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tv   U.S. Senate Votes on Associate Attorney General Nomination  CSPAN  May 18, 2017 9:58am-2:37pm EDT

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[inaudible conversations] >> th [inaudible conversations]
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>> the newsletter for fbi director robert mueller has been appointed special counsel. president trump tweeted this morning this is the greatest single which shot of a in american history. with all of the illegal acts that took place in the clinton campaign an obama administration there was never a special counsel appointed. use senate they would expect are more about this. coming up at noon, senate lawmakers are expecting told the confirmation vote on rachel brand, as associate attorney general. another vote to advance the nomination of terry branstad to be ambassador of china. rod rosenstein be holy and all standard is briefing on the firing of former fbi director james comey. that is at 2:30 p.m. eastern today. we could see the senate go into recess for that. live coverage and out of the use senate here on c-span2
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the president pro tempore: the senate will come to order. the chaplain, dr. barry black, will lead the senate in prayer. the chaplain: let us pray. eternal god, the source of our praise, we magnify your name. we place our trust in you, for you are our helper throughout
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life's seasons. be mindful of our senators and bless them. keep them on the path that leads to life. may your peace stay with them, guarding their hearts and minds. give them the wisdom to practice integrity in all of their conduct. keep them from stumbling and slipping, as you prepare them to stand before your presence with great joy. we pray in your merciful name. amen.
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the president pro tempore: please join me in reciting the pledge of allegiance to our flag. i pledge allegiance to the flag of the united states of america, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. mr. mcconnell: mr. president. the presiding officer: the majority leader is recognized. mr. mcconnell: i ask unanimous consent that following the cloture vote on the branstad nomination, the senate proceed to the en bloc nomination of the following nominees, executive
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calendar 56 and 57. i ask unanimous consent that the senate vote on the nominations en bloc, that if confirmed, the motions to reconsider be considered made en bloc, the president be immediately notified of the senate's action, that no further motions be in order, and that any statements relating to the nominations be printed in the record. the presiding officer: is there objection? without objection. mr. mcconnell: now, mr. president, i don't have to tell colleagues how important the internet and other wireless technologies have been in our modern society. from the way students learn to the way we do business and even the way, as senators, keep in touch with our constituents, these advancements have, in many ways, fundamentally changed how we operate. but it's important to remember that these groundbreaking technological advance haves -- advances didn't come about
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because of government mandates. they grew out of an environment that encouraged innovation. from the clinton years onward there was a bipartisan consensus that we should maintain the kind of light, regulatory touch that allowed this innovation to thrive in the first place. in order to open the door to further advancements. unfortunately, mr. president, that changed under the obama administration which used the f.c.c. to force through antiquated regulations designed for an age of rotary phones and switchboards. today, however, we finally have an f.c.c. chairman who recognizes that we live in an entirely new era, an era of smart phones and lab tops, and other mobile devices. we have a chairman who believes that innovation, ingenuity,
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growth, and job creation aren't dirty words to be stifled with unnecessary red tape. and so today is it expected that chairman pi and commissioner o'reilly will take the first necessary step to address a deeply flawed obama dictate who have controlled the internet from archaic rotary phones from nearly a century ago. this threatened the innovation that brought us the internet and other technological advancements in the first place. i commend the chairman for taking the preliminary step to address the issue which will open the door for bipartisan congressional action to keep the internet open for consumers permanently. later today senator thune and others will come to the floor to talk more about this issue.
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i look forward to hearing what they have to say and thank them for continuing this are important conversation. now on another matter, mr. president, too many americans woke up this morning worried about rising costs and limited options they are experiencing under obamacare. as they went to work too many struggled with the reality that their obamacare premiums could take an even larger bite out of their paycheck next year. this afternoon, as they pick up their kids, too many will worry that they will have a hard time finding an obamacare plan at all. with many counties having only one option left on the exchanges. unfortunately, these are the reality for too many americans under obamacare and they are miles away from what democrats bromsed -- promised. in my home state, we endured large premium hikes this year of up to 47% for many working
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families a spike in premiums like that can make it nearly impossible to afford health insurance at all. to make matters worse, under obamacare many kentuckians don't have the option to select the best provider for themselves and their families. so let's just take a look at the chart behind me. in kentucky, under obamacare, 49% of our counties -- 49% have one insurer -- one. kentuckians in half of our counties have one choice, and really when you have one choice you have no choice at all. it's not like the situation is unique to my state either. this year there are 26 states with at least one county where residents have only a single insurance option under obamacare. that means millions of americans
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living in more than 1,000 counties across the country really have no choice at all -- no choice at all -- when it comes to obamacare. those families didn't get the increased choices they were promised under that law. they've been left to shoulder the burden nonetheless, and things have only gotten worse over time. in fact, just this week people on the obamacare exchanges in three more states, vermont, virginia, and oregon learned they could face double-dinlt premium in -- double digit premium increases as high as 20% next year. i ask our democratic friends, are you really okay with obamacare's continuing attacks on the middle class? one constituent from lexington in my state wrote about her frustration with the status quo
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under obamacare. here's what she had to say, my insurance is way more than what i can afford. i can't imagine many others who can pay more for health insurance than their mortgage. she and her husband had shopped on the exchanges for health care but the lowest premium options were about $1,000 a month -- listen to this $1,000 a month -- and that got you a $10,000 deductible. $1,000 a month would only get you a policy with a $10,000 deductible. so they decided to go uninsured and pay the penalty. the costs would be minor, she said, compared to the useless premium cost.
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the last part of this kentucky woman's message is something i think we should all remember throughout this debate. she said, please remember there are many people depending on congress to set this right -- us to set this right. americans like her are counting on all of us to leave obamacare's failures where they belong -- in the past. for years they've suffered under a collapsing system. yet our friends across the aisle continue to defend the broken law regardless of its significant problems -- problems that even many of them have, by the way, started to acknowledge. last week senate democrats sent me a letter practically admitting that the obamacare status quo is unsustainable. i hope that means they are prepared to join us in moving beyond this failed law.
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otherwise senate democrats are essentially telling the american people they are okay with the status quo. that obamacare's collapsing markets, double-digit premium increases and counties with only one insurer represent the new normal for health care in our country. surely they are not comfortable with that. my constituents refused to accept the status quo. the only request that really remains is this: will senate democrats work with us to move beyond the status quo? the entire senate republican conference has been debating ideas and making progress. we are pursuing smarter health care policies for people in kentucky and those in lexington and the millions across the nation who know that obamacare just isn't working. i hope our friends on the other side of the aisle will join us in bringing some relief to all
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of these families who desperately need it. mr. mcconnell: i note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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mr. schumer: mr. president, are we in a quorum? i ask unanimous consent that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. schumer: thank you. mr. president, last night deputy attorney general rod rosenstein appointed former f.b.i. director robert mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation into russia's interference in the 2016 elections. this was a very good fers step.
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-- first step. mr. rosenstein has done the right thing. i applaud his decision for its correctness and courage. a special counsel was much called for in this situation. and former director mueller is the right kind of individual for the job. i now have significantly greater confidence that the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead. additionally, as special counsel, mr. muller must have broad latitude to pursue the russia investigation. in the appointment order, it stipulates the special counsel is authorized to investigate, quote, any matters that rise directly or indirectly from this investigation, unquote. that's a really important power, given the recent reports about an active f.b.i. investigation into general flynn. i am heartened by the news of mr. muller's appointment, but in no way it diminishes the need tn
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active role in helping to get to the bottom of recent events. intelligence committee chair burr, ranking member warner should still pursue the congressional investigation into these matters with just as much vigor. that investigates has been proceeding in a -- that investigation has been proceeding in a bipartisan way, and it absolutely should continue with such. we should still seek testimony from mr. comey in both the judiciary and intelligence committees to discuss the events surrounding his dismissal and be given access to his memos and any transcripts or tapes of his conversation with president trump. mr. comey was central to the events of the past few weeks. we still need to hear from him. i want to thank the bipartisan leadership of both the intelligence and judiciary committees for requesting both the records and public testimony of director comey. congress, specifically the judiciary and intelligence
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committees, should still be given access to any transcripts or related summaries of the president's meeting with the russian foreign minister and ambassador during which reports have alleged he may have divulged highly sensitive intelligence. and finally, there is still a great need as before for the next f.b.i. director to be someone who is nonpartisan, independent, fearless and of unimpeachable integrity, a career politician of either party or anyone who suggests a lack of impartiality should not be considered. the appointment of mr. mueller is a great first step toward getting the russia investigation back on solid ground, but these other things also need to happen. mr. comey testifying, the white house turning over to congress the relevant tapes and transcripts if they exist and the selection of an independent,
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impartial f.b.i. director. later this afternoon, the deputy attorney general rod rosenstein will brief all 100 senators at the request of the two leaders, the majority leader and myself. he can brief us on a great many things, including the events of mr. comey's dismissal and the status of the russia investigation. while the briefing itself will not take place in a public setting, i hope that much of what we learn today can be shared with the american public. so in the interest of getting all the facts, we in congress look forward to hearing from mr. it is a sign that while we wholeheartedly applaud the appointment of a special counsel, we in congress must continue to do our jobs as well. now on another matter, mr. president, criminal justice reform. last week, attorney general jeff sessions ordered federal prosecutors to, quote, charge and pursue the most serious
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readily provable offense, even for low-level drug crimes. functionally, this means federal prosecutors will seek the harshest possible penalties even for nonviolent low-level drug crimes. this is a significant reversal from the obama-era smart on crime initiative in which federal prosecutors were instructed to focus on more dangerous drug traffickers and avoid charging less serious offenders with crimes that required long mandatory minimum sentences. as a result of the obama policies, federal drug cases dropped by more than 19% between 2012 and 2016, according to the u.s. sentencing commission. cases with charges carrying longer mandatory minimum sentences fell precipitously, from nearly 60% in 2012 to 45% last year. thanks in part to this initial tiff, president obama became the first president since carter to leave the white house with a
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smaller federal prison population than when he took office. meanwhile, prosecutors of the more serious crimes, the evil drug dealers, those who run the drugs, often from out of this country to here, they are the ones we can really go after and need to go after, they increased by 17% and 14%. which makes it -- that's the way we can stop these evil drugs from coming into this country. so that policy was tough on crime and smart on crime. our law enforcement agencies have finite resources. they should be focused on combating violent crimes. when a prosecutor is spending hours in court, days for a low-level possession charge and not having the resources to go after the drug runners, the drug dealers who poison our kids, that's misplaced priorities.
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what attorney general sessions has just ordered is the exact opposite approach of what we need. instead of giving judges and juries the discretion to use their judgment in sentencing, it compels prosecutors to seek as much jail time as they can get for every single offense, treating low level and high level the same. it's a blunt instrument that will result in more unnecessary punitive sentences and overcrowding of our prisons and will be less effective in our fight on crime. it runs completely counter to a bipartisan consensus here in congress. many members of this body, democrats and republicans, agree that mandatory minimum sentences have led to bloated, costly prisons and disproportionately ravaged minority communities. in the last congress, a bipartisan group of senators sought to make meaningful progress with sentencing reform
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proposal that had among its cosponsors a diverse group of senators, ranging from senators durbin and booker on the democratic side to senators lee and paul on the conservative side. unfortunately, those efforts to strike a compromise to bring much-needed reform to our nation's criminal justice system were derailed by the obstruction of, guess what? then-senator sessions, with the cooperation of the republican leadership. and now after making progress under president obama and attorney general holder, attorney general sessions has chosen to simply revert back to the one-size-fits-all approach that criminologists, police leaders and bipartisan lawmakers have determined is not the right answer. in order to truly be tough on crime, we must be smart on crime. this approach is dumb on crime.
