Showcasing Kansas Defense Aerospace Capabilities
Department of Defense Hypersonics Director
On Friday, I was pleased to welcome the U.S. Department of Defense’s Principal Director for Hypersonics Michael White to Wichita. During his visit, we toured Spirit AeroSystems and the National Defense Prototype Center, which showcased Wichita’s unique aerospace capabilities as the Air Capital of the World.
Director White also received an update on implementation of a $33 million contract awarded in 2019 to the National Institute for Aviation Research focused on advanced materials development for high-speed missile applications at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation and Missile Center. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, I will continue to support investments and partnerships like these—especially given the value that hypersonics will play in the future of our military. Thank you to Mr. White for graciously accepting my invitation and special thanks to Spirit CEO Tom Gentile and his team for hosting this important visit.
U.S. Air Force Secretary
On Sunday, I hosted U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall at McConnell Air Force Base to showcase McConnell’s capabilities and to highlight Kansas’ strong aerospace innovation.
We visited the operations floor of the 184th Air Wing, where Secretary Kendall and I met airmen of the Information, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, an elite team of data analysts that conduct a broad spectrum of missions worldwide. We met members of the 184th Cyber Operations Group and received a classified briefing from them about the threats facing our nation. We were briefed by airmen of the 177th Information Aggressor Squadron, one of twelve cyber red teams in the country to discuss our adversaries’ cyber tactics as they test the cybersecurity of Department of Defense’s computer and communication systems. The 177th briefed us on current cyber vulnerabilities, how cybersecurity and training could be improved across the Air Force and how we in Congress can continue to support their mission. Secretary Kendall participated in a flight in the KC-46 Pegasus, a military aerial refueling aircraft, to witness a refueling mission. I have worked closely with the Air Force and U.S. Department of Defense officials to remediate issues with the KC-46, and I remain encouraged by the progress being made.
Thank you to TSgt Thurston, MSgt Presley, and SSgt Jonathan Brooks for their briefing on the capabilities of their operation center and simulator. And thank you to all in the 184th Air Wing for taking the time to organize our visit and provide valuable feedback. This visit provided the opportunity for Secretary Kendall to learn more about McConnell’s efforts to preserve our freedom, and I was pleased to show Secretary Kendall the work our airmen in Kansas do to protect our nation and the unique capabilities McConnell Air Force Base provides for our nation’s defense. It remains as important to me as ever that our warfighters receive the tools, resources and weapons systems they need to defend our country.
President Biden’s Energy Policies are Anti-Domestic
Since the day he took office, President Biden has weakened U.S. energy independence with proposals, policies and nominees that blame the fossil fuel industry for his administration’s missteps and out-of-touch aspirations, further harming an industry we need now more than ever.
President Biden this week announced he will release up to 180 million barrels of oil from our country’s reserve. Releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is not a long-term solution to achieving energy independence and may create great problems down the road. President Biden must embrace an all-of-the-above strategy to increase energy production where our domestic oil and gas producers play a role.
Questioning VA Secretary and VSOs on Toxic Exposures
On Tuesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to review and discuss needed fixes to the House-passed Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxic Act, or PACT Act. In the past two years, numerous veterans service organizations (VSOs) have testified before Congress emphasizing the importance of fixing the process VA uses to provide health care and benefits to toxic-exposed veterans.
As the lead Republican on the Senate VA Committee, I am working closely with Chairman Tester to create a fair, transparent and responsive process for toxic-exposed veterans, beginning with the Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act which unanimously passed out of the Senate. The House chose not to take up that important legislation and sent us the bill that we reviewed at this hearing, the PACT Act. It is clear to me that legislation is needed to make certain that VA can meet the needs of veterans and provide more toxic-exposed veterans with needed care and benefits. It is important that we get this legislation right, and I will continue to work with my colleagues as we work to send this legislation to the President’s desk.
During this hearing, we also questioned Secretary McDonough on lessons learned from the VA’s pilot model on presumptive decision-making that the department concluded on April 1. This pilot, developed last year to evaluate and establish presumptions of service-connection, has already resulted in the announcement and implementation of 12 presumptions for respiratory ailments and rare cancers. This hearing was a needed step in moving forward in crafting a responsive and enduring system that works for veterans—both today’s and tomorrow’s. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in the Senate, the House and VA toward that end.
Efforts to Aid Ukraine
It has been more than one month since Vladimir Putin’s unjust war on Ukraine began. This week, I joined my Senate colleagues in requesting answers from President Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on the speed, specifics and supply of lethal aid provided to Ukraine.
We must provide Ukraine with the tools not just to fight back, but to win. Read the full letter here.
