role between policy councils, executive agencies, and independent agencies in promoting equitable economic policy. The Initiative could also serve to convene private sector and civil society organizations that increasingly recognize the critical nature of a transition towards stakeholder capitalism.”

The Senators continued, “By changing the incentives for corporations and investors, we can lessen the disregard too often shown towards workers, environmental harms, or racial and gender inequity. And by renewing focus on community investing, we can work to mitigate the historic harms of disinvestment in Black, brown, tribal, and rural communities.”

In a separate letter, the House Representatives wrote, “The past year has exacerbated existing crises and brought the United States to an existential crossroads. The pandemic and the resulting economic fallout, systemic racial injustice, and the rising threat of climate change call for bold but necessary action: rebuilding our economy so that it works for all Americans. To address these issues, we need to change the underlying structures that have perpetuated them.”

“Several agencies are already beginning to prioritize more inclusive economic growth and community investing, including Treasury, the SEC, the Department of Commerce and others. In order to realize the full potential of these reforms across the federal government, we need coordination and prioritization from the Biden Administration,” they continued. “The principles behind stakeholder capitalism and community investing are increasingly being embraced across industries and in both the public and private sectors. With this new Initiative, we believe the White House can tap into a growing movement and ensure we transform these ideas into lasting, impactful policy.”

This bicameral effort has the support of organizations like B Lab and USIIA.

“We are motivated and excited by the support we are seeing for the White House Initiative on Inclusive Economic Growth. Now, more than ever, we have the momentum to drive inclusive economic growth through a partnership with the White House and Congress, have a say in rules and incentives for many of our decision-makers in corporate boardrooms and on Wall Street, and catalyze new investment for small businesses that line Main Street,” said Andrew Kassoy, co-founder and CEO of B Lab, a global network of organizations transforming the global economic system and one of the more than 50 organizations calling for the proposed White House Initiative.

“We are thankful for the leadership and support we have received from Sen. Warner, Reps. Phillips and Cicilline and many of their colleagues. The proposed initiative is the brainchild of more than 50 organizations that have dedicated their work to driving impact for underserved communities and in turn, building toward a more just and equitable economy. We look forward to partnering with Congress, the Administration and peers in the private sector on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to build back better and ensure that local economies and the capital markets work for all Americans,”said Fran Seegull, president of U.S. Impact Investing Alliance, one of the more than 50 organizations calling for the proposed White House Initiative.

Joining Reps. Phillips and Cicilline in the House letter are U.S. Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY-05), Adam Smith (D-WA-09), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47), Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ-09), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA-11), Judy Chu (D-CA-27), Betty McCollum (D-MN-04), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), André Carson (D-IN-07), Joe Neguse (D-CO-02), Jamie Raskin (D-MD-08), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-12), Yvette Clarke (D-NY-09), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY-07), Donald Beyer Jr. (D-VA-08), and Kathleen Rice (D-NY-04).

Full text of the Senate letter is available here. Text of the House letter is available here. 

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA-02), sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland today requesting that she direct the National Park Service to accept a 40-acre donation of land that would enhance and protect the Fort Monroe National Monument.

“Despite Fort Monroe’s significance to American history and exceptional recreational value, the monument, as it exists today, includes a very small number of historic buildings and fee ownership of less than half the property’s 565 acres. The fortress itself – the largest stone fort constructed in North America – remains in state ownership, while an easement allows the Park Service some control over its use. Virginia retains full responsibility for the fortress and the dozens of historic buildings on the property,” wrote the lawmakers.

“This donation would establish a physical connection between the two sections of Fort Monroe, creating an unbroken coastline along the Chesapeake Bay from Old Point Comfort to the northern end of the property,” they continued. “Despite the expected additional modest federal financial responsibility that would be expected from a land donation, we believe the cause of protecting and enhancing Fort Monroe is worth the Park Service’s additional investment. Fort Monroe has a unique and diverse history to tell and a tremendous amount of untapped potential we believe can be unlocked.”

Fort Monroe was built between 1819 and 1834 to protect the entrance to Hampton Roads. During the Civil War, Major General Benjamin Butler issued his famous “contraband decision” at Fort Monroe, ordering that escaped slaves who reached Union lines could not be returned to bondage. It was this consequential decision that earned Fort Monroe the nickname “Freedom's Fortress.”

In 2019, following the Trump Administration’s failure to accept the land donation, Sens. Warner and Kaine introduced legislation to add these 40 acres to Fort Monroe in order to unify the two divided sections and achieve an unbroken coastline along the Chesapeake Bay.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below: 

Dear Secretary Haaland:

We write today to request that you direct the National Park Service to accept a pending 40-acre land donation from the Commonwealth of Virginia to the Fort Monroe National Monument. The addition of this land would accomplish a longtime goal of connecting the eastern section of the property and would help protect the monument for future generations.

In 2011, then-President Barack Obama designated Fort Monroe a national monument using his authority under the Antiquities Act. Fort Monroe holds a special place in Virginia and our nation’s history that tells a unique, complicated, and diverse story. Despite Fort Monroe’s significance to American history and exceptional recreational value, the monument, as it exists today, includes a very small number of historic buildings and fee ownership of less than half the property’s 565 acres. The fortress itself – the largest stone fort constructed in North America – remains in state ownership, while an easement allows the Park Service some control over its use. Virginia retains full responsibility for the fortress and the dozens of historic buildings on the property.

In 2015, the Commonwealth of Virginia agreed to donate approximately 40 coastal acres including additional land in the Wherry Quarter to Fort Monroe, to enhance and protect the monument. Following a thorough review, the Park Service indicated it could accept a land donation of approximately 40 acres in the eastern section of the Wherry Quarter. This donation would establish a physical connection between the two sections of Fort Monroe, creating an unbroken coastline along the Chesapeake Bay from Old Point Comfort to the northern end of the property. The Commonwealth remains committed to donating this property to Fort Monroe and is willing to work with the Park Service to determine the best use for the property.

The approximately 40 acres of coastal land contain several low-rise non-historic buildings, which could be demolished or utilized for alternative purposes. We understand the Commonwealth has continued to negotiate in good faith to lease these buildings to new tenants, which would mitigate any potential costs to the Park Service. Despite the expected additional modest federal financial responsibility that would be expected from a land donation, we believe the cause of protecting and enhancing Fort Monroe is worth the Park Service’s additional investment. Fort Monroe has a unique and diverse history to tell and a tremendous amount of untapped potential we believe can be unlocked.

Acceptance of this land donation would demonstrate to the Commonwealth that the Park Service is a reliable federal partner that can be relied on to follow through on its plans. In recent years, Virginia and the Park Service have endorsed a “One Fort Monroe” concept, which has the goal of elevating Fort Monroe as a national treasure and unlocking the landmark’s vast historical and recreational potential. Recently, the Commonwealth has worked collaboratively with the Park Service to open a new combined visitor center and hosted a successful 400th anniversary commemoration event regarding the arrival of the first Africans in North America. Moving forward with this land donation will help strengthen the relationship between the Commonwealth and Fort Monroe and help the monument move closer to realizing its vast potential.

We respectfully request that the Department of the Interior move forward with accepting this land donation from the Commonwealth of Virginia as quickly as possible. This transfer has been delayed for too long and the time is now for this donation to move forward. We appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to your response.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter to Biden Administration officials pushing for increased communication and coordination with Virginia localities and institutions supporting Operation Allies Welcome (OAW), which seeks to resettle vulnerable Afghans, including those who worked on behalf of the United States.

Sens. Warner and Kaine are calling for clearer and more direct lines of communication between the federal government and Virginia localities and entities assisting OAW, to ensure that the operation is running with the safety and the efficiency that it requires.

“We are encouraged by efforts that officials have taken to coordinate at the local level, including Secretary Mayorkas’ call with local officials, outreach from military leaders to the communities around their installations, and the establishment of local coordinating officials on military bases. These efforts facilitate communication and help address concerns that local communities may have, and most critically, help align state and local resources to complement and support the federal government’s efforts,” wrote the Senators.

“We continue to believe, however, that the federal government – specifically the departments and agencies that are coordinating and running OAW on the ground – must do more to develop clear and explicit lines of communication, acknowledge the concerns and questions of local communities, and coordinate the operation so that states and localities can effectively support and backstop the operation with minimal disruption,” they continued.

The Senators, who have heard concerns related to capacity and resources from localities that are supporting the operation, also pose a number of questions for DHS in its role overseeing OAW. These questions touch on the availability of medical resources and personnel, as well as on COVID-19 vaccine administration policies and procedures.

Full text of the letter can be found here and below:

The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas

Secretary

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C. 20528

Robert J. Fenton, Jr.

Senior Response Official

Unified Coordination Group

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Washington, D.C. 20024

Dear Secretary Mayorkas and Mr. Fenton:

We write today to urge increased coordination and improved communication with Virginia localities and institutions that are assisting with Operation Allies Welcome (OAW), and to reiterate concerns that our offices have received about the resources and level of support that the federal government is providing to these local communities and entities.

