Press Releases

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement regarding the redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report: 

“We have received the redacted version of the Special Counsel’s report, and I am carefully reviewing its contents and findings.

“Even a preliminary review of the material makes it clear that the Attorney General fundamentally mischaracterized the Special Counsel’s findings in his pre-emptive press conference this morning. In the days to come, it is essential that Congress hear directly from the Special Counsel regarding his investigation. The Senate Intelligence Committee continues its own investigation, and I expect to receive a full briefing, an unredacted report, and all the materials underlying the Special Counsel’s findings.”

 

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WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Mark Warner (D-VA), co-chairs of the Senate India Caucus, sent a letter to United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, urging him to consider delaying the issuance of a proclamation to withdraw India’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program benefits and to keep an open dialogue with the Indian Government.

“As Co-Chairs of the United States Senate’s India Caucus, we fully appreciate and support your efforts to address a host of market access issues facing American businesses in India. Congressional support for the GSP program was made clear last year when the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives reauthorized the program, in nearly unanimous fashion, for three years. While we agree that there are a number of market access issues that can and should be addressed, we do remain concerned that the withdrawal of duty concessions will make Indian exports of eligible products to the United States costlier, as the importer of those products will have to pay a ‘Most Favored Nation’ (MFN), duty which is higher than the rate under GSP. Some of these costs will likely be passed on to American consumers,” the Senators wrote. 

“We believe that allowing for continued negotiations beyond the elections would underscore the importance of this bilateral relationship and provide a real opportunity to resolve these market access issues, potentially improving the overall U.S.-India relationship for years to come.”

 

The signed letter is here, and full text is below.

 

April 12, 2019

 

The Honorable Robert E. Lighthizer

Ambassador

Office of the United States Trade Representative

600 17th Street, N.W.

Washington, D.C., 20508

 

Dear Ambassador Lighthizer:

 

We write to you today regarding the ongoing negotiations between the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry regarding the duty-free treatment of goods under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program.

 

As you know, in April 2018, the USTR announced that it planned to review the GSP eligibility of a number of countries, including India. The USTR’s announcement specifically cited “concerns related to its compliance with GSP market access criterion,” based on petitions filed from the U.S. medical device and dairy industries. On March 4, 2019, Congress was notified of USTR’s intention to terminate India’s designation as a beneficiary developing country under GSP due to a lack of compliance. We understand that the Administration may issue a proclamation withdrawing India’s GSP benefits 60 days or later from the congressional notification date.

 

As Co-Chairs of the United States Senate’s India Caucus, we fully appreciate and support your efforts to address a host of market access issues facing American businesses in India. Congressional support for the GSP program was made clear last year when the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives reauthorized the program, in nearly unanimous fashion, for three years. While we agree that there are a number of market access issues that can and should be addressed, we do remain concerned that the withdrawal of duty concessions will make Indian exports of eligible products to the United States costlier, as the importer of those products will have to pay a “Most Favored Nation” (MFN), duty which is higher than the rate under GSP. Some of these costs will likely be passed on to American consumers.

 

As you know, India’s elections will conclude on May 23, 2019. We believe that the election season may serve as a hindrance for our Indian counterparts in negotiating and concluding a deal on difficult political issues. If another round of negotiations during the election season does not resolve the outstanding issues, we would ask you to consider delaying the issuance of a Presidential proclamation to withdraw India’s GSP benefits by at least 30 days, beyond the 60 day calendar, in order to move the negotiations beyond India’s elections. We believe that allowing for continued negotiations beyond the elections would underscore the importance of this bilateral relationship and provide a real opportunity to resolve these market access issues, potentially improving the overall U.S.-India relationship for years to come.

 

We appreciate you and team’s continued efforts to resolve a small but significant set of trade issues through the GSP review process. We stand ready and willing to assist in any way possible to ensure that the U.S.-India relationship remains strong.

 

Sincerely,

/s/

 

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Ms. Ryann DuRant

Press Secretary

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined 42 of their Senate Democratic colleagues to introduce the Working Families Tax Relief Act (WFTRA)legislation that is estimated to increase the incomes of over 1 million Virginia families, benefitting almost 2.7 million Virginians. The bill aims to cut taxes for workers and families at a time when wages are stagnant and the cost of childcare has continued to rise by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), two of the most effective tools we have to put money in the pockets of working people and pull children out of poverty. Expanding these tax credits will give millions more Americans a foothold in the middle class.

“All over Virginia, there are people who are working full-time and still struggling to make ends meet because expenses are rising faster than their wages can keep up,” said Warner. “By expanding two critical tax credits, this legislation will provide dependable financial relief to millions of low- and moderate-income households as well as families with children so that folks can finally focus on getting ahead.”

“More and more Virginia workers are taking on longer hours just to keep up with the rising costs of supporting a family,” said Kaine. “After President Trump and Congressional Republicans passed a tax law to disproportionately benefit millionaires and billionaires, expanding these tax credits can finally offer hard working families the resources to ensure their financial security.” 

  The Working Families Tax Relief Act would:

  • Boost the incomes of 46 million households and 114 million people, including 43 million children. 
  • Lift 7 million people out of poverty, including 3 million children
  • Expand the EITC for families with children by roughly 25 percent.
  • Significantly expand the EITC for workers without children and make the credit available for people starting at age 19 up to age 67. Currently, workers without children can be pulled under the poverty line by taxes. Expanding the EITC would fix that.  
  • Make the CTC fully refundable, so the more than 26 million children who were left out of the Trump tax law get the support they deserve.  
  • Create a Young Child Tax Credit to provide extra support to children five and under, when research says they need it most. 
  • Allow workers to draw a $500 advance payment on their EITC so that families aren’t forced to turn to predatory payday lenders when the car breaks down or other unexpected expenses come up. 

Read more about the bill HERE.

Along with Senators Warner and Kaine and sponsor Senator Sherrod Brown, cosponsors of the bill include: Michael Bennet, Dick Durbin, Ron Wyden, Patrick Leahy, Patty Murray, Jack Reed, Chuck Schumer, Tom Carper, Debbie Stabenow, Maria Cantwell, Bob Menendez, Benjamin Cardin Bernie Sanders, Bob Casey, Amy Klobuchar, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jon Tester, Tom Udall, Jeanne Shaheen, Jeff Merkley, Kirsten Gillibrand, Chris Coons, Richard Blumenthal, Brian Schatz, Tammy Baldwin, Chris Murphy, Mazie Hirono, Martin Heinrich, Angus King, Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, Cory Booker, Gary Peters, Chris Van Hollen, Tammy Duckworth, Maggie Hassan, Kamala Harris, Catherine Cortez Masto, Tina Smith, Doug Jones, and Jacky Rosen. 

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Washington, D.C. – Today, top House and Senate Democrats sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr following his testimony before the House and Senate appropriations committees reasserting their expectation for the full, unredacted Mueller report, along with the underlying evidence, to be provided to Congress.  The letter, signed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), also urges the Department of Justice (DOJ) to work with them to find an accommodation on providing the full report from the Special Counsel, with the underlying materials, to the relevant committees.     

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

April 11, 2019

The Honorable William P. Barr
Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Attorney General Barr:

We have received your recent letters regarding the Special Counsel’s report.  We have also reviewed your testimony before the House and Senate appropriations committees on April 9 and 10.  We write to you now, in advance of your expected release of a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, to restate two important points.

First, as a matter of law, Congress is entitled to the full report—without redactions—as well as the underlying evidence.  We require that information in order to discharge our constitutional obligations:  to develop and pass legislation and to conduct thorough oversight of the Executive Branch.  These responsibilities are most acute where they involve the alleged misconduct of the President of the United States.  Indeed, because you have told us on several occasions that you will not indict the President for obstruction of justice and related crimes, it now falls to Congress to examine the President’s conduct and, if necessary, to hold him accountable.

Second, the Department of Justice has an obligation to work with the relevant committees of the House and Senate to reach an accommodation on the full report and the underlying materials.  Since your March 22 letter announcing the end of the Mueller investigation, our senior Members have written to you on numerous occasions.  We have asked reasonable questions and raised legitimate concerns about your handling of this report.  So far, we have received no direct response, and you have made no effort to work with us to accommodate our concerns.  This work should not wait until after you have provided a redacted report.  It should start now.

You have outlined four kinds of information that you plan to redact from this report: grand jury information, classified information, information that may impede an ongoing investigation, and information that may affect the privacy and reputational interests of third parties.  We acknowledge that there may be legitimate reasons for withholding some of this information from public view.

As recent precedent makes clear, however, the Department of Justice has no legitimate reason for withholding these materials from Congress.  In every other instance where a federal grand jury was used to probe the alleged misconduct of a sitting president—namely, in the Watergate and Starr investigations—the Department of Justice worked with the relevant federal court to release the grand jury information to the House Judiciary Committee.  That has not happened in this instance, despite numerous direct requests, nor have you provided us with any legitimate reason for failing to follow the Department’s precedent. 

With regard to the other areas of possible redaction noted in your March 29 letter, we note that the Department of Justice and the FBI provided nearly one million pages of material to the committees of jurisdiction related to a long list of largely discredited conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and about the origins of the Special Counsel’s investigation—while that probe was ongoing.  These documents included highly classified information, information and investigative records related directly to ongoing criminal and counterintelligence investigations, and reams of information that directly impacted the “privacy and reputational interests of third parties.”  The Department also made dozens of line personnel available for transcribed interviews.  We expect that you will be just as forthcoming with us now and, accordance with those precedents, promptly produce each of these categories of information to Congress, as requested.

Finally, we would be remiss not to express profound concern about your comments before the Senate Appropriations Committee regarding your apparent review of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.  Your testimony raises questions about your independence, appears to perpetuate a partisan narrative designed to undermine the work of the Special Counsel, and serves to legitimize President Trump’s dangerous attacks on the Department of Justice and the FBI. 