Statement on President Biden’s FY2023 Proposed Budget
At a time when Kansans are concerned with record levels of inflation, an unsecure southern border threatening our national security and soaring energy prices, the Biden administration has put forth a budget proposal rife with new spending, inadequate support for our Armed Forces and tax hikes on fossil fuel producers that will discourage domestic production. Fortunately for Kansans, the President’s misconceived budget request is simply a recommendation, and the responsibility to allocate federals funds falls to Congress. Through my role on the Appropriations Committee, I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to rein in spending and government growth, prioritize our national defense and increase our energy and economic security.
Demanding A Review of the FBI’s Mishandling of Larry Nassar’s Abuse
Last July, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report that revealed the manner in which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) mishandled its investigation into former USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar.
While the DOJ is reviewing its earlier decision to not criminally charge the FBI agents who knew of Nassar’s abuse, did nothing, and then lied about their inaction in violation of their sworn duty and the law, the department’s response to the OIG report cannot end there.
This week, Senator Blumenthal and I, authors of the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act, urged the DOJ to conduct a comprehensive review of all information in its possession to determine whether any additional investigations should be opened or widened, and if other individuals and institutions who enabled the cover up of this egregious abuse, should be charged and held accountable. Read the full letter here.
Hosting the Turkish Ambassador for a Meeting
I met with Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, Murat Mercan, on Wednesday to discuss Russia’s war against Ukraine and how it is impacting Turkey, a NATO ally. Turkey imports nearly all of its oil and gas, and 85 percent of its wheat comes from Russia and Ukraine. We explored how American energy producers and farmers could help ease the pressures Turkey is experiencing. Ambassador Mercan and I discussed Turkey’s relationship with Russia and other countries in the Middle East, including the effects of a return to the Iran nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. I appreciated the insights Ambassador Mercan provided on a turbulent but important part of the world.
Questioning Defense Health Agency Regarding Servicemember Mental Health
On Tuesday, I attended the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing regarding the Defense Health Agency (DHA). The Defense Health Agency is a joint, integrated Combat Support Agency that enables the Army, Navy and Air Force medical services to provide a medically ready force to Combatant Commands in both peacetime and wartime.
My questions focused on improving access to mental health services for servicemembers as the Department of Defense has failed to properly and sufficiently screen transitioning servicemembers at risk for suicide. A November 2021 Inspector General report was released, evaluating this screening process and suggested that this significant of an issue will not be solved until October 2023. This is unacceptable as thousands of current and future servicemembers transitioning from active duty are at-risk of falling through the cracks and not receiving the mental health care they need and deserve. I look forward to identifying what changes can be made – either at the administrative or legislative level – so our servicemembers are cared for properly.
Additionally, I asked Lt. Gen. Scott Dingle, Surgeon General of the Army, about the importance of NICoE facilities in Kansas. NICoE – National Intrepid Centers of Excellence – are sites on military bases dedicated to treating servicemembers with effects of traumatic brain injury, behavioral health issues and other conditions with a broad range of innovative and emerging treatments and therapies. I will continue to advocate to Defense Health Agency leaders that Kansas can and should have a NICoE facility for our military community back home.
I appreciated the testimony from Lt. Gen. Dingle, Dr. Smith, Lt. Gen. Place, Lt. Gen. Miller, and Rear Adm. Gillingham, and their service to our country and nation’s servicemembers.
Discussing Kansas Water Priorities with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
On Tuesday, I also met with representatives of the Kansas City District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including District Commander Col. Travis Rayfield. We discussed the needs of the Lower Missouri River Basin and Tuttle Creek Reservoir, which suffered from significant flooding in 2019. I secured funding in the FY2022 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act for a water injection dredging demonstration project that will hopefully resolve the sedimentation problem at this reservoir, allowing it to hold more water. I look forward to continuing to work with Col. Rayfield and Kansas City District on water issues impacting Kansans.
Meeting with City Leaders
I met with Leavenworth Mayor Camalla Leonhard and City Manager Paul Kramer this week to discuss issues facing their community. As Ranking Member of the VA Committee, I was pleased to receive an update on the important services the Leavenworth Veterans Affairs Medical Center provides to veterans living in their community and the surrounding area. We also discussed future plans for the Leavenworth Penitentiary, as well as the need for investments in the Centennial Bridge. I appreciate Mayor Leonhard and City Manager Kramer for stopping by my office and look forward to working with them in the future.
I also met with representatives of the City of Arkansas City to discuss the infrastructure needs of the City. City Manager Randy Frazer and City Commissioner Charles Jennings spoke about the issues impacting the city, including a need for quality housing, the Heartland Flyer extension project and how the recently-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act can serve their community. We also discussed how federal water infrastructure and water maintenance programs could benefit the city. I appreciated the opportunity to speak with Randy and Charles and look forward to continuing to work together on the needs of Arkansas City.
