Kansas Common Sense
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Recognizing Senator Pat Roberts’ Service to Kansas
On the Senate floor on Thursday, I had the honor of paying tribute to Senator Pat Roberts—a true Kansan, and a man who has dedicated nearly four decades of his life to our great state.
As a fourth-generation Kansan, Sen. Roberts understands what is important to Kansans, how they think and how they want to be represented. One of Sen. Robert’s greatest contributions to our state, the Midwest and the country has been his distinguished leadership in agriculture, authoring and passing farm bills in both the House and Senate, and fighting for a competitive and fair market for our producers. He has listened to producers, advocated for them and made sure America’s farmers and ranchers had a voice in Washington, D.C.
I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to share the honor of being a Kansas Senator with him. Thank you for your service to our great state and to this country; I want to wish you and Franki, your children and grandchildren the best in this next phase of life.
Discussing the COVID-19 Vaccine During The University of Kansas Health System Media Update
On Thursday morning, I joined The University of Kansas Health System for their daily news conference to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine. I was joined by The University of Kansas Health System Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control Dr. Dana Hawkinson and The University of Kansas Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steve Stites for the media update.
We talked about the success of Operation Warp Speed in developing a vaccine quickly and investing early in manufacturing doses to be distributed across the country, following the proper approvals. My focus has been making certain Kansas receives its allotment of vaccines quickly and the resources needed for distribution.
I also discussed my recent meeting with Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Dr. Lee Norman and Captain John Rule, epidemiologist with KDHE, regarding Kansas’ plan for distribution, which prioritizes health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
Urging My Colleagues to Pass Targeted COVID-19 Relief
I spoke on the Senate floor earlier this week regarding the need to come together and pass a targeted COVID-19 federal relief package.
Americans are struggling. It is past time to offer help to communities, families and businesses in need. Small businesses, employees and employers all need the certainty that relief from the economic impact of COVID-19 will be provided in the coming weeks. Each day that passes is another day that a business could close or a person become unemployed. The mental health and wellbeing of Kansans and Americans is at stake, and it is time for my colleagues to come together and focus on solutions that we can all agree on to provide hope for Kansans and the American people in a timely fashion.
Holding Big Tech Accountable Through the PROMISE Act
I introduced the Promoting Responsibility Over Moderation In the Social Media Environment (PROMISE) Act with Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) earlier this week. This legislation would hold Big Tech companies accountable if they promise to operate their social media platforms without political bias and fail to do so, which we have seen time and time again. Tech companies hold significant power over the shape of American discourse and should moderate content shared on their platforms in an open and honest fashion.
This bill would make certain that interactive internet services are abiding by publicly-available information policies that users can easily access and understand so that users can make informed choices for themselves regarding their social media activity and choices. In addition, this legislation would hold tech companies accountable if they misrepresent their content moderation policies while promoting a competitive marketplace that allows smaller internet companies to continue to thrive. As the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to ensure that tech companies that claim to moderate their content in a politically-neutral manner abide by these promises.
Assessing the VA’s COVID-19 Response
This week, I chaired a hearing to better understand how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Veterans in Kansas and across our country are facing economic challenges and increased isolation in addition to challenges accessing health care and dealing with the impacts of this disease. I asked the leader of the VA’s Benefits Administration, Dr. Paul Lawrence, to address concerns about the increasing backlog of disability claims and overpayments among its employment programs. It is imperative that VA finds ways to continue processing veterans’ benefit claims despite social distancing and telework, as our veterans cannot afford to wait in perpetuity for the benefits they have earned.
One of the biggest challenges the Kansas health care systems face due to COVID-19 is a lack of staffed hospital beds. In some cases, the beds themselves are open, but facilities lack the trained medical staff needed to care for these patients. I was pleased to learn from Dr. Richard Stone, the leader of the Veterans Health Administration, that VA hospitals across the country currently have open bed capacity and have the ability to accept non-veteran patients to provide relief to civilian hospitals. This is part of VA’s “Fourth Mission” to provide emergency support to our nation’s civilian health care system, and VA has conducted hundreds of these assignments in nearly every state since the pandemic began. Local hospital directors should work through their local and state emergency operations centers to request assistance through FEMA and HHS. Dr. Stone assured me that VA stands ready to assist the civilian sector via this process.
Dr. Stone also shared details about VA’s plan to deploy COVID-19 vaccines to VA medical centers across the country, with 37 sites providing initial capability to deliver the Pfizer vaccine, and plans to disperse the Moderna vaccine—if approved—across the remaining sites. VA must ensure the delivery of vaccines is efficient and transparent and integrates seamlessly with the vaccination efforts of local, state, and other national programs.