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congress, of course, still has the power to legislate this issue. we have the power to override the attorney general's decision. so i hope this misguided change in the department of justice's policy revives a bipartisan desire to pursue sentencing reform. when we look for areas where there can be -- significant areas where there can be bipartisan cooperation, this is one of them, and i hope leader mcconnell will choose to pursue it. thank you, mr. president, and i yield the floor. the presiding officer: under the previous order, the leadership time is reserved. morning business is closed. under the previous order, the senate will proceed to executive session to resume consideration of the brand nomination, which the clerk will report. the clerk: nomination, department of justice, rachel l. brand of iowa to be associate attorney general. the presiding officer: under the previous order, the time until 12:00 noon will be equally divided in the usual form. a senator: mr. president. the presiding officer: the
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senator from connecticut. mr. murphy: thank you, mr. president. mr. president, i'm on the floor today to talk about the status of america's health care system. as we speak, though, the country is obsessed with the question of the firing of f.b.i. director comey and the appointment last night of a special counsel who is going to seek to get to the bottom of this question as to whether there was coordination between the trump campaign and the russian government and their attempts to influence an american election. there have been secret meetings happening here in the senate amongst republicans, reportedly 13 republicans to be specific, attempting to craft a new version of legislation that passed the house of representatives now i guess two weeks ago that would rob health care from 24 million americans, according to the congressional budget office, drive costs up
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for everyone immediately by about 15% to 20% and jeopardize the protections that are built into the law for people with preexisting conditions. there's no c.b.o. score on the latest house proposal because republicans decided to ram the bill through without the ability of anyone to read the legislation. no one read that bill, let's be honest. it was filed hours before it was voted on, and no one knows the cost of that bill because they didn't wait for a c.b.o. score. simply unbelievable that the house of representatives decided to reorder one fifth of the american -- one-fifth of the american economy without reading the proposal or without understanding its costs. but republicans in the senate are attempting to pass their own version of a repeal and replace bill, and we await the result of these secret partisan meetings.
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i think democrats have been pretty clear that we would like to be in this conversation. we want to preserve what works in the affordable care act, and there's a lot that works. a new report out just a couple of weeks ago that show an astonishing decrease in the number of people who face personal bankruptcy in this country. why? because half of personal bankruptcies in the united states of america prior to the affordable care act being passed were due to medical debt. and so the reason that -- that less people than ever before are having to declare personal bankruptcy is because medical bills don't bankrupt them anymore because of the affordable care act. let me guarantee that you that number will spike back up if anything approximating the house bill passes. we think there are good things in the affordable care act, and our constituents agree. polling now routinely tells you the majority of americans want to keep the affordable care act, not replace it, but we want to be part of a conversation in which we talk about keeping the things that work and addressing the parts of the health care system that don't work.
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costs are still way too high. we would like more competition on these exchanges, and so let's have a conversation about that, but as of today, democrats are being shut out of the process. if you represent -- if you are represented by democrats in the united states senate, you have no voice in this process because republicans have chosen to do it just amongst their own party. i think that's a shame. i understand that in the end, democrats passed a product in 2010 with democratic votes, but anybody who was here remembers that there was a long process by which president obama and democrats in congress tried to work with republicans and brought the bill through the committee process. the help committee and the finance committee had exhaustive meetings, hearings and markups. in the end, in the help committee upon which i sit today, there were over 100 republican amendments that were accepted and included in the piece of legislation that eventually passed on the floor of the senate.
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as far as we know, this secret process happening behind closed doors will include no democrats now and will not go through a committee process. if they ever come up with something that can get 50 votes, it will be rushed to the senate floor. that's outrageous. so we want to be part of this process. but i'm on the floor today not to talk about what will happen if a bill robbing health care from millions of americans, jeopardizing protections for people with preexisting conditions comes to the floor of the senate. i want to talk about what's happening right now, because president trump made it very clear just a few days after he was sworn in that his desire was to kill the aspects of the american health care system that are affected by the affordable care act. and by the way, that's almost the entirety of the american health care system because that bill did, in addition to extending coverage to 20 million americans, grant protections from insurance abuse to hundreds of millions more.
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a january 20 executive order issued by the president said that it was the policy of the administration to seek the prompt repeal of the law, and it said to the maximum extent permitted by law, the secretary of h.h.s. shall exercise all authority available to them to waive, defer, create exemptions from, delay the implementation of any provision or requirement in the affordable care act that would impose a burden on any state or a cost or a fee or a tax or a penalty or a regulatory burden on individuals, families or health care providers. so president trump made it clear that his motive from the start was to destroy the affordable care act. and, my colleagues, he has consistently kept up that attack. i'm often bringing president trump tweets to the floor because, well, they continue to
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exist on social media. it's nice to be reminded of the fact that over the course of the first 100 days in office, president trump has been routinely, routinely attacking the american health care system. saying obamacare will fall of its own weight. be careful. i.e., if you're thinking of signing up, be careful, discouraging people from signing up for these exchanges. once again, obamacare, it is dead, says the president of the united states, despite the fact that 19 million people rely on the exchanges for their health care coverage. here's another one. obamacare will explode. do not worry, he's got it taken care of, he says. and finally, obamacare is in a death spiral. so these are the routine, almost daily attacks rhetorically that
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this administration has waged against the affordable care act. he has commanded his agencies to pick it apart in any way that they can. and so to the extent that there is any diminution in the health of these exchanges, to the extent that insurers are thinking about not participating or are pushing up their rates, there is only one reason for it. it is the active sabotage campaign that the trump administration is engaged in to try to destroy the affordable care act. this is powrpful. this -- purposeful. this is intentional. this is planned. that executive order unlike some executive orders wasn't just an exercise in political and public relations because the next month in february, the i.r.s.
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announced that it would not reject tax forms from people who failed to answer the question of whether they had health insurance. so the i.r.s. took a definitive step to undermine the affordable care act by telling consumers that they were not going to enforce the individual mandate. now, news flash, republicans think the individual mandate is a good idea. after attacking it for the last six years, the house bill that they passed includes an individual mandate. it does. it's in a slightly different place instead of the penalty applying when you lose health care. in the house all they did was just shift the penalty to when you sign up for health care again. all they did was move the mandate from when you lose health care to when you repurchase health care, but it's still there. the administration is seeking to undermine the existing mandate. and insurance companies have noticed.
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senator mcconnell came to the floor a week or so ago to take note of the -- you know, pretty serious premium increases that were requested in maryland in part by blue cross blue shield. but the head of blue cross blue shield in maryland was very clear about why they were increasing rates. he said that the uncertainty around the individual mandate plays a significant role in the company's rate filing because failure to enforce the mandate makes it far more likely that healthier, younger individuals will drop coverage and drive up the cost for everyone else. insurance companies are noticing that the administration is picking apart the protections that can keep rates down in the exchanges and thus they are filing higher rates. but with less people in the exchanges than anticipated, insurance companies are also rethinking participation, and this is intentionally as well. shortly after taking office,
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h.h.s. pulled the advertising for the affordable care act in the last week of open enrollment. and we know exactly what happened here. because we have the data on who is signing up before trump took office and after trump took office. before trump took office, open enrollment was exceeding 2000 -- open enrollment for the prior year. after that decision was made to pull funding for advertising, open enrollment cratered. the former marketing chief for estimated that 480,000 people didn't sign up for coverage in the last week because the ads were pulled and because the president of the united states was out there actively telling people that you should, quote, be careful before
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signing up for the exchanges because he was going to kill it. so almost half a million americans didn't sign up for these exchanges. half a million americans don't have health care today potentially because the trump administration stopped advertising the exchanges and because the president of the united states told people essentially not to sign up. finally, let me talk about what is happening right now with respect to something called cost-sharing reduction payments, a big part of the affordable care act and really a foundation of the affordable care act is subsidies that are given to individuals often passed straight through to insurance companies in order to help folks that are lower income buy insurance. and guess what? republicans think this is a good idea, too. i know that because we stole the idea from republicans. this was initially a heritage
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foundation plan that was adopted by mitt romney in massachusetts. it was the republican alternative to the clinton health care bill in 1993. so this idea of individuals getting subsidies, this is a republican idea that democrats stole and republicans included it in the house bill. the subsidies are just lower but they're still there. the subsidies come in two forms. one, there's a tax credit to individuals based upon their income and, two, for lower income individuals, there is a payment that goes to the insurance companies that mitigates the amount of money that you have to pay out of pocket, just two different kinds of subsidies. these subsidies are relied upon by the insurance companies to continue to offer these products. the trump administration is paying the subsidies but is trickling them out one month at a time constantly making public pronouncements that question whether they will continue to make those payments.
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here is what o.m.b. director mick mulvaney told reporters. he said that the administration could pull the plug on subsidies at any time. he said we haven't made any decisions. the payments are due, i believe, on the 20th or the 21st of every single month. we have not made any decisions at all on whether we will pay in may. think about it if you're an insurance company executive deciding a, whether to put a plan on an exchange or b, if you put a plan on an exchange, how much to charge. and the white house is telling you you may not get the subsidies that are called for under the law. and we may give you no warning in pulling those subsidies. we're going to pay them for may. might not pay them for june. maybe we'll pay them for july and august. maybe we'll pull them for september. how would you make a decision on how much to charge consumers? why would you enter into a contract with a state or federal-based exchange?
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so whether it is the attack on the individual mandate, whether it is the decision to pull advertising or whether it is the games being played with cost-sharing reduction payments, there is a coordinated effort inside the white house today to destroy the american health care system to the extent that much of the system is -- has the affordable care act at its foundation. and president trump was pretty clear about this the day of the failure of the first health care bill in the house of representatives. he essentially telegraphed that he was going to try to undermine the affordable care act as punishment to democrats, and if he hurt enough people, that eventually democrats would come to the table and negotiate with him. i have a message for the president of the united states. that's not how it's going to work. you are not going to blackmail
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democrats by hurting our constituents by undermining the affordable care act. we want to be part of this discussion about improving the health care system. we do. we want to work with republicans. it will be a much smaller and likely less revolutionary bill than republicans are considering today, but it will have both parties' fingerprints on it. we are not going to be part of a bill that strips health care away from tens of millions of americans, and we cannot support the administration while it seeks to undermine the affordable care act on a daily basis. if these exchanges fail, i don't think they will, but if actio exchanges fail or if rates go up, there is only one place to put the blame. an administration that is actively regularly on a daily basis trying to sabotage the affordable care act. i yield back.
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a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from mississippi. a senator: are we in morning business, mr. president? the presiding officer: we are not. we are on the brand nomination. a senator: thank you, mr. president. i rise today to point out the federal comiewj indication commission -- communication commission is voting today, perhaps this morning to begin the process to roll back a regulatory framework that should never have been imposed on broadband service providers in the first place. mr. wicker: like many of my colleagues, i'm glad the f.c.c. is working to restore the light touch regulatory framework that has allowed the internet to thrive since its creation. this action sets the stage for congress to then put a legislative solution in place that strikes the right balance between providing regulatory oversight on the one hand and giving the broadband industry
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the flexibility it needs to innovate and expand on the other hand. we should not rely on a classification that was devised during the depression era. there should be 21st century rules for 21st century technology. as chairman of the senate subcommittee that oversees internet issues, i look forward to the task ahead keeping the internet free and open as a goal shared by most of us and by many of my friends on the other side of the aisle, a bipartisan solution can help provide long-term certainty for both consumers and broadband providers. this certainty will be essential to our efforts to close the digital divide and remove barriers to internet connectivity that exists in mississippi and around the united states. the online experience we enjoy today and the revolutionary advances of the internet over the past quarter century did not
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happen because of the heavy hand of the federal government. these advances happened because the federal government stayed out of the way supporting a light touch regulatory framework where innovation, competition, and investment could truly survive and thrive. this was the framework that existed under both republican and democratic administrations until 2015 when politics got in the way. with a party line vote, the f.c.c. that year decided to adopt a utility style framework, as i said rutting from -- resulting from legislation derived -- it was common carrier under the communications act of 1934. a utility style framework for telephones may have worked during the bell telephone
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monopoly of the depression era but that does not mean it is a right fit now. nor does it mean we should adopt a completely hands off regulatory approach, which i would also oppose. the goal of net neutrality which is designed to prevent internet providers from prioritizing some legal content over others has not gone away, but we know that handing over broad control of the internet to washington is also not the answer. f.c.c. chairman pye has outlined some of the reasons for this, including the impact of title 2 regulations on big and small internet service providers. if we do not give providers the confidence to invest in better services and better infrastructure, it could limit consumers' options and services. this could also affect our efforts to close the digital divide to bring digital -- the digital world to our rural
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communities in alabama and mississippi, mr. president. underserved communities could remain underserved. without broadband access, these communities could lose out on critical jobs, economic development, and many other opportunities borne out of the thriving internet economy. at the end of the day, we need to be asking what do americans want and what do americans need? they need broadband that is accessible, affordable, fast, and reliable. they want to be able to choose the services and content that best meets their needs. these are the priorities that need to be kept in mind as the f.c.c. works today and as lawmakers work to strike a balance between regulatory oversight and free market productivity. thank you, mr. president.
