President's Obama's Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, marked the biggest step forward in U.S. healthcare in decades: Tens of millions of uninsured Americans got coverage under Obamacare. Insurance companies had to accept applicants for health coverage, regardless of preexisting conditions, and they could not charge women more for the same coverage, as had been common practice. Further, Medicaid expansion has brought healthcare coverage to hundreds of thousands of Virginians.
Rather than embrace this progress and work to make further improvements, President Trump and congressional Republicans continue efforts to dismantle the program. Together with the Democratic caucus, I am working to protect Obamacare and move forward toward affordable, accessible and fully universal health care. This Congress, we passed the Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act. In addition to the bill's provisions to lower prescription drugs costs, it also would reinforce protections for people with preexisting conditions, and would encourage states to create state-based health care marketplaces, which so far have higher enrollment and lower premiums than the federal marketplace. But we all know that more work remains to be done to ensure that every American has the care they need.
In addition, I join the sorrow of alarm of millions of Americans at the spike in suicides in our nation. The rate of suicide is at a 30-year high, and is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with half of the 45,000 reported annual suicides caused by firearms. My amendment to study how to better equip the Suicide Lifeline to geolocate callers -- a sometimes-fraught effort with zip codes that do not necessarily correlate to location -- passed the House in June 2019.
We are beyond a crisis point with guns in America. Every day, 100 people in the United States die by gunshot, over 36,000 a year. It is a tragedy that requires our leaders to act.
I have made advancing solutions to gun violence a major focus of my work in Congress. I am a lead cosponsor of the bipartisan Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, which would give states grants and guidance to encourage the passage of laws which would allow law enforcement or family members petition a judge to temporarily remove access to firearms people in crisis.
I proudly voted in February for the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which would expand background checks to cover nearly every gun sale. I also voted for legislation to close the Charleston loophole, which allowed prohibited persons to acquire firearms if their background check is not completed within three days, and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which closed the "boyfriend loophole" on gun sales to abusive partners or stalkers. Most of these bills await further action in the Senate.
I also support measures to get weapons of war out of American communities, including the Assault Weapon Ban and measures to ban high capacity ammunition magazines. I cosponsor legislation to prohibit people convicted of hate crimes from obtaining firearms, and introduced the NO HATE Act to strengthen the response of federal law enforcement to the rising incidence of hate crimes and white supremacy in the United States.
Finally, I have worked across the aisle to address suicide, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the gun deaths in America. I am the founding co-chair of the House Suicide Prevention Task Force, which works to increase funding for suicide prevention programs, as well as to increase awareness of this epidemic, through which I continue to work on measures to address suicide and fund suicide prevention.
From the launch of my first congressional campaign in 2014, the issue at the forefront of my mind has been and remains climate change. It is the most significant and perhaps most intractable problem we face. We do a disservice to our children and the generations thereafter if we do not move in a more profound and rapid way toward solving this crisis.
In Congress, I am part of many efforts to address climate change. I co-chair the New Democrat Coalition Climate Change Task Force, as well as the Congressional Safe Climate Caucus. Both groups offer leadership in Congress on how we move away from carbon pollution and offer solutions to meet the climate crisis, in addition to drawing attention to the president's backward movements, such as his withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement.
I also believe that I should personally lead on a path forward. I believe carbon pricing is one of the most important tools available that can help us meet the speed and scale with which we need to respond. For that reason, I am the sponsor of the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act, a carbon cap and dividend bill that would auction carbon pollution credits and return the proceeds electronically every quarter to every American.
And I believe we must facilitate the necessary research and innovation to tackle hard to decarbonize sectors and build upon our current successes. I sponsored the bipartisan SEA FUEL Act, currently adopted in the National Defense Authorization Act, to help the military capture carbon and use it to create fuels, which could enhance to our military’s energy security when deployed at sea or at hard to reach places. I am also a co-lead of the ARPA-E Reauthorization Act to help the U.S. scale-up truly transformational clean energy technologies.