As we’ve traveled throughout the Commonwealth, we have heard from citizens and local elected officials alike that their communities are honored to participate in this historic and worthy operation. From arrival at Dulles International Airport to housing and processing at the Dulles Expo Center, Fort Lee, Fort Pickett, and Marine Corps Base Quantico, the United States would have been unable to shelter and care for these refugees as quickly without the resources provided by the Commonwealth.

Virginians continue to work to support Operation Allies Welcome at all levels. The Commonwealth and many localities have generously offered resources, and we have no doubt that Virginians will continue to assist however they are able.

We are encouraged by efforts that officials have taken to coordinate at the local level, including Secretary Mayorkas’ call with local officials, outreach from military leaders to the communities around their installations, and the establishment of local coordinating officials on military bases. These efforts facilitate communication and help address concerns that local communities may have, and most critically, help align state and local resources to complement and support the federal government’s efforts.

We continue to believe, however, that the federal government – specifically the departments and agencies that are coordinating and running OAW on the ground – must do more to develop clear and explicit lines of communication, acknowledge the concerns and questions of local communities, and coordinate the operation so that states and localities can effectively support and backstop the operation with minimal disruption. 

We remain concerned about the impacts that insufficient coordination and communication have had so far, especially related to healthcare operations in Northern Virginia. We again urge, to the greatest extent possible, full coordination with local officials and entities who can help manage the logistics and balance resources on behalf of local communities.

We would also like to reiterate concerns related to local capacity to assist the federal government, and in turn, the federal government’s ability to support local communities in these efforts. Our offices have previously raised these concerns with OAW personnel. In particular, we are seeking answers to the following:

  1. Military installation medical capacity. On August 25th, the Department of Defense authorized the use of Marine Corps Base Quantico and Fort Pickett as part of the Department’s support of this operation, with announced capacities of 5,000 and 10,000 individuals, respectively. This was in addition to the existing capacity at Fort Lee.
    1. What are the current and anticipated medical capabilities and capacities at each of these installations? What degree of care is OAW able to provide entirely on-base, without needing to access health resources in local communities?
    2. What steps is OAW taking to surge these capabilities and capacities, to bring in additional personnel and resources from other installations and locations, and to safely provide as much quality medical care on-base as possible? What efforts is OAW making to offer specialty care, including, in particular, prenatal and obstetric care?
  2. Support for local communities’ medical capacity. Nationwide and in Virginia, hospitals and health centers are struggling due to ongoing challenges related to COVID-19, staffing shortages, and other serious medical capacity concerns. Hospitals and health providers in the areas surrounding these bases have indicated that they are already near capacity, given these pandemic and staffing constraints.
    1. What support or assistance is OAW currently providing to states, localities, and local hospitals and health providers – whether supplies, resources, funding, staffing, or otherwise – to help them manage the additional demands from increased populations in their regions? Is there further assistance available that these entities should be availing themselves of to help meet demand?
    2. What contingency plans are in place for providing appropriate medical care if local hospitals and community health providers reach full capacity? Please include contingencies both for OAW to provide appropriate care to Afghan individuals and families, and for the federal government to help local communities expand their ability to provide appropriate care to members of their communities.
  3. COVID-19 vaccine. Please clarify the official policy with regard to Afghan individuals and families receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, including the timing of the vaccine being required relative to their entering the U.S. What efforts are underway to speed up vaccinations and to administer vaccines earlier with respect to the arrival of Afghans into the U.S.?

We appreciate the efforts that you and the dedicated men and women of your workforce have made during this historic operation. We also commend states and localities around the country for their efforts to support this mission, and the pride with which they have done so.

So that this operation can run with the safety and efficiency that it requires, and that all associated individuals and families deserve, we urge you to ensure that OAW is operating as a constructive partner to states and localities, and to make sure these states and localities have the support and resources that they require to meet both their needs, and the extraordinary aims of this operation. Should your agency have any questions or an immediate response to the concerns outlined, please contact our staff at Zach_Lewis@warner.senate.gov and Ausan_AlEryanI@kaine.senate.gov.

Cc:

The Honorable Lloyd J. Austin III

Secretary of Defense

U.S. Department of Defense

 

The Honorable Xavier Becerra

Secretary of Health & Human Services

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

 

WASHINGTON – As Labor Day weekend approaches, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) along with Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-NJ) are pressing product safety regulators to include beach umbrellas in their testing protocols as they work to develop new safety standards for umbrellas sold to consumers. It’s the latest push in the senators’ continued effort to protect beachgoers following multiple accidents involving wind-swept beach umbrellas, including in 2016, when Lottie Michelle Belk of Chester, Va. was struck in the torso and killed while vacationing in Virginia Beach with her family. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have previously pushed for increased safety measures in a 2019 letter to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). In addition, the senators have called for a public safety campaign to educate the public about the dangers of beach umbrellas.  

“Given the grave danger posed by beach umbrellas we feel it is imperative that ASTM include beach umbrellas in any new test methods,” the senators wrote to ASTM International Subcommittee Chair Ben Favret. “Summer is in full swing, and as millions of newly vaccinated Americans emerge from their homes to spend time at the shore, we must do all we can to ensure the safety of beach umbrellas.”

ASTM International—a nonprofit that often partners with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to develop technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services—last year began testing the safety and durability of market umbrellas in various wind conditions. Unfortunately it has continued to exclude beach umbrellas from this testing regimen, instead limiting it to patio and weighted-base umbrellas. 

Assessing the risks associated with using certain products under specific conditions is a critical step towards developing new product safety standards, recommendations, and best practices to mitigate the risk.    

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an estimated 2,800 people sought treatment at emergency rooms for beach umbrella-related injuries from 2010-2018

 Full text of the letter is below and can be downloaded here:

Ben Favret

Subcommittee Chair, ASTM F15.79

ASTM International

100 Barr Harbor Drive

West Conshohocken, PA 19428

 

Dear Mr. Favret:

We write to urge ASTM International to update its testing method standard to account for wind speed as it relates to beach umbrellas.

As you note on your website, “[t]he deleterious effects of a Market Umbrellas [sic] being blow[n] over or broken by wind forces can range from acute injury, such as cuts or bruises to blunt force trauma, such as concussions or broken bones and in some cases death.”  Further, you state that “[t]he lack of any voluntary standard for the safe performance of Market Umbrellas puts millions of consumers and employees around the world at risk unnecessarily.”  Indeed, as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) stated in a June 2019 letter to the Senate, over the nine-year period from 2010-2018, an estimated 2,800 people sought treatment in emergency rooms for injuries related to beach umbrellas.  A majority of those injuries were caused by a wind-blown beach umbrella. 

In March 2021, the CPSC wrote to ASTM requesting that it “expand the standard to address fully the hazards of injuries and death due to beach umbrellas implanted in the sand.”  In addition, the agency suggested “mentioning the known fatality in the introduction of the standard, along with the injury data already there”.  We could not agree more. Given the grave danger posed by beach umbrellas we feel it is imperative that ASTM include beach umbrellas in any new test methods.

Summer is in full swing, and as millions of newly vaccinated Americans emerge from their homes to spend time at the shore, we must do all we can to ensure the safety of beach umbrellas. We appreciate ASTM’s willingness to consider this issue.  Should you have further questions please contact Shelby Boxenbaum in Senator Menendez’s office at 202-224-4744.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter to the Virginia District Manager of the United States Postal Service (USPS) urging him to address the widespread delivery delays across Virginia in recent months. In their letter, the Senators called on Virginia District Manager Gerald Roane to create additional contingency plans to address existing staff shortages and capacity challenges and ensure that Virginians do not miss mail deliveries for days or weeks at a time.

We write to share great concern regarding the continued widespread delivery delays across Virginia in the recent months. We have heard from hundreds of constituents, specifically in the Central Virginia region, who have shared stories about severe delivery delays adversely impacting their lives. Additionally, we continue to seek answers about staffing shortages and other circumstances that have led to such delays and actions that are being taken to prevent future issues,” the Senators wrote to Virginia District Manager Gerald Roane.

In their letter, Sens. Warner and Kaine cite the concerns of one Charlottesville resident, who shared that she has not had a mail carrier assigned to her delivery route since January, leaving her “virtually no first class mail delivery” for more than eight monthsThe same constituent shared that she is missing bills and tax documents, among other things, due to this lack of postal service.

This troubling decline in on-time mail is causing constraints to many Virginians who are now receiving unexpected late fees due to delayed payments, missed paychecks, late prescriptions on critical medications, and much more,” they continued. “Deborah’s story is among countless others that we have received. Additionally, despite numerous requests, USPS officials have not provided relevant and updated data and mail delivery times. However, the outpour of constituent outreach demonstrates the substantial decline in on-time delivery in recent months and the devastating impact that it has had on millions of Americans. We urge you to review and implement processes to fill vacant postal positions and expedite the delivery of mail.”