We renew our request to work together prior to any release to ensure that Congress receives the full report and all of the underlying evidence.  Thank you for your prompt attention to this urgent matter.

            Sincerely,

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Washington – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) was joined by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in urging congressional appropriators to provide full funding for timely implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act – crucial bipartisan legislation championed by Sen. Warner and signed into law in December of 2018. The Ashanti Alert Act requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish a national communications network to assist regional and local search efforts for certain missing adults, filling a gap for missing persons who are too old for an Amber Alert and too young for a Silver Alert.

“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,” the Senators wrote in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Full funding and timely implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act is necessary to ensure the safety of Americans.” 

The Ashanti Alert will notify the public about missing or endangered adults ages 18-64. The law instructs the Attorney General to designate a national Ashanti Alert Coordinator responsible for helping states establish alert systems and develop voluntary guidelines. Under the law, the coordinator is also tasked with providing Congress with an annual report detailing the use and progress of Ashanti Alerts in states. Last month, Sen. Warner pressed Attorney General William Barr for an update on DOJ’s progress to-date in implementing the law.  

The Ashanti Alert Act was named after Ashanti Billie, a 19-year-old abducted in Norfolk, Va. on September 18, 2017, whose body was discovered in North Carolina 11 days after she was first reported missing. Sen. Warner secured unanimous passage of this bill through the Senate in December 6, 2018 by working with his colleagues to make modifications to the House bill, which had previously been blocked from passing the Senate. The bill was then signed into law by President Trump on December 31, 2019.

 

Full text of the appropriations request is below and a copy can be found here.

 

The Honorable Jerry Moran

Chairman

Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice,

Science and Related Agencies

Senate Committee on Appropriations

142 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

 

The Honorable Jeanne Shaheen

Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice,

Science and Related Agencies

Senate Committee on Appropriations

142 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

 

Dear Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Shaheen:

 

As you prepare the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 appropriations, we write to respectfully request that you work to ensure the implementation of the Ashanti Alert Act is fully funded in FY 2020.

 

On December 31, 2018, President Trump signed into law the Ashanti Alert Act of 2018 (Pub L. 115-401). The Ashanti Alert Act requires the Department of Justice to establish a national communications network, named the Ashanti Alert, to assist regional and local search efforts for certain missing adults. Under the new law, the Attorney General must 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. Last Congress, the Senate and House of Representatives secured strong bipartisan support for the legislation and it passed both chambers by a near-unanimous margin.

 

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 sufficient funding in order to advance its goals of transforming the lives and safety of Americans. Fully funding this program ensures that the Department of Justice, law enforcement agencies, and relevant entities and stakeholders have the necessary resources to make the Ashanti Alert network as helpful and effective as possible.

 

We hope that the Subcommittee will demonstrate strong support for the Ashanti Alert Act for FY 2020.

 

Thank you for your consideration of our request.

 

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WASHINGTON D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $43,460,812 in federal funding to support affordable housing development across Virginia. The funding, which will go to 26 municipalities across the Commonwealth, has been awarded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Public Housing Capital Fund.

“All Virginians deserve access to safe and affordable housing,” the Senators said. “We are pleased that this federal funding will help make a difference in communities across Virginia.”

HUD’s Capital Fund provides critical federal dollars to Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) in Virginia for the development, financing, and modernization of public housing developments.

The Virginia housing authorities that received funding are listed below:

 

City                                                          Virginia Housing Authority Recipient                                Amount

ABINGDON

Abingdon Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$65,816.00

ALEXANDRIA

Alexandria Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,877,154.00

BRISTOL

Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$839,375.00

CHARLOTTESVILLE

Charlottesville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$874,956.00

CHESAPEAKE

Chesapeake Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,094,151.00

COEBURN

Wise County Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$427,005.00

DANVILLE

Danville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,120,996.00

DUFFIELD

Scott County Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$204,263.00

FRANKLIN

Franklin Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$155,253.00

HAMPTON

Hampton Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,372,164.00

HOPEWELL

Hopewell Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$840,721.00

JONESVILLE

Lee County Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$137,519.00

LEBANON

Cumberland Plateau Regional Housing Authority

$573,099.00

LYNCHBURG

Lynchburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$861,994.00

MARION

Marion Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$532,801.00

NEWPORT NEWS

Newport News Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$4,053,812.00

NORFOLK

Norfolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$8,049,884.00

NORTON

Norton Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$479,901.00

PETERSBURG

Petersburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,076,902.00

PORTSMOUTH

Portsmouth Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,922,459.00

RICHMOND

Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$11,223,914.00

ROANOKE

Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$3,425,178.00

SUFFOLK

Suffolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$1,080,297.00

WAYNESBORO

Waynesboro Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$409,419.00

WILLIAMSBURG

Williamsburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$269,909.00

WYTHEVILLE

Wytheville Redevelopment & Housing Authority

$491,870.00

 

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the following statement regarding the arrest of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, today in the United Kingdom:

“Julian Assange has long professed high ideals and moral superiority. Unfortunately, whatever his intentions when he started WikiLeaks, what he’s really become is a direct participant in Russian efforts to undermine the West and a dedicated accomplice in efforts to undermine American security. It is my hope that the British courts will quickly transfer him to U.S. custody so he can finally get the justice he deserves.

“I would like to thank President Moreno and the Ecuadoran government for taking the long-overdue step of withdrawing sanctuary for Mr. Assange so that he can finally face justice for his actions.”

 

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WASHINGTON – Today the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution introduced by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) officially congratulating the University of Virginia men’s basketball team for winning the 2019 NCAA championship.   

“This tournament was a wild ride with an ending that the entire Commonwealth can be proud of,” said Sen. Warner. “I want to commend Coach Bennett, his staff and the entire team for a hard-fought win and, for the first time in history, bringing this title home to Virginia!”

“We were so proud to watch UVA’s teamwork and tenacity day-in and day-out on the way to winning their first national championship,” said Sen. Kaine. “Congratulations to the entire team, Coach Bennett, and his coaching staff on a fantastic season and tournament. Go Hoos!”

During the tournament, Sen. Warner held a friendly wager with Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) on the outcome of the Final Four match between Auburn and UVA. With a nail-biting win, UVA beat Auburn, securing a seat in the championship game and ultimately bringing home the NCAA title.  

Text of the resolution “Commending the University of Virginia men's basketball team for winning the 2019 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Men's Basketball Championship” can be found here and below.

Whereas on Monday, April 8, 2019, the University of Virginia men’s basketball team (referred to in this preamble as the “Virginia Cavaliers”) won the 2019 National Collegiate Athletic Association (referred to in this preamble as the “NCAA”) Division I Men’s Basketball Championship by defeating the Texas Tech Red Raiders by a score of 85–77 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota;

 

Whereas the Virginia Cavaliers made history by winning the first National Championship in men’s basketball for the University of Virginia;

 

Whereas the Virginia Cavaliers were regular season co-champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference (referred to in this preamble as the “ACC”), marking the fourth time the team has won this title in the past 6 seasons;

 

Whereas the Virginia Cavaliers finished the 2018–2019 season with a record of 35–3 and as the top-ranked scoring defense in the country, holding opponents to just 55.5 points per game;

 

Whereas Tony Bennett, the head coach of the Virginia Cavaliers, has, along with his staff, established a program built on “The Five Pillars” — Humility, Passion, Unity, Servanthood, and Thankfulness;

 

Whereas Coach Bennett has, in his 10 seasons at the University of Virginia, been named National Coach of the Year 3 times, placing him second all-time behind legendary coach John Wooden;

 

Whereas for the second consecutive season, Coach Bennett was named ACC Coach of the Year;

 

Whereas De’Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy received All-ACC First Team honors for the 2018–2019 season;

 

Whereas Ty Jerome received All-ACC Second Team honors for the 2018–2019 season;

 

Whereas De’Andre Hunter was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the ACC All-Defensive Team;

 

Whereas to advance to the Final Four, true freshman Kihei Clark executed a precision half-court pass to teammate Mamadi Diakite, setting up his buzzer-beating tying basket;

 

Whereas the pass from Clark to Diakite was termed “the play of the century” by teammate Ty Jerome;

 

Whereas De’Andre Hunter finished the championship game with 27 points and 9 rebounds in 44 minutes;

 

Whereas Kyle Guy finished the championship game with 24 points and a 53.3 field goal percentage in 45 minutes;

 

Whereas De’Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy, and Ty Jerome — all part of the Virginia Cavaliers’ 2016 recruiting class — scored 67 of Virginia’s 85 points in the championship game;

 

Whereas Kyle Guy was 11-for-11 in his final free throws of the tournament;

 

Whereas the Virginia Cavaliers made all 12 of their free throws during overtime of the championship game;

 

Whereas the entire Virginia Cavaliers team will forever be remembered for their resilience in overcoming defeat in the 2018 NCAA Tournament by winning the national championship just 1 year later;

 

Whereas the Virginia Cavaliers represented the Commonwealth of Virginia with remarkable class, sportsmanship, dedication, and teamwork; and

 

Whereas the Virginia Cavaliers brought pride to the Commonwealth of Virginia, the City of Charlottesville, and the greater University of Virginia community: Now, therefore, be it

 

Resolved, That the Senate—

(1) congratulates and honors the University of Virginia men’s basketball team for their performance in the 2019 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament;

(2) highlights and celebrates the grit, resilience, and commitment to excellence of the players, coaches, managers, parents, and families of the Virginia Cavaliers; and

(3) respectfully requests that the Secretary of the Senate transmit an enrolled copy of this resolution to—

(A) the President of the University of Virginia, James E. Ryan;

(B) the Director of Athletics at the University of Virginia, Carla Williams; and

(C) the head coach of the University of Virginia men’s basketball team, Tony Bennett.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced that the University of Lynchburg will receive $1,446,533 in federal funding from the National Science Foundation to increase the effectiveness of future STEM teachers in teaching students with learning or developmental disabilities at schools in Lynchburg City, Amherst County, Bedford County, and Campbell County.

