Securing Workforce Certainty for Kansas Agriculture
Each year, thousands of guest workers travel from South Africa to work for Kansas farmers, ag co-ops and custom harvesters. These workers are essential to America’s food security, helping to plant, harvest and process our nation’s crops. After hearing from the Kansas agriculture community about the impact President Biden’s executive order restricting travel from South Africa would have on our agricultural workforce, I spoke with State Department officials on Tuesday about making certain these H-2A workers could travel while still ensuring strict COVID-19 safety protocols. The State Department followed up on my call to clarify that agricultural workers from South Africa will receive a national interest exemption. This is positive news for Kansas producers who continue to work to feed a hungry world.
Improving Vaccine Distribution and Communication
Discussing COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout with The University of Kansas Health Systems
On Wednesday morning, I joined The University of Kansas Health System (TUKHS) for their daily media update to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine and vaccine distribution across the state. I also discussed how I am calling on the White House to double their stated goal of 100 million doses in 100 days. I was joined by TUKHS Medical Director for Infection Prevention and Control Dr. Dana Hawkinson, TUKHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steve Stites and national member of the Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes Dr. Jessica Kalender-Rich for the media update.
The COVID-19 vaccine is our best shot at getting Kansas back to normal. Our discussion emphasized the importance of improved vaccine distribution and the need to get as many shots into as many arms as possible over the next months. We need greater transparency on the numbers of vaccines being produced and what we can expect in the future from the federal government. We also need improved transparency at the state level on where the vaccine is being shipped, who has been vaccinated and where future shipments will be sent so that our counties and health care providers can better prepare for the next few months.
Following my conversations with health care providers and county officials, I have been working to create an open dialogue between our counties, the state and the federal government to facilitate clear communication around vaccines. This extends to our hospitals in Kansas, who have grown frustrated at the lack of an explained and extended plan regarding vaccine distribution and administration throughout the coming months. I will continue to work to make certain all Kansans, both rural and urban, have access to the COVID-19 vaccine during the coming months.
Visiting the Ambulatory Infusion Clinic in Wichita
On Friday, I visited Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph Campus in Wichita. I was pleased to spend Kansas Day learning how I can be of greater help to hospitals like Ascension Via Christi. I learned about their COVID-19 treatment options, as well as the vaccination process that is underway to ensure that both health care workers, and now the general public, can be vaccinated.
In addition to their vaccination program, Ascension Via Christi also provides an antibody infusion. The infusion, called Bamlanivimab or BAM, received the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) emergency use authorization and is used to ease the severity of a COVID-19 patient’s symptoms in the hopes of preventing hospitalization. I was impressed by the skilled work of the health care professionals at the clinic, especially as they maneuver the challenges of caring for positive COVID-19 patients.
Update on Impeachment
On Tuesday, senators were sworn in to begin the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. One of the first acts was a vote on a motion to dismiss the trial. Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer introduced a motion to table Senator Rand Paul’s amendment that ruled on the constitutionality of impeaching a former president not currently in office. Senator Schumer’s motion prevailed 55-45 and the Senate will hear the impeachment charges on February 9.
The Constitution is where I go to find answers. Unfortunately, the Constitution does not clearly answer whether a former president can be impeached. This decision will set precedent for future Congresses in regards to impeachment, and I am clearly on the side that a former president should not be subject to impeachment. Giving the green light that future Congresses can impeach a former president would cause extreme damage to our country and the future of the presidency.
Protecting Life and Defending the Unborn
Friday marked the 48th National March for Life, an annual event that, under normal circumstances, brings communities from across the country, including hundreds from Kansas, to march peacefully in protest of a decision that has enabled the elimination of more than 60 million children. For the first time since Roe v. Wade was announced in 1973, these individuals were not able to come to Washington due to the ongoing pandemic; instead, they voiced their support through a series of virtual events to continue their stand to defend America’s most vulnerable. While I missed the ability to meet with Kansans outside the U.S. Capitol this year, I want to thank each of you who participated in the virtual March for Life to stand for the unborn.