I also know that we must prepare our communities to adapt. I am the sponsor of the bipartisan National Oceans and Coastal Security Improvements Act, which dedicates the federal government to more effectively build up our coastal resilience and help communities like Alexandria proactively deal with nuisance flooding, which will get worse with climate change. I am also leading the bipartisan RECLAIM Act, which helps fast tracks dispersal of Reclamation Funds to coal-mining regions for economic opportunities. It is imperative that we help facilitate economic opportunities for communities in their transition away from a coal-based economic livelihood.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that we must reach net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. To meet that goal, we must act now.
In Virginia’s 8th congressional district, we thrive on diversity. A full 38 percent of households in the 8th speak a language other than English at home. President Trump’s nativist insistence that we must slam the doors shut to the United States – especially to anyone who comes from a nation of poverty or desperation -- is a shameful embarrassment to our nation and to our ancestors. The treatment of immigrants, and especially the treatment of migrants and their children at the southern border, makes me shudder.
Just a few years ago, the country was on the verge of comprehensive immigration reform -- reform that would have fixed our immigration system and given a path to citizenship to immigrants who are part of our neighborhood and our economy. At the first signs of difficulty from Trump’s advisor Stephen Miller, Republicans aborted any effort at solving one of our nation’s most vexing issues. Then, too many got in line behind their president when he preached xenophobia.
With our new Democratic majority in the House, we wasted no time in offering solutions. We passed H.R. 6, an immigration bill that would enable many Dreamers to get lawful permanent resident status for 10 years, and that would also protect those who have Temporary Protective Status, which includes many Northern Virginians. We also passed H.R.1044, which would remove per-country caps for employment-based visas, and instead issue them on a first-come, first-serve basis. And we passed H.R. 3239, the Humanitarian Standards for Individuals in Customs and Border Protection Custody Act, which ensures appropriate medical and health standards for individuals in CBP care.
In addition, I am behind bills that would reunite families separated at the border, put cameras on ICE officers, and protect the once-respected “sensitive locations,” such as hospitals and places of worship, where immigration officers would not engage in enforcement activities. I have also engaged in my own oversight with the Administration over their horrific treatment and gross negligence of individuals in their care.
While the Trump administration continues to engage in ways that are fiscally irresponsible,
incompetent, and intentionally cruel as well as fail to solve the problems in our immigration system, but rather make them worse, I will continue to work toward solutions that are reasonable and compassionate.
Federal employees are the backbone of national security, safe transportation, safe food and clean water, and so many other issues and entities critical to our country and to our lives. In my stints as a federal employee -- my first job as a ranger with the National Park Service, my four years as ambassador to Switzerland, and now my time since 2015 as a member of Congress -- I have been deeply impressed by the intelligence and work ethic of so many of my colleagues and staff.
Yet federal employees in the modern era -- and many government contract employees as well -- suffer through government shutdowns, furloughs and pay freezes. Too many people and politicians make a sport of denigrating "feds" -- part of their way of criticizing government and trying to turn others against government, rather than working constructively with it and its workforce for improvements and wise policies. With such juvenile approaches to running government, we not only hurt the morale and retention of today's feds, but we risk not being able to recruit America's best and brightest for this work in the future.
Virginia's 8th congressional district is rich with feds: It is home to more federal employees than any other congressional district. I will continue to advocate for these colleagues, who have borne too much of the brunt of President Trump's bullying and coarse stereotypes. I am proud to cosponsor the Federal Adjustment of Income Rates Act (FAIR Act), which would give federal employees a 3.6 percent pay increase in 2020. I am also a sponsor of the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, which would guarantee 12 weeks of paid family leave for all the same issues -- a new child, recovering from a serious illness or helping a family member recover from a serious illness.
Lastly, I cosponsored the Federal Civilian Workforce Pay Raise Fairness Act, which would have increased the rates of basic pay for federal civilian employees by 2.6% for 2019. We will continue to work to do better by government employees and government contract employees.
Fair Vote and Fair Representation
As a former ambassador, I have watched in anguish as President Trump erodes relationships and credibility with so many nations and peoples. His threats and tantrums undermine our alliances and, ultimately, long term U.S. goals. Going it alone is a recipe for failure. Our nation must be a leader, exemplifying the highest standards of human rights, climate security, election security and democracy.