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and i note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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quorum call:
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mr.sullivan: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator from alaska. mr.sullivan: mr. president, are we in a quorum call? the presiding officer: we are. mr.sullivan: i ask that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. mr.sullivan: mr. president, every week i've been coming to
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the floor talking about someone in my state, the great state of alaska, who makes alaska a better place for all of us, our community, for everybody working there. i call this person the alaskan of the week. to be honest, it is one of the most fulfilling things i get to do as a u.s. senator, recognizing back home and across the country special people in my state. there's no doubt many here in the chamber and the people who are watching from home have seen pictures and television shows about alaska. we, a little biased -- i know one of our pages is, an alaskan himself -- that we have the most beautiful state, not only in the country, but in the world. so we want to encourage everybody -- everybody watching to come visit alaska. it will be the trip of a lifetime. i absolutely guarantee it. but it's truly the people of
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alaska that make our state so special -- people with big hearts who ban together to solve challenges, and like all places, we have challenges. so, mr. president, this week i'd like to recognize michael carson for his work to help people in alaska who are struggling with addiction. we know this is a problem that's impacting every single state in our great nation. michael lives in palmer, alaska, a picturesque town about 45 miles from anchorage in alaska's valley -- we -- we call it the valley. it's about the size of west virginia. don't get me going on the size of alaska, it will embarrass most of my -- actually all of my colleagues here, unfortunately
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for them. it is surrounded by the mountains and it is a closeknit community where most everybody knows everybody. most people know michael carson's name in his community. like most alaskans, his story is full of adventure. originally from california, he received his undergraduate in early childhood development from the university of texas. after hitchhiking through africa, he took a job teaching in nome, alaska, in 1974. a few years later he moved to the valley. he taught for many years. he retired from teaching, but his yearning to help many people did not leave him. he got a job at covenant house
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in anchorage, which is a homeless youth shelter. it's a wonderful place, by the way. i'm a little bias on this one. my wife julie happens to work at covenant house. and michael's shift started at 8:00 p.m. and ended at 8:00 a.m. that's what he was doing at covenant house. he spent time reaching out, talking to kids on the streets, sharing his own story, and inspiring our youth because his story also involves recovery. mr. president, it's a privilege to say here on the senate floor that mike has been sober for 29 years. eventually realizing that kids in the mat-su valley also needed a place to go when they were in trouble and needed help. michael, and another incredit constituent of mine, michele
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overstreet, founded my house in palmer. they provide access to health care, clothing, food, and showers for homeless youth. michael still sits on the board, still remains a champion for all youth, particularly those in recovery and the home less and disadvantaged. he leads recovery groups on site weekly and meets weekly with clients who are struggling. he has helped those at the mat-su detention center. he has helped many people get sober an stay soab. michele said, quote, it's not unusual for youth to come in to the center and stop by and ask specifically for michael -- to
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come in and say that he helped them somewhere along their journey through life to sew brighty -- sobriety and just come in and say, thank you, michael. mr. president, most of us know that our country is in the midst of an opioid crisis, one that has become an epidemic in many places across0 the country. in 2015 more people died from overdoses, over 52,000, most of which were linked to opioid or heroin than car crashes or gun violence. on wednesday morning, alaskans awoke to a disturbing headline in the "alaska dispatch news," quote, anchorage is seeing the largest overdoses in heroin overdoses. they said that there had been
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more than two overdoses a day -- 34 overdoses in just a little more than two weeks. like almost every state in this great nation of ours, alaska is being hit hard by the opioid crisis, and we are trying to focus as much attention in a bipartisan fashion on addressing this crisis, whether in alaska or kentucky or new hampshire or indiana or vermont. but we need people like michael. we need people like michael. every state does. he started the only grassroots opioid task force in the state of alaska and continues to chair that effort to this day. he knows too well how the abuse of opioids and other drugs and alcohol robs our citizens, but particularly our youth, of their lives and promise and future.
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he also understands how very important it is to have resources for those who need the support in recovery. now, those resources come in many forms. we've been trying in the congress in the last year, year and a half, to bring significant resources to our states and local communities. we're doing that. state support is also important across the country, but perhaps most important is the community support -- having people like michael on the front lines who understand that addiction is not a moral failure and that people who are suffering need help -- they need help, not moral judgments from us. because of michael's involvement and the involvement of so many others in alaska, and particularly in the mat-su, there are places for people who are suffering to call and get help. there are places to go and heal and places where our youth can
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have leaders who listen to them like michael. michael says it's vital for his own recovery to continue to help people who are suffer rg from addiction -- suffering from addiction. he calls it, quote, survivor obligation. i call it the work of angles. -- angels. michael, thanks for what you do and congratulations for being our alaskan of the week. i yield the floor. mr. thune: m.
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the presiding officer: the senator from south dakota. mr. thune: is the senate in a quorum call? the presiding officer: it is not. mr. thune: mr. president, the internet worked great in 2014 when there were no federal net neutrality laws or rules, i should say. the truth be told, even after the obama-era federal communications commission applied depression-era foam monopoly regulations to broadband in 2015, most americans likely saw little or no difference in their internet experience. the internet still creates jobs, expands educational opportunities, keeps us in touch with loved ones, and as a bonus, it's often really entertaining. this internet that we know and love isn't going to fall apart any time soon no matter what the f.c.c. decides, but there are
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important policy questions that need to be answered about how the internet will grow and develop into the future. so let's put the apocalyptic rhetoric and fearmongering aside. the internet doesn't belong to just republicans, democrats, big silicon valley tech companies, internet service providers, small silicon prairie start-ups or the federal government. it belongs to everyone. it is global, and it is best when it is free and open. today, as the f.c.c. reconsiders the flawed broadband regulations it issued only two years ago, congress should look back at the path that we could have taken but didn't. in november of 2014, i offered former f.c.c. chairman tom wheeler an opportunity for democrats and republicans to come together to craft a permanent legislative solution banning controversial practices known as blocking, throttling
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and paid prioritization of internet traffic. with colleagues in the house of representatives, i even put forward a draft bill doing exactly that. it wasn't a final offer, but rather an outreach to get the conversation started. i thought the time and opportunity to protect the open internet on a bipartisan basis had arrived. through bipartisan legislation, i believe congress should put in the statute widely accepted principles of network management commonly referred to or called net neutrality. our idea for legislation was straightforward. combine protections ensuring that owners of broadband infrastructure can't use their role to manipulate the user experience with those guaranteeing a continuation of the light touch regulatory policies that helped the internet thrive for two decades. chairman wheeler rejected our idea for bipartisan legislation.
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instead, he and his staff lobbied to block such discussions from even happening in congress. with only partisan support, the f.c.c. was given authority to regulate the internet under old laws for foam monopolies and simultaneously removed all authority the federal trade commission had to police broadband providers. mr. president, i represent south dakota, a rural state that is home to some small but still very innovative technology businesses, but in other parts of the state, communities lack access to high-speed broadband. in the debate over the f.c.c. regulating broadband with rules designed for foam monopolies, there were many concerns that chairman wheeler's approach would create uncertainty that chills investment. chilling investment is a term that one often hears among the business community. to me, what it really means is that many americans in rural communities will have to wait longer before they have an
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opportunity to select high-speed internet service. today there are 34 million americans who lack access to broadband services at home. as innovation on the internet thrives, demand for data rises and the stock market hits all-time highs, one would have suspected the broadband investment to continue growing as it had for two decades. but according to one analysis, annual investment actually went down 5.5% in 2016 compared to 2014. well, mr. president, this is a troubling sign that private investment may be having second thoughts about the ability to turn capital expenditures into future profits under an excessive regulatory regime. chairman wheeler assured the public that his f.c.c. would not use new authority over the internet to aggressively restrict many regular online
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practices, but he could not offer assurances that as years pass and administrations change, such regulatory restraint would remain. his order gives wide legal latitude for any future f.c.c. not bound by his commitments to touch any and every corner of the internet. after all, unless grounded in legislation, partisan policy changes through administrative action can be fleeting. today's action at the f.c.c. aptly underscores the concern that the f.c.c.'s partisan approach to internet policy in 2015 did not put the internet on a solid foundation. i know there are many upset about what the f.c.c. is doing. i felt much the same way two years ago when the f.c.c. voted to proceed after my bipartisan outreach had been rejected. we should not, however, mr. president, view the f.c.c.'s action today as a final outcome.
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while i command the chairman and commissioner for taking this necessary step, i fully recognize that today's action alone does not create ideal certainty for the internet. there is more work yet to do. in politics, it is rare to get a second chance at bipartisan compromise, yet right now we have an opportunity to accomplish what eluded us two years ago, clear and certain rules and statute to protect the open internet. we have another chance to sit down to discuss every stakeholder's concerns and to work toward the common goal of protecting the internet. while the f.c.c.'s 2015 order may soon be consigned to the dust bin of history, the last few months have shown that political winds can and often do shift suddenly. to my colleagues in both the
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majority and the minority, the only way to truly provide legal and political certainty for open internet protections is for congress to pass bipartisan legislation. we had a statute offering clear, enduring rules balancing innovation and investment throughout the entire internet system. crafting rules, we need to listen to the concerns of all americans who support an open internet but who may have differing opinions about the greatest threats to online freedom. for some americans, the greatest concern is meddling by internet service providers and for others, it's unelected crats attempting to overprotect americans from products and services that they actually like. online innovation is a virtuous circle. online companies need robust and widely available broadband networks to reach their
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customers and internet service providers need the online experience to be compelling enough to drive subscriber demand. mr. president, we need to work together collaboratively to find the right policies for the internet. i firmly believe we could find common ground to protect the internet so long as we don't fixate on the misguided notion that monopoly regulation is the only pray to preserve it. while some may wish to state until the activities at the f.c.c. and in the courts have completely run their course, my preference would be to begin bipartisan work on such legislation without any further delay. innovation and job creation should no longer take a back seat to partisan point scoring. it is time for congress to finally settle this matter. i'm happy to meet at any time with any of my colleagues who are serious about discussing a
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path forward. i also welcome discussing any new open internet proposals from my colleagues that balance the need for both innovation and investment. mr. president, i yield the floor. i suggest the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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quorum call clorch
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quorum call: mr. lankford: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from oklahoma. mr. lankford: i ask that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. lankford: mr. president, we're still dealing with some of the same issues we dealt with before. it's interesting to me the number of people have said is congress obsessed right now with all the press reports and all the things that are happening around the presidency and everything else. i said that is one of the things on our list, but that's not what we're talking about the most. we're working on issues like tax reform and health care issues, regulatory issues. i just had three bills that went through the markup process just yesterday dealing with small business regulation, how we're going to be able to manage getting things back in order. we spent all day at lunch on tuesday. we spent all day at lunch on wednesday with our entire conference doing a working lunch together talking about health care policies. we're still working on trying to finish these issues that absolutely need to be done. health care is one of those
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issues. it's been one of the prime conversations now for years. and we're in the final stretch of actually working through an actual repeal and replace of multiple section, of the affordable care act that have caused the greatest amount of damage. but i still have people that will catch my and say, well, there are beneficial parts. what are you going to keep and what's going to go? and why do we need to replace it? and i'll typically smile at folks and say, let me give you a quick recap on why we need to replace this and what's really happening. and it may be different in your state than it is in mine, but let me lay it out where we are and what has been said. remember back in the earliest days the affordable care act being passed? it was all about premiums will decrease. in my state premiums went up just last year, one year, 76% in the individual market. one year increase, 76%. the year before under the affordable care act, they went up 35% in one year.