In February, the Senators pressed U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on continued widespread mail service delays throughout the Commonwealth. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been vocal about reversing any changes to USPS that have affected the reliability of mail delivery. In August 2020, they joined their colleagues in a letter asking  Postmaster General DeJoy not to take any further action that makes it harder and more expensive for states and election jurisdictions to mail ballots ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Additionally, last summer, the Senators raised concerns regarding the operational and structural changes implemented by Postmaster General DeJoy and the impact they would have on timely mail delivery. In response to these concerns, U.S. Postmaster DeJoy temporarily halted some, though not all, of the operational changes planned until after the November 2020 election. 

Full text of the letter is here and below.

Mr. Gerald Roane

Virginia District Manager

United States Postal Service

1801 Brook Road

Richmond, VA 23232

 

Dear Mr. Roane:

We write to share great concern regarding the continued widespread delivery delays across Virginia in the recent months. We have heard from hundreds of constituents, specifically in the Central Virginia region, who have shared stories about severe delivery delays adversely impacting their lives. Additionally, we continue to seek answers about staffing shortages and other circumstances that have led to such delays and actions that are being taken to prevent future issues. 

Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has played a critical role in keeping Virginians connected and safe. Whether it is the delivery of groceries, household necessities, or medications, countless Virginians continue to depend on USPS as a critical link to vital resources. For this reason, we are deeply troubled to see that timely mail delivery has precipitously continued to decline in Virginia.

While we seek a general explanation of the factors contributing to substandard delivery rates, we specifically seek explanations with respect to two primary issues raised by our constituents:

1.      USPS government liaisons have cited temporary staff shortages and capacity challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic as contributing factors to recent delays. Constituents have shared stories about USPS’s inability to replace postal carriers who are temporarily out due to illness, injury, or on leave.[1] Insufficient staffing has had profound impacts on our constituents.

2.      Many of our constituents in Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and surrounding jurisdictions are reporting that they are not receiving any mail for days or weeks at a time.[2]

We understand that many of these challenges could be due to staffing shortages, but implore you to create additional contingency plans to ensure that delivery routes do not miss mail deliveries for days at a time because a letter carrier is out.

This troubling decline in on-time mail is causing constraints to many Virginians who are now receiving unexpected late fees due to delayed payments, missed paychecks, late prescriptions on critical medications, and much more.[3] Specifically, I would like to direct your attention to one of our constituents, Deborah from Charlottesville, who recounts her firsthand frustration with recent USPS service.

Deborah shares that, “In addition to the nationwide problems with mail and the post office, those of us living in … Charlottesville, Virginia, have a special, additional difficulty hinging on the failure … to assign a mail carrier to our route. The person assigned our route went on maternity leave, as I understand it, in October, 2020, and as this is a new year, her additional 12 weeks maternity leave means she will stay off until approximately April 2021. During 2020, we had a wonderful substitute … But, starting in January, it seems we have had no person assigned this route. Hence, starting in January, we have had virtually no first class mail delivery … I personally have received none of my “informed delivery”, [and] have received in the last few weeks a total of approximately 5 pieces of first class mail, though I would normally get at least 3-5 times that much. Two of the 5 pieces were received on Friday January 29, but had been mailed Dec 28, and Jan 4. There are important items I need which cannot be emailed, and which have been remailed due to the apparent loss, and neither mailing has been received. I am also missing bills, tax documents and who know[s] what else. The rest of the community is in the same boat. Most urgently, I was contacted last night by an elderly neighbor who is desperate because she and her husband are not getting their pension checks. She visits the local P.O. regularly, she told me, pleading for her mail, but she says no one seems to care…” 

Deborah’s story is among countless others that we have received. Additionally, despite numerous requests, USPS officials have not provided relevant and updated data and mail delivery times. However, the outpour of constituent outreach demonstrates the substantial decline in on-time delivery in recent months and the devastating impact that it has had on millions of Americans. We urge you to review and implement processes to fill vacant postal positions and expedite the delivery of mail. 

Americans depend on the Postal Service for high-quality, reliable service, especially during the extraordinarily difficult times that they have experienced due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

To that end, we ask that you answer the following questions by September 3, 2021: 

1.      To what does USPS attribute the rapid decline in on-time delivery rates of mail in the Charlottesville region? 

2.      Since December 2020, has USPS pursued any changes to remedy these drastic delays in mail and significant personnel shortages needed to meet the demand in mail? Please describe, in detail, if there were any efforts to surge resources and staffing in Charlottesville.

3.      Please describe, in detail, the steps you have taken to respond to customers who have been harmed by these mail delays. Has USPS pursued initiatives to locate packages and mail that are significantly delayed (more than two weeks beyond expected delivery) and to expedite their processing and delivery? 

4.      Please provide monthly staffing numbers for postal carriers and mail handlers in all of the USPS offices in Charlottesville, Virginia since December 2020. How many postal carrier positions are currently vacant? How many positions need to be filled to meet capacity needs and ensure that the mail delivery division is properly staffed?

5.      Please share any data that you have on the delivery rates of mail-order medications in Charlottesville and the Virginia district. What action has USPS taken and does it plan to take to prioritize mail-order medications in light of mounting mail delays? 

6.      Please share any data on mail delivery performance in Charlottesville and the Virginia district.  

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to working with the United States Postal Service during the 117th Congress to ensure that it remains a working institution for all Americans.

Sincerely,

###

Today, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and the Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), joined Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) in a bipartisan letter urging the Biden Administration to address the quickly-deteriorating situation in Afghanistan that threatens the lives of tens of thousands of Afghan partners.    

In the letter, the Senators call for the urgent evacuation of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and their families. They urge the Administration to enforce strategic agency coordination and hold the Hamid Karzai International Airport to ensure the safety of Afghan partners and their families, as well as U.S. citizens. The letter marks the latest congressional response to the danger posed by the Taliban to Afghan allies who aided the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. 

“The Taliban’s rapid ascendancy across Afghanistan and takeover of Kabul should not cause us to break our promise to the Afghans who helped us operate over the past twenty years and are counting on us for assistance. American inaction would ensure they become refugees or prime targets for Taliban retribution,” the Senators wrote.  

“Specifically, we urge continued coordination between the Departments of State and Defense to secure and hold Hamid Karzai International Airport, including to allow for the continuation of military flights and the resumption of commercial and charter flights. We also urge your Administration to assist with the passage of individuals to the airport to safety – both those within Kabul and those outside of the capital – as well as to consider cases where Afghans fleeing quickly may not have been able to collect or gather appropriate documents,” the Senators added. “We were pleased that you immediately signed [our]…legislation to make extensive improvements to the SIV program into law three weeks ago, and now ask that you move just as quickly to ensure it is properly and fully implemented ensuring applicants and their families can get out of harm’s way.” 

Joining Senators Warner, Kaine, Shaheen, and Ernst in signing the letter were Senators Durbin (D-IL), Romney (R-UT), Reed (D-RI), Collins (R-ME), Leahy (D-VT), Graham (R-SC), Peters (D-MI), Rounds (R-SD), Menendez (D-NJ), Lummis (R-WY), Coons (D-DE), Sasse (R-NE), Warnock (D-GA), Cornyn (R-TX), Van Hollen (D-MD), Daines (R-MT), Duckworth (D-IL), Moran (R-KS), Gillibrand (D-NY), Marshall (R-KS), Markey (D-MA), Cardin (D-MD), Murphy (D-CT), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Stabenow (D-MI), Warren (D-MA), Manchin (D-WV), Hickenlooper (D-CO), Bennet (D-CO), Hassan (D-NH), Rosen (D-NV), Blumenthal (D-CT), Klobuchar (D-MN), Padilla (D-CA), Murray  (D-WA), King (I-ME), Heinrich (D-NM), Merkley (D-OR), Whitehouse (D-RI), Feinstein (D-CA), Schatz (D-HI), Sanders (I-VT), Hirono (D-HI), Carper (D-DE), Lujan (D-NM), Smith (D-MN), Ossoff (D-GA), Tester (D-MT), Brown (D-OH), Kelly (D-AZ), and Booker (D-NJ).

Senators Warner and Kaine are in close communication with the Administration and U.S. allies on the ground to ensure the safety and quick evacuation of U.S. personnel, Afghan partners, journalists, women leaders, activists, human rights defenders, and others. Their offices are working to help with the evacuation of Americans, as well as SIV-eligible and other at risk Afghans, to get them to safety as quickly as possible.

Earlier this week, Warner and Kaine joined their Senate colleagues in a bipartisan letter calling on the Administration to take swift, robust action to protect and support Afghan women leaders facing unparalleled danger following the Taliban’s violent sweep across Afghanistan and seizure of Kabul.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below

Dear Mr. President,   

We write to urge the immediate and full implementation of recently-passed legislation amending the process and eligibility for the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program and for the urgent evacuation of SIV applicants whose service to the U.S. mission has put their lives in jeopardy. As you know, this critical program provides safety for the brave Afghans who served alongside United States troops in support of the U.S. missions in Afghanistan. As the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates, these individuals face increased danger at the hands of the Taliban that has sworn retribution. For this reason, Congress provided additional authorities to improve and expedite the application process while maintaining the program’s security and integrity. We implore your Administration to expeditiously implement these changes and immediately evacuate our Afghan allies to safety.  