Applauding the Senate Passage of the National Defense Authorization Act
This week, the Senate passed the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This legislation fulfills one of Congress’ most sacred constitutional duty—to provide for the security of this nation and the men and women who defend it. This bill authorizes a three percent pay raise for our troops and invests in new technologies that are being researched and developed in Kansas.
I am particularly pleased that many of my priorities for servicemembers in Kansas and across the country were included in the bill. These priorities include:
- The FIRST Act: My bill would allow the names of servicemembers from the Big Red One who have died in the line of duty since the Gulf War to be added to the First Infantry Division Monument in Washington, D.C.
- MOMS Leave Act: My bill will allow National Guard and Reservists the opportunity to take paid maternity leave, achieving parity with their Active Duty counterparts.
- CARE for Reservists Act: My bill expands access to mental health care for National Guard and Reservists.
- Post-9/11 Female Veteran Unemployment Study: This study will determine why female veterans who served after 9/11 experience higher unemployment rates than any other group of veterans. This research allows the development of legislation that will support these women.
Additionally, the Airman of the Kansas National Guard’s 190th Air Refueling Wing will benefit from a provision in the bill that delays divestment of the KC-135 Refueling Aircraft. It also requires the Air Force to develop and implement a permanent solution to the KC-46 Refueling Aircraft’s Remote Viewing System, something that the airmen at McConnell Air Force Base need. Finally, the bill increases investment in the Army’s Future Vertical Lift program and hypersonic weapons technology, along with the Air Forces’ Low-Cost Attributable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) SKYBORG programs—three areas of defense technology that have a strong base of support among Kansas industries.
The Senate Unanimously Passes Comprehensive Veterans Health Care Improvements
This week, the Senate unanimously passed the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020. This bipartisan bill is a comprehensive veterans’ package, which would greatly improve health care and benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs to our Kansas servicemembers, veterans and their families.
This package would make improvements to health care, including mental health care, education benefits, burial benefits, housing benefits, compensation and pension benefits, as well as provide certain legal protections and employment protections to our active duty servicemembers, including the National Guard and Reserve components. This bill is the most comprehensive veterans’ legislation passed this Congress, and each provision will better the lives of the men and women who have served, as well as their families. As chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House to send this bill to the president for consideration.
Honoring the Women of the “Six-Triple Eight"
My legislation to honor the women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion from WWII passed the Senate this week.
The “Six-Triple-Eight” was the only all-African American, all-female battalion to serve overseas during WWII, and S. 633, the "Six Triple Eight” Congressional Gold Medal Act, further recognizes their tremendous service and sacrifice. Their contributions to the war effort cannot be understated—they worked tirelessly at home and in Europe to clear a six-month backlog of mail by processing over 65,000 pieces of mail per shift to make certain that troop morale remained high at a pivotal point in the war.
In 2018, I also worked to pass a Senate resolution honoring these inspirational women ahead of the memorial dedicated in their honor at Fort Leavenworth’s Buffalo Solider Memorial Park. The brave women of the “Six-Triple-Eight” are deserving of these honors, and I urge the House to quickly pass this legislation, so that these women may receive a long overdue recognition for their barrier-breaking achievements 75 years ago.
Discussing the Importance of Veteran Treatment Courts with Kansas Leaders
I joined judicial leaders from Kansas and across the country to discuss the importance of Veteran Treatment Courts this week. These special courts allow communities to directly engage with veterans who are having a hard time adjusting to civilian life after serving and deploying. Veteran Treatment Courts work with veterans to resolve minor and non-violent criminal cases through casework, mentorship and other forms of care and support. These courts are especially helpful for veterans whose crime is a direct result of a service connected disability or mental health condition.
I specifically discussed the Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act with the seminar attendees. This bill was signed into law in August and will make permanent the Department of Justice’s ability to provide grants and technical assistance to state, local and tribal governments that are interested in setting up a Veteran Treatment Court. As the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee that funds Veteran Treatment Courts, I was pleased to see this program made permanent.
Kansas has one Veteran Treatment Court in Johnson County that was established in 2016. Since its inception, it has helped veterans adjust to civilian life and reintegrate into their hometowns and communities. I will continue to support Veteran Treatment Courts in Kansas and across the country to provide veterans with the care and support they deserve.
Confronting Chinese Trade Behavior by Extending Tariff Exclusions
This week, as Chairman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees funding for the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), I urged Ambassador Robert Lighthizer to extend certain tariff exclusions on products imported from China beyond the end of the year. The Trump Administration applied tariffs on a number of Chinese goods imported into the United States in an effort to confront the Chinese government on its trade behavior. However, certain products that cannot be sourced from countries outside of China were granted exclusions from these tariffs, and many of these exclusions are set to expire at the end of this year. I believe USTR should extend these exclusions through the end of 2021, as increased tariffs on these products during a time of economic uncertainty due to COVID-19 threatens to harm our economy.