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premiums not only did not stabilize, they've accelerated out of control. this was all about deductibles will decrease. deductibles have also skyrocketed. it was about if you like your doctor or if you like your health care, you can keep it. doctors have moved to other hospitals. doctors' offices have stopped being independent. they have to be able to work for other facilities to be able to maintain the compliance requirements there so most of the independent doctors in oklahoma no longer independent doctors. they now work under a corporate structure or they cannot survive. in this -- and this whole thing about competition on the open market, we used to have multiple companies in oklahoma that provided insurance. we now have one. every other company has left. one company left. there is no competition driving down prices. it's a monopoly, and it's the same thing happening all over the country. just this year now a third of the counties in america only have one insurance provider.
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and in my state, all 77 counties only have one insurance provider. to tell you where things are really headed on this area of competition, united which is one of the largest providers of health care, dropped out of all of the exchanges nationwide, everything. they're doing none. in the past couple of days aetna just announced they will no longer do competition in any state anywhere in the country. the number of companies that are even willing to try to live up to these regulations continue to drop off. that's what's really happening in our states. you want to know what that actually means to real families? let me give you a taste of what comes into my office in a regular time period because i have lots of people call my office and say protect this, protect this, protect whatever it may be in the health care coverage. you've got to make sure you guard it. i typically will say to them, let me introduce you to some other people who are also calling in and also writing in. i'll leave their names out but
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let me just give you some of the situations. a single mom that has children from norman, oklahoma, contacted us and said this. that her family have seen their premiums triple over the last two years. currently their premiums are $1,500 a month with a deductible for their family of $24,000. another family contacted me that has a disabled child. their federally mandated health insurance under obamacare for 2016 was $895. for 2017 $1,553 a month for this family with a disabled child. a husband and wife in tulsa, oklahoma, they wrote me and they said this. their current monthly expense for just insurance is $1500 a month, twice the amount of their house payment. they have a relative that is working three part time jobs
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because they can't get a full-time job because under obamacare, a full time job also requires all the benefits. and no one is hiring in that full-time area because of the requirements of obamacare. so they're working three part time jobs and because they're working three part time jobs, they have no health insurance. they're also paying the penalty fine on their taxes for not having insurance. so not only can they not get a full time job because of the obamacare requirements, they're paying a penalty because of it as well. a husband and wife from new kirk, oklahoma wrote me. they said for their insurance alone, not including out off pock death medical expenses, the -- pocket medical expwenses urks they'll spend $1,965 this year on health care coverage. another family wrote me from stillwater, oklahoma and said that their health care coverage used to be 5% of their family
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income. now their health care coverage is 22% of their family health care income. i have another family that wrote me. it was very interesting. they're from oklahoma city. and they wrote me and they just gave me a breakout, a chart that they had created. in 2015 their monthly premium skyrocketed to $1,400. in 2016 it was $1,500. in 2017 now it's $2,042 a month. a month. let that soak in for a moment. then they made this statement. there are financially strapped families that won't go to the doctor due to the out-of-pocket expense on top of their $2,000 premium. individuals buying private insurance have no recourse because we have no other option that we're allowed to go to. there's only one insurance provider available to us. we need competition in this
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state to take away the financial burden on our families. all they want is options but right now with the -- what the federal government has told them is no, we have a policy that you have to buy that policy, and if you don't buy the policy that we pick for you, we will fine you on your taxes. they're stuck. thousands of oklahomans are stuck. why is this such a big issue? because of how it affects individuals. why is this such a big issue? because of what is still coming. there's this false belief that the affordable care act is fully implemented. that's not true. many of the aspects of the most onerous parts of the affordable care act did not go into implementation till after president obama left office. let me give you some examples of some things they backloaded that wouldn't start until after he leaves office. the cadillac tax. every union family across the
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country will start to face much higher costs on their insurance because their insurance is considered too good under the affordable care act. so all those great union families that have great health care insurance across the country are about to start facing additional taxes and fees for their insurance being better than their next-door neighbor's insurance. as the a.c.a. tried to push down tried to push down health care to be the same for everyone. there are increased penalties that are still coming because the full penalties haven't been rolled out yet on all the taxes. they've gone up a little bit each year. they accelerate now in the next several years. there's increased taxes. the medical device tax that's sitting out there has been delayed but it now will go into full implementation. there's also a tax that's a health insurer tax that adds an additional tax to every insurance company that they of course will then pass on to every single premium. there's still all of the costs that are associated with the
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expansion of medicaid. there's been a lot of conversation about the expansion of medicaid. as many people know this was an expansion of medicaid for people from a hundred% of poverty to 138% of poverty. it's just that small bracket that there had been expansion of medicaid. initially the federal government covered all the cost of that expansion. starting this year states start picking up the additional cost. my state like several others chose not to do the expansion. and my state legislature and my governor has taken a lot of heat for that. but what they said several years ago is, once the state has to pick up the additional bill, we will not be able to afford that expansion. we can't do that. let me tell you what that would be in my state. because we didn't expand, we don't have an additional cost this year, but let me give you a parallel. the state of oregon is almost exactly the same size as the population of the state of oklahoma. they will now begin -- start taking on an additional $257
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million a year in their state budget because of the expansion of medicaid that they took on. now, that may not seem like a big deal to some people in this chamber, but in my state right now, our state legislature and our governor is struggling to be able to balance a budget and we're going through all kinds of issues because right now our state is about $800 million behind budget. after last year of also being $800 million. so if the people in my state could imagine what's going on right now at the state capitol thinking that if we had an additional $257 million added to that whole, that's what it would mean to our state. there are real h effects that ae out there. i understand health care is extremely personal. that's why it's always been something that's been decided by individual families, not by the federal government and in my state someone a thousand miles away trying to make health care
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decisions for them. what we're really trying to do with this is to try to deal with the issues i just laid out. this is not about partisan politics. this is about people and families that have been hurt by what's happening in the affordable care act, by someone a thousand miles away trying to tell them what policy they can and can't buy, by the skyrocketing costs, by the actual effect that has happened. while i have some people say that's not real, i could line up the families in my state that used to have coverage that no longer have coverage because they can't afford it anymore. in the simplistic answers of just why don't we just cover everybody in the country, why don't we just do a single-payer system, people don't understand. they know how bad it's become now and how hard it's become now. you would accelerate that multiple fold if you slip into a single-payer system. what do we need to do? let me give you a couple of quick thoughts. we're going to need transition time. whatever you hear about all of the conversation we have about
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the affordable care act or replacing the affordable care act, please know that all of the conversations for us begin with how do we do a good transition from where we are now to where we need to be. i have folks say, well, next -- will next week this end? will next year this suddenly goes away? no. there will have to be a transition process and it will be over several years. we're also still looking at some of the most basic elements. for instance, i've had folks say, my kids, i want to be able to keep them on my insurance till 26. that's been assumed, quite frankly, by the house and by the senate. what the house already passed already keeps that. there's been a lot of conversation about preexisting conditions. most of the conversation we have had as a senate behind closed doors is about taking care of people with preexisting conditions. those are very real issues. we understand the dynamic of what happens back and forth with insurance companies and families and the struggles that families have with their cancer patients, diabetics, rare blood diseases, alzheimer's, so many struggles that are out there. we get that.
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that's in our conversation as well. but we've got to be able to find practical ways to be able to start leveling out the cost of insurance. we can't survive with rates skyrocketing like they are. and people need to know that are in the safety net, the safety net is actually going to be there. we've got to resolve these issues. we've got to work for the benefit of our states that can't afford these overwhelming cost increases. we've got to work for the benefit of families that are facing the issue, and quite frankly, for the federal taxpayer as well. while pi state struggles with -- my state struggles with an $800 million hole they're facing in the budget, by the end of our session, they will have that resolved. they're constitutionally required to have that resolved. in the federal government, we're facing a $20 trillion budget hole right now. $20 trillion. and for all the folks that say just add more to it, it will be
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fine, may i remind you there is a day all that has to be paid. we've got to be able to be responsible with our federal budget. at the same time we're helping our states be able to manage theirs. at the same time we're helping our facility. no, this is not simple but it has to be done. we've got to find a way to be able to restore it. this is not about returning health care back to where we were years ago.  that is gone. as i mentioned before, all those private doctors that used to function in my state, they don't function in my state anymore. they're all under corporate structures. the insurance companies have left or have merged. hospitals in my statute have merged because they couldn't survive the last few years of obamacare. the health care, even if we wanted to go back to how it was -- and we don't -- even if we wanted to, we can't because there's been so much change in the last few years. but we have to be able to actually fix where we are.
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so i would encourage continued communication. lots of folks have contacted my office an every side of this issue. keep doing that. lots of folks in this chamber have had dialogue. and though it looks like a partisan exercise, it's actually a pretty open conversation among our conference to try to figure out how we're going to actually help families, help our states, help our federal budget, and help us to be sustainable in these critical issues. i've got lots of other letters i can bring. there's lots of other stories out there. but i think we know enough to be able to know, this is something that needs to be done. so while the nation gets distracted, we cannot. let's finish the health care conversation. lots of families are counting on us. with that, mr. president, i yield back. and i would note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll.
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quorum call: mr. cornyn: mr. president, i ask unanimous consent that the quorum call be rescinded.
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the presiding officer: without objection. mr. cornyn: mr. president, last night deputy attorney general rod rosenstein appointed robert mueller as special counsel to oversee the investigation into russia's alleged meddling in the election last fall and any related misconduct. robert mueller is perhaps the single-most qualified individual to lead such an investigation, in my view, and he's certainly independent. as a former f.b.i. director, the longest-serving f.b.i. director since j. edgar hoover, he, by any measure, has the experience and the credibility and the credentials to conduct a nonpartisan investigation and come to a conclusion based on the facts alone. and we could use some conclusions based on facts here in washington with the relentless torrent of rumor, gossip, and suspicion but very little -- very little -- very few facts.
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it's clear to me that deputy attorney general rosenstein felt this was in the best interest of the department of justice and the country, and i trust his judgment on the matter. i do think, mr. president, there is a related concern now that a special counsel has been chosen, and that is the proliferation of hearings and contact with witnesses and the principals over this russia matter, that while certainly legitimate in terms of doing oversight, which is our responsibility as a legislative branch, we can't and shouldn't intrude, or perhaps undermine inadvertently, the investigation being conducted by the executive branch, the executive counsel. and i think this is something we should talk about as a senate, because i know each committee that has some jurisdictional hook on this issue wants, of
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course, to do its job. but i think there is a risk if we don't deconflict between committees and also between the role of the justice department and the special counsel, that we could risk inned aer have at any timely harming the investigation -- inadvertently harming the investigation, and i think no one would want to do that intentionally. i think sometimes, this is my first legislative role in government. i have been here for a while now and starting to get the hang of things, but the fact of the matter is, sometimes i think legislators are confused about their role when this comes to investigations. they're not the f.b.i. legislators are not the department of justice. they can't investigate a counterintelligence matter or a criminal matter.