The United States led coalition forces in Afghanistan for nearly twenty years following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Our mission safeguarded the American homeland safe from terrorist attacks, eliminated Osama bin Laden, and delivered freedom and education to a generation of Afghan women and children. At every step of the way, our mission was supported by Afghans who fought alongside us for a better future for their country. They risked their safety and the well-being of their families to work with the United States. With the departure of U.S. forces and Taliban rule in place, the safety and security of our Afghan allies who put their lives on the line to help our service members and diplomats must be a top priority.   

For this reason, we urge you to continue the expeditious evacuation of SIV applicants and their families. At your direction, on July 17 the United States launched Operation Allies Refuge in order to evacuate SIV applicants in danger from the Taliban’s advances. We appreciate that this effort has already brought 2,000 Afghans, including primary SIV applicants and their families, to the United States. However many more remain. The Taliban’s rapid ascendancy across Afghanistan and takeover of Kabul should not cause us to break our promise to the Afghans who helped us operate over the past twenty years and are counting on us for assistance. American inaction would ensure they become refugees or prime targets for Taliban retribution.   

Specifically, we urge continued coordination between the Departments of State and Defense to secure and hold Hamid Karzai International Airport, including to allow for the continuation of military flights and the resumption of commercial and charter flights. We also urge your Administration to assist with the passage of individuals to the airport to safety – both those within Kabul and those outside of the capital – as well as to consider cases where Afghans fleeing quickly may not have been able to collect or gather appropriate documents.?    

Additionally, the support and protection of our Afghan allies is why Congress recently passed, with broad bipartisan support, legislation to make extensive changes to the SIV program. We did so with the goal of improving the process for applicants while maintaining our national security. We were pleased that you immediately signed this legislation to make extensive improvements to the SIV program into law three weeks ago, and now ask that you move just as quickly to ensure it is properly and fully implemented ensuring applicants and their families can get out of harm’s way.  

To this end, we respectfully request that your Administration immediately implement all aspects of the statute as Congress intended, including:   

1.       Updating internal and external guidance to reflect the change in the employment requirement for eligibility from two years of service to one. This adjustment of eligibility must be applied to all pending applications, including those on appeal which have been denied on the basis of insufficient duration of service but whose appeal is still eligible to be re-adjudicated. To ensure that this change is fully implemented, we ask that all staff who are charged with processing applications receive training to apply the 12 month standard to all pending applications and appeals.   

2.       The issuance of special immigrant visas to all applicants and their qualified family members that have passed all steps of the visa process and only await a medical exam. The adjustment of status conferred by a SIV is preferable both to the processing of visas and to the applicants than paroling evacuated individuals into the country, thus requiring additional filings to confer the statuses included in a SIV.   

3.       Full and immediate repeal of the “sensitive and trusted” requirement for individuals employed by or on behalf of the NATO-led military mission in Afghanistan, as required by the Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021, as well as those employed by or on behalf of the United States government. Congress repealed the “sensitive and trusted” requirement from U.S. government employment in December 2019, but as of this date we are not satisfied that it has been fully implemented. We expect the Department of State to implement the removal of “sensitive and trusted” activities from NATO-led forces support immediately, re-open the cases of any U.S. government employees who have been denied Chief of Mission approval for lack of “sensitive and trusted employment” since December 2019, and expeditiously update internal and external guidance to reflect this change.  

4.       The process for appeals of denials. As newly amended, the law now allows that, if an appeal is denied for a reason not listed in the initial denial, the applicant must be allowed an opportunity to address the new denial ground. This allowance is due to the high success rate for appeals when the cause of denial is known to the applicant. As with other changes to the law, we request that your Administration ensure that this change applies to all applications within the appeal period. This spares applicants the time and effort of re-applying and conserves the precious processing resources of the U.S. government.  

5.       Prioritization of applications based on date of the initial application. We once again clarify that the “prioritization” scheme that was introduced in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019 is no longer law. In addition, all application processing must comply with the Congressionally-mandated nine month processing requirement.   

6.       Full transparency and adequate guidance for applicants. This includes, but is not limited to, updating all public websites maintained by the relevant U.S. government authorities to provide applicants with complete information about eligibility and process for applying. Most applicants do not have access to legal counsel for the sake of understanding the current process. All changes in program eligibility must be readily accessible and all changes that impact current applicants must be communicated directly to applicants.   

We appreciate the efforts that you and your Administration have made on behalf of Afghans who worked in support of the U.S. in Afghanistan. We must now concentrate all U.S. efforts on supporting and protecting our Afghan allies. Anything short of full implementation results in grave security implications. You have the strong support of both chambers of Congress to ensure that no additional Afghan lives are needlessly lost.   

###

WASHINGTON —Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to the White House recommending Ms. Juval Scott and U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Ballou to fill the upcoming vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Abingdon Division, which will be created when Judge James P. Jones assumes senior status on August 30, 2021.  

Ms. Scott is currently the Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Virginia. She has also served as an Assistant Federal Defender in the Eastern District of Wisconsin and Southern District of Indiana. As an Attorney Advisor at the Administrative Office of Courts, Defender Services Office, Training Division, she worked to develop and implement national, state, and local training programs for public defenders. As a public defender, Ms. Scott has represented hundreds of indigent clients. If nominated and confirmed, Ms. Scott would be the first African American judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. 

Judge Ballou has served as a Federal Magistrate Judge in the Western District since 2011. Prior to joining the bench, he spent twenty-three years in private practice. He tried fifty cases before juries over that period of time. On the bench, he has overseen a wide variety of federal civil and criminal matters, conducted dozens of misdemeanor criminal trials, and several civil jury trials. He has also dedicated time and attention to the Veterans Court and the prisoner pro se docket. 

“Both would serve with great distinction and have our highest recommendation,” said the senators. “Ultimately, we believe either of these individuals would win confirmation from the Senate and serve capably on the bench.”

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia is based in Roanoke. Appeals from the Western District of Virginia are taken to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. President Biden will nominate one individual for the position, which is subject to confirmation by the full Senate. 

The full text of today’s letter appears here and below:

 

Dear Mr. President:

We are pleased to recommend Ms. Juval Scott and U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Ballou for the vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Abingdon Division, following the decision by Judge James P. Jones to take senior status effective August 30, 2021. Both would serve with great distinction and have our highest recommendation. 

Ms. Scott is currently the Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Virginia. In this position, she manages three offices of the Federal Public Defender in Roanoke, Charlottesville, and Abingdon, Virginia. She has also served as an Assistant Federal Defender in the Eastern District of Wisconsin and the Southern District of Indiana. As an Attorney Advisor at the Administrative Office of Courts, Defender Services Office, Training Division, she worked to develop and implement national, state and local training programs for public defenders. She also initiated a federal program to diversify public defender offices. Ms. Scott has represented hundreds of indigent clients in the Western District of Virginia, Eastern District of Wisconsin, and Southern District of Indiana. This experience gives us confidence that Ms. Scott would make an excellent nominee for this seat.

We also recommend Judge Ballou, who has served as a Federal Magistrate Judge in the Western District since 2011. Prior to joining the bench, Judge Ballou spent 23 years in private practice and became well-acquainted with federal court practice in general and the Western District in particular. He tried 50 cases before juries over that period of time. On the bench, he has overseen a wide variety of federal civil and criminal matters, conducted dozens of misdemeanor criminal trials and several civil jury trials. He has also dedicated time and attention to the Veterans Court and the prisoner pro se docket. He has proven himself to be a jurist who is able to understand the salient points of arguments and render fair decisions. Together, these experiences qualify Judge Ballou for this nomination and we are honored to recommend him.

Ultimately, we believe either of these individuals would win confirmation from the Senate and serve capably on the bench. We are honored to recommend them to you.                                                    

Sincerely, 

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights; and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg asking about Facebook’s decision to terminate the ability of researchers at New York University’s Ad Observatory Project’s to access its platform.  

The independent researchers were studying political advertising on Facebook. Their research has produced several key discoveries including highlighting a lack of transparency in how advertisers target political ads online on Facebook. 

“We were surprised to learn that Facebook has terminated access to its platform for researchers connected with the NYU Ad Observatory project. The opaque and unregulated online advertising platforms that social media companies maintain have allowed a hotbed of disinformation and consumer scams to proliferate, and we need to find solutions to those problems,” the senators wrote.

The senators continued later in the letter: “...independent researchers are a critical part of the solution. While we agree that Facebook must safeguard user privacy, it is similarly imperative that Facebook allow credible academic researchers and journalists like those involved in the Ad Observatory project to conduct independent research that will help illuminate how the company can better tackle misinformation, disinformation, and other harmful activity that is proliferating on its platforms.”

The full text of the letter can be found below and HERE.