I will continue to work with this administration and my colleagues in the Senate to ensure that China is held accountable for abusing trade rules, while working to avoid tariffs that cause harm to Kansas agriculture, manufacturing and consumers.
Visiting NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
This week, I had the opportunity to visit NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) located in Greenbelt, Maryland. Established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight center, GSFC specializes in the design, testing and operations of spacecraft for NASA. As Chairman of the Subcommittee that has oversight of NASA and its resources, this visit was important for me and my subcommittee to learn more about a variety of NASA missions, including the Lucy mission, which is set to launch late next year to further our understanding of the formation of the solar system. Additionally, I had the chance to watch the weather observation research performed at NASA’s GSFC which is important to our farmers across the country, including back home in Kansas. I’d like to thank Mr. Dennis Andrucyk, the Director of GSFC, Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in addition to NASA personnel for hosting me.
Meeting with Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen
This week, I met with the Deputy Attorney General Jeffery Rosen. Over the last two decades, Mr. Rosen has proven himself to be an exemplary public servant. He has dedicated his time and energy to ensuring public safety and good governance across multiple federal agencies, including his current post at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and serving as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Transportation, among others.
During his time as Deputy AG, Mr. Rosen has lead efforts to combat violent crime and drug trafficking, as well as fighting for victims of pandemic-related fraud. As Chairman of the Senate CJS Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds and conducts oversight of the DOJ, Mr. Rosen has been a valuable resource to me. He is a wealth of knowledge, and I’m grateful to have had many opportunities to work with him over the years. I wish him the best of luck in this next chapter and thank him for his continued commitment to public service.
New Federal Grant Will Fully Fund the Kansas City Streetcar Main Street Extension Project
This week, I announced a federal grant from the Department of Transportation that will fully fund the Kansas City Streetcar Main Street Extension Project. This project will extend the streetcar route to connect the Kansas City Central Business District with the Country Club Plaza. By extending the public transportation and connecting Kansas City’s two largest employment centers, this project will greatly benefit local commuters and expand economic opportunities for the entire metropolitan area.
Combined with previous grants and investments, this project is now completely funded. Signatures between the project sponsors are expected in the coming days to complete the formal grant agreement and subsequent release of the funding. I was proud to provide my support for this project from its early stages, and I look forward to seeing it fully completed.
Recognizing Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Ryan
This week, I spoke on the floor in tribute of my third Congressional Army Fellow, Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Ryan. Over the past year, he has worked to serve Kansans, servicemembers and veterans in my Washington, D.C. office, demonstrating his leadership, professionalism and commitment to those he advocates for each day. Even as this year has presented many challenges, Kevin was instrumental in my office, pushing S. 633, the “Six Triple Eight” Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2019 through the Senate, and making an effort make sure Kansas voices were heard in Washington.
A testament to his leadership over this past year was his promotion from Major to Lieutenant Colonel in September, which I had the honor and privilege of attending and participating in. Kevin has had an outstanding 14-year career in the Army, serving in four combat tours to Afghanistan and Iraq. I look forward to following his future accomplishments in service to our nation. Thank you, Kevin.
Discussing My Role in Congress with the Arrow of Light Scouts
I was happy to virtually join a group of bright 5th grade Cub Scouts who are working to fulfill the Arrow of Light program and become Boy Scouts. As part of their Building a Better World requirement, we discussed my role in government as a U.S. Senator and my responsibilities representing Kansans in Congress. I appreciated their intelligent questions and wished them well in their endeavor to become Boy Scouts. As a former scout in Troop 109 in Plainville, Kansas, I understand the value of participating in an organization like Boy Scouts of America.
Visiting with Louisburg Rotary
This week, I met with fellow Rotarians from Louisburg. It is important that I remain connected to Kansans—albeit virtually—throughout COVID-19, and I appreciate hearing from individuals about their concerns as this pandemic continues to impact their community and businesses.
Thank you to Louisburg City Administrator Nathan Law for allowing me time to speak, and to everyone who joined the meeting to share their thoughts.
Visiting with Wellington Rotary
I enjoyed seeing fellow Rotarians from Wellington this week. I appreciated the opportunity to relay concerns surrounding the health and well-being of Kansas’ communities as we await the success of a potential COVID-19 vaccine, as well as discussing my role as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Thank you Alan Campbell and Janet Grace for allowing me to speak. I enjoyed seeing the two of you as well as all of the other community leaders who attended.
Happy Hanukkah to everyone celebrating in America and around the world! May the festival of lights be a joyful time for you and your loved ones.
Honored to Serve You in Washington
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. Thank you to the many Kansans who have been calling and writing in to share their thoughts and opinions on the issues our state and country face. I appreciate the words of Kansans, whether in the form of a form of letter, a Facebook comment or a phone call, who wish to make their voice heard.
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