Throughout the week, I continued to use my role in Congress to further the cause of life and defend the unborn by introducing multiple pieces of legislation to prevent federal dollars from funding abortions, provide commonsense protections for unborn children, protect expectant mothers and their babies from dangerous abortion drugs and make certain newborns that survive abortions receive medical care. To read about my efforts to protect the sanctity of life in detail, please click here.
Questioning the Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough
On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee considered the nomination of Denis McDonough to be the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs. I met with Mr. McDonough earlier this month and stressed how important it is for the next VA Secretary to be ready on day one to deliver the benefits and services our veterans have earned. Over the last four years, VA has made significant improvements in both veteran and employee satisfaction. VA has also begun to implement reforms passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump: expanded health care access and caregiver support under the MISSION Act, faster processing of appeals under the Appeals Modernization Act and expanded educational and training benefits for servicemembers, veterans and their families under the Forever GI Bill. In our conversation and in my questioning of the nominee, I made it clear that VA must faithfully implement these laws and work with Congress to see to it that veterans benefit from these reforms as intended.
Stressing the Importance of Kansas Agriculture with Nominee Tom Vilsack
This week, I met virtually with Tom Vilsack, nominee for Secretary of Agriculture. During our meeting, I highlighted issues important to Kansas farmers, ranchers and rural communities. In 2015, when Secretary Vilsack previously served in this role, he attended the groundbreaking ceremony of the National Bio Agro-defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan. During our conversation, I invited him to join me again in Kansas to see the tremendous progress being made in constructing NBAF and to receive an update on the central role USDA will play in operating the facility once construction is completed. I look forward to Secretary Vilsack’s visit to our state.
During our discussion, I also raised issues of immediate consequence to Kansas farmers and ranchers, most importantly, climate change and environmental regulation, as well as our shared commitment to addressing global hunger and ways we can work together to push policies that reduce food insecurity.
I look forward to working with Secretary Vilsack in the future to best serve Kansas’ farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers.
Listen to my interview with the Kansas Ag Network (WIBW) discussing my meeting with Vilsack here.
Questioning Secretary of Commerce Nominee Gina Raimondo
This week, I questioned Governor Gina Raimondo, the nominee to be the Secretary of Commerce, about the recapitalization of aging Department of Commerce infrastructure and the potential imposition of tariffs on imported phosphate fertilizer. Phosphate fertilizers are critical for farmers to grow crops, as phosphorous accounts for approximately 20 percent of fertilizer usage in the United States. Governor Raimondo committed to working with me and Secretary of Agriculture Nominee Tom Vilsack regarding export and import policies for farmers. I remain committed to ensuring that the government is not making it more difficult for Kansans to make a living in the agricultural sector.
I also spoke with Governor Raimondo the day before the hearing about the Privacy Shield agreement between the U.S. and the E.U. and about data privacy. Last year, I introduced the Consumer Data Privacy and Security Act, a bill that would strengthen the laws that govern consumers’ personal data and create clear standards and regulations for American businesses that collect, process and use consumers’ personally identifiable data. This legislation would complement the Department of Commerce’s ongoing efforts to negotiate a new Privacy Shield agreement, which small and medium sized businesses in Kansas utilized for transatlantic commerce but was invalidated by a European court last year. As the lead Republican on the Commerce, Justice, and Science Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, and lead Republican on the Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection Commerce Subcommittee, if she is confirmed, I will work with Governor Raimondo to ensure the priorities of Kansans are the priorities of the Department of Commerce.
Urging President Biden to Retain Trump Administration WOTUS Rule
I joined my Senate colleagues in introducing a resolution this week to express support for the Navigable Waters Protection Rule—the Trump administration’s replacement for the Obama-era Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.
In 2015, the Obama administration finalized a rule that expanded the definition of the WOTUS, creating confusion and burdensome red tape for the agriculture community and many others. The Trump administration replaced the 2015 WOTUS rule with the Navigable Waters Protection Rule. This new rule provided much-needed predictability and certainty for farmers by establishing clear and reasonable definitions of what qualifies as a “water of the United States.” The Navigable Waters Protection Rule was finalized last year.