“With national and local STEM teacher shortages, this funding could not come at a better time for our Commonwealth,” said the Senators. “We are thrilled that this project will help equip future STEM teachers with the training they need to teach students with disabilities, while also working to make sure that educators better reflect the diverse communities they serve.” 

The NSF grant will go towards funding a project led by the University of Lynchburg, in partnership with Central Virginia Community College, the nonprofit Beacon of Hope, and the Lynchburg City, Amherst County, Bedford County, and Campbell County school districts. The project will seek to recruit 22 undergraduate students majoring in STEM fields, such as biology, chemistry, physics, environmental science, or mathematics, and working to obtain their teacher certification. It will utilize experiential teaching opportunities to train these future STEM educators, who must be versed in specific educational techniques in order to properly serve students with learning or developmental disabilities. Additionally, the project will also focus on increasing teacher diversity and develop pathways for students at community colleges to transfer to the University of Lynchburg, where they can obtain their secondary teacher certification while pursuing a STEM degree. 

 

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WASHINGTON – A day ahead of the one-year anniversary of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) have introduced the Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act, bipartisan legislation to prohibit large online platforms from using deceptive user interfaces, known as “dark patterns” to trick consumers into handing over their personal data.

The term “dark patterns” is used to describe online interfaces in websites and apps designed to intentionally manipulate users into taking actions they would otherwise not take under normal circumstances. These design tactics, drawn from extensive behavioral psychology research, are frequently used by social media platforms to mislead consumers into agreeing to settings and practices advantageous to the company.  

“For years, social media platforms have been relying on all sorts of tricks and tools to convince users to hand over their personal data without really understanding what they are consenting to. Some of the most nefarious strategies rely on ‘dark patterns’ – deceptive interfaces and default settings, drawing on tricks of behavioral psychology, designed to undermine user autonomy and push consumers into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise do, like hand over all of their personal data to be exploited for commercial purposes,” said Sen. Warner, a former technology executive who is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Our goal is simple: to instill a little transparency in what remains a very opaque market and ensure that consumers are able to make more informed choices about how and when to share their personal information.” 

“Any privacy policy involving consent is weakened by the presence of dark patterns. These manipulative user interfaces intentionally limit understanding and undermine consumer choice. Misleading prompts to just click the ‘OK’ button can often transfer your contacts, messages, browsing activity, photos, or location information without you even realizing it. Our bipartisan legislation seeks to curb the use of these dishonest interfaces and increase trust online,” said Sen. Fischer, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. 

Dark patterns can take various forms, often exploiting the power of defaults to push users into agreeing to terms stacked in favor of the service provider. Some examples of such actions include: a sudden interruption during the middle of a task repeating until the user agrees to consent; a deliberate obscuring of alternative choices or settings through design or other means; or the use of privacy settings that push users to ‘agree’ as the default option, while users looking for more privacy-friendly options often must click through a much longer process, detouring through multiple screens. Other times, users cannot find the alternative option, if it exists at all, and simply give up looking. 

The result is that large online platforms have an unfair advantage over users and potential competitors in forcing consumers to give up personal data such as their contacts, messages, web activity, or location to the benefit of the company. 

“The tech industry has gone unchecked for far too long. Bold action is needed on a wide scale to change the incentives in Silicon Valley with our well-being in mind, especially when it comes to kids,” said Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense. “This bill gets to the root of the issue – the use of manipulative and deceptive design features that trick kids and other users into giving up valuable and private information, and hook them into spending more time than is healthy online. Common Sense strongly supports Senators Warner and Fischer on this bipartisan effort to hold tech companies accountable for these practices that only harm consumers.” 

“Dark patterns are among the least humane design techniques used by technology companies in their scramble for growth at all costs. They use these measures to offer false choices that confuse or trap users into over-sharing personal information or driving compulsive use – especially from the most vulnerable users, including kids,” said Tristan Harris, Co-Founder of the Center for Humane Technology. “A system-wide rethinking of technology policy and design is in order, so CHT fully supports Senators Warner and Fisher in this bipartisan effort to place significant constraints around the ability to deceive users online. The creation of a special standards body is especially crucial to the protection of consumers, as they keep lawmakers more up-to-date and able to iterate laws at pace with the rapid change of technology.”

“We support Senators Warner and Fischer in protecting people from exploitive and deceptive practices online,” said Fred Humphries, Corporate Vice President of U.S. Government Affairs at Microsoft. “Their legislation helps to achieve that goal and we look forward to working with them.”

“People are ensnared by ‘dark patterns’ of manipulation on the Internet every day, and ending these practices is a key part of protecting people online. We need to better understand the systems that manipulate people online, and empower users to fight back. We applaud Senator Warner and Senator Fischer for introducing this legislation to curtail these troubling practices,” said Alan Davidson, Vice President of Global Policy, Trust and Security at Mozilla.

“EPIC appreciates Senator Warner and Senator Fischer’s important work to safeguard consumer privacy,” said Caitriona Fitzgerald, Electronic Privacy and Information Center (EPIC) Policy Director.  

The Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act aims to curb manipulative dark pattern behavior by prohibiting the largest online platforms (those with over 100 million monthly active users) from relying on user interfaces that intentionally impair user autonomy, decision-making, or choice. The legislation:

  • Enables the creation of a professional standards body, which can register with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to focus on best practices surrounding user design for large online operators. This association would act as a self-regulatory body, providing updated guidance to platforms on design practices that impair user autonomy, decision-making, or choice, positioning the FTC to act as a regulatory backstop.
  • Prohibits segmenting consumers for the purposes of behavioral experiments, unless with a consumer’s informed consent. This includes routine disclosures for large online operators, not less than once every 90 days, on any behavioral or psychological experiments to users and the public. Additionally, the bill would require large online operators to create an internal Independent Review Board to provide oversight on these practices to safeguard consumer welfare. 
  • Prohibits user design intended to create compulsive usage among children under the age of 13 years old.
  • Directs the FTC to create rules within one year of enactment to carry out the requirements related to informed consent, Independent Review Boards, and Professional Standards Bodies.

The full bill text is available here. 

Sen. Warner has been raising concerns about the implications of social media companies’ reliance on dark patterns for several years. In 2014, Sen. Warner asked the FTC to investigate Facebook’s use of dark patterns in an experiment involving nearly 700,000 users designed to study the emotional impact of manipulating information on their News Feeds. 

Sen. Warner is recognized as one of Congress’ leading voices in an ongoing public debate around social media and user privacy. Last year, Sen. Warner called on the social media companies to work with Congress and provide feedback on ideas he put forward in a white paper discussing potential policy solutions to challenges surrounding social media, privacy, and data security. In addition to the DETOUR Act, in the coming weeks and months, Sen. Warner will introduce further legislation designed to improve transparency, privacy, and accountability on social media.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) was joined today by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) in reintroducing bipartisan, bicameral legislation today to encourage state, local, and tribal governments to strengthen their defenses against cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities. The State Cyber Resiliency Act, which was also introduced in the House by Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Michael McCaul (R-TX), would create and authorize the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to run a grant program for states seeking to develop, revise or implement cyber resiliency measures—including efforts to identify, detect, protect, respond, and recover from cyber threats.

“As cyberattacks increase in frequency and gravity, we must ensure that our nation—from our local governments on up—is adequately prepared to protect public safety and combat cyber threats,” said Sen. Warner. “Nearly 70 percent of states have reported that they lack adequate funding to develop sufficient cybersecurity. This bill will aim to mitigate that need by providing grants to state and local jurisdictions so that they are better prepared to take on these emerging challenges.”

“It’s critical that our state and local governments invest in cyber preparedness and training, and I’m proud to work with Senator Warner and Representatives Kilmer and McCaul to create a grant program to help our communities with this effort,” said Sen. Gardner. “Colorado is at the forefront of our nation’s cybersecurity efforts and home to the National Cybersecurity Center in Colorado Springs. As the threat of cyber warfare intensifies, it’s important that local governments are properly prepared to deter and protect themselves from cyber-attacks.” 

“America should dedicate far more attention and resources to combating cyber threats,” said Rep. Kilmer. “Cyber-attacks could threaten our election systems, municipally-owned water treatment facilities, local emergency responder networks, or other vital systems that impact our communities. With that in mind, building our cyber resiliency matters to employers, workers, local governments, consumers – and even to our national security. That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing a bipartisan plan to give state, local, and tribal governments more tools to counter these cyber threats.”

“As our nation continues to face cyber threats, we must ensure all levels of government are prepared to combat the emerging attacks to our cyber networks and other critical infrastructure. The enactment of CISA last year was a positive step forward to recalibrate our federal posture on cybersecurity, however, more needs to be done on a state and local level. Despite playing a vital role in protecting our nation against cyber-attacks, state governments often do not have the vital resources they need to strengthen their cybersecurity capabilities or retain or recruit seasoned cybersecurity professionals,” said Rep. McCaul. “As a co-chair of the House Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus, I will continue to think holistically about protecting our networks on a federal, state, and local level. I am proud to join Senators Warner and Gardner, along with Congressman Kilmer, in introducing the State Cyber Resiliency Act to aid state and local governments with a new grant program to enhance their cyber defenses.” 

2018 survey by Deloitte-National Association recently found that most state cyber budgets are inadequate, with most states allocating between zero and three percent of their overall IT budget for cybersecurity purposes. Additionally, the survey found that budget and staffing remain top barriers to an effective cyber strategy, with nearly half of all states lacking a cybersecurity budget line item, and 28 percent pointing to an inadequate availability of cybersecurity professionals as a “top barrier.” In the past year, hackers have attacked a number of local governments in states such as ColoradoGeorgiaMaryland and Pennsylvania. These serious cyberattacks have cost taxpayers millions of dollars and have wreaked havoc on essential local government processes. 