While I believe in maintaining a strong military, I will always see diplomatic engagement as the first, second and third option, with force as a true last resort. We have been too quick to deploy US troops abroad, often on ill-conceived missions where a lack of strategic planning and clear goals limits their chance of success.
On human rights, we must not only exemplify the highest ideals but also maintain the U.S. legacy of mercy and outreach to the world’s refugees and those who flee danger in their homeland. Foreign assistance should remain a central piece of our foreign policy toolkit, both for its strategic value and because we have a moral imperative to help the less fortunate.
On climate action and security, it is embarrassing that we are not more of a global leader. We must reenter the Paris accords, but cannot stop there. Climate change is a global crisis, and requires global solutions that will not occur unless the world’s largest economy is fully committed to rising to meet the challenge. I trust that we will elect a Democrat to the White House in 2020 and accelerate our commitments and transition from fossil fuels.
I was a strong proponent of the Iran deal; Trump’s about-face on this hard-won and far-reaching agreement was foolish and made the Middle East less safe. We need to renew the multilateral accord which prevented Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. I also support ending U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen, a horrific conflict where none of our strategic interests are being served.
One of the great promises of our democracy is the idea that everyone can have access to a good education: Children living in poverty or children with special needs should be able to receive a quality education and have the chance to develop to their fullest potential.
In too many ways, we still strive to make this promise a reality. Improving public education was the organizing principle of my 1997 gubernatorial run and the focal point of my volunteer work in the years afterward, through the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and Jobs for Virginia Graduates, a high school dropout prevention program. It remains a commitment, and an active part of my congressional work.
I support major federal initiatives and programs for public education, including Title I, which helps school systems with large percentages of low-income students, and IDEA, which supports programs and provides resources for students with special needs. The school lunch and breakfast program provides food for over 30 million students daily, which is a critical piece of our nation’s anti-poverty work.
I am pushing to strengthen the Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Education, especially as it pertains to sexual assault prevention on college campuses. I support initiatives to support teachers and other public school personnel, who I believe are still largely underappreciated and underpaid.
I am disturbed by the amount of student loan debt, and how it is hampering the lives of tens of millions of young Americans. I am behind numerous initiatives, such as student loan refinancing efforts and expanding access to Pell Grants, to alleviate this.
The Washington area has the third-worst traffic in the nation, with only Los Angeles and San Francisco faring worse. This is bad for climate change, air pollution, and morale.
Fortunately, some things are moving in the right direction. Metro is improving, bit by bit. Since four in every 10 riders are federal workers, it is obvious and only fair that the federal government must continue to play a vital role in supporting the system. There is progress in many other areas as well, including bus rapid transit along the Route 1 corridor, more HOT lanes, the Potomac Yard Metro Station, car-sharing, as well as increases and improvements in bike lanes and bicycle and scooter sharing. We will manage this congestion, and continue to push for flex-time and transportation policies that help the cause.
In addition, we continue to push for infrastructure investments -- as we successfully did with Arlington Memorial Bridge -- that fix road, bridge and railway problems long neglected.
Our remarkable area, bordering the nation’s capital and the Potomac River, is home to the headquarters of the U.S. military, as well as to Arlington Cemetery, the final resting place for tens of thousands of men and women who served our country with valor.
Those facts alone impart a need for leadership on veterans’ issues from the people and the member of Congress from this district.
Beyond the moral responsibility, I feel personal ties to these issues. My dad, who lived to be 93, was a West Point graduate who served in Korea and then was part of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Trieste (where I was born). My father-in-law, who lived to be 92,, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded two Purple Hearts. It is extraordinary what their generation gave us, and what the military generations following have continued to do.
We owe our troops and, after their service, our veterans, the best possible care. And when there are problems with that care, we should move in good faith – and without unnecessary partisan rancor – to remedy the situation. We also must strive to be a nation that engages in foreign conflicts only after deeply thoughtful consideration of all factors, recognizing that inevitably we will bury women and men from that conflict, and that it is likely to be difficult to withdraw our forces from the conflict once we are part of it.