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that's simply within the exclusive purview of the executive branch. what we can do and what we must do, in my view, is continue to conduct a bipartisan oversight investigation into these matters for our own purposes, which are legislative purposes, not executive branch or prosecutorial purposes. and now that director mueller has beenate pointed to special -- has been appointed o special counsel, i think it is really important for us to consider, again, whether this proliferation of hearings and running down every rabbit trail that happens to pop up is really in the best interest of getting to the bottom of this matter. i believe that it is our duty -- and this would be the case no matter who was in the white house. it is our duty to get the facts and to conduct our legitimate oversight investigation here.
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but in a way that cooperates with or certainly at least coordinates and deconflicts with the department of justice's investigation under the auspices of director mueller. in the meantime, i'll continue to work with my colleagues on the senate intelligence committee on a broad, bipartisan basis to conduct the kind of investigation that is entirely appropriate so that we can get to the bottom of this matter and the american people, of course, deserve nothing less. on another matter, mr. president, the senate continues to work toward repealing and replacing obamacare. unfortunately, without any help whatsoever from our democratic colleagues, even though they know obamacare is failing the millions of people who buy their insurance in the individual market. premiums are skyrocketing because of adverse selection. deductibles are so high that they are effectively denied the benefit of having insurance in the first place. so you would think that an
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elected senator representing those constituents would care enough about it to try to do something about it. but our democratic colleagues, because they're so -- they're so tied to obamacare and they feel like they have to defend it at all costs, i think it's blinded them to the failings of obamacare, certainly in the individual market. so there ought to be some basis for us to work together in the best interests of all of our constituents and all -- and the entire country. some of our colleagues have said, well, we would be revisiting obamacare, even if hillary clinton had been elected. and that's absolutely true, because obamacare is failing millions of americans and it's our responsibility, on a bipartisan basis, to do something about it. so far the politics of the day seem to be carrying our democratic colleagues along with it. the and i hope at some -- and i hope at some time the fever
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breaks and they will see fit to do their duty, as we are attempting to do our duty, which is to replace obamacare with affordable health care that preserves individual choices and doesn't continue to exacerbate and aggravate the national debt and our financial status in the country. so obamacare, we now know, was oversold. the president at the time said, if you like your policy, you can keep your policy; if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor; and, oh, by the way, a family of four will see a reduction in their premiums of $2,5 , -- $2,500 a month -- a y, i guess it was. again, the presiding officer was attorney general, as i was, in my state. we had a consumer protection division. when people misrepresented the
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products or services they sold, we went after them for consumer fraud. and obamacare, to me, is one of the largest cases of consumer fraud that i've ever seen, and people deserve better. well, it's time to do away with this government-mandated top-down approach that doesn't work and to provide the american people with more affordable options. and that's what we're trying to do. you would think that would be something that all of us would want to do. obamacare has taken a heavy toll on folks in my state. it's estimated that more than a third of our counties are down to just one health insurance provider this year, and the ones that are there are saying that unless something changes, they're going to see double-digit increases in premiums for 2018. well, they're down one provider because everybody else has decided they've lost enough money and they want to get out while they can. but to have one provider is not about more options and choices
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and better coverage; it's an unworkable path forward for our nation's health care needs. fortunately, every member of the republican conference is now working together to do away with this unworkable health care plan and replace it with health care that helps american families get the coverage they need at a price they can afford. why wouldn't we all be interested in doing that? health care they need at a price they can afford. well, the house has taken the first critical step, and i know my colleagues and i are eager to do our part. and since democrats refuse to lift a finger, we're going to have do this with 52 republicans. and i.t. not easy -- and it's not easy. but just because it's hard is no excuse for not succeeding. we must succeed, in the best interests of our constituents. this isn't just a mast taking something that's okay -- this isn't jugs a matter of taking
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something that's okay and making it better. this is taking something that's failing and if we fail to act will continue to drag americans, by the millions, down with it. it's important to understand the trials that americans have faced under obamacare so we can move forward with -- in a direction that supports families across the country. one of my constituents wrote me recently and told me his premiums were going up by about 50%. to make matters worse, his doctors wouldn't accept patients on obamacare plans. that's a theme that we've seen across the country. health care options dwindling while prices keep getting higher. because the cost of his health care keeps going up and his salary isn't going up at the same rate, he's losing disposable income, even though he has a job. so he is literally poor -- poorer as a result of obamacare.
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this isn't helping him. this is hurting him. all because his monthly payment for health insurance is climbing. so he's leaving from paycheck to paycheck, and, of course, he is worried about the future, which is the reason why he contacts me. -- why he contacted me. unfortunately, this gentleman is representative of the unintended consequences brought about by obamacare. all of our offices get a lot of calls, a lot of e-mails and letters just like his. he's not on the exchanges because he wants to keep his doctors, and he's employed with employer-provided health insurance. to many in america, this would be a huge blessing, but, unfortunately, obamacare did nothing to help people like him. his premiums are going up so high that he's concerned about being able to put food on the table for his family. what a tragedy, what disaster. this is truly a man-made disaster. and it's a crystal clear example
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of just how flawed obamacare really is. while he ended his letter to me, one of citizens units, by call -- one of my constituents, by calling on congress to fully repeal obamacare -- and that's exactly what we will do. and he is not alone in calling for change. many texans have been calling and writing in and have been for sometime to tell me their obamacare story. it's making their lives harder. as i mentioned, skyrocketing premiums, higher deductibles, and fewer choic choices of doctd health care providers. these are the folks who i have been sent her to represent and who i am fighting for and who each of us i know is doing their part, at least on this side of the aisle, to fight for our constituents who are being hurt by the status quo. the status quo is not acceptable. i know it's not acceptable to our colleagues across the aisle, but they are so frozen in place by their own politics that they can't even step across the aisle
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and work with us in areas where we might agree. i hope that happens at some point, but it's not happening right now. so we're going to repeal and replace obamacare and come up with the very best health care plan that we can. again, one that preserves choices and bring premiums down and makes it more affordable. here's the final reason why we need to do this, mr. president. we promised -- we promised in the last election, we promised. and there's a reason why, when obamacare passed there were 60 democrats and today there are 48. it's because every intervening election we've made the perils of obamacare an issue, and in every election our friends across the aisle have lost senators because they simply can't defend the status quo. but beyond elections, there's a time, i believe, to engage in
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electioneering and there's a time to govern and now is the time for us to govern responsibly. but it does have political benefits too. because if people think you're doing a good job and if people think you care about them, they're likely to reward you politically. but that's not the main reason we should do it. we should do it because it's the right thing to do and because people are hurting and people are anxious and concerned about their future, living paycheck to paycheck with obamacare taking a bigger and bigger bite out of their ability to provide for their family. so, mr. president, we're going to get this done. just because it's not easy isn't an excuse for not doing it. we can't complain that it's too hard because that's what we asked our constituents to send us here to do, to do the hard stuff. not the easy stuff. to do the hard stuff. and this is hard but it's not impossible. it is imminently doable but it
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takes the political will not just to keep our promise but then to use our dead level best to our abilities to come up with a plan that actually believes not in more government control but in more individual control over your health care choices and to bring competition back into the marketplace, to let the market set rates and quality rather than the government determine this from washington, d.c. there's one thing that i truly believe. it's competition makes things better for consumers. it brings down prices and improves service, because in a competitive environment where people have choices they're going to go to the choice that serves their interest the best. they're going to reward the people that are doing the best job of delivering and what they want at a price they can afford. and it has a way of regulating the insurance market better than anything washington, d.c. could do, particularly by command and
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control programs like obamacare. so, mr. president, we're going to get it done. we are all working together. we would continue to invite our colleagues across the aisle not to sit on their hands, not to do nothing, but to do what they can working with us in a nonpartisan or bipartisan way to help save the people who are currently being damaged and hurt by the failures of obamacare, but then help us build something better, something more durable than we've seen with obamacare. mr. president, i yield the floor and i note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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quorum call:
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mrs. ernst: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from iowa. mrs. ernst: i ask that we vitiate the quorum call. the presiding officer: without objection. mrs. ernst: i have seven requests for committees to meet during today's session of the senate. they have the approval of the majority and minority leaders. the presiding officer: so noted.
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the question occurs on the brand confirmation. is there a sufficient second? there appears to be. the clerk will call the roll. vote:
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the presiding officer: are there any senators in the chamber wishing to vote or wishing to change their vote? if not, the yeas are 52. the nays are 46. and the nomination is approved. can we have order in the chamber, please. under the previous order, the motion to reconsider is considered made and laid upon the table, and the president will be immediately notified of the senate's action. the clerk will report the motion
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to invoke cloture. the clerk: we the we, the undersigned senators in accordance with the provisions of rule 22 the standing rules of the senate do hereby move to bring to a close debate on the nomination of terry branstad of iowa tor ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the people's republic of china. the presiding officer: by unanimous consent, the mandatory quorum call has been waived. the question is, is it the sense of the senate that debate on the notion of terry branstad of -- on the nomination of terry branstad of iowa to be ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the united states of america to the people's republic of china shall be brought to a close. the yeas and nays are mandatory under the rule. the clerk will call the roll. vote:
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the presiding officer: are there members in the chamber wishing for vote or wishing to change their vote? seeing none, the ayes are 86. the nays are 12. the motion is agreed to. the clerk will report the nomination. the clerk: nomination, department of state, terry branstad of iowa to be ambassador to the people's republic of china. the presiding officer: under the prepare order, the senate will proceed to the consideration of the following nominations en bloc which the clerk will report. the clerk: department of state, todd philip haskell of florida to be ambassador of the republic of congo, tulinabo salama mushingi of virginia to be ambassador to the republic of senegal and the republic of guinea-bissau. the presiding officer: the question is on the nominations en bloc. all in favor say aye.
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opposed? the nomination -- the ayes have it and the nominations are confirmed en bloc. under the previous order, the motions to reconsider are considered made and laid upon the table en bloc and the president will be immediately notified of the senate's action. a senator: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from maine. a senator: each week we honor the service and sacrifice of u.s. law enforcement officers and to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in the line of duty. one meaningful way for us for honor our police officers and other law enforcement vicials this week is to give them the tools that they need to stop the
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illegal firearms traffickers who threaten their lives and the lives of those they protect. ms. collins: today i rise to join senator leahy in introducing the stop illegal trafficking and firearms act. our bill would strengthen federal law by making it easier for prosecutors to go after gun traffickers while fully protecting the rights of the vast majority of gun owners who are law-abiding citizens. madam president, strong purchasing is intended to achieve only one result, and that is to put a gun in the hands of a criminal who cannot legally obtain one. today traffickers exploit
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weaknesses in our laws by targeting individuals who can lawfully purchase guns which are then used to commit crimes once they are transferred to the criminal who would be unable to pass the background check. right now a straw purchaser can only be prosecuted for lying on a federal form, and that's treated as a paperwork violation. our bill would create new criminal offenses for straw purchasing which would help our law enforcement officials take down these criminal enterprises. the illegal guns that we are targeting in our bill are frequently sold, resold, and trafficked across state lines resulting in the proliferation of the illegal firearms in our
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communities. this practice has fueled the violence across our southern border associated with the mexican drug cartels as well as gang violence in our cities and tragically the heroin crisis that is ravaging so many families and communities and undermining public health and safety in states like maine. police officers tell me that they have seen a major influx of drug dealers coming from out of state straight up i-95's iron pipeline and other interstate highways with direct ties to gangs in major cities. they are ready to sell or trade prescription opioids and heroin
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for illegal guns. heroin flooding into our communities is reaching crisis levels. in 2016 there were 376 drug-induced overdose deaths in my state, the state of maine. that's -- that's more than car crashes, than suicides put together. it is 104 more deaths than the year before. so this crisis with opioids and heroin is getting worse, not better. the vast majority of these overdoses were caused by at least one opioid, whether pharmaceutical or illicit. often drug dealers and gang
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members follow a similar pattern. they target addicts who have no criminal record and then they trade or sell them drugs in exchange for guns. these gang members with criminal records cross into maine and lynn up with drug addicts to be their straw buyers. these are people who can legally purchase firearms. the addict then exchanges the gun for heroin to support his or her drug dependency, and the cycle is repeated time an again. -- and again. madam president, last year i had a deeply disturbing briefing from federal law enforcement officials about a case in maine that fed this exact -- fit this
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exact pattern. gang members trafficked crack cocaine and heroin between new haven, connecticut, and banger, maine. they committed armed robbery, attempted murder, and murder. they traded narcotics for firearms and then distributed them to other gang members back in connecticut. this is exactly the type of criminal activity our bill aims to prevent, and it complements existing laws that target criminals who are profiting from firearm and drug trafficking. current federal law makes preventing and prosecuting straw purchasing offenses very difficult for law enforcement
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officials since the straw purchaser can be prosecuted only for lying on a federal form, a relatively minor offense. the stop illegal trafficking and firearms act would create new, specific criminal offenses for straw purchasing and trafficking and firearms. instead of a slap on the wrist, these crimes would be punishable by up to 15 years in prison. and for those straw purchasers who knew or had reasonable cause to believe that the firearm would be used to commit a crime of violence, that crime would be punishable by up to 25 years in prison. our bill would also strengthen existing laws that prohibit gun smuggling.
