Kansas Common Sense
Dec 21 2020
Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thanks for your continued interest in receiving my weekly newsletter. Please feel free to forward it on to your family and friends if it would interest them.
Wishing You a Merry and Safe Christmas
Robba and I want to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a safe holiday. This holiday season may look different for many of us, but as we celebrate this time of year, I encourage us all to remember the better and brighter days to come as we look to the beginning of a new year.
During this season, I am thinking of the many men and women in uniform at home and abroad who are unable to be with their loved ones, and I am grateful for their dedicated service to their fellow Americans. I am also grateful for all of our essential health care workers caring for Kansans on the frontlines of this pandemic. As a nation, we are humbled by the sacrifices they make each and every day. We pray for your health and wellbeing, and wish you Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas.
COVID-19 Vaccines Arrive in Kansas
This week was a historic moment in our nation’s history and marks the beginning of our return to normal as the first COVID-19 vaccines were administered in Kansas and throughout the country. The incredible success of Operation Warp Speed is an example of the exceptionalism that exists within American science and medicine. While we still have a long road ahead, Kansans will soon have access to this safe and effective vaccine.
As chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I’ve also worked closely with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to make certain Kansas veterans have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. This morning, the VA announced three VA facilities in Kansas - Wichita, Topeka & Leavenworth - will receive the Moderna vaccine. This particular vaccine will be ideal for distribution in Kansas because it can be re-distributed to secondary VA sites throughout the state, including rural areas, to reach more veterans.
Additionally, I encourage all Kansans to continue to take precautions to keep yourself and your families safe, including wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and frequently washing your hands.
To each and every health care worker in Kansas and across our nation, thank you. Your dedication and sacrifices have my deepest admiration, and our country owes you a great deal of gratitude for all you have done throughout this pandemic.
Update on the Targeted COVID-19 Relief Package
As we continue to work to end this pandemic it is vital that Congress provide additional targeted relief and support to small businesses, our essential health care workers and the necessary resources to distribute the vaccine.
I spoke on the Senate floor last week regarding the need to come together and pass a targeted COVID-19 federal relief package and this evening Congress will be voting on a bipartisan agreement. As we enter these final weeks of the year and this holiday season, it is past time to offer help through an additional response to communities, families and businesses in need.
Chairing a Hearing on the Impact of COVID-19 on the Live Event Entertainment Industry
As chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, I held a hearing on Tuesday about the impact of COVID-19 on the live event entertainment industry. COVID-19 continues to negatively impact many industries throughout the American economy, and one of the hardest hit is the live event entertainment sector. Due to the airborne transmission of COVID-19, many states and localities have implemented bans on large gatherings of people, placing a tremendous strain on the entertainment sector, which relies on large groups of people gathering for events. This has left the industry with very little revenue or alternative methods to stay afloat.
In March, Congress passed the CARES Act, which included a number of provisions to help employers of all types weather this pandemic. However, these programs did not adequately benefit the live event entertainment sector with this prolonged standstill of business and revenue.
That is why I cosponsored several pieces of legislation that would address the live event entertainment sector’s needs, including the Save Our Stages Act, which would authorize the Small Business Administration to give grants to eligible live venue operators, producers, promoters, or talent representatives to address the economic impacts of COVID-19. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to ensure that the live event entertainment industry is supported during this pandemic.
Thank you to the witnesses who participated in the hearing, including Kansan Adam Hartke, who owns the live event venues The Cotillion and WAVE in Wichita.
Honoring Veterans at Arlington National Cemetery’s Wreath Laying
This week, I had the honor of laying wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery as part of the Wreaths Across America program. This program seeks to symbolize a commitment to remember and honor our nation’s veterans through the laying of wreaths on the graves of our country’s fallen heroes, as well as saying the name of each veteran aloud, an act of remembrance that honors their sacrifice. These wreaths are sponsored by members of the public who want to honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women who keep our country safe. The U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard” will safely lay and recover approximately 267,000 wreaths on graves of servicemembers at Arlington this year. I also want to thank the Kansans who participated in laying wreaths across veteran cemeteries in Kansas through the Wreaths Across America program.