It was also great to meet with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City to discuss issues impacting Hispanic-owned businesses and the Hispanic community, including the remaining impact of COVID-19, immigration policies, and legislation that may disrupt some Hispanic-owned businesses. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City was founded in 1977 to represent the interests of Hispanic-owned businesses, and the organization has been a pillar of the Kansas City community since. I appreciated the opportunity to speak with the leadership and members of the chamber, and we will continue to work together to solve the challenges facing the Hispanic community in Kansas City.
Meeting with National Association of Postal Supervisors
This week, I spoke with Kelly McCartney, the National Association of Postal Supervisors (NAPS) MINK Area Vice President and Immediate Past NAPS Kansas State President. With the recent passage of bipartisan postal reform legislation, we spoke about the new opportunities postal employees and the U.S. Postal Service leadership has to stabilize the Postal Service. I was a cosponsor of the Senate version of H.R. 3076, the Postal Service Reform Act, which passed Congress last month. Throughout my time representing Kansans in Washington, D.C., I have advocated for preserving and reforming the Postal Service as well fighting against the closure of post offices in rural Kansas. It appreciated hearing more from Kelly about her service as a postal employee and to hear the daily impact her work and our postal reform legislation will have across the state of Kansas.
Update on NASA’s Artemis Lunar Landers from Blue Origin
This week I had the pleasure of meeting with Blue Origin and a handful of their Kansas suppliers. Last summer, I hosted Bob Smith, Blue Origin’s CEO, to Wichita to see our capabilities and workforce firsthand. Representatives from Harlow Aerostructures, Accurus Aerospace and Orizon Aerostructures joined the conversation to discuss the work they are doing as a result from Mr. Smith’s visit last year. I enjoyed getting a chance to discuss our suppliers work in helping Blue Origin accomplish their goals and appreciate Blue Origin’s continued partnership.
Discussing Priorities with Blinded Veterans Association Leaders
I met with the Blinded Veterans Association this week to listen to their concerns regarding access to care at the VA. Veterans suffering from any sort of vision impairment deserve quality care from our VA facilities, and I will continue to work to deliver results so blinded veterans receive the treatment they require at VA clinics.
Meeting with Kansans
KU Law Students
I was pleased to speak with a group of students from the University of Kansas School of Law this week in my Washington office. These KU Law Students are wrapping up their final year of law school with internships in our nation’s capital. As a proud KU Law alumnus, I enjoyed hearing about the students’ experiences both in Lawrence and Washington, as well as their aspirations for the future.
National Federation of Republican Women
I appreciate my conversation with the National Federation of Republican Women on Thursday, including Linda and Brenda Smith of Salina. We discussed my recent trip to Eastern Europe and how we must provide Ukraine with not just the tools to survive, but to win. We also touched on government spending and the need to have federal employees return to work, including at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. Thank you to these women for taking time out of their day to catch up with me.
Announcing Federal Investments in Cowley College
On Friday, I was in Arkansas City to tour Cowley College. While visiting with staff and students in the Renn Memorial Library, I announced that the college will be awarded funding to be used for the purpose of developing a new Academic Success Center. I am of the firm belief that we change the world one soul at a time—one student at a time—and I am pleased to have secured the resources for this new Academic Success Center which will work to proactively identify at-risk students early in the semester, and partner these students with near-peer tutors with the goal of helping each achieve their full academic potential.
One of those peer students I visited with, Katie, shared about how she is learning and growing as she mentors and helps her classmates achieve success in their classes. Students like her will be a crucial part to the new center, and it was inspiring to see Katie doing her part to change the world one person at a time.
My gratitude goes out to Cowley College President, Dr. Dennis Rittle, and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Michelle Schoon, for inviting me to visit with the college, staff and students.
National Vietnam War Veterans Day
On National Vietnam War Veterans Day, we honor the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice and thank those veterans who did not receive a proper welcome home following their service. On Tuesday, I visited the Vietnam Wall on our National Mall to pay tribute to our Vietnam veterans at the memorial built in their honor. To those with us now and to those who have left us, thank you.
Thanking President Scott of Pittsburg State
I am of the view that we change the world one soul, one student, one person at a time. Education is one of the most impactful ways we can do that, and I appreciate President Scott’s dedication to serving Pittsburg State students and the community at large over the past 30 years.
Visiting with President Linton of K-State
Walked K-State campus on Saturday morning with President Linton in Manhattan for some cardio and conversation.