Congressman Sires' Response to the Actions of the New Administration
Over the last month there have been peaceful protest demonstrations around the nation and I have received numerous messages from constituents expressing concern and outrage over actions carried out in the first four weeks of the Trump Administration. I share these concerns and am strongly opposed to recent decisions that put our national security at risk and are fundamentally opposed to the core values we hold as Americans. Here is an update on the recent actions I have taken.
In October 2016, the U.S. Intelligence Community and the Department of Homeland Security announced with high confidence that Vladimir Putin and his senior officials in the Russian government directed the hacking of U.S. political organizations and leaked documents. On December 9, 2016, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) concluded that, after reviewing Russia’s actions, Russia interfered in the U.S. elections for the purpose of altering the outcome. Putin’s efforts to interfere with our election and influence American voters is incredibly alarming. Regardless of the overall effect of this attempted interference, these actions deserve immediate and intense scrutiny in order to protect our independence and preserve the integrity of our democracy.
As a result, I have cosponsored H.R. 530, the Safeguard our Elections and Combat Unlawful Interference in (SECURE) Our Democracy Act, and H.R. 356, the Protecting our Democracy Act. H.R. 530 would sanction any foreign entity or individual that has unlawfully interfered in a federal election. It would also bar entry to the United States and freeze U.S.-based assets of any such individuals. H.R. 356 would create a bipartisan, 12-member, independent National Commission on Foreign Interference in the 2016 Election which would have the power to examine attempts by the Russian government to influence, interfere with, or sow distrust in the 2016 election. The commission would have the ability to interview witnesses, issue subpoenas, and receive testimony and documents related to computer hacking activities, scanning of electoral systems, and efforts to produce, disseminate, or promote fake news involving the U.S. election.
Recent reports of discussions between Russian officials and members of President Trump’s transition team, particularly former National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn, are also deeply troubling. General Flynn reportedly had numerous calls with Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, prior to President Trump’s inauguration and was not completely forthcoming about the contents of the calls or if they discussed lifting sanctions on Russia while General Flynn was still a private citizen. Reports that the phone calls included discussions about lifting sanctions on Russia have been confirmed by multiple sources. This raises concerns that General Flynn violated what is commonly referred to as The Logan Act, a U.S. federal law which prohibits private citizens from interfering with diplomatic relations between the United States and foreign governments.
While General Flynn resigned from his position as National Security Advisor on February 13th, I believe that his actions must be scrutinized to determine their affect on American national security and intelligence operations. That is why I have asked the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), to demand that General Flynn appear before the Committee to give sworn testimony regarding the Trump Administration’s relationship with the Russian government. As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I will continue to push for transparency and accountability for the American people.
Immediately following the election, President Trump appointed Steve Bannon to a top White House position. I found this disturbing, as Bannon has promoted anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and racist ideologies, and his appointment was praised by hate groups such as the KKK while it was criticized by the Anti-Defamation League, an organization committed to identifying and condemning Anti-Semitism. In November, I sent a letter urging President Trump to reconsider this appointment and instead hire a diverse White House staff that represents our core American values of diversity.
Rather than rescind this appointment or make a notable effort to unite our nation by creating an inclusive administration, President Trump went on to give a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that did not include a single reference to Jewish people targeted during the Holocaust. The White House later defended the exclusion, which lends support to the rise of anti-Semitism and further emboldens those who deny that the Nazi regime sought to eliminate the Jewish people. In response, I have cosponsored H.Res.78 which reiterates the indisputable fact that the Nazi regime targeted the Jewish people in its Holocaust. This resolution would also call on every entity in the executive branch to affirm this and that any attempt to deny or minimize that fact is shameful.
The President also removed the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs as permanent members of the National Security Council (NSC) while replacing them with Mr. Bannon. This decision is extremely alarming as it politicizes the National Security Council (NSC) which has always consisted of experts in national security issues and shunned the inclusion of any political influence when making the hard decisions involving our men and women in uniform. In a separate letter, I urged President Trump to restore the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence to their posts on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council. I have also expressed my concerns that Mr. Bannon’s appointment shows that critical decisions, that could put American lives at stake, will no longer be made based on the impact on national security but on potential political benefits. To reinforce the letter, I have cosponsored H.R. 804, the Protect the National Security Council from Political Interference Act of 2017. This legislation would bar the President from appointing aides to the NSC who primarily serve in a political role. H.R. 804 is currently under review before the House Committee on Armed Services, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the House Committee on Intelligence.