This week, President Biden signed an executive order that would roll back the Trump administration’s executive order which originally began the process of rescinding Obama’s WOTUS rule. Repealing the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule will reinstate burdensome regulations on Kansas farmers, ranchers and small businesses. This commonsense rule promotes clean water for our communities and families, while respecting private property rights and providing certainty for landowners. We’ve already seen the damage and confusion caused by the Obama-era WOTUS rule, and returning to that standard is unacceptable.
Biden’s “Made in America” Agenda Must Prioritize American Farmers and Ranchers
Kansans take pride in our farmers and ranchers feeding a hungry world. Since the enactment of the Food for Peace Act under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, America has reached more than 4 billion hungry and starving people in the world and in America, saving countless lives. This week, I wrote an op-ed urging President Biden to recognize the vital role farmers and ranchers play in U.S. international food aid programs in the administration’s “Made in America” agenda. The Obama administration proposed a massive overhaul of U.S. international food aid that would have damaged programs that provide U.S.-grown commodities to food insecure people around the world, including by sending cash assistance to food insecure nations instead of food and commodities grown in Kansas. The Biden administration should not return to these failed proposals. Instead, I asked the President to submit a budget to Congress that calls for robust funding for international food aid programs that utilize U.S.-grown commodities and rejects efforts to diminish the role of our nation’s farmers and ranchers in the programs.
Read my full editorial in Agri-Pulse here.
Protecting Veterans from Ongoing COVID-19 Unemployment
This week, I introduced the Veterans Economic Recovery Act, legislation to provide unemployed veterans access to rapid retraining programs so they can re-enter the workforce. In 2019, thanks to the many reforms enacted by Congress, we saw the lowest unemployment rate in 20 years. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate for veterans spiked into the double digits in the early surge of the pandemic, and the veteran unemployment rates continue to be higher than the historic lows we experienced previously. As the pandemic continues, meaningful employment is key to the well-being of our country’s veterans and their families, and this legislation is one more tool to ensure veterans receive the retraining opportunities they have earned. This legislation will provide needed resources and benefits to our Kansas veterans and the men and women across the country who have raised their right hand to serve our nation. As ranking member, I look forward to working with Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mon.) and my colleagues on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to advance this legislation as soon as possible.
Announcing U.S. Olympics and Paralympics Commission Members, Including Kansan Robert Cohen
This week, I was pleased to announce that four individuals have been selected to serve on the Commission on the State of U.S. Olympics and Paralympics. The four members of the Commission are Kansas native and Denver Sports Founder Robert Cohen, former Olympic athletes John Dane and Brittney Reese, and U.S. Olympic Endowment Chairman William Hybl. Established by my sweeping Olympic reform legislation, the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act, which was signed into law by President Trump last October, this commission is tasked with reviewing the operations and performance of the United State Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC). I am grateful to these four individuals for their willingness to serve on the commission.
Preventing Chinese Goods Made by Forced Labor from Entering the U.S.
This week, I sponsored the Uyghur Forced Labor Protection Act, which will ensure products made with Uyghur forced labor in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region do not enter the United States. I have repeatedly condemned the abuses carried out by the Chinese government, and last summer, I called China’s treatment of Uyghurs a genocide. The State Department recently affirmed my belief by determining that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is committing crimes against humanity and genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. The United States cannot ignore what is happening nor in any way enable the continued abuse of the Uyghurs. By preventing goods made by forced labor and abuse of the Uyghurs from ending up on American soil, this bipartisan legislation will make certain the CCP does not profit from slave labor.
Visiting with the Topeka Chamber at the Congressional Forum Breakfast
I spoke with the Topeka Chamber at their Congressional Forum Breakfast this weekend, where we discussed the COVID-19 vaccine response, including increasing the efforts at all levels to distributing the vaccine into as many arms as possible. During our discussion, I emphasized the importance of getting kids that have been learning remotely back into school, so that parents are able to go to work. We also talking about the Payment Protection Program (PPP) program and how it must continue to support business throughout this pandemic.
Thank you to Curtis Sneden and to all Chamber members who attended both virtually and in-person.