The State Cyber Resiliency Act also addresses the nation’s cybersecurity workforce talent gap by ensuring that participating states enhance recruitment and retention efforts. Currently, there are more than 313,000 cybersecurity job openings nationwide, including 33,500 in Virginia, 24,800 in Texas, 10,200 in Colorado, and 6,300 in Washington.

Sen. Warner, along with Sen. Gardner, is the co-founder of the bipartisan Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, and recently introduced legislation to better protect customers, increase transparency for investors, and ensure public companies prioritize cybersecurity and data privacy. He also urged the Trump Administration in February to ensure the protection of critical electricity infrastructure and consider a federal government ban on the use of Huawei inverters in the United States.

 

The full text of the bill is available here.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded $15,386,097 in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for five Virginia health clinics. This funding will allow the clinics to provide quality, affordable health care and dental services to individuals in Southwest Virginia and on the Eastern Shore.

“We’re pleased to announce federal funding to ensure these clinics can continue to offer valuable care to their communities,” the Senators said. “The clinics are dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for Virginians by ensuring their patients can access the medical, dental, and preventative health services they need.”

The following clinics will receive funding:

  • Clinch River Health Services Inc. of Dungannon, VA will receive $1,297,415
  • St. Charles Health Council Inc. of Jonesville, VA will receive $4,553,688
  • Tri-Area Community Health of Laurel Fork, VA will receive $2,301,604
  • Kuumba Community Health & Wellness Center of Roanoke, VA will receive $2,410,299 
  • Eastern Shore Rural Health System of Onancock, VA will receive $4,823,091

This funding was awarded through HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Health Center Cluster Program. More than 27 million people in the U.S. rely on HRSA-funded health centers for affordable primary health care.

 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tom Carper (D-DE), and 30 other Senators in condemning the President’s plan to cut national security funding to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. In a letter to President Trump, the Senators reiterated that the U.S. Congress has already appropriated FY18 funds to advance the United States’ foreign policy priorities related to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.   

“Your shortsighted decision poses serious risks to our national security and will damage strategic U.S. efforts to address the underlying conditions driving citizens in all three countries to flee their homelands and migrate to the United States,” wrote the Senators. “Since taking office, you have consistently expressed a flawed understanding of U.S. foreign assistance. It is neither charity, nor is it a gift to foreign governments. Our national security funding is specifically designed to promote American interests, enhance our collective security, and protect the safety of our citizens.” 

Citing cabinet officials who have recently called for a rational response to the growing number of migrants fleeing violent conditions in Central America, the Senators urged the President to reverse his decision cutting funding to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

The Senators continued, “Our foreign assistance programs provide our government essential leverage to support reforms in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras that mitigate the root causes of migration to our southern border by enabling citizens from those countries to find security and economic opportunities in their communities. By obstructing the use of FY2018 national security funding and seeking to terminate similar funding from FY2017, you are personally undermining efforts to promote U.S. national security and economic prosperity.”

The Senators also noted that the Trump Administration’s decision undermines years of continuous bipartisan and bicameral congressional efforts to increase the effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance to Central America. This assistance helps ensure consequential change and address root causes of irregular migration to the United States and Virginia, such as extreme poverty and lack of economic opportunity, which lead to unchecked violence and crime.                                        

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine, Menendez, and Carper, the letter was signed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tom Udall (D-NM), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bob Casey (D-PA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Tina Smith (D-MN).

 

The text of the letter can be found below:

 

President Donald J. Trump

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

 

Mr. President:

 

We write to express our outright opposition to your plan to cut national security funding that the Congress has appropriated to advance United States’ foreign policy priorities related to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Your shortsighted decision poses serious risks to our national security and will damage strategic U.S. efforts to address the underlying conditions driving citizens in all three countries to flee their homelands and migrate to the United States. 

 

Since taking office, you have consistently expressed a flawed understanding of U.S. foreign assistance. It is neither charity, nor is it a gift to foreign governments. Our national security funding is specifically designed to promote American interests, enhance our collective security, and protect the safety of our citizens.  Our foreign assistance programs provide our government essential leverage to support reforms in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras that mitigate the root causes of migration to our southern border by enabling citizens from those countries to find security and economic opportunities in their communities.

 

By obstructing the use of FY2018 national security funding and seeking to terminate similar funding from FY2017, you are personally undermining efforts to promote U.S. national security and economic prosperity, including:

 

        Combatting Drug Trafficking: The State Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) work jointly with specially trained and vetted units in the Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran police forces to combat drug trafficking organizations and seize narcotics trafficked through Central America to the U.S. Your decision directly undercuts our ability to stop illicit drugs from entering our country.

 

        Countering Transnational Criminal Organizations: As part of their Transnational Anti-Gang (TAG) Task Forces, the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) collaborate with prosecutors and national polices forces in all three countries to address the violent crimes of MS-13 and other criminal organizations. By cutting U.S. foreign assistance to the region, you are depriving our government of key law enforcement intelligence needed to keep our citizens safe.

 

        Strengthening the Rule of Law: The State Department, Department of Justice, and the U.S. Agency for International Development work with the Attorneys General and judicial systems in each country in order to promote the effective application of local laws and hold accountable the perpetrators of violence, extortion, narcotics and human trafficking, and domestic violence. Your cuts will terminate efforts end the cycle of impunity that forces victims to flee their countries in search of safety in the U.S.

 

        Defending Human Rights and Democratic Principles: There are enduring challenges in the Northern Triangle countries related to government officials and security forces perpetrating gross violations of human rights and acts of corruption, which directly contribute to insecurity. By cutting USAID funding, you are weakening our support for citizens and civil society groups to hold their governments accountable.

 

        Advancing Economic Reforms: Extreme poverty and a lack of economic opportunity contribute to the unchecked violence and crime that Central American refugees are fleeing.  Your cuts to foreign assistance deny the U.S. Government leverage needed to encourage Central American governments to take steps that improve their citizens’ educational and economic opportunities and create the conditions for inclusive growth.

 

For the past five years, in a bipartisan and bicameral way, Congress has continuously worked to increase the effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance to Central America, instituting strict conditions on our funding in order to ensure consequential change. We have routinely been unsatisfied with insufficient efforts by Central American leaders and have limited funding to their central governments, but we remain convinced that continued engagement is the best option to promote meaningful change. To that end, your announcement marks a clear attempt to circumvent Congressional prerogative and obstruct the funding priorities established in bipartisan appropriations bills.

 

By cutting national security funding for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, you also appear to be overturning the consensus within your own cabinet about the need for a rational response to the growing number of migrants fleeing violent conditions in Central America. Mere days before your announcement, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen signed a regional security compact with officials from Northern Triangle countries building on cooperative efforts made possible by U.S. funding. Last month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan expressed support for continuing funding to Central American governments in order to improve conditions in the region. And, at the 2017 Northern Triangle Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America, Vice President Pence stated, “To further stem the flow of illegal immigration and illegal drugs into the United States, President Trump knows, as do all of you, that we must confront these problems at their source. We must meet them – and we must solve them – in Central and South America.”

 

We encourage you to listen to members of your own Administration and reverse a decision that will damage our national security and aggravate conditions inside Central America. We look forward to working with you and members of your Administration to ensure that U.S. foreign aid continues to reflect our values and advance our national security interests.

 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – On the Senate floor today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, requested that the Senate immediately take up and pass a resolution calling for the public release of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report. However, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) objected to the unanimous consent request and blocked the immediate passage of the resolution, which previously passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 420 – 0.

“Simply put, a summary is not going to cut it,” Sen. Warner said on the floor. “This is an extraordinarily extensive investigation that yielded a rich collection of facts about Russia’s attack on our democracy. The American people deserve to see the results so they can judge the facts for themselves.”

Sen. Warner highlighted that the Attorney General’s four-page summary of the Special Counsel’s report only focused on the criminal portion of the Mueller probe, and barely mentioned the Special Counsel’s counter-intelligence investigation into Trump campaign contacts with Russian officials and intermediaries.

He continued, “Our committee has made multiple criminal referrals to the Special Prosecutor based on what we learned in witnesses’ efforts to lie to us and obstruct our investigation. This is what a counter-intelligence investigation is all about. We need to fully understand what the Russians were trying to do. And we need to be able to warn future campaigns and candidates about the lengths and new tools hostile governments will go to undermine our democracy… Let’s make sure the full Mueller report is released to Congress — including the underlying documents and intelligence. And then let’s make sure that the American people see as much of the report as possible, and as soon as possible. And let’s do it in that bipartisan way that protect sources and methods.”

Sen. Warner also emphasized that the resolution, H. Con. Res. 24, Expressing the Sense of Congress that the report of Special Counsel Mueller should be made available to the public and to Congress, ensures that the Special Counsel’s report is released in accordance with the law, without publicly revealing sources, methods, or grand jury information.

 

Below is a transcript of Sen. Warner’s full floor remarks:

Sen. Warner: Two weeks ago, after almost two years, Special Counsel Mueller filed his report with the Attorney General. The Attorney General sent us a short letter summarizing the major findings of the report.

Simply put, a summary is not going to cut it. The Attorney General’s own letter discusses the vast extent of the Special Counsel’s investigation, mentioning over 500 witness interviews, 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, 230 orders for communications records, and almost 50 orders for pen registers, and actually 13 requests to foreign governments. 

This is an extraordinarily extensive investigation that yielded a rich collection of facts about Russia’s attack on our democracy. The American people deserve to see the results so they can judge the facts for themselves.

We know from court filings, news reports, and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s own investigations that the Russians attempted to influence the Trump campaign in many ways. At least 17 individuals in the Trump orbit had over 100 publicly released contacts with Russian officials or intermediaries. And yet, with all those 100 contacts during the midst of a campaign, somehow not one of those individuals — even those contacted with explicit offers of assistance from a hostile government — called the FBI to report those offers.

And yet, the Attorney General’s four-page summary of this sprawling investigation, a summary that according to press reports may not even accurately reflect the Mueller report, focuses almost exclusively on the criminal portion of the Mueller probe — with barely any mention of the Special Counsel’s counter-intelligence investigation into these contacts.