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right now, madam president, it is illegal for someone who smuggle a firearm into the united states with the intent to engage in drug trafficking or violent crime. to combat the drug cartels operating on our southern border, however, we must also prohibit firearms and am "apple daily" -- ammunition being trafficked out of the united states. in so doing, our bill would combat organizations that are exporting organizations and ammunition from the united states and into mexico where they are used by the drug cartels that are in turn fueling the heroin crisis here at home. in a recent investigation along
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our southern border, a.t.f. agents seized nearly 40,000 rounds of illegal ammunition from suspects who were attempting to smuggle both firearms and ammunition across the border and into mexico. similarly, a large percentage of the guns used in crimes in our largest cities were trafficked across state lines. mr. president, i want to emphasize that our bill fully protects the second amendment rights of our law-abiding citizens. it protects legitimate private gun sales and is drafted to avoid sweeping innocent
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transactions and placing unnecessary burdens on lawful, private sales. it expressly exempts certain transactions that are permitted under current laws, such as gifts, raffles, and auctions. furthermore, the bill expressly prohibits any authority provided by this act from being used to establish a federal firearms registry, something i am strongly opposed to. mr. president, i started my remarks by reminding us all that this is national police week. let's honor our police officers and other law enforcement by giving them this much-needed tool to crack down on illegal
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firearm traffickers who are exploiting our addicts in so many ways in order to obtain guns that they are not legally able to purchase. i urge my colleagues to support this much-needed legislation. thank you, mr. president. mr. heller: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator from nevada. mr. heller: thank you, mr. president. i rise to once again speak out against the administration's proposal to revive yucca mountain. i said this before, yucca mountain is dead and nevada will not be a nuclear waste dump. i reiterated against mr. perry's
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speech. senator harry reid was an outspoken opponent of yucca and worked hard to make sure that the project did not see the light of day. now, mr. president, i'm standing between this administration and yucca and i say to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle that i will be leading this fight. this is a reckless proposal. over the last 30 years the federal government wasted billions of taxpayer dollars to design and permit yucca mountain, all without any signal -- any signal that nevada would consent to it. a state without a single nuclear power plant should not have to shoulder the entire nation's nuclear waste burden. i will not be run over by the desires of other states that want to move the nuclear waste that they produce, that they create out of their own backyards and put it into ours. i'll say it again. nevada will not be our nation's
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nuclear waste dump. last week's accident at the hanford nuclear reservation in washington state serves as a chilling reminder of what nevada had to deal with with yucca mountain. i'm relieved no one was harmed after the tunnel collapsed. we need to find a viable solution to our nation's nuclear waste problem. in additional to the potential tragic loss of life, radiation exposure resulting are from similar events at yucca mountain could shatter nevada's economy. this is not to mention the threat of transportation accidents along the proposed waste transportation routes. what that means is that under the nuclear waste policy act, we're looking at shipping 9, 9,495 casks in 2,018 trains and
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2,006 trucks hauling waste to yucca mountain. if the capacity limit to yucca is more than doubled, as has been discussed he with the department of energy, we will transport this waste in 6,000 trains and 5,025 trucks to yucca mountain. i ask my colleagues if they believe that over the span of 65 years there won't be one transportation accident with an ensuing radiological release? these shipments would use 22,000 miles of railways, 7,000 miles of highway, crossing over 44 states and the tribal lands of at least 30 native american tribes. the district of columbia and 960 counties with a population of
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about 175 million people. between 10 to 12 million people live within the region of influence for route shipments -- that is within one half mile of these rail and highway routes. mr. president, in effect, this these rail and highway routes would impact most of the nation's congressional districts, estimated to involve 330 districts. for those not familiar with the west -- i know you are, mr. president -- access to highways are difficult because they are in such remote locations. if there was a spill or accident, questions remain within the department of energy regarding their response time for emergency radiological exposure. this is not even to mention the issue of private ownership of rail right of ways, making it uncertain who would control accident sites. what we do know is that the local communities would be the
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ones forced to suffer any type of long-term effect of radiation exposure. is this -- this is a mistake that was home of the nation's nuclear test site and surrounding communities which suffered for years from resulting exposure. mr. president, i ask my colleagues, should nevada be forced to once more shoulder this burden? secretary perry, in response to last week's accident, acknowledged our nation's problem with nuclear waste, saying that the nation could no longer kick the can down the road. mr. president, i do not believe our nation should continue to kick the can, or in this case the cask, down the road. we must find a long term, viable solution for awr nation -- for our nation's nuclear waste problem and one of those is to have a nuclear base sighting. states should have a voice in the process. failure to do so will only make
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this problem worse, risking future accidents similar to what we saw last week weeflt can no longer -- we can no longer afford to look backwards at failed proposals of the past and waste taxpayers' dollars. instead we need to move forward on a real solution to a very real problem. mr. president, i yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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quorum call:
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mr. merkley: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from oregon. mr. merkley: mr. president, i ask the quorum call be lifted. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. merkley: thank you. the most important worlds in our
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constitution are the first three words. we the people. written in beautiful script, written many times larger than the rest of the document so that even if you're across the room, you know what this constitution stands for. not government by and for the powerful, not government by and for the privileged, but as president lincoln so eloquently said in his gettysburg address, government of the people, by the people, and for the people. as a we the people nation, we adhere to a corset of principle -- core set of principles that have guided us through good times as well as in dark moments. one of those key principles is the rule of law, that we are a nation where not only is there rule of law but where no one, no
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one is above the law. if we walked out of this chamber right now, proceeded through the double doorways, down the steps of the capitol, we'd be staring at the beautiful building of the supreme court. the entire building symbolizes the role of justice in our society. and as you look at that magnificent supreme court, the broad marble steps, leading up to the door and you look up, you see these simple words inscribed above. equal justice under the law. it's right there. you can almost see it from where i'm standing now. equal justice under the law. that's the principle that is
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part of the ethic of every courthouse in america, from the smallest most rural courthouse to the big city courthouse square. and we see those same principles personified as lady justice. there she is holding the scales blindfolded so as to make sure that everyone is treated equally. but over the past few months, we have been in a period in which we're staring into the abyss of a constitutional crisis because this very core principle of no one is above the law and equal justice under the law is under assault. we have a president whose
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campaign team is under investigation because of substantial information that suggests the possibility of coordination and collaboration with russia to change the outcome of the presidential election, an assault on one of the most fundamental premises of a free society, free and equal elections. we have a president who gave code word classified information to an adversary, russia, just a few days ago. we have confidential information, we have secretive information, we have top secret information, and we have code word information at the very top, the most sensitive secrets of the american government. and our president gave that
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information to russia. anyone else did that, they'd be facing criminal charges. we have a president who sought to shut down an investigation into one of his former team members, retired lieutenant general michael flynn. we know that lieutenant general flynn was in contact with russian officials, and he was fired for lying about it. a president, president trump, fired the head of the f.b.i. because he wouldn't drop the investigation into general flynn's russian connections and conduct. we have a president, president trump, who asked his attorney general and deputy attorney general to develop a cover story to tell the american people that the reason he fired the director
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of the f.b.i. was because he was upset about the director of the f.b.i.'s treatment of his former presidential opponent hillary clinton. if anyone believes the president woke up in the middle of the night and decided to fire the director of the f.b.i. because he was concerned about the way hillary clinton was treated, you haven't been paying attention about the last year and a half. now, if in the course of an investigation it is found that members of the trump campaign coordinated or collaborated with the russians to undermine the integrity of our elections, then that is treasonness conduct. and if the president asked for, encouraged, or knew about such activity, then that would be party to such treasonness
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conduct. and if the president used his office to attempt to shut down either the investigation of michael flynn or the investigation into collaboration between the trump campaign and the russians, then that obstruction is potentially a serious crime, obstruction of justice, and it has to be fully pursued. if the president fired his former f.b.i. director in order to slow down or shut down these investigations, then that compiles the evidence of obstruction of justice. these sets of facts point to serious misconduct. we have to fully investigate whether or not there was in fact such misconduct. and that is why for more than three months, going back to february 15, the resignation of michael flynn, i have been calling for a special prosecutor
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to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation into these matte matters. and over these three months, the case for why we need an independent special prosecutor has only grown stronger with each new event, each new story, each new piece of evidence. if there was any lingering doubt about the need for a special prosecutor, that doubt was washed away last week when president trump fired director comey for pursuing the investigation into the ties between the trump campaign and russia. that's why many of my colleagues, countless americans all across the country stood up and demanded that no nominee fill director comey's shoes unless a special prosecutor had been appointed. so i was very pleased, mr. president, when last night
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deputy attorney general rosenstein appointed such a special prosecutor. now, he will be coming to this chamber to speak with us in a short period of time, later this afternoon. but whatever else transpired stepping up and appointing that special prosecutor was the right thing to do. he announced the appointment of former f.b.i. director robert mueller as special counsel -- the word "special counsel" and "special prosecutor" are large largely -- "ailing and eye or coordination between the russian government or individuals associated with the campaign of president donald trump and any matters that arose or may aries rise from the investigation and any other matters within the scope of the investigation." last night's announcement was a tremendous victory for justice,
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the principle of justice. it was a tremendous victory for a country with the rule of law. it was a tremendous victory for the principle that no individual is above the law in the united states of america. we need to have confidence that there will be a robust investigation to get to the truth, no matter where that leads us, and seniorly is our confidence has been improved by the appointment of a special prosecutor last night. and not just any individual, but an individual qualified and respected to lead such an investigation. for 12 years from just before the september 11 attacks of 2001 right through 2013, this man, robert mueller, led the f.b.i. he led it for the second-longest period in u.s. history.