Veterans Benefit Package Headed to the President’s Desk
Following the Senate’s unanimous passage of the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020 last week, the House of Representatives considered and passed this comprehensive legislative package this week. It now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law. This legislation is the culmination of more than two years of bipartisan work, with input from all of our veteran service organizations, dozens of Senators and members of the House and our partners at the VA.
Among its many provisions, this legislation invests in the education and employment of veterans as the best assurance that they will achieve success after service, through expanded opportunities to use their earned benefits for longer periods of time and for more job training programs. This bill will also give VA the tools to serve veterans at risk of homelessness in a more meaningful way during the pandemic and require VA to provide greater oversight and support to State Veterans Homes. It also includes provisions from the Deborah Sampson Act, a landmark bill that makes it clear women who serve their country in the armed forces must have a VA that is as effective for them as it is for men who have served.
This bill’s passage in Congress signifies a moment of considerable progress in the ongoing effort to meet the task of ensuring that, after service, opportunities for veterans are maximized in a way that properly honors their sacrifices for, and service to, our country. I look forward to this legislation being signed into law for the benefit of our nation’s heroes.
To watch my remarks on the U.S. Senate floor regarding this legislation, please click here.
Thanking Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy
I met with Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy to discuss the future of the U.S. Army and to highlight the assets Kansans bring the Army. Secretary McCarthy and I first started working together in 2010 to secure funds for Seitz Elementary School, located on Fort Riley. Since then, I have hosted the secretary on a visit to Kansas last year, and we partnered on a number of projects to support Kansas and our nation’s soldiers. This includes investing in Kansas companies and universities, supporting Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth, and improving benefits for servicemembers in Kansas and across the nation.
This week, we discussed the role Fort Riley will play in future basing decisions and how Kansas research facilities and manufacturing industries will contribute to the development of hypersonic missiles. I have been a strong advocate for Fort Riley and have had many conversations with Army leaders about increasing investments in the base. The Fort Riley community is a great place for soldiers and their families to live, and I would like more soldiers to experience it.
As our military continues to develop hypersonic weapons, Kansas industries and universities will be on the leading edge. Wichita State University and Spirit AeroSystems are both working with the Army to develop critical components of these strategic weapons. Secretary McCarthy and I discussed how Kansans will lead on the development of these missiles that will help deter aggression from Russia and China.
Secretary McCarthy is a good friend, and I appreciate his work as secretary of the Army. He has modernized the world’s greatest fighting force and has worked hard to support soldiers and their families, and I look forward to seeing the long-term impact of his leadership of the Army.
Requesting Information on Cyberattacks
Last week, Reuters reported an alarming cyberattack campaign organized by Russian threat actors that breached multiple federal agencies, including the Treasury Department and the Commerce Department. The list of federal government departments and agencies that may have been impacted in this attack has grown, and the impact on our government is still being assessed. This week, in response, I led a group of my colleagues from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) in calling for a government-wide report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on the extent of the cyberattack campaign and its impact.
CISA ordered all federal government departments to identify and shut down the software-based vulnerability by December 14, 2020. While this is an important first step, Congress needs to be informed on the size, scope and details of the cyberattack campaign’s impact on the federal government to appropriately respond to this risk and any future risks and interference that may occur. As chairman of the CJS Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the FBI, I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues to ensure that our government provides Congress the necessary information about this attack and responds in an appropriate and effective manner.
Meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr
This week, I met with Attorney General Barr to discuss ways to improve the operations of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and its agencies. During his time at the DOJ, Attorney General Barr has been a leader in providing our county’s law enforcement with the tools and resources they need to keep us safe.
An essential part of keeping our communities safe is creating partnerships between federal, state and local law enforcement to accomplish their mission. Last year, I hosted Attorney General Barr on a tour of Kansas. We visited key facilities in Topeka and Wichita and, most importantly, we spent time with local law enforcement officials to hear firsthand how we can best support them at the federal level. I’m proud of the work we’ve seen from across the state to increase collaboration for the safety and well-being of Kansans and the nation.