The Senate Intelligence Committee — the only bipartisan counter-intelligence investigation still standing — has documented extensive efforts by Russians to reach out to those around then-candidate Trump.

A few examples we have documented and have been in the public domain: Candidate Trump’s efforts to negotiate a business deal to build what was going to be called the largest building in all of Russia, negotiating on that deal throughout the whole primary process and even potentially, at least according to his attorney Mr. Giuliani, maybe negotiated all the way through the election. Data that may, in itself, not have violated laws, but I frankly think that if I were a Republican primary voter, I would have liked to have known that my potential presidential candidate was still trying to do a deal with Vladimir Putin’s government.

We also in our investigation have exposed ongoing communications between the President’s campaign chairman, Mr. Manafort, and Konstantin Kilimnik, who has ties with both Russian intelligence and the oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Our committee has made multiple criminal referrals to the Special Prosecutor based on what we learned in witnesses’ efforts to lie to us and obstruct our investigation.

This is what a counter-intelligence investigation is all about. We need to fully understand what the Russians were trying to do. And we need to be able to warn future campaigns and candidates about the lengths and new tools hostile governments will go to undermine our democracy.

Now, I believe that we can’t make that full guidance to future campaigns without a full release of this report.

Now some observers have said that the report cannot be released without jeopardizing sources and methods. Let me be clear: as Vice Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, no one is more sensitive to those concerns than I am. But the resolution that we have specifically states that the report should be released to the public in accordance with the law. Clearly, sources and methods would not be released under this standard. Nor would grand jury information.

What we are talking about here is basic transparency. Let’s make sure the full Mueller report is released to Congress — including the underlying documents and intelligence. And then let’s make sure that the American people see as much of the report as possible, and as soon as possible. And let’s do it in that bipartisan way that protect sources and methods.

Therefore, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that as if in legislative session, the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of H Con RES. 24, Expressing the Sense of Congress that the report of Special Counsel Mueller should be made available to the public and to Congress, which is at the desk. Further, that the concurrent resolution be agreed to, the preamble be agreed to, and the motions to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate. 

Presiding Officer: Is there objection?

[Sen. Rand Paul objects]

Presiding Officer: Does the Senator from Virginia wish to modify his request?

Sen. Warner: Reserving the right to object, I would simply point out to my colleague from Kentucky that the Intelligence Community in their January 2017 report reached a unanimous conclusion. That conclusion was that Russia massively interfered in our elections. They did it in forms of hacking into personal information, and releasing it subjectively, they did it in terms of at least touching the electoral systems in 21 of our states’ election systems in ways that frankly found a great deal of vulnerabilities, and they did it in ways that manipulated social media, that quite honestly caught our Intelligence Community and social media companies off guard.

Our Intelligence Committee spent a year reviewing the conclusions of the Intelligence Community and in January of 17 unanimously agreed that the Intelligence Community’s findings were correct, the Russians interfered, they did it on behalf of one candidate, Mr. Trump, against another candidate, Mrs. Clinton, and for those reasons I respectfully object to my colleague from Kentucky.

Presiding Officer: Is there objection to the original request?

[Sen. Rand Paul objects]

Presiding Officer: Objection is heard.

Sen. Warner: Mr. President, I’ll simply close out. I hope we can move past this, the President himself has called for the release of the report, the House in a rare stroke of unanimity, voted 420 – 0. I think many in this body would like to move beyond this issue and the only way we are going to be able to move beyond this is to get this report released, get it out to the American public, let those of us who are charged with the Intelligence Community responsibilities see all of the report including the underlying documents. I hope we can get to that point.

Thank you Mr. President, I yield the floor.

###

 

WASHINGTON – Los senadores estadounidenses Mark R. Warner (D-VA) y Tim Kaine (D-VA) están sonando la alarma ante la amenaza del presidente Donald Trump de cerrar la frontera entre EE.UU. y México para impedir que las familias inmigrantes crucen la frontera sudoccidental, sin importar las repercusiones económicas. 

“A pesar que Virginia queda miles de millas de la frontera sudoccidental, Virginia tiene mucho que perder económicamente si le cerramos la puerta a uno de nuestros mayores socios comerciales,” dijeron los senadores. “México es uno de los clientes agrícolas más importantes de Virginia por lo que compra más de $111 millones de artículos de exportación y apoya miles de trabajos. Siempre hemos apoyado las inversiones estratégicas de seguridad fronteriza, pero seamos claros: cerrar la frontera no es una solución viable. Es un recurso imprudente que podría perjudicar fuentes laborales en Virginia, aumentar los precios para las familias de Virginia, y causar estragos en la economía de nuestro estado.” 

El comercio con México apoya a 133,000 empleos en Virginia. Según el Departamento de Agricultura y Servicios al Consumidor de Virginia (VDACS, por sus siglas en inglés), México es el sexto mercado de exportación agrícola más grande de Virginia. En el 2018, México compró más de $111 millones de artículos de exportación de Virginia – una disminución del 3 por ciento desde el 2017, una reducción atribuible en parte a las políticas comerciales y arancelarias caóticas implementadas por la administración de Trump. La industria porcina por si misma representó $64 millones de exportaciones agrícolas en Virginia en el 2018.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) are sounding the alarm after President Donald Trump threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border to stop immigrant families from crossing the southwest border, no matter the economic impact. 

“Despite being thousands of miles away from the Southern border, Virginia has a lot to lose economically if we close our doors to one of our greatest trade partners,” said the Senators. “Mexico is one of Virginia’s most important agricultural customers, purchasing more than $111 million in exports and supporting thousands of jobs. We’ve consistently supported strategic investments in border security, but let’s be clear: closing the border altogether isn’t a viable solution. That is a reckless approach that could jeopardize thousands of jobs in Virginia, lead to increased prices for Virginia families, and wreak havoc on the Commonwealth’s economy.”

Trade with Mexico supports 133,000 jobs in the Commonwealth. According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), Mexico is Virginia’s sixth-largest overall agricultural export market. In 2018, Mexico purchased more than $111 million in Virginia exports – a 3 percent decrease from 2017, a decline attributable in part to haphazard trade and tariff policies implemented by the Trump Administration. The pork industry alone accounted for $64 million of Virginia’s agricultural exports in 2018.

 

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Washington, D.C.— Following reports of the arrest of Chinese national Yujin Zhang, who was apprehended by Secret Service after making false statements to enter Mar-a-Lago while carrying a thumb drive containing malware, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Committee on the Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) today urged FBI Director Christopher Wray to assess the risks at Mar-a-Lago in light of the security vulnerabilities exposed by this latest incident. The senators asked the FBI to determine the steps needed to detect and deter adversary governments or their agents from attempting to gain access to or conduct electronic surveillance or acquire material at Mar-a-Lago or President Trump’s other properties.

According to reports, Ms. Zhang stated that she was invited to attend a non-existent event by an associate of Li “Cindy” Yang, who senior members of the congressional intelligence and judiciary committees recently asked the FBI to criminally investigate, given the credible allegations of potential human trafficking, unlawful foreign lobbying and other activities by Ms. Yang, and to assess the risks or related concerns associated with any interactions between her and the president. So far, the FBI has failed to respond. Today’s letter requests answers to the intelligence and judiciary committees’ previous letter and an assessment of the security vulnerabilities exposed by this latest incident involving Yujin Zhang.

 

The Senators’ letter can be found here and below: 

 

April 3, 2019

 

The Honorable Christopher Wray

Director

Federal Bureau of Investigation

935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20535

 

Dear Director Wray:

 

We write regarding the arrest of Yujin Zhang, a Chinese national who was apprehended by Secret Service after she allegedly made false statements to bypass security at Mar-a-Lago while carrying multiple electronic devices and a thumb drive containing malicious malware.

 

According to the information provided in the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Ms. Zhang was allowed access to the property after security staff employed at Mar-a-Lago believed her to be a relative of a member of the club. After she passed into a restricted area and was eventually questioned by a receptionist, Ms. Zhang stated that she had been invited to Mar-a-Lago to attend a non-existent United Nations Chinese American Association event by an apparent associate of Li “Cindy” Yang, who had reportedly promoted events at the club on Chinese-language social media.

 

On March 15th, senior members of the congressional intelligence and judiciary committees asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct criminal and counterintelligence investigations into credible allegations of potential human trafficking, unlawful foreign lobbying and other activities by Ms. Yang as well as an assessment of the risks or related concerns associated with any interactions between her and the President. While this request came after Ms. Yang was photographed with the President and reports that she created a business that attempted to sell access to the President and his family to clients in China, Congress has not yet received a response. 

 

This latest incident raises very serious questions regarding security vulnerabilities at Mar-a-Lago, which foreign intelligence services have reportedly targeted. The apparent ease with which Ms. Zhang gained access to the facility during the President’s weekend visit raises concerns about the system for screening visitors, including the reliance on determinations made by Mar-a-Lago employees. As the White House Communications Agency and Secret Service coordinate to establish several secure areas at Mar-a-Lago for handling classified information when the President travels there, these potential vulnerabilities have serious national security implications.  

 

Accordingly, we ask that the FBI, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, assess the risks at Mar-a-Lago posed by establishment of areas for classified information at facility accessible to the public and foreign nationals. We also ask that you determine, in consultation with the Secret Service, the steps needed to detect and deter adversary governments or their agents from attempting to gain access to or conduct electronic surveillance or acquire material at Mar-a-Lago or President Trump’s other properties.

 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We ask that you provide Congress with a written response to this letter as well as the questions related to Ms. Yang that were enumerated in the March 15th letter without delay.   

 

Sincerely,  

 

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

 

Senate Committee on the Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

 

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA)

 

Enclosure

 

cc:       The Honorable Dan Coats

            Director of National Intelligence

 

            The Honorable Randolph D. Alles

            Director, U.S. Secret Service

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to introduce a pair of bills aimed at protecting federal health care benefits in the event of a government shutdown. Similar bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House yesterday, led by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). 