 

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,  

As you know, we are committed to protecting privacy for all Americans while eliminating the scourge that is disinformation and misinformation, particularly with regard to elections and the COVID-19 pandemic.

We were surprised to learn that Facebook has terminated access to its platform for researchers connected with the NYU Ad Observatory project. The opaque and unregulated online advertising platforms that social media companies maintain have allowed a hotbed of disinformation and consumer scams to proliferate, and we need to find solutions to those problems. The Ad Observatory project describes itself as “nonpartisan [and] independent…focused on improving the transparency of online political advertising.” Research efforts studying online advertising have helped inform consumers and policymakers about the extent to which your ad platform has been a vector for consumer scams and frauds, enabled hiring discrimination and discriminatory ads for financial services, and circumvented accessibility laws. Such work to improve the integrity of online advertising is critical to strengthening American democracy.

We appreciate Facebook’s ongoing efforts to address misinformation and disinformation on its platforms. But there is much more to do, and independent researchers are a critical part of the solution. While we agree that Facebook must safeguard user privacy, it is similarly imperative that Facebook allow credible academic researchers and journalists like those involved in the Ad Observatory project to conduct independent research that will help illuminate how the company can better tackle misinformation, disinformation, and other harmful activity that is proliferating on its platforms.

We therefore ask that you provide written answers to the following questions by August 20, 2021:

  1. How many accounts of researchers and journalists were terminated or otherwise disabled during 2021, including but not limited to researchers from the NYU Ad Observatory?
  2. Please explain why you terminated those accounts referenced in question 1. If you believe that the researchers violated Facebook’s terms of service, please describe how, in detail.
  3. If the researchers’ access violated Facebook’s terms of service, what steps are you taking to revise these terms to better accommodate research that improves the security and integrity of your platform?
  4. Facebook’s public statement about its decision to terminate the Ad Observatory researchers’ access said that research should not “compromis[e] people’s privacy.” Please explain how the researchers’ work compromised privacy of end-users.
  5. The Ad Observatory project asked Facebook users to voluntarily install a browser extension that would provide information available to that user about the ads that the user was shown. Facebook’s public statement says that the extension “collected data about Facebook users who did not install it or consent to the collection.” Were these non-consenting “users” advertisers whose advertising information was being collected and analyzed, other individual Facebook users, or both?
  6. Facebook has suggested that the NYU researchers potentially violated user privacy because the browser extension could have exposed the identity of users who liked or commented on an advertisement.  However, both researchers at NYU and other independent researchers have confirmed that the extension did not collect information beyond the frame of the ad, and that the program could not collect personal posts.  Given these technical constraints, what evidence does Facebook have to suggest that this research exposed personal information of non-consenting individuals?
  7. Facebook’s public statement explaining its decision to revoke access for the NYU researchers states that Facebook made this decision “in line with our privacy program under the FTC Order.” FTC Acting Bureau Director Samuel Levine sent you a letter dated August 5, 2021 in which he noted that “Had you honored your commitment to contact us in advance, we would have pointed out that the consent decree does not bar Facebook from creating exceptions for good-faith research in the public interest. Indeed, the FTC supports efforts to shed light on opaque business practices.”
    1. Why didn’t Facebook contact the FTC about its plans to disable researchers’ accounts?
    2. Does Facebook maintain that the FTC consent decree or other orders required it to disable access for the Ad Observatory researchers? If so, please explain with specificity which sections of which decree(s) compel that response.
    3. Are there measures Facebook could take to authorize the Ad Observatory research while remaining in compliance with FTC requirements?
    4. In light of Mr. Levine’s statement that the FTC Order does not require Facebook to disable the access of the Ad Observatory researchers, does Facebook intend to restore the Ad Observatory researchers’ access?
  8. In its public statement, Facebook highlighted tools that it offers to the academic community, including its Facebook Open Research and Transparency (FORT) initiative.  However, public reporting suggests that tool only includes data from the three month period before the November 2020 election, and further that it does not include ads seen by fewer than 100 people.
    1. Why does Facebook limit this data set to the three months prior to the November 2020 election?
    2. Why does Facebook limit this data set to ads seen by more than 100 people?
    3. What percentage of unique ads on Facebook are seen by more than 100 people?

 We look forward to your prompt responses.

# # #

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to Senate Leadership urging them to provide critical relief to restaurants, bars, and other small businesses in the food and beverage industries severely impacted by the pandemic. In their letter, the Senators point to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), established by the American Rescue Plan, and the help it provided to tens of thousands of establishments across the nation before funding ran out. The Senators call on Senate Leadership to bring up legislation that provides the RRF with additional funding to meet the outstanding demand for the program. In July, the Small Business Administration announced the RRF program received over 278,000 eligible applications requesting over $72 billion in funds – exceeding the $28.6 billion included in the American Rescue Plan.

“We write to you regarding the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), which was established by the American Rescue Plan to provide critical relief to restaurants, bars, and other small businesses in the food and beverage services sector. In light of the extraordinary demand for the program, we urge you to replenish the Fund to meet the current need among eligible applicants,” wrote the Senators.

“We urge you to bring up legislation that provides the RRF with additional funding to meet the outstanding demand for the program. Virginia’s restaurants play a major role in the Commonwealth’s economy, employing over 300,000 people prior to the pandemic. Ensuring that restaurants and similar small businesses in Virginia and across the country have the resources they need to stay solvent will facilitate a speedy economic recovery,” concluded the Senators.

Senators Kaine and Warner were both co-sponsors of the bipartisan Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive (RESTAURANTS) Act of 2020, legislation that led to the creation of the RRF but would have included $120 billion in funding to help independent restaurants deal with the long-term structural challenges facing the industry because of COVID-19.

A copy of the letter text can be found here and below:

Dear Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell:

We write to you regarding the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), which was established by the American Rescue Plan to provide critical relief to restaurants, bars, and other small businesses in the food and beverage services sector. In light of the extraordinary demand for the program, we urge you to replenish the Fund to meet the current need among eligible applicants.

The food and beverage industries have been among the hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with restaurant and food service sales down $280 billion from expected levels and restaurant jobs down 1.7 million from pre-pandemic levels. Even as restrictions are being lifted and the economy slowly rebounds, restaurants are only just beginning to recover from the devastating economic impact of the pandemic. In Virginia and across the country, restaurants continue to experience decreased sales, crippling staffing shortages, and significant debt burdens. Hundreds of Virginia restaurant owners have told us that they may have to close their doors permanently if they do not receive additional federal relief.

The $28.6 billion RRF has already started working to keep tens of thousands of these establishments across the nation open. However, demand has far outstripped the available funding. On July 2, 2021, Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Isabel Guzman announced the closure of the RRF program. SBA reported that they had received more than 278,000 eligible applications requesting a total of $72.2 billion in funding. As of June 30, 2021, approximately 101,000 of those applications had been approved.

We urge you to bring up legislation that provides the RRF with additional funding to meet the outstanding demand for the program. Virginia’s restaurants play a major role in the Commonwealth’s economy, employing over 300,000 people prior to the pandemic. Ensuring that restaurants and similar small businesses in Virginia and across the country have the resources they need to stay solvent will facilitate a speedy economic recovery. 

Thank you in advance for your attention to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) joined Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and 13 of their colleagues in calling on Senate Leadership to address the needs of Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories in ongoing infrastructure efforts. The network of 17 National Laboratories across the United States advance critical missions for the Department and additional investments in restoring and modernizing National Lab infrastructure will support scientific and economic competitiveness while creating thousands of new, good-paying jobs.  

Joining Senator Luján in the letter are Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J).

“As we turn to infrastructure we respectfully request that you include investments in the nation’s scientific infrastructure, including the Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories. Funding for maintenance, repairs, and the modernization of National Lab infrastructure will ensure our nation's continued scientific and economic competitiveness; create thousands of high-quality, well-paying construction jobs; and attract the best and brightest scientists to national service.” the Senators wrote. 

“Modern, reliable infrastructure at the National Laboratories is critical to support world-class science that provides a strong foundation for the nation’s economic competitiveness, prosperity, and security,” the Senators continued. “Unfortunately, our National Lab network suffers from a maintenance backlog from decades of underfunding that puts the labs’ successful and efficient execution of this mission at risk.”  

Full text of the letter is available HERE and below: 

 

Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell,

We appreciate your efforts to advance our nation’s competitiveness, address pressing infrastructure needs, and jumpstart the economy and put people back to work in the aftermath of the current COVID-19 pandemic. As we turn to infrastructure we respectfully request that you include investments in the nation’s scientific infrastructure, including the Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories. Funding for maintenance, repairs, and the modernization of National Lab infrastructure will ensure our nation's continued scientific and economic competitiveness; create thousands of high-quality, well-paying construction jobs; and attract the best and brightest scientists to national service. As part of DOE National Laboratory modernization efforts, we also urge you to fund the construction and upgrades of DOE-approved, shovel-ready world-class scientific, advanced energy, and national security facilities at our National Labs.

