Washington Review, September 23, 2016
Over the last two weeks in Washington, I held a number of meetings, attended a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing, and participated in a markup of legislation.
Last week, I met with members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to discuss Iran’s hostile behavior in the region, continued U.S. military assistance to Israel, and the relationship between the two nations. I also had the opportunity to meet with the new Taiwanese Ambassador to the United States, Stanley Koa.
I was introduced to Marcela Escobari, the Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean. She leads the Bureau’s initiatives on poverty, inequality, citizen security, corruption, and climate change and provided me with an update of USAIDs ongoing work in Latin America. The State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, David Bakradze, also visited my office last week. We discussed the relationship between the United States and Georgia as well as current events in the region.
Later in the week, I met with Tony Costa and Juan Antonio Blanco of the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba to discuss the Castro regime’s oppressive tactics on the island. The Foundation is a nonprofit organization established to promote a free and democratic Cuba that works with human rights defenders and activists who seek to change the regime.
This week, I met with Guatemala’s Minister of the Interior and Police Chief to discuss police reform and civilian security in Guatemala. Next, I met with Dr. James Fukuda of Weekhawken and other members of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) to discuss legislative issues that are priorities for the Hispanic community including immigration and health care.
Over the course of the week, I have been briefed numerous times on the events that occurred last weekend in Elizabeth, New York City, and Seaside Park. On Thursday, my colleagues and I attended a classified briefing focused on these recent terror attacks as well as the attack that occurred in Minnesota. I will continue to closely monitor the situation and work with federal, state, and local officials.
On Wednesday, representatives of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers visited my office to update me on their members’ legislative priorities. I also met with members of the New York Shipping Association (NYSA) to discuss the Port of New York and New Jersey 50-Foot Harbor Deepening Project. The NYSA is an organization that represents the terminal operators, ocean carriers, stevedores, and marine-related businesses that operate and employ workers in the Port of New York and New Jersey. The Harbor Deepening project is the last part of a dredging program that will increase the channel capacities and allow the Port to maintain its competitiveness, improve its transportation efficiency, and benefit the regional economy.
Last Thursday, I participated in a Western Hemisphere Subcommittee hearing focused on Nicaragua’s Democratic Collapse. Since Daniel Ortega was elected President of Nicaragua in 2006, he has concentrated his political power and used his influence to gain control of the courts, rescind Presidential term-limits, ban international election observers, disqualify opposition candidates and remove them from the National Assembly. In addition, Ortega’s government has expelled an American scholar and two U.S. embassy officials and continues to harass American visitors. My colleagues and I heard from a panel of witnesses regarding this situation and questioned them on how the international community can respond to these nondemocratic actions.
The Subcommittee also held a markup of two pieces of legislation: H.Res. 851, expressing concern about the ongoing political, economic, social, and humanitarian crises in Venezuela; and H.R. 5708, the Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act (NICA) of 2016, which I introduced with my colleague Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Both pieces of legislation acknowledge the deterioration of democracy, rule of law, and human rights in Venezuela and Nicaragua and were passed unanimously by the subcommittee. H.Res. 851 urges the Maduro regime to release political prisoners and calls for respect of constitutional and democratic processes in Venezuela. H.R. 5708 instructs the United States to oppose loans from international financial institutions for the Government of Nicaragua unless the government is taking effective steps to hold free, fair, and transparent elections. On September 21st, the House of Representatives approved the NICA Act by unanimous consent and it now awaits further action in the Senate.
This week, I had the opportunity to assemble care packs for American troops at a United Service Organizations’ (USO) event on Capitol Hill. I am thankful to the USO for the great work they do supporting the men and women who serve in our military.
Next month, I will be hosting Veterans Claim Clinics in Bayonne and Elizabeth, NJ for veterans who are interested in meeting with a Veterans Affairs (VA) representative to discuss benefits, claims, compensation, or entitlements. Meetings will be by appointment only. The Bayonne clinic will be held from 9:30-5:00 on October 5, 2016 at the Catholic War Veterans Post 1612 which is located at 18 West 23rd Street, Bayonne, NJ 07002. The second clinic will be from 9:30-5:00 on October 6, 2016 at the Stephen Sampson Senior Center, which is located at 800 Anna Street, Elizabeth, NJ 07201. Veterans who are interested in scheduling an appointment should contact my office at (202)225-7919.