The two bills would amend current law to ensure that workers who have qualifying life events – like the birth or adoption of a child – are able to make the proper adjustments to their health insurance plans and continue dental and vision benefits during lapses in federal funding.

“I’ve heard story after story about how the recent government shutdown caused significant financial hardship for Virginians. But stories like Brian Uholick’s really struck a nerve. During the 35-day shutdown, Brian struggled to get his newborn on his health insurance to ensure he could get the medication she needed because his own HR department was furloughed,” said Warner. “It’s just not right. That’s why I joined my colleagues in introducing a set of bills to ensure the health and well-being of our federal workforce and their families.” 

“Our hardworking federal employees should never have to go through the pain of a shutdown in the first place, and they should never have to fear losing access to their health benefits as a result. Our legislation would help ensure that federal workers and their families can get the care they need during a shutdown,” said Kaine.     

Press reports during the recent shutdown indicated that federal employees had difficulty obtaining health insurance coverage for their newborns because some agencies were not processing new enrollments or changes to enrollments. 

In January, Sens. Warner and Kaine pressed the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Acting Director to prevent the termination of dental and vision coverage for federal workers during the 35-day shutdown after reports emerged that employees could stand to lose their coverage if they did not pay their premiums. During the government shutdown, OPM announced that coverage would continue only for two or three pay periods, after which insurers would start billing employees directly.   

Both bills are supported by the American Federation of Government Employees, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

 

###

 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to protect horses from the abusive practice known as “soring,” in which show horse trainers intentionally apply substances or devices to horses’ limbs to make each step painful and force an exaggerated high-stepping gait rewarded in show rings. Although federal law currently prohibits soring, a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector General (IG) has found that some horse trainers often go to great lengths to continue this inhumane practice. 

“Horses have been a part of our Commonwealth’s history and culture since the settling of Jamestown, and like all animals, they deserve to be treated with care and compassion,” said Sen. Warner. “The PAST Act will further protect these animals from the cruel practice of inflicting deliberate pain and suffering for show purposes.”

“I support the humane treatment of all animals and the responsible training of horses,” said Sen. Crapo. “I remain committed to ending the cruel practice of soring, and will continue to promote enforcement of current animal welfare laws.”

“The American Horse Council – the voice of the nation’s equine sector which directly supports nearly one million U.S. jobs and contributes $122 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – applauds the leadership of Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) for introducing the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act of 2019. Although “soring” – which is the practice of inflicting pain on a horse’s limb to produce an accentuated gait – has declined since Congress enacted the Horse Protection Act in 1970, the PAST Act will build on this progress by modernizing inspection and revising penalties for violations,” said Julie M. Broadway, President of the American Horse Council.

“VVMA applauds previous legislation aimed to halt the inhumane practices of soring of horses, and the PAST act will strengthen the ban on these practices. This important legislation is strongly supported by the veterinarians of Virginia," said Kelly Gottschalk, DVM, President of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association. 

“Horse ‘soring’ is one of the worse cruelties imaginable – where scofflaw trainers deliberately torture Tennessee walking horses to get them to fling their front legs high, just to win a cheap blue ribbon in a show ring.  It'd be like forcing an Olympian to wear broken glass in her shoes so the pain will make her leap higher over the hurdles,” said Sara Amundson, President of Humane Society Legislative Fund. “We are grateful to Senators Crapo and Warner for their leadership on the PAST Act, which has garnered overwhelming bipartisan cosponsors and support by the nation’s leading horse industry, veterinary, law enforcement and animal welfare groups.  We urge Senate leadership to allow a floor vote soon to finally end this abuse.” 

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act would:

  • Eliminate self-policing by requiring the USDA to assign a licensed inspector if the show's management indicates intent to hire one. Licensed or accredited veterinarians, if available, would be given preference for these positions.
  • Prohibit the use of action devices and pads on specific horse breeds that have a history of being the primary victims of soring. Action devices, such as chains that rub up and down an already-sore leg, intensify the horse's pain when it moves so that the horse quickly jolts up its leg.
  • Increase consequences on individuals caught soring a horse, including raising the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony, which is subject to up to three years' incarceration, increasing fines from $3,000 to $5,000 per violation, and permanently disqualifying three-time violators from participating in horse shows, exhibitions, sales or auctions.

In 2017, the USDA Office of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) moved to strengthen certain aspects of the Horse Protection Act by incorporating some of the major tenets of the PAST Act. However, the rule was not finalized before the end of the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration has halted the process. The PAST Act would codify these changes into law.   

The PAST Act was previously introduced in 2018 by Sens. Warner and Crapo, and in 2015 by Sen. Warner and former Sen. Ayotte (R-NH). Original co-sponsors of this bill include Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Ed Markey (D-MA), Steve Daines (R-MT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Wyden (D-OR), and Bob Casey (D-PA).

Numerous groups have endorsed the bill, including the American Horse Council, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, Humane Society Legislative Fund, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Virginia Veterinary Medical Association.

 

More information about this bill can be found here. A copy of the bill text is available here.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and a bipartisan coalition of Senators in reintroducing legislation to combat sexual assault on college and university campuses. The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would reform the way institutions handle incidents of on-campus sexual assault and ensure that investigations and disciplinary proceedings are fair and consistent. It would also create new resources and support services for survivors, and set new notification requirements for both survivors and accused students involved in the campus disciplinary process. 

“In recent years, the brave individuals behind the #MeToo movement have successfully increased public awareness and discussion about sexual assault and harassment, and Congress has a responsibility to support these efforts with legislation that focuses on preventing sexual assault in colleges and universities across the nation,” said Sen. Warner. “I am very proud to reintroduce the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which demands greater transparency, consistency, and accountability from our institutions of higher learning.” 

“Sexual assault is pervasive in colleges and universities all over the country, yet Congress has not done nearly enough to address this crisis,” said Sen. Gillibrand. “For far too long institutions have gotten away with sweeping this problem under the rug. Students are demanding that Congress take this problem seriously, and we must listen to them. That’s why I am proud to reintroduce my bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which would hold colleges and universities accountable and help give survivors the support they need. I urge my colleagues to take this issue seriously and fight with us to pass this bipartisan bill.” 

“When something as traumatic as sexual assault occurs on campus, students need a place they can go for support and unbiased information about their rights,” said Sen. Grassley. “This bill takes active steps forward to help facilitate communication and support between universities, students and law enforcement, as well as foster a positive sense of community on campus.”

Specifically, this legislation would do the following:

  • Establish new campus resources and support services for student survivors: Colleges and universities would be required to designate Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to assist survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. Sexual Assault Response Coordinators would coordinate support services and accommodations for survivors, provide information about options for reporting, and provide guidance or assistance – at the direction of the survivor – in reporting the crime to campus authorities and/or law enforcement. Schools would no longer be allowed to sanction students who report sexual violence but reveal a non-violent student conduct violation in good faith, like underage drinking.
  • Require fairness in the campus disciplinary process: All schools would be required to use one uniform process for campus student disciplinary proceedings and would no longer be allowed to have athletic departments or other subgroups handle complaints. Schools would be required to provide written notification to the accused as well as the survivor of any decision to move forward with a campus disciplinary proceeding within 24 hours of that decision. The notice must include details of the complaint, a summary of the disciplinary proceeding, and the rights and due process protections available to both parties.  
  • Ensure minimum training standards for on-campus personnel: This legislation would ensure that everyone from the Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to those responsible for investigating and participating in disciplinary proceedings receives specialized training so that they have a firm understanding of the nature of these crimes and their effect on survivors.
  • Create historic new transparency requirements: For the first time, students at every college and university in America would be surveyed about their experience with sexual violence to get an accurate picture of this problem. This new biennial survey would be standardized and confidential, with the results published online so that parents and high school students could make an informed choice when comparing universities. The Department of Education would also be required to publish the names of all schools with pending investigations, final resolutions, and voluntary resolution agreements related to Title IX with respect to sexual violence and requirements of the Clery Act.
  • Ensure coordination with law enforcement: This legislation would require colleges and universities to enter into memoranda of understanding (MOU) with each local law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction to report to a campus as a first responder. These MOUs would ensure that the school and law enforcement clearly delineate duties and share information so that when a crime occurs, both campus authorities and local authorities can focus on solving the crime rather than debating jurisdiction. 
  • Establish stiffer penalties for violations: Schools that do not comply with certain requirements under the bill may face a penalty of up to 1 percent of the institution’s operating budget. The bill would also increase penalties for Clery Act violations to up to $150,000 per violation, from the current penalty of $35,000 per violation. Financial penalties collected from institutions in violation would be distributed back to campuses through a new competitive grant program, administered by the Secretary of Education, for which colleges and universities can apply for the purpose of researching best practices for preventing and responding to sexual and interpersonal violence on college campuses and sharing such research with peer institutions and the Department of Education.

Sen. Warner has been a lead sponsor of this bill since its original introduction in the 113th Congress.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Gillibrand, and Grassley, other co-sponsors include Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). 

Text of the bill is available here and a summary is available here.

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) called on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include in the upcoming National Defense Authorization Act portions of an essential bill to address hazards in private military housing. The Senators introduced the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act last month in response to a Reuters investigation that exposed health, safety and environmental hazards in privatized military housing throughout the United States.

“While we are pleased that the military services have realized the scope and severity of the problem, and have begun to circulate a ‘Resident Bill of Rights’ for servicemembers living in privatized housing, we strongly believe that Congress must enact legal protections for our military families and strengthen accountability mechanisms for these private companies,” the Senators wrote. 

They concluded, “We believe these reforms are necessary to ensure that contractors are responsive to servicemembers’ concerns, that military housing officials are exercising proper oversight, that servicemembers are empowered to leave any home they feel is unsafe for their family without fear of incurring a financial penalty, and, most importantly, for servicemembers and their families to live in safe and secure housing.”

