Washington Review, September 18, 2015
While in Washington this week, I participated in a Western Hemisphere Subcommittee hearing, met with the Colombian Ambassador to the United States, and voted on several bills.
The Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, where I serve as the Ranking Member, held a hearing on the challenges of religious freedom in the Americas. Latin America is viewed by many as perhaps the most vibrantly Christian region in the world. However, despite the positive assessment many make of religious freedom and tolerance in Latin America, the region is not without incidents of religious intolerance, discrimination, or in some cases, outright hostility. While certain Latin American leaders continue to undermine democratic principles, we must do our part to ensure that our faith-based communities are able to live free from persecution.
Later in the week, Juan Carlos Pinzon, Colombian Ambassador to the United States, briefed me on the current issues affecting the people of Colombia. In June, the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere examined the ongoing peace negotiations between Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This decades-long conflict between the Colombian military and this violent insurgent group, displaced millions of innocent civilians and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people in Colombia. During our meeting, I spoke with Ambassador Pinzon about the progress being made with these negotiations and how they are affecting stability in the region.
This week, the House of Representatives voted on a measure that would damage critical medical and planning services for those who live in under-served communities. The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), would undermine affordable counseling and services, such as cancer screening and testing, that are provided by Planned Parenthood across the country. This bill would place an unnecessary burden on our already busy community health centers, which serve millions of Americans who live in low income areas of the country. I voted against this bill because I believe we must protect these important services that are provided to women and families.
Finally, I was encouraged by the recent developments in the effort to build new Hudson River rail tunnels. These recent efforts between New Jersey, New York, and the U.S. Department of Transportation are essential to modernizing the transportation system that serves thousands in our community each day. Over this past summer, New Jersey commuters dealt with some of the worst transit delays in recent memory as a result of the deterioration of the Hudson River tunnels. The recent letter from the Governors of New Jersey and New York to the President in support of new Hudson River tunnels, is a long awaited step toward improving our transit system and ending the persistent delays that affect commuters.