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he led it for two years more than the standard term for the head of the f.b.i. he is known as a thorough, by-the-book prosecutor who can't be influenced or intimidated, and i have every faith that he will conduct a professional, robust, thorough investigation and give the american people the answers to all of these issues. but as we applaud this strong movement towards justice, to truth and accountability, this strong, strident support of our "we the people" democratic republic, we cannot rest. we need to make sure that mr. mueller, as a special prosecutor, gets every resource
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he needs to aggressively pursue justice, to complete independence -- the complete independence that he needs to undertake this incredibly important task. and, at the same time, we have to keep pressing here in the senate, encouragcouraging our intelligence committee, as well as the house intelligence committee, a degrees civil pursue information. we cannot cede our obligation to represent and fight for the best interests of the american people or for our "we the people" nation, and that includes speaking truth to power and holding our leaders accountable for their actions. mr. mueller will have, as i noted, wide-ranging authority to conduct his investigation. his investigation and the investigation here in the senate by the senate intelligence committee will be looking at a
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number of connections that have occurred over the course of this last year and a half. now, we know a lot about what the russians did to hack the american presidential election. the intelligence community told us in a report this past january - that with high confidence putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the u.s. presidential election and that he did so in order to and i quote, undermine faith in the u.s. democratic process, denigrate hillary clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency. the report goes on to say that the russian government, and i quote, aspired to help president trump's election chances by publicly contrasting hillary clinton's unfavorably to him. and we know many of the elements of this aggressive russian
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campaign. they used the resource "russian today" to spread fake news stories, to develop those stories and publicize those stories. they hired 1,000 internet trolls to comment in social media on the affairs in america, as if they were americans weighing in. they proceeded to hack the d.n.c., the democratic national committee, files and the clinton campaign files and then released damaging documents from those hacks. they used bots, that is, remote computers instructed by code that was placed onto those computers, to weigh in on social media, as if they were people weighing in. so you had thousands of machines weighing in with comments, as if they were individuals weighing in. and why did they do that? to take the fake news story and proceed to amplify it with
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comments from 1,000 trolls and probably tens of thousands of bots in order to get those issues trending so they would appear in the everyday news that americans see. we are talking about a massive campaign of interference in the presidential election. and what we need to know is whether anyone on the trump campaign was connected, in any possible way, to these activities. to find that out, we have to investigate the growing web of connections between members of the trump campaign and russia. just consider some of the connections that have been explored already in the press. one individual is carter page, who served as president trump's foreign policy advisor on the campaign trail. mr. page lived in russia for three years while working for merrell lynch. he participated in several deals during his time there with
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gazprom, whose chairman was vladimir putin's deputy while prime minister. he became friendly and e-mailed back and forth for months with a man named victor podomny, a russian spy caught on tape saying he was trying to recruit page. last year while employed as a member of the trump campaign, mr. page traveled to moscow to deliver a speech bashing u.s. policy towards russia, saying, washington and other western powers have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption, and regime change. then there's paul manafort, the former chairman of the president's campaign. he was hired to manage the republican convention and to wrangle delegates. but then he was promoted to campaign chairman and chief strategist, until he resigned
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because of his questionable foreign dealings. from 2004 until 2014, mr. manafort worked as an advisor to the ukrainian president viktor yanukovych, a pro-russian strongman who over the years adopted policies that moved his country away from the european union and closer to russia. manafort is regularly credited with helping yanukovych win the presidency in 2010. in 2014, a revolution rose up against yanukovych, and he was out offed from power -- and he was osted from power. and he now lives next aisle. but mr. manafort -- that advocates for stronger relations with russia. then we have roger stone, president trump's longtime
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alive, friend, and advisor since they first met back in 1979. that's three-plus decades. ironically, it was mr. stone who introduced donald trump to former president richard nixon back in the 1980's. there are stories in the media that mr. stone pressured the president to fire director comey. over the years mr. stone has appeared many times in "russia today," the kremlin's english news network that developed and published fake news stories during last year's presidential election. in his appearances, mr. stone regularly criticized the u.s. intelligence community. a. tacked our media. he attacked our free press. he praised russia and its policies and even praised wikileaks. more than that, mr. stone has
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bragged about his communicatio s hackers, hackers like guccifer 2.0. and who is guccifer 2.2? the individual responsible for hacking the d.n.c. and releasing its e-mails during the campaign. another person whose connections to both the trump campaign and russia will be looked at is our former colleague, now our attorney general. during the course of his confirmation hearings, mr. sessions misled fellow senators about his interactions with russian officials. when asked what he would do as attorney general if he learned that anyone connected to the trump campaign had communicated with the russian government, he said, i'm not aware of any of those activities. i have been called a surrogate at a time two in that campaign, and i did not have communication withs with the russian. but he did. meeting with russian ambassador kislyak on two separate
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occasions last year. then we have michael flynn, a very major part of the convections between the trump campaign connections between the trump campaign and russia. retired attorney genera -- he wy involved in the series of events that lead us to yesterday with the appointment of special prosecutor. beginning in february of 2016, general flynn served as an advisor to the trump campaign and he was even considered as a potential running mate for president trump. as we know, he followed president trump into the white house as national security advisor, but as i noted before, that role was short-lived, as his russian connections came to light. back in 2015, he was paid to attend a 10th anniversary gala
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for russian tv and set at a table with mr. putin. he didn't disclose this on his security forms. and during trump administration tran circumstance he spoke with ambassador kislyak by phone, including one call on the day that president obama ordered sanctions on russia for punishment. punishment for what? punishment for interfering with the american election. when that information was discovered, the white house contended that general flynn's conversations with the russian ambassador were nothing more than ironed-out logistics for a call between the president and vladimir putin. even vice president pence went on the record defending flynn, telling cbs news that the two, quote, did not discuss anything having to do with the united states decision to he ex-pell diplomats or impose censure against russia, end of quote. but general flynn's
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conversations with the ambassador was picked up during routine surveillance of the russian ambassador. and what were they discussing? they were discussing the sanctions president obama was placing on russia and why did he place those sanctions? because of russian interference in the election. acting attorney general sally yates made it known that she warned the white house that flynn was lying to the vice president and that he was compromised. she met twice with don mcgahn, the white house counsel, to warn him about flynn. but in exchange for making sure the white house knew about the fact of the national security advisor was compromised and had lied to the vice president, she was fired -- fired by the president.
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18 days after sally yates warned him, michael flynn resigned, after "the washington post" revealed that he had in fact discussed sanctions with ambassador kislyak. and now, according to his lawyer, quote, general flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wanted to tell it. well, i hope, as the senate intelligence committee, the prosecutor pursue the investigations, that he will have every chance to tell it and will tell it with the fullness and an accuracy that will be complete. that's the web of visible connections we already know about, and they suggest the possibility of coordination, consultation, collaboration, with the russians to influence
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the american elections. but we have to get to the bottom of whether in fact that is the case. did it go beyond a series of conversations to actual coordination, consultation, and collaboration? that is what we need to know. the president says there is no "there" there. that's why you need an investigation in order to find out. the president has called this a witch hunt, an investigation i would convey to president trump is not a witch hunt. an investigation is pursuit of the truth. an investigation is in the highest tradition of equal justice for all. a very large development as we all now know what occurred last week was the firing of f.b.i. director james comey. he was leading the bureau's investigation into these matters.
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director comey confirmed while testifying in the house on march 20 that the f.b.i. was in fact conducting an investigation into trump's campaign, something we now know really bothered the president. but at the outset the president and the white house claimed that comey's firing was about the director's handling of the clinton e-mail investigation, not because of the russian investigation. now that story on its face caused eyebrows to rise across the country. did people really believe that the president woke up and was determined to right a wrong because the f.b.i. director had unfairly treated hillary clinton? and yet he asked his team to develop this story to share it with the american people. he asked his team, his attorney general and his deputy attorney general, to essentially put out
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a story to mislead the american people. that in itself deeply damages the integrity of the white house. he also -- this cover story also claimed that comey was fired because he lost the trust of the rank-and-file f.b.i. agents. acting f.b.i. director andrew mccabe came to the hill to testify in front of the intelligence committee last week, and he conveyed that that is simply not true. the cover story also involved deputy attorney general rosenstein being the instigator of the firing. by preparing this memo on his own and recommending to the president. and that turned out also to be a part of the deception. and the president himself made that clear, taking responsibility that it was his
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decision to fire, not a decision based on the recommendation that came from rosenstein. in an nbc news interview with lester holt, president trump admitted that he, quote, was going to fire regardless of a recommendation and that he was thinking of this russia thing, as he called it. this russia thing, when he finally decided to fire the director. he also told lester holt that he had asked director comey three times whether he himself was under investigation. the president admitted on camera to the american people that he fired the man in charge of the investigation against his campaign because he was frustrated that the investigation was still going on. the american people received reports subsequently that the president had asked director comey to pledge his loyalty to the president. this is news report of the memo that director comey wrote after meeting with the president.
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we find that the f.b.i. director is not going to be loyal to anyone but lady justice. and the president had the audacity to publicly threaten director comey after firing him. james comey, said the president, better hope there are no tapes of our conversation before it starts leaking to the press. attempting to inl tim date the -- to intimidate the future statements and possibly statements in an investigation after a person has been fired is another factor that is totally inappropriate. everyone with any shred of common sense knows such intimidation is inappropriate. but in the context of a criminal investigation, it may be more than inappropriate. now we don't know if there actually were tapes. now, our intelligence committee has requested the memos that
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director comey wrote on his various conversations with the president. remember, this is an experienced, seasoned f.b.i. agent turned director who has spent his life documenting conversations as considered to be a high level of integrity when such information is recorded in this fashion. so, those memos carry a lot of weight. some are classified. some are unclassified. they need to be provided immediately to the senate intelligence committee. and if they aren't provided, then the intelligence committee needs to subpoena them. it needs to subpoena the tapes. if they exist, they need to be delivered. if they're not tapes but they're transcripts, they need to be delivered. if they're not tapes but they're a thumb drive or they exist on a piece of hardware, they need to be delivered. and our special prosecutor, mr.m
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as well. i think that as one steps back from this incredible amount of information, the information about how russia hacked the campaign, not just hacking into the d.n.c. and hillary clinton's campaign, but then releasing that information at strategic moments, hiring 1,000 individuals to comment on social media as if they were american citizens, establishing a botnet of commuters to weigh in as if they were -- of computers to weigh in as if they were people to get it trending and get it into the mainstream news, when you consider all of this, we know how terribly wrong it was
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and we have to learn every piece about what went on in order to make sure that we are in the best prepared way to stop it from ever happening again. and we need to make sure that we're in the best possible place to ensure that we can assist other democratic republics, to make sure that they are not victims of the russians. and we need to make sure that if any american, no matter who he or she is, collaborated or coordinated with the russians in this effort to hack our campaigns, that they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law. thank you, mr. president. a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from ohio. mr. brown: thank you, mr. president. our law enforcement officers and the families who support them give so much in service to our communities. as we were tragically reminded
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again last week and this happens in far too many places, in far too many states, some make the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe. kirkersville, ohio, police chief steve disario responded to the report of a man in a gun in a nursing home. he did what so many first responders do when most of us in the public run away from danger, he runs towards it. he arrived at the pine kirk care center to protect his community. he was killed in the line of duty by a gunman who took the lives of two nursing home employees. chief disario was 36. he had six children with a seventh on the way. our thoughts and our prayers are with his family and the families of all of our first responders who worry each day that their loved ones might not return home. think about that. for soldiers, for marines, for sailors, for police officers, for firefighters, so often wheb they kiss their -- when they kiss their spouse goodbye and go to work, there's always the
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anxiety of home. it's not just the sacrifice that our soldiers and our military personnel and our police officers make. it's the sacrifice that their family makes too. sadly, the police chief disario wasn't the only ohio officer to lay down his life this year. in january, officer david fayehe of the police department was working the scene of an accident on i-90 whenests struck and -- when he was struck and killed in a despicable act of a hit-and-run. we honor the five ohio officers killed in the line of duty last year. aaron christian of the chesapeake police department was killed in a car accident while on patrol. kenneth valez, a trooper from value lear i can't was killed while conducting traffic by a driver under the influence of drugs. officer sean johnson was the first officer to be killed in the line of duty in the town of hilliard. officer steven smith was shot