Among other things, the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act would create stronger oversight mechanisms, allow the military to withhold payments to contractors until issues are resolved, and prohibit contractors from charging certain fees. It would also require the military to withhold incentive fees to poorly performing contractors.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long advocated for servicemembers and military families. Last week, they filed an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2020 budget resolution to ensure military families have safe and healthy housing. Sen. Warner also recently met with military families in Newport News to hear about their experiences living in privatized military housing, and Sen. Kaine recently toured privatized military housing near Naval Station Norfolk. Last month, the Senators also visited Fort Belvoir to hear from military families about their experiences with military housing.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine, Feinstein, and Harris, the letter was signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Jon Tester (D-MT). 

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

 

April 1, 2019

 

The Honorable James Inhofe

Chairman

Senate Committee on Armed Services

Russell Senate Building, Room 228

 

The Honorable Jack Reed

Ranking Member

Senate Committee on Armed Services

Russell Senate Building, Room 228

 

Dear Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Reed:

 

We write today to request that the Armed Services Committee include provisions of our legislation, entitled the Ensuring Safe Housing for our Military Act, to improve privatized military housing, in the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

 

As you know, major problems with privatized military housing have surfaced since Reuters first published a series of articles last year. The Reuters articles, and hearings held by your committee, have revealed that many servicemembers and their families have been forced to live in homes with serious health, safety and environmental hazards, without sufficient recourse.

 

The contractors who operate privatized military housing have too often failed to properly remedy these hazards, or outright ignored servicemembers’ concerns. The military housing officials and installation commanders responsible for ensuring that our servicemembers have safe housing have frequently fallen well short of their charge.

 

While we are pleased that the military services have realized the scope and severity of the problem, and have begun to circulate a “Resident Bill of Rights” for servicemembers living in privatized housing, we strongly believe that Congress must enact legal protections for our military families and strengthen accountability mechanisms for these private companies.

 

To that end, our bill would:

 

1)      Require installation commanders to withhold payment of a servicemember’s basic allowance for housing (BAH) until a military housing official has inspected an environmental, safety or health hazard, verified that appropriate remediation has taken place, and the servicemember concurs that the remediation is satisfactory. In the case that the hazard requires the servicemember to leave the housing unit, the contractor will pay all relocation costs. 

 

2)      Prohibit payment of a deposit, and any fee or penalty related to ending a lease early, except for normal wear and tear. The bill also requires contractors to reimburse servicemembers for damage to their private property caused by a hazard. 

 

3)      Require the Secretary of Defense to withhold incentive fees to any contractor who persistently fails to remedy hazards.

 

4)      Create standard credentials for health, safety and environmental inspectors across the services, and including contractors, to ensure consistent inspection practices.

 

5)      Require the DOD to establish an electronic system so that installation commanders and servicemembers can track and oversee work orders.

 

We believe these reforms are necessary to ensure that contractors are responsive to servicemembers’ concerns, that military housing officials are exercising proper oversight, that servicemembers are empowered to leave any home they feel is unsafe for their family without fear of incurring a financial penalty, and, most importantly, for servicemembers and their families to live in safe and secure housing.

 

We thank you for your leadership and we look forward to continuing to work on this vitally important issue.

 

Sincerely,

 

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Washington – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and a bipartisan group of 43 other Senators to urge the Trump Administration to rescind a proposed rule that would take away nutrition benefits from Americans struggling to find stable employment. In a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Senators asked Secretary Sonny Perdue to withdraw this proposal, which would make it harder for states to provide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to communities experiencing economic uncertainty.   

“Congress recognizes that one-size-fits-all rules for SNAP and employment practices actually end up fitting no one,” the Senators wrote. “This proposed rule removes critical local input and flexibility. This proposal ignores the intent of Congress, would worsen hunger in this country, and would do nothing to help increase stable, long-term employment or move individuals to self-sufficiency. We urge you to immediately withdraw this proposed rule.” 

This proposed regulation, which could result in the loss of more than 178,000 jobs, comes in direct contravention of Congressional intent. In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress chose to reject similar proposals by the President and some members of Congress that would have changed SNAP work rules and the ability of states to waive work requirements. In fact, an amendment to further restrict states from providing geographic waivers for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) was rejected by the House of Representatives by a vote of 83-330.  A similar amendment proposed in the Senate was rejected (tabled) by a bipartisan vote of 68-30.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long stressed the importance of sustained funding for the SNAP program. In January, both Senators wrote to the Secretary of Agriculture to voice concern about the status of SNAP amidst the government shutdown. Additionally, Sen. Warner reintroduced a bill earlier this month to benefit low-income rural and urban communities with limited or no access to nutritious food by increasing access to grocery stores in areas designated as “food deserts.” 

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine, Stabenow, and Murkowski, the letter was signed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Robert Casey (D-PA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Angus King (ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick  Leahy (D-VT), Joe Manchin (D-WV),  Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jackie Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

 

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

 

The Honorable Sonny Perdue

Secretary of Agriculture

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, DC  20250

 

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write to raise serious concerns about the Administration’s recent proposed rule “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Requirements for Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (84 FR 980).”  Despite the Department’s intent that this rule would “improve employment outcomes and economic independence,” the proposed changes would take food assistance away from Americans struggling to find stable employment while doing nothing to help them to actually become permanently employed.  This is contrary to Congressional intent, evidenced by the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-334), which rejected similar harmful changes to SNAP and passed Congress by a historic vote of 87-13 in the Senate and by 369-47 in the House of Representatives.

SNAP already has strict time limits that restrict access to food assistance to three months out of every three years for most working-aged adults.  Acknowledging the strictness of these policies and understanding the unique needs of our states and our constituents, Congress sought to mitigate the impact by providing states discretion to request waivers of the time limit and to utilize monthly exemptions based on local workforce circumstances.  Every state in the country but Delaware has utilized waivers when local conditions warranted.  While the use of time limit waivers peaked for many states during the great recession, the percentage of the population eligible for waivers of time limits has dropped to pre-recession levels, resulting in many SNAP recipients losing access to food assistance under current rules.  There is no evidence, however, that the re-imposition of the time limit in these areas has resulted in these individuals achieving self-sufficiency through new employment opportunities. 

 

Since the waiver process was formally adopted during the George W. Bush Administration, efforts to modify waiver criteria have always originated in—and been rejected by—Congress, instead of through executive action.  Most recently, Congress considered and chose to reject attempts to limit flexibility for states to request waivers for time limits in SNAP during both the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills.  Instead, Congress has focused on improving employment and training activities through innovative pilots, workforce partnerships, and state-based employment and training initiatives that strengthen an individual’s ability to secure stable, long-term employment. These efforts recognize that many individuals face substantial barriers to employment that an arbitrary time limit or unemployment floor do nothing to address.

Noting that some states and regions experience a normal or near-normal unemployment rate, the proposed rule assumes that an average unemployment rate means every person seeking a job will be able to find one, and that wages from such employment would sustain a family.  However, rates of unemployment for individuals without a high school diploma or a GED and individuals in the service sector are often as much as double the average rates of unemployment in a community.  For example, in 2018, while the unemployment rate for workers with a bachelor’s degree or more was 2.1 percent, the unemployment rate for those with less than a high school education was 5.6 percent, and 10.4 percent for African-American workers with less than a high school education.  In addition, in some areas with insufficient jobs, a declining unemployment rate may not only imply that more Americans have gotten jobs, but also that some Americans may be leaving the labor force.

Many rural areas have had slow employment growth since the end of the great recession, and the gap between employment rates in rural and urban areas has widened.  In some rural and frontier regions, unemployment remains in the double digits.  The economic, transportation, geographic, and other challenges that contribute to high unemployment rates in some large regions of our country are unlikely to change.  It is unlikely, for example, that significant employment opportunities will come to regions that have very small populations, are unconnected by roads, and experience high energy costs.

Due to persistent discrimination in hiring practices, certain protected classes are also likely to be disparately impacted by this proposal, a fact that the proposed rule acknowledged, but did not resolve.  For example, field studies have consistently shown that white applicants receive more callbacks for job interviews than otherwise identical applications from African-American or Latino applicants.   Assuming generalized employment figures are representative of the ABAWD population targeted by this rule ignores the employment realities that many of these individuals face.  Early analysis also indicates that the proposed rule would have a disparate negative impact on American Indian and Alaska Native populations living in rural areas of the nation.

The proposed rule also is based on a faulty assumption that individuals that are receiving SNAP are choosing not to work.  In fact, most SNAP participants are working.  Many individuals that would lose access to food assistance because of this rule are employed, but have inconsistent hours or work in seasonal industries such as fishing and construction.  The proposed rule asserts that 74% of ABAWDs are not working.  That statistic is misleading and does not correctly represent the work status of most SNAP recipients.  Recent studies show that less than 2% of participants aged 18-49 are consistently working less than 20 hours a week, and less than 2% are always unemployed. Instead, the majority of these individuals fluctuated over a two-year period between working at least 20 hours a week in a given month, to falling short of a consistent 20 hours per work week.  Even those individuals who successfully meet the work requirement may lose their food assistance if they fail to correctly document their hours or submit required paperwork.  Asserting individuals facing inconsistent or unstable work circumstances are not seeking self-sufficiency does a disservice to our shared goals of helping American families to find consistent, stable employment that allows them to feed their families.

The proposed rule also wrongly assumes that those who are not qualified for work available in their community, region, state, or elsewhere in the nation can easily obtain job training.  In rural and frontier areas, job training is not available.  In most cases, job training opportunities located in urban areas cannot absorb additional trainees.  In addition, Congress has asked state and local Workforce Investment Boards to more closely align job training with actual job opportunities because it makes no sense to train someone for a job that does not exist.

 

We are also concerned about the impact these changes would have on state agencies.  The proposed rule would require additional oversight of and paperwork from an expanded number of people not currently subject to work requirements.  If finalized, states would be compelled to hire and train many additional caseworkers and in states with rural and remote regions, spend even more to provide on-the-ground oversight to ensure claimed work requirements were met.