The DOE maintains a network of 17 National Laboratories that advance the science, technology, energy, environmental, and national security missions of the Department. Although the labs are managed by the DOE, they help find solutions to a broad set of challenges of national importance, ranging from the use of artificial intelligence to improve health services and outcomes for our nation’s veterans to advancing quantum information science that will lead to next-generation communications networks and computers.

Located at National Laboratories and universities across the country are world-class research facilities, including particle accelerators, experimental reactors, isotope reactor, X-ray synchrotron and free-electron laser light sources, fusion and pulsed power facilities, multi-axis X-ray machines that create 3D images of high density explosions, leadership-class supercomputers, and other high precision instrumentation. Modern infrastructure is also needed to support advanced nuclear demonstration projects; the modernization of the electric grid, including energy storage; and nonproliferation, counter proliferation, and counter terrorism missions.

More than 40,000 researchers from academia, industry, and other federal agencies use these unique, world-leading facilities to support their scientific pursuits. During the COVID-19 crisis, our National Labs have provided their expertise and facilities to help overcome the COVID-19 challenge, including the use of DOE’s supercomputers to search for treatments and vaccine therapies, X-ray light sources to understand the virus and identify potential vulnerabilities, unique characterization methods to develop more effective N95 mask filter media, and advanced manufacturing expertise to address the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators.

Modern, reliable infrastructure at the National Laboratories is critical to support world-class science that provides a strong foundation for the nation’s economic competitiveness, prosperity, and security. General-purpose infrastructure, such as office space, laboratory space, storage space, and utilities, forms the backbone of the National Laboratory enterprise and enables DOE’s mission. Unfortunately, our National Lab network suffers from a maintenance backlog from decades of underfunding that puts the labs’ successful and efficient execution of this mission at risk. The average age of DOE facilities is currently 37 years and the average age of the systems that support these facilities (e.g., water, sewage, electrical, roads) is 40 years. 

Across the DOE National Laboratory complex, there are shovel-ready infrastructure projects – from utility upgrades to new state-of-the-art research facilities – that could be dramatically accelerated through investment aimed at stimulating the economy and restoring critical infrastructure. As an example, utility systems across several laboratories are failing and require frequent, often costly, repairs. Many utilities and support buildings are rated substandard or inadequate. When necessary maintenance on a facility or utility system that is scheduled or should be performed is postponed, it is referred to as deferred maintenance. DOE’s deferred maintenance backlog has continued to grow. A dedicated, focused investment would go a long way toward recapitalizing and modernizing National Lab infrastructure and would immediately support thousands of high-quality, well-paying jobs. Maintaining, repairing, upgrading, and replacing general-purpose infrastructure would foster safe, efficient, reliable, and Environmentally responsible operations; boost morale of the scientific and engineering workforce at the National Laboratories; and demonstrate our nation’s continued commitment to maintaining the world’s best scientific infrastructure. 

Equally important, the U.S. faces increasing competition from our counterparts in Europe and Asia, as they race to build their own state-of-the-art facilities to attract the best minds and lead the world in science and technology. This does not just pose an economic threat to the United States, but also a national security threat. An infrastructure investment would accelerate the construction of world-class facilities and scientific instruments to stay ahead of this competition and make sure the U.S. remains the most secure and most attractive country in the world for scientific discovery and innovation. Thank you for considering these important investments. We look forward to working with you to invest in our nation’s competitiveness and put people back to work by addressing these critical infrastructure needs.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – As many Virginians adapt to life with a new pet in the wake of the pandemic, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) is requesting more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding a recent decision to temporarily suspend the importation of dogs from countries with heightened risk for rabies. In a letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, the senator commended the CDC for working to keep animals and people safe, while also encouraging the agency to develop eventual plans to lift the ban, which has placed a strain on military and U.S. diplomatic families who own dogs.

“I understand this decision was prompted by several factors relevant to the pandemic, including a recent lack of facilities for quarantining dogs safely and a disruption to vaccination programs for animals and people. I applaud the agency for acting quickly to ensure that the canine rabies virus variant—which has been eradicated in the U.S. since 2007—is not reintroduced,” wrote Sen. Warner. “While I believe the decision was necessary, as reported cases of COVID-19 continue to decline with vaccination efforts underway, I also encourage the agency to develop plans to eventually lift the importation ban while still ensuring the health and safety of dogs in the aftermath of the public health emergency.”

“The temporary ban has been a cause for concern for the many U.S. diplomatic and military families who live in Virginia. While I know these families can be considered for a waiver, your agency’s website says these approvals are advanced ‘on an extremely limited basis,’ and this onerous application process has left pet owners scrambling to find a solution,” he continued. “I respectfully ask that the CDC work with Congress to find long-term solutions to this problem, specifically focusing on the following areas: the pandemic’s disruption on vaccination programs for animals and people, the lack of safe animal quarantine facilities in the U.S., the surge in breeders cutting corners due to the increasing demand for pets brought on by the pandemic, and the unique impact the ban has had on diplomatic and military families.” 

On July 14, the CDC temporarily suspended the importation of dogs from 113 countries classified as high risk for dog rabies. This was due, in part, to a significant 2020 increase in the number of imported dogs that were denied entry into the United States from high-risk countries. Due to reduced flight schedules, dogs denied entry are facing longer wait times to be returned to their country of departure, leading to illness and even death in some cases.

In the letter, Sen. Warner also asked the CDC to proactively engage in conversations and listening sessions with stakeholders that will be impacted by this ban, including rescue groups, representatives of U.S. diplomatic and military families, and other interested parties.  

Sen. Warner, a dog owner, has been an advocate for dogs in Virginia and throughout the country. In 2019, he wrote to the Department of State, raising alarm about reports that the Department sent highly-trained bomb-sniffing dogs to foreign partner nations without proper follow-up, resulting in the death of at least ten dogs from largely preventable illnesses.

A copy of the letter is available here and below. 

 

Dear Director Walensky: 

I write today regarding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) recent decision to suspend the import of dogs from high-risk countries for canine rabies and inquire about the agency’s future plans related to this suspension.  

I greatly respect the CDC’s acute attention toward keeping both animals and people safe in its decision to limit the importation of dogs as the deadly COVID-19 virus continues to spread throughout the United States. I also appreciate the temporary nature of the suspension, and I hope to work with the CDC to limit the threat of rabies spreading in the U.S. while still protecting the rights of responsible pet owners.

I have, however, heard from many of my constituents with questions and concerns about the CDC’s decision to suspend dogs from 113 countries with heightened risk for rabies, which went into effect on July 14, 2021. I understand this decision was prompted by several factors relevant to the pandemic, including a recent lack of facilities for quarantining dogs safely and a disruption to vaccination programs for animals and people. I applaud the agency for acting quickly to ensure that the canine rabies virus variant—which has been eradicated in the U.S. since 2007—is not reintroduced.

While I believe the decision was necessary, as reported cases of COVID-19 continue to decline with vaccination efforts underway, I also encourage the agency to develop plans to eventually lift the importation ban while still ensuring the health and safety of dogs in the aftermath of the public health emergency. The temporary ban has been a cause for concern for the many U.S. diplomatic and military families who live in Virginia. While I know these families can be considered for a waiver, your agency’s website says these approvals are advanced “on an extremely limited basis,” and this onerous application process has left pet owners scrambling to find a solution.

I respectfully ask that the CDC work with Congress to find long-term solutions to this problem, specifically focusing on the following areas: the pandemic’s disruption on vaccination programs for animals and people, the lack of safe animal quarantine facilities in the U.S., the surge in breeders cutting corners due to the increasing demand for pets brought on by the pandemic, and the unique impact the ban has had on diplomatic and military families. I would also encourage that, in finding long-term solutions to this problem, the CDC proactively engages in conversations with stakeholders that will be impacted by this ban, including rescue groups, representatives of U.S. diplomatic and military families, and other interested parties.  In this vein we would recommend that the agency holds listening sessions with stakeholders impacted by the ban to better understand the needs of these communities and to ensure that any long-term solutions best serve the needs of both the CDC and the impacted communities.  

For years, the U.S. had strict quarantine and rabies vaccination procedures in place that proved highly effective in keeping animals in the U.S. safe from rabies. As we continue to adapt our ways of life in the aftermath of the pandemic, I look forward to your partnership in tackling these issues.

I appreciate your time and attention to this matter. I look forward to working together to ensure the health and safety of Americans and their pets.

Sincerely, 

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Vice Chairman of the Committee, today sent a letter to President Biden, asking the administration to ensure the safety of Afghans who have worked closely with U.S. intelligence in the country.  

“For two decades, thousands of Afghans have risked their lives to work with intelligence professionals from the United States and other NATO countries to fight Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, ISIS and other terrorist groups. Their efforts contributed to the decimation of Al Qaeda and its ability to attack the U.S. homeland,” the Senators wrote. “Given the increasingly precarious security situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s direct targeting of Afghan partners to the United States, we ask that you pursue a set of options to keep these Afghans safe, including approving Special Immigrant Visas, evacuations to a third country, and/or priority admission under the U.S. Refugee Admissions program.”