Requesting Information Regarding the CPSC’s COVID-19 Response
This week, I requested a briefing from Acting Chairman Robert Adler of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to provide an explanation for the commission’s decision to pull all of the agency’s port investigators. In March, the CPSC made the choice to remove all its investigators from their posts at our nation’s ports due to the uncertainty the threat of COVID-19 posed. It wasn’t until September that these investigators began returning to work. Furthermore, the CPSC made no effort to seek the resources necessary to quickly and safely return the investigators to work, nor did they effectively communicate to Congress this decision or the rationale behind it. These investigators are tasked with intercepting toys and other household products that violate American safety standards, and the decision to pull them away from this important task was misguided and risky. As Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, which exercises oversight over the CPSC, I will continue to examine the CSPC’s decisions and will remain vigilant to ensure effective leadership at the commission.
Wishing the U.S. Space Force a Happy First Birthday
This week, I visited with Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett and Chief of Space Operations General John “Jay” Raymond virtually to wish the U.S. Space Force a happy first birthday. President Trump established the Space Force one year ago and tasked Secretary Barrett and General Raymond with organizing the newest military branch. In its first year, the Space Force commissioned officers from the Air Force Academy, launched military satellites that will defend our interests in space and have made certain that America will maintain its dominance in the newest fighting domain. I am impressed by the Space Force’s ability to accomplish so much in its inaugural year, and I look forward to seeing this branch develop as a vital part of the Department of Defense. Happy birthday to the men and women serving in the Space Force. Semper Supra!
Discussing Congress with Kansas Government Students
Elkhart High School Seniors
This week, I joined Mr. Josh Flanagan’s Senior Government Class at Elkhart High School virtually. I enjoyed the opportunity to share information about what committees I serve on and how those committees function as a part of Congress. I also introduced Elkhart alum James Kelly, a member of my staff, who shared how he became interested in joining government service following his graduation from Fort Hays State University.
Thank you to Principal Jason Wilson for joining us on the call, and to Mr. Flanagan for allowing me to join his classroom.
Ness City High School Seniors
I also enjoyed joining Ness City High School’s senior government class virtually this week. We discussed the need for improved high-speed broadband access in rural Kansas, the FY2021 budget, executive orders, the U.S. Supreme Court appointment process, as well as discussing COVID-19 related issues such as masks and the vaccine. I was impressed by how informed the class was about the issues our country is facing today.
Thanks to Dawn Flax for allowing me to attend your class, and to all students for your insightful questions.
USD 223 Students from Hanover and Linn High Schools
I joined Colby Cormack’s government class virtually this week to continue talking with high school government students in Hanover and Linn about my role in Congress, American history and current issues facing our country. I appreciated their intelligent questions regarding COVID-19 and the vaccine, as well as their interest in my role as a United States Senator.
Thanks to Mr. Cormack for allowing me to join his class.
Recognizing my Fall 2020 Interns
This fall, four impressive new graduates dedicated their fall to working on behalf of Kansans in my office. It was during my internship in Congress that I became interested in public service, and I appreciate these interns choosing to serve their fellow Kansans this season and through a year like none other. Our interns come from all over Kansas and are some of the finest young people this country has to offer. I appreciate their hard work and ability to adapt to the unusual circumstances surrounding COVID-19, and I am proud to have them on my team.
Thank you Nick of Overland Park, Titus of Wichita, Caroline of Overland Park and Odalis of Salina. I have appreciated the opportunity to get to know each of you this fall. For more information regarding my intern program, please click here.
Visiting with Fort Scott Kiwanis
This week, spoke virtually with the Fort Scott Kiwanis this week. Community members discussed their concerns surrounding the long-term consequences of the pandemic, and I shared my hope that the next federal government funding package includes assistance to those businesses and venues that have not received aid while also providing the necessary testing and vaccination doses to stimulate our economy, keep our schools open and allow individuals to return to employment opportunities in the coming months. We also discussed the importance of maintaining and improving rural, high-speed access to broadband while so many Americans continue to telework.
I was pleased to hear that the Fort Scott community has tripled their free community meal numbers since this time last year, which is great news. It never fails to impress me how Kansans continue to help and support each other during difficult times. Thank you to Police Chief Travis Shelton for your kind words, Mark McCoy for introducing me and to President Scott Flater who conducted the meeting.
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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