Establishing an arbitrary unemployment floor would have a dramatic impact on participation.  According to the proposed rule’s estimates, establishing a 7% unemployment rate floor for waivers would affect 1.1 million SNAP participants, with nearly three-quarters of those participants, over 755,000 people, losing access to food assistance.  This estimate is likely low as it is based on economic growth rates that are not feasible.  This only clearly demonstrates that this proposed rule is not designed to help individuals gain stable employment. Instead, the outcome is simply more hunger.

In addition to being out of line with Congressional intent related to waivers, this rule also directly contradicts Congressional direction related to waiver submissions and carry-over exemptions included in the 2018 Farm Bill report.  This report, written by Chairman Pat Roberts, Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, Chairman Mike Conaway and Ranking Member Collin Peterson and approved by the 369 members of the House and 87 members of the Senate, explicitly directs the Department not to make the changes made in this rule.  This unilateral Administrative action is in direct contradiction to the will of Congress.

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 Conference Report (H. Rept. 115-1072) specifically states that it was the intent of Congress that states will “continue to accrue exemptions and retain carryover exemptions from previous years, consistent with current law.”  The proposed rule’s elimination of unlimited carry-over exemptions blatantly disregards this direction from Congress.

Further, the Conference Report states that “The Managers intend to maintain the practice that bestows authority on the state agency responsible for administering SNAP to determine when and how waiver requests for ABAWDs are submitted…..It is not the Managers’ intent that USDA undertake any new rulemaking in order to facilitate support for requests from State agencies, nor should the language result in any additional paperwork of administrative steps under the waiver process.”  Congress was clear that we do not wish to establish any new requirements regarding state agency waiver submissions.

Congress recognizes that one-size-fits-all rules for SNAP and employment practices actually end up fitting no one.  While this Administration has promoted local control in many other sectors of federal policy, this proposed rule removes critical local input and flexibility. 

 

This proposal ignores the intent of Congress, would worsen hunger in this country, and would do nothing to help increase stable, long-term employment or move individuals to self-sufficiency.  We urge you to immediately withdraw this proposed rule.

 

Sincerely,

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine are celebrating the culmination of their successful efforts to get federal employees in Virginia Beach and Norfolk a much-deserved pay raise, as the President signed an executive order that designates a locality pay adjustment for Hampton Roads. This adjustment will increase salaries for approximately 30,400 Virginians in Virginia Beach and Norfolk in order to better reflect the rising costs of living in the area. Warner and Kaine have pushed OPM to take the necessary steps to implement a pay raise for Hampton Roads federal employees. While federal employees in the region could have been receiving higher pay last year, OPM’s delay in implementing the pay scale adjustment exacerbated the situation for Virginia families who had been long-expecting a raise. 

“There is no doubt that hardworking federal employees deserve this long-overdue pay raise,” the Senators said. “As the cost of living has increased in Hampton Roads, we have long fought to provide federal workers in the area a needed boost. We’re hopeful that the new pay rates will offer peace of mind to those who work hard to serve our country.”

In 2017, Kaine and Warner wrote to the Acting Director of OPM to express concern that federal employees in the Hampton Roads region were led to believe they would see a pay raise for calendar year 2017 and asked that the agency take quick action to implement the pay scale adjustment. Senators Warner and Kaine have also cosponsored legislation to provide all federal workers a pay raise of 3.6 percent, an increase from FY19’s 1.9 percent average.

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, along with 45 of their colleagues, introduced the For the People Act, a sweeping package of comprehensive reforms that would make government work for the people. The landmark legislation aims to restore the promise of American democracy by making it easier, not harder, to vote; ending the dominance of big money in politics; and ensuring that public officials work for the public interest. Earlier this month, the House passed their companion legislation, H.R. 1, by a vote of 234-193.  

“Our nation belongs to the people – not just the wealthy or the powerful people – but all the people,” said Warner. “I’m proud this legislation includes the Honest Ads Act, a bill I introduced to bring overdue transparency and accountability to online political ads. By facilitating access to the ballot box, addressing the influence of money in politics, and ensuring that lawmakers can be held accountable by those they serve, this bold legislation will strengthen democracy and put power back in the hands of everyday Americans.”

“I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce landmark legislation to protect the power of the American people in our democracy,” said Kaine. “This bill is about ensuring Americans can exercise their right to vote, securing our elections, and bringing more transparency to money in politics.”

The For the People Act would:

Make It Easier, Not Harder, To Vote

— Improve Access and Secure Voting Rights – Expands access to the ballot box by taking aim at institutional barriers to voting, such as cumbersome registration systems, limited voting hours, and many other roadblocks. The bill creates automatic voter registration across the country, ensures that individuals who have completed felony sentences have their full rights restored, expands voting by mail, promotes early voting and online voter registration, and modernizes the U.S. voting system. 

— Promote Integrity – Fights back against the assault on voting rights by reaffirming Congress’s commitment to restoring the Voting Rights Act, prohibiting voter roll purges like those seen in Ohio, Georgia and elsewhere, and ensuring that discriminatory voter ID laws do not prevent Americans citizens from exercising their rights. This bill would also end partisan gerrymandering to prevent politicians from picking their voters and making Americans feel like their voices do not count. 

— Bolster Election Security – Ensures that American elections are decided by American voters without interference by foreign adversaries. The bill creates a national strategy to protect our democratic institutions, increases oversight over election vendors, and enhances federal support for state voting system security upgrades, including paper ballot voting systems.

End The Dominance of Big Money In Politics 

— Guarantee Disclosure – Shines a light on dark money in politics by requiring all political organizations to disclose their donors, which will break the nesting-doll system that allows big-money contributors and special interests to hide their spending in networks of so-called “social welfare” organizations; expands “Stand By Your Ad” provisions; and harmonizes internet disclosure rules with existing broadcast rules.

— Empower Citizens – Builds a 21st-century campaign finance system to increase the power of small donors, reaffirms Congress’s authority to regulate money in politics, and pushes back against Citizens United. This bill levels the political playing field for Americans, creating a multiple matching system for small donations and allowing the American people to exercise their due influence in a post-Citizens United world, while reaffirming that Congress should have the authority to regulate money in politics. The new system of citizen-owned elections will decrease special interests’ influence on Congress and the White House and lay the groundwork for an agenda that serves the American people.

— Strengthen Oversight – Repairs and restructures the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to break gridlock and enhance enforcement mechanisms, tightens rules on super PACs, and repeals policy riders that block sensible disclosure measures. 

Ensure Public Officials Work For The Public Interest

— Fortify Ethics Laws and Slow the Revolving Door – Breaks the influence of special interests in Washington and increases accountability by expanding conflict of interest law and divestment requirements, slows the revolving door, prohibits members of Congress from serving on for-profit corporate boards, limits first class travel for government officials, ends taxpayer-financed settlements for officeholders, and requires presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.

— Impose Greater Ethics Enforcement – Gives teeth to federal ethics oversight by overhauling the Office of Government Ethics, requires the Supreme Court to create a new ethical code, and closes registration loopholes for lobbyists and foreign agents.

The legislation is sponsored by U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR). In addition to Warner and Kaine, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Angus King (I-ME), Bob Casey (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA), Doug Jones (D-AL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

The full text of the legislation is available HERE.

A one-page summary of the bill is available HERE.

A longer summary of the bill is available HERE.  

A section-by-section summary of the legislation is available HERE.

A list of organizations supporting the legislation is available HERE

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WASHINGTON – Today, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Investor Advisory Committee called on the Commission to modernize and improve corporate reporting and disclosure of human capital management practices. 

The Investor Advisory Committee recommendations come on the heels of calls by U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) for accounting principles and reporting requirements to view workforce investments in human capital as assets, rather than costs, in a knowledge-based economy. 

Last July, Sen. Warner, a former business executive and current member of the Senate Banking Committee, pressed the SEC to use its rulemaking authority to require companies to tell shareholders whether and how they are investing in their workforces through human capital management disclosures. The Investor Advisory Committee’s recommendations to the SEC today track closely with the human capital reforms Sen. Warner proposed in his July letter.   

“I’m very encouraged to see the Investor Advisory Committee come to similar conclusions based on the evidence: that the SEC should recognize the significance of human capital management and modernize corporate reporting and disclosure on it. In particular, I’m encouraged to see their recommendations include training per-employee. The recommendations would go a long way to provide investors with the critical information they need  to evaluate whether a company is making the appropriate investments in its workforce to compete in a 21st century economy. Just as there were increasing calls for greater and standardized disclosure of R&D in the 1970’s, there’s growing support for more human capital disclosure for the purpose of long-term economic growth. I hope the SEC responds with quick, meaningful action,” Sen. Warner said today.

Human capital management disclosures provide a snapshot of how U.S. companies compensate, train, retain, and incentivize their employees. Several studies have found that human capital management disclosures are an important predictor of a company’s long-term success in a changing economy. For example, a 2015 McKinsey study found that firms that prioritize learning programs for their employees perform better overall than those that do not. As the Investor Advisory Committee also noted, a recent Harvard report found a positive correlation between disclosed training programs and financial performance. Requiring companies to disclose human capital management indicators would provide investors with a better understanding of a firm’s performance and potential for long-term growth. 

The SEC’s current human capital disclosure requirements are extremely limited, requiring disclosures only of the number of employees, their median compensation, and CEO compensation. In a July letter, Sen. Warner urged the SEC to heed the calls of investors and utilize its rulemaking authority to require companies across the board to provide further details relating to human capital management. Specifically, Sen. Warner encouraged the SEC to revise and modernize Regulation S-K to require public reporting companies to disclose more qualitative and quantitative information regarding human capital. While the SEC would be responsible for developing and finalizing the requirements, human capital disclosures could potentially require firms to make public information about employee education and training programs; workforce demographics; employee turnover; employee compensation; and workforce compensation and incentives.

 

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