“Currently the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program offers one avenue for our Afghan allies, but its timeline – a years-long process with thousands in the pipeline – does not align with the pace of withdrawal and the rapid deterioration in security. While we urge you to expedite this program and stand ready to provide additional resources for a faster processing timeline, we also ask that you consider the other evacuation options listed above,” the Senators added. “Further, we ask that you consider whether there is sufficient capacity at U.S. facilities to process applications from those Afghan personnel who have made our efforts possible over the last two decades, or whether there is – given the rapid pace of withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan – sufficient capacity to evacuate our Afghan partners quickly as needs arise.” 

Concluded the Senators, “Abandoning these individuals, who have provided essential support to our intelligence community in Afghanistan, would send a damaging message to our allies and potential partners about the United States’ reliability and trustworthiness. It would also be a stain on our national conscience.”

A copy of the letter is available here, and the full text appears below. 

                                                            

Dear President Biden:

As your administration conducts its withdrawal of military personnel from Afghanistan, we ask that you ensure the safety and security of Afghans who have worked closely with our intelligence agencies and partners.   

For two decades, thousands of Afghans have risked their lives to work with intelligence professionals from the United States and other NATO countries to fight Al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, ISIS and other terrorist groups.  Their efforts contributed to the decimation of Al Qaeda and its ability to attack the U.S. homeland.    

Given the increasingly precarious security situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s direct targeting of Afghan partners to the United States, we ask that you pursue a set of options to keep these Afghans safe, including approving Special Immigrant Visas, evacuations to a third country, and/or priority admission under the U.S. Refugee Admissions program.  

Currently the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program offers one avenue for our Afghan allies, but its timeline – a years-long process with thousands in the pipeline – does not align with the pace of withdrawal and the rapid deterioration in security. While we urge you to expedite this program and stand ready to provide additional resources for a faster processing timeline, we also ask that you consider the other evacuation options listed above.  

Further, we ask that you consider whether there is sufficient capacity at U.S. facilities to process applications from those Afghan personnel who have made our efforts possible over the last two decades, or whether there is – given the rapid pace of withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan – sufficient capacity to evacuate our Afghan partners quickly as needs arise.

Abandoning these individuals, who have provided essential support to our intelligence community in Afghanistan, would send a damaging message to our allies and potential partners about the United States’ reliability and trustworthiness. It would also be a stain on our national conscience.

We stand ready to support your effort to ensure these Afghan partners are protected. 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Ahead of the ninth anniversary of Cuban political reformer Oswaldo Payá’s suspicious death, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA), along with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) urged the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to advance its efforts on this case without further delay.  In 2013, Durbin sent a letter to previous Commission Executive Secretary Emilio Icaza originally urging the Commission investigate Payá’s suspicious death.  Subsequent letters urging continued attention were sent in 2014 and 2016.       

“We hope the Commission’s unique role in such matters will help advance such an accounting and continue to stand ready to assist with this important matter,” the Senators wrote in a letter to Tania Reneaum Panszi, newly appointed Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 

In 2002, Payá started the Varela Project that sought greater political freedom in Cuba through a peaceful petition drive and referendum process as allowed for in the Cuban constitution.  Not only did the Cuban government reject the historic effort and brazenly change the constitutional provision allowing such public avenue for change, but also began a decade of shameful harassment of Payá and his movement.   

In July 2012, this persecution culminated in his car being rammed from behind by a tailing government vehicle, resulting in the death of Payá and fellow passenger and youth activist Harold Cepero.  The Cuban government has yet to provide a credible explanation, accounting, or justice for this tragic incident.  

Full text of the letter is available here and below: 

Dear Secretary Panszi:

Congratulations on your recent appointment to lead the Commission – a timely selection amid troubling democratic and human rights backsliding in Latin America.  In 2013, several of us sent the included letter to previous Commission Executive Secretary Emilio Icaza urging the Commission investigate the suspicious death of Cuban political reformer Oswaldo Payá.  With the ninth anniversary of this troubling event soon approaching and a refusal of the Cuban government to allow or provide for a credible investigation into the matter, we once again urge the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to advance its efforts on this case without further delay.

As you likely recall, in 2002 Payá started the Varela Project that sought greater political freedom in Cuba through a peaceful petition drive and referendum process as allowed for in the Cuban constitution.  Not only did the Cuban government reject the historic effort and brazenly change the constitutional provision allowing such public avenue for change, but also began a decade of shameful harassment of Payá and his movement.   

In July 2012, this persecution culminated in his car being rammed from behind by a tailing government vehicle, resulting in the death of Payá and fellow passenger and youth activist Harold Cepero.  The Cuban government has yet to provide a credible explanation, accounting, or justice for this tragic incident.  In fact, shortly after his death the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution honoring Payá’s work which also called on the “Government of Cuba to allow an impartial, third-party investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.”

We hope the Commission’s unique role in such matters will help advance such an accounting and continue to stand ready to assist with this important matter.   

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner, Tim Kaine (both D-Va.), and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging him to reopen Howard Bailey’s immigration proceedings and grant him humanitarian parole. Bailey is a U.S. Navy veteran who lives in exile in Jamaica after being deported in 2012 for a conviction that has since been pardoned.

“The Biden administration has committed to honoring family unity and redressing racial injustices where possible. Returning Mr. Bailey to the U.S., in light of his overwhelming positive equities and the injustice of his deportation, honors these priorities and is a small step toward restoring humanity to the U.S. immigration system,” wrote the Senators. “We urge you to join his motion to reopen his immigration proceedings and grant his application for humanitarian parole.”

Last week, Bailey was invited to testify at an Immigration Subcommittee hearing to examine how we can better honor the promises made to our brave military members, veterans, and their families in our immigration policy. At the conclusion of the hearing Padilla stated, “Mr. Bailey fought for our country and I am happy to fight for him.” Padilla also raised this issue directly to Robert Silvers, the Nominee for DHS Under Secretary for Strategy, Policy, and Plans during a Homeland Security Committee hearing. 

Howard Bailey moved to the U.S. when he was around 17-years-old after obtaining lawful permanent residence status through his U.S. citizen mother. He joined the U.S. Navy after high school and served for nearly four years, including two tours in Operation Desert Storm. He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and honorably discharged. After Mr. Bailey’s service to the U.S. Navy, he devoted himself to his wife and two U.S. citizen children, purchased a home, and started two small businesses including a thriving trucking company employing seven people. 

The full text of the letter is available HERE and below:

 

Dear Secretary Mayorkas:

We write to request that the Department of Homeland Security join U.S. veteran Howard Bailey’s motion to reopen his immigration proceedings and grant him humanitarian parole so that he can return to the United States.

Mr. Bailey joined the U.S. Navy after high school. During his subsequent four years of service, he served on a critical supply ship often in danger zones as a part of Operation Desert Storm and Project Comfort. After he left the Navy, he started a trucking business, purchased his home with a V.A. loan, and built a stable life for his family. He was living the American Dream in every sense of the phrase. Mark Warner

Soon after his honorable discharge, Mr. Bailey was arrested after a package of marijuana was mailed to his home for a friend. Despite not knowing the contents of the package, he pled guilty to a marijuana charge based on counsel from his attorney, who also failed to advise him of the immigration consequences of his plea. Fifteen years later, when Mr. Bailey applied for citizenship, he disclosed that he had a marijuana conviction from 1995. ICE learned of his conviction only when Mr. Bailey himself brought it to the agency’s attention as he applied for U.S. citizenship. ICE then initiated deportation proceedings against him on the basis of this sole marijuana conviction—arresting him on his front lawn with his daughter, son, and wife as witnesses.

In the years after his deportation to Jamaica, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such convictions no longer render people like Mr. Bailey deportable or make them ineligible for discretionary relief from deportation. More recently, in 2017, former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe issued a pardon for Mr. Bailey’s marijuana conviction in light of his service to the U.S. Navy and the increasing decriminalization of marijuana nationwide. Today, the conviction that led to his deportation is no longer a part of his record, and the law makes clear that he is eligible for relief from deportation.

On May 27, 2021, a memorandum was issued by DHS headquarters to ICE OPLA attorneys explicitly encouraging DHS to join motions to reopen cases like Mr. Bailey’s where “an individual is eligible for relief under the law and merits relief as a matter of discretion.” The memo lists factors that should be taken into account in joining a motion and that weigh in favor of his case. These include his prior military service, his prior lawful permanent residence status, decades of residency in the U.S. with significant family ties, the length of time since his conviction (26 years) and the compelling humanitarian circumstances in his case such as the severe mental health challenges suffered by his daughter.

As the Secretary of Homeland Security, you have the authority under current law to grant humanitarian parole for cases like Mr. Bailey’s where urgent humanitarian considerations and significant public benefit apply. In addition to the public benefit of bringing home a U.S. veteran who has proudly served his country, paroling Mr. Bailey into the United States is also an appropriate next step to address the profoundly devastating impact of his deportation on his two U.S. citizen children. His daughter, only 11-years-old at the time ICE officers took her father away, continues to face significant mental health challenges and has been unable to attend college, a dream both her and her father shared for her. His son—traumatized by the loss of his father and the subsequent economic challenges including suffering from hunger—has had trouble with the criminal legal system.