Many people have expressed concerns over potential conflicts of interest linked to the President’s vast business portfolio as well as his decision not to release his tax returns. I share these concerns, which is why I am a cosponsor of H.R. 371, the Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act of 2017. This legislation would require the President and Vice President to disclose and divest any potential financial conflicts of interest. It would also require presidential appointees to recuse themselves from matters that come before their agencies involving the President’s conflicts of interest.
On January 25, 2017, President Trump directed the Administration to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. I feel that building a wall would cost the taxpayers billions of dollars while doing nothing to reform our broken immigration system. This decision could also estrange our neighbors in the region and negatively affect security cooperation. The U.S.- Mexico border generates billions of dollars in business for states all across America and our security cooperation has allowed us to dismantle criminal networks and arrest drug traffickers and other violent criminals.
The President also made an announcement regarding Sanctuary Cities which threatens to revoke critical law enforcement funding. Sanctuary cities exist to encourage residents to report crimes and cooperate with law enforcement officials without the fear that they will be detained. These actions are counterproductive and will only put more people at risk. In an effort to counteract these orders, I have cosponsored H.R. 748, the Safeguarding Sanctuary Cities Act. This legislation would ensure that federal funds are not withheld from any state or local authorities that do not fully comply with a voluntary immigration detainer request.
Two days after these executive orders, President Trump suspended refugee resettlement and made changes in immigration policy for certain Muslim-majority countries. Specifically, the Administration halted all refugee admissions into the U.S. for at least 120 days and suspended visas into the United States for all individuals from Iran, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and Iraq. These orders go against the foundational ideas of America and discriminate against Muslims who are desperately trying to escape enslavement, torture, and oppression.
While the President’s immigration order has been temporarily stayed by the Federal Court of Appeals, the affect has already been felt by families around the world. In an attempt to permanently roll back these orders, I have cosponsored H.R. 724, the Statue of Liberty Values (SOLVE) Act of 2017. H.R. 724 would nullify President Trump’s executive order on all refugees and the travel ban on individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries. It is currently under review before the House Committee on the Judiciary, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the House Committee on Homeland Security, and the House Committee on Intelligence.
Since the beginning of the 115th Congress, President Trump and Republicans in Congress have expressed the intent to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and defund Planned Parenthood. This would essentially revoke health care coverage for 20 million Americans who have gained coverage thanks to the ACA and would have a devastating impact on women’s health care.
The ACA provides women with affordable access to much needed health care, including birth control and preventative services. Repealing the ACA would allow insurance companies to discriminate against women by charging higher premiums based on gender and denying them certain forms of care. Defunding Planned Parenthood would make preventative screenings, tests, and contraceptive services even more inaccessible, particularly in medically underserved areas. I think this is unacceptable and I urged President Trump to not pursue a harmful agenda for women and reconsider his support for efforts to repeal the ACA and defund Planned Parenthood.
Furthermore, I have also sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan expressing concerns about efforts to undermine Title X family planning funds. This week, the House of Representatives voted on a resolution, H.J.Res.43, which would roll back a Title X rule designed to shield family planning clinics from partisan state-level defunding efforts. This resolution is another step in recent attacks on women’s health and presents a serious threat to those who rely on these clinics as their health care provider. Unfortunately, while I strongly oppose this resolution and voted against it, on February 16, 2017 it passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 230-188. Since its enactment, I have continuously voted against efforts to repeal or defund health care reform. While the ACA is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction for fixing our broken health care system that has consumed a chunk of our GDP, as well as left too many individuals out in the cold when they got sick.
Please know that I share your concerns about recent events and I will continue to fight for the values that are fundamental to our democracy and advocate for policies that propel our country forward.