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and killed -- excuse me. officer steven smith was shot and killed during a swat standoff in columbus. officer thomas katrell jr. of danville was killed in a heinous amyou shall about. each of these losses -- heinous ambush. each of these losses is a tragedy. as we honor the work and is sacrifices made by law enforcement throughout police week, we need to offer more than kind words. we need action to support law enforcement as they work to keep our communities safe. yesterday i was talking to police chief richard beale of dayton and youngstown police chief robert lees about what more we should do to support police officers and their families. this week we unanimously passed several pieces of bipartisan legislation that will provide new support to the officers who protect us and the families who sacrifice alongside them. public safety officers benefits improvement act which senator grassley introduced will put
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pressure on the bureau of justice assistance and d.o.j. to speed up claims processing so families of disabled officers or fallen officers get their benefits more quickly. we passed the law enforcement mental health and wellness act introduced by indiana senators donnelly and young to help law enforcement agencies establish or enhance mental health services. like peer-monitoring pilot programs and crisis outlines for their officers. i learned about this bill from my friend jay mcdonald whose add voa cassie -- advocacy for police officers and their families makes a huge difference for the law enforcement community. and we approve senator cornyn's heroes act of 2017 which would allow local police departments to use federal grant money to hire veterans as law enforcement officers. it's a bipartisan commonsense idea that would open new doors for those who serve our
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communities and our nation and the military and who have accrued and developed skills that will serve well their communities in police work. we have a solemn obligation to the children of fallen officers whose lives are forever changed because of the heroism of their mother or father. the bipartisan children of fallen heroes scholarship act which i've introduced with senators casey and donnelly would increase access to pell grants for the surviving children of law enforcement who lay down their lives for their communities. it would ensure that all children of fallen officers are eligible for the maximum federal pell grants. of course we can't repay the debt we owe these families, but we can ease the burden on their children as they prepare for the future. we need to do everything we can to ensure that officers and family members get the benefit and help that they deserve. we also need to do more to give officers the tools they need to
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protect themselves. this week i joined a group of senators in calling for full funding of the bulletproof vest partnership. i've written to the department of justice thanking them for their work so far and urging them to speed up distributing funding we passed as part of the comprehensive addiction and recovery act. the bipartisan bill created the comprehensive opioid abuse grant program to provide funding to police departments to train first responders as they deal with opioid-related incidents. more and more officers are exposed to fentanyl out in the field. just this week in eastern ohio, an officer in east liver pool was the victim of an accidental fentanyl overdose. he survived, but the situation was perilous. we need to make sure that officers have the equipment they need to handle this deadly opioid look-alike, only more toxic, safely. our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line each day to protect us. this police week we owe them
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more than gratitude. we must show them that we -- we must show the support that the selfless men and women who serve our communities and country every single day, we must support their actions, their lives, and their families. i note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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quorum call:
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mr. casey: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator from pennsylvania. mr. casey: thank you, mr. president. i ask that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. casey: mr. president, i also ask to speak as if in morning business. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. casey: thank you, mr. president. i rise this afternoon to talk about the russia questions that are on the minds of so many americans. we had, i think in the midst of all of the debate and controversy and genuine concern across the country, some good news yesterday when it was
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announced that the deputy attorney general mr. rosenstein had made the decision to appoint a special counsel, and in this case former f.b.i. director mueller. that was good news, number one that there was a special counsel that could undertake a review of these questions in an independent fashion, but i think people across, not just washington, but i think across the country, were heartened by the fact that it was someone with the caliber and experience and dedicated law enforcement commitment that director mueller demonstrated in his years with the f.b.i. as director, as a prosecutor. so that was good news. we're grateful for that. i know we'll have a chance in just a little bit -- a little while to talk to the deputy
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attorney general about these issues. but i think we have to examine a couple more questions that arise and, mr. president, i would ask to submit for the record a -- it's about a three-page timeline of some of the events that led up to today. i ask consent to make that a part of the record. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. casey: thank you. but i think there are some serious questions, even with the special counsel who has been named, even with two intelligence committees reviewing these matters. i hope in addition to those reviews that are being undertaken, those investigations, that we also have an independent commission to get all of the answers that we need so we can ensure the american people that this will never happen again, that no
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foreign government, in this case a foreign adversary, can interfere in an election at any time in our -- in our future. so that -- that guarantee will not be ironclad unless we know exactly what happened, why it happened, and then take a series of steps to prevent it from happening. we should be very clear what the russian federation, that if they do this again, they will be sanctioned and there will be a consequence to their -- in response to their actions, but we won't able to do any of that unless we can find the answers. so here's a couple of basic questions i think are part of the -- i hope will be part of the deliberations, not just of the two committees or other committees that might review this, but also the deliberations and work of the special counsel and his team.
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first question is, why does the president believe the russian election interference investigation is baseless, which is contrary to the unanimous finding of 17 agencies -- u.s. intelligence agencies? these agencies issued a, quote, high confidence, unquote -- a high confidence assessment of that determination that they made. so that's a technical term in the intelligence circles that they don't use lightly. based upon the findings of those 17 intelligence agencies and that finding being high confidence, why does the president continue to question or even undermine that determination? another question is, why did
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attorney general sessions who had to recuse himself from the russian investigation weigh in on the f.b.i. director responsible for that very investigation? that is a question that i think a number of people are asking. number three, can the justice department's political leaders -- meaning individuals who have just come in with this administration -- can those officials be trusted not to interfere in the ongoing f.b.i. investigation? that's a question. fourth, why immediately after firing director comey, and in the middle of the interference about the russian investigation that it created, why did the president convene a private meeting with the russian foreign minister and russian ambassador in the oval office and allow the russian state media, the
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soviet-era state media entity, to cover that meeting while keeping out the u.s. media? i think that's a question that a lot of people have. question number five, why did he reveal highly classified -- he meaning president trump -- why did he reveal highly classified information to the russian federation according to the reporting by "the washington post" and others during this meeting with the foreign -- russian foreign minister, the russian ambassador, and what are the implications of that disclosure? i think that's something that we need to have answers to. so these -- at least these five questions. you could add many more, i believe, are critically important questions. but in some -- in some respects there are even more urgent questions in front of us and
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i'll focus a little bit on those today. basically three, i guess. number one, did the president intentionally interfere with the ongoing f.b.i. investigation into his associates -- people that were on his campaign or on the campaign and working in the government now. and that seems -- the interference question seems more likely than not based upon the reporting, but we have to know for sure one way or the other, did the president intentionally interfere with an ongoing f.b.i. investigation? second question is, are any such efforts to interfere ongoing? so if the answer to the first question is yes, and we don't know for certain if it is yes, but it is -- if it is yes and there was intentional
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interference with the investigation by the president, the second question would be, are there any such efforts to interfere that are ongoing? third, do they extend, meaning this potential alleged interference -- does this interference extend past the f.b.i. inquiry to the investigations in the senate and the house of representatives? that's, i think, a question that -- that's rather urgent as well. will this attempt to interfere or alleged attempt to interfere, will that carry over into other investigations? because really, in essence now, we have three inqir eyes -- inquiries. the one is the house intel committee, the senate intel committee, and the other is special counsel mueller's investigation. all critically important. i would hope that we could add a
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fourth to that, which would be an independent commission like the 9/11 commission where we came to definitive conclusions with regard to what happened on 9/11, and then added to that, those conclusions, a series of recommendations so that we could prevent another 9/11. the same could be said here, we want to make sure we get answers to these questions, may have conclusions made, have accountability with regard to those conclusions, but then have a series of recommendations on how to avoid russian interference ever again director comey warned about the danger of undue influence on f.b.i. investigations during the exchange of a may 3, judiciary committee hearing.
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it was senator hirno who asked if senior justice department officials had ever ordered the f.b.i. to halt an investigation. interestingly, here's what director comey replied. director comey replying to that question -- quote, not in my experience. meaning not in his experience does he know of an instance where the justice department officials interfered with and f.b.i. investigation. i'll read it again. quote, not in my experience, he said, because it would be a big deal to tell the f.b.i. to stop doing something. and then he continues on and it picks up, without an appropriate purpose. a situation where we are told to stop something for a political reason, that would be a very big deal. it's not happened in my experience. unquote. so that's the now former f.b.i.
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director saying that there's no precedence for the idea that the -- the justice department would ask the f.b.i. to take an action which would be interference. director comey was talking about the department of justice in this case, actions by the department of justice to interfere with and f.b.i. investigation. in retrospect perhaps a better question would have been whether the political interference he thought would be a, quote, very big deal, unquote, might have been coming directly from the oval office. it's essential that we get to the bottom of this -- a number of these questions. at issue here is the importance -- i should say an issue of this importance requires that the full investigative power of the federal government be brought to bear. the house and senate intel committees are doing their
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investigations, as i said. the f.b.i. investigation continues as well despite concerns about -- about independence in the wake of director comey's firing. i hope and i expect that many the -- that the next f.b.i. director will be someone who will be as independent, as capable, and as committed as director mueller as the new special counsel. we know there are dedicated professionals running these -- running these investigations. it's long been my belief that these extraordinary circumstances demand even more. i've been repeating for some time that we need a greater level of independence to insulate this critically important investigation from any suspicion of partisan interference. that's why i've been call for -- many weeks now since march -- for a special counsel. i'm glad that the justice department now agrees with me.
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so, mr. president, suffice it to say we have a lot more work to do. ultimately this will be the work of everyone here, even if you're not a member of the intel committee or any other committee that is doing work that is directly relevant to this. because ultimately the congress has it take actions to get to the bottom of these questions, but also to be part of the process at least of imposing accountability and also especially the -- the congress will have to play a major role, the leading role, in making sure that we put in place policies, procedures, and laws to prevent this from happening again. i hope the administration will join us in taking every step necessary to get to the bottom of these questions and to insist and to ensure that this never ever happens again to any american
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election. that's not just a goal. that has to be a guarantee as a result of this process. and if the administration is not committed to that, i'm not sure what they are committed to. to take lightly or to ignore a problem that is this grave and this serious, to undermine our democracy is, i think, to put at risk the very foundation of our nation as a nation of laws and not of men, a nation committed to the rule of law. with that, mr. president, i would yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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mr. mcconnell: mr. president? the presiding officer: the majority leader. mr. mcconnell: we in a quorum call? the presiding officer: we are. mr. mcconnell: i ask consent that further proceedings under the quorum call be dismissed with. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mcconnell: i ask that we consider the nomination of john sullivan to be deputy secretary of state. the presiding officer: is there objection? without objection. mr. mcconnell: i send a -- the presiding officer: the clerk will report the nomination. the clerk: nomination, department of state, john j. sullivan of maryland to be deputy secretary. money i send a cloture motion to the desk. the presiding officer: the clerk will report the motion. the clerk: cloture motion, we
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the undersigned senators in accordance with the provisions of rule 22 of the standing rules of the senate do hereby move to bring to a close debate on the nomination of john j. sullivan of maryland to be deputy secretary of state signed by 17 senators. mr. mcconnell: i ask consent the reading of the names be waived. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mcconnell: i ask consent the mandatory quorum call with respect to the cloture motion be waived. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mcconnell: i ask consent the senate resume consideration of the branstad nomination. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mcconnell: i ask unanimous consent the senate be in a period of morning big with senators permitted to speak therein for up to ten minutes each. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mcconnell: i ask unanimous consent the senate proceed to the consideration of s. res. 172 submitted earlier today. the presiding officer: the clerk will report. the clerk: senate resolution 172 designating may 2017 as older americans month. the presiding officer: is there objection to proceed? without objection. mr. mcconnell: i ask unanimous consent the resolution be agreed to, the preamble be agreed to, and the motions to reconsider be
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considered made and laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mcconnell: i ask unanimous consent the senate proceed to the consideration of s. res. 173 submitted earlier today. the presiding officer: the clerk will report. the clerk: senate resolution 173 designating the week of may 15 through may 21, 2017, as national police week. the presiding officer: is there objection to proceeding? without objection. mr. mcconnell: i ask unanimous consent the resolution be agreed to, the preamble be agreed to, and the motions to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mcconnell: i ask unanimous consent the senate proceed to executive session for the consideration of all nominations placed on the secretary's desk in foreign service, that the