The Biden administration has committed to honoring family unity and redressing racial injustices where possible. Returning Mr. Bailey to the U.S., in light of his overwhelming positive equities and the injustice of his deportation, honors these priorities and is a small step toward restoring humanity to the U.S. immigration system. We urge you to join his motion to reopen his immigration proceedings and grant his application for humanitarian parole.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner (D-VA) Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Marco Rubio (R-FL) Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sent a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Katherine Tai, highlighting the importance of reconvening trade agreement talks with Taiwan. 

“We respectfully request that you prioritize these talks and take steps to begin laying the groundwork for negotiation of a free trade agreement (FTA), or other preliminary agreement, with Taiwan,” the Senators wrote

“Taiwan is the tenth largest trading partner of the United States—surpassing more populous nations such as India, France, and Italy—and the eighth largest market for American agricultural products. It embraces high standards of labor rights and environmental protection. We can all be confident that an agreement negotiated with Taiwan could serve as a model for what a high-standard FTA should look like,” the Senators continued.

“Beyond commerce and investment, Taiwan has proven itself to be a true friend to the United States and a model of a vibrant democracy. While Chinese authorities denied American companies operating in China the ability to send personal protective equipment (PPE) back home during the pandemic, Taiwan stood up production lines of PPE for the United States when we were most in need,” the Senators concluded

Joining Warner and Rubio in sending the letter were Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Chris Coons (D-CT), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), John Boozman (R-AR), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Todd Young (R-IN), Steve Daines (R-MT), Rick Scott (R-FL), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), John Barrasso (R-WY), John Thune (R-SD), Tim Scott (R-SC), Mike Braun (R-IN), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Mike Lee (R-UT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mike Rounds (R-SD), James Lankford (R-OK), Rand Paul (R-KY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Ted Cruz (R-TX), John Hoeven (R-ND), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Susan Collins (R-ME), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Bill Hagerty (R-TN).

 

Dear Ambassador Tai:

As you move to establish your early priorities, we are pleased to see that the resumption of talks with Taiwan under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) is among your areas of focus. The last TIFA meeting was held in October 2016, which is far too long ago when one considers Taiwan’s importance as a trade partner to the United States. For this reason, we were gratified to see reports that you held a virtual meeting with Taiwan’s top trade official, John Deng, on June 9, 2021 and committed to reconvene TIFA talks in the coming weeks. We respectfully request that you prioritize these talks and take steps to begin laying the groundwork for negotiation of a free trade agreement (FTA), or other preliminary agreement, with Taiwan. 

In August 2020, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen announced her intention to remove, and later removed, what had been a major obstacle to the pursuit of a FTA: import restrictions on certain U.S. beef and pork products. It is now time for the United States to reciprocate and begin negotiations. It is clear that the United States stands to gain much in doing so. 

Taiwan is the tenth largest trading partner of the United States—surpassing more populous nations such as India, France, and Italy—and the eighth largest market for American agricultural products. It embraces high standards of labor rights and environmental protection. We can all be confident that an agreement negotiated with Taiwan could serve as a model for what a high-standard FTA should look like. It will facilitate free trade under fair conditions that allow American workers, producers, and companies alike to flourish. Advanced economies such as Singapore and New Zealand have paved the way by signing their own FTAs with Taiwan. 

Beyond commerce and investment, Taiwan has proven itself to be a true friend to the United States and a model of a vibrant democracy. While Chinese authorities denied American companies operating in China the ability to send personal protective equipment (PPE) back home during the pandemic, Taiwan stood up production lines of PPE for the United States when we were most in need. Despite Beijing’s endless efforts to isolate and bully, Taiwan remains everything we want the Indo-Pacific region to be: a democratic, free market economy that is a reliable partner to the United States. Lastly, trade talks with Taiwan are also of great strategic importance. Maintaining U.S. economic influence in the region and reducing Taiwan’s dependence on China is essential to ensuring that the region remains free and open. 

Thank you again for committing to resume TIFA talks with Taiwan in the coming weeks. We appreciate your continued attention to this important matter. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – With Congress preparing to take up this year’s government funding legislation, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have formally requested robust funding to ensure the full implementation of the Ashanti Alert system. This alert system was authorized through the Ashanti Alert Act, a law authored and championed by Sen. Warner to help save lives. 

“As you prepare the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 appropriations, we write to respectfully request that you work to ensure that the Department of Justice (DOJ) implements the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 (Pub L. 115-401), and that this effort is fully funded in FY 2022,” wrote the senators in a letter to Congressional leaders in charge of distributing funding. “It is imperative that the Ashanti Alert Act receives full funding and the Department fully implement it in order to advance its goals of transforming the lives and safety of Americans. Full funding ensures that DOJ, law enforcement agencies, and relevant entities and stakeholders have the necessary resources to implement the Ashanti Alert network effectively at the soonest possible date.”

The Ashanti Alert Act is named after Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old woman who was abducted on her way to work at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in September 2017, and whose body was discovered in North Carolina 11 days after she was first reported missing. Due to her age, Ashanti did not meet the criteria for an Amber or Silver Alert – tools utilized by law enforcement that allow the public to assist in locating missing children or senior citizens. The law requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish a national communications network, named the Ashanti Alert, that would notify the public about missing or endangered adults through radio and television broadcast systems. The law also requires the Attorney General to designate a national coordinator to work with states to establish Ashanti Alert systems and to develop voluntary guidelines that states and territories should use in creating their networks. 

In their letter, the senators also praised recent progress by the DOJ, including its efforts to encourage states, territories, and tribes to adopt Ashanti Alert plans, and to assist various states in ensuring that their existing alert programs for missing adults are consistent with national Ashanti Alert guidance. 

Sen. Warner, who secured unanimous passage of this national alert system in December of 2018, has long led the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert nationwide. In August 2019, he reiterated the need for the swift implementation of the alert during a meeting with Katherine Sullivan, the then-Ashanti Alert Coordinator and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice (DOJ). In July 2020, Sen. Warner sent a letter to Governors across the country inviting their law enforcement officials to participate in a DOJ webinar to help states learn how they can begin to implement this critical program. Most recently, he helped secure $1 million in federal funding in the December 2020 emergency government funding legislation to help with the nationwide implementation of the Ashanti Alert system.

A PDF of the letter is available here. Text is available below.

 

 Dear Chairman Shaheen and Ranking Member Moran:

As you prepare the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 appropriations, we write to respectfully request that you work to ensure that the Department of Justice (DOJ) implements the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 (Pub L. 115-401), and that this effort is fully funded in FY 2022.  We appreciate that the Subcommittee included $1 million for Ashanti Alert Network funding in the FY21 spending bill, and we were pleased that President Biden, too, has recognized the importance of the Ashanti Alert in his proposed budget for FY22.

On December 31, 2018, the Ashanti Alert Act was signed into law, after it passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support. The law requires DOJ to establish a national communications network, named the Ashanti Alert, to assist regional and local search efforts for certain missing adults. In addition, the Ashanti Alert Act requires the Attorney General to designate a national coordinator to work with states to establish Ashanti Alert systems and to develop voluntary guidelines that states (as well as territories) should use in creating their networks.

In the FY20 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-93), Congress directed DOJ to report on both the status of its Ashanti Alert Act implementation efforts, as well as establish a deadline for final implementation no later than March 19, 2020.[1]  While DOJ has not yet fully implemented the program, we are glad to see recent progress.  The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which administers the Ashanti Alert program, is assisting various states with their existing alert programs for missing adults in an effort to ensure the programs are consistent with national Ashanti Alert guidance.  Additionally, BJA is encouraging all other states, territories, and tribes to adopt Ashanti Alert plans and has identified states and tribes to serve as possible pilot sites for enhancing Ashanti alerting capabilities.  Two states, including Virginia, have adopted formal Ashanti Alert programs.

This law was borne out of the tragic death of Ashanti Billie, a 19 year old who was abducted in Norfolk, Virginia and whose body was discovered 11 days after she was first reported missing. Because Ashanti was too old for an Amber Alert to be issued and no similar network for adults existed at the time, her parents, family, and friends struggled to get word out of her disappearance in a timely fashion.

Thus, it is imperative that the Ashanti Alert Act receives full funding and the Department fully implement it in order to advance its goals of transforming the lives and safety of Americans. Full funding ensures that DOJ, law enforcement agencies, and relevant entities and stakeholders have the necessary resources to implement the Ashanti Alert network effectively at the soonest possible date. 

We appreciate the Subcommittee’s past support for the Ashanti Alert Act, and efforts made by Subcommittee staff to ensure implementation.  We hope the Subcommittee will continue to demonstrate strong support for the Ashanti Alert Act for FY 2022. 

Thank you for your consideration of our request.

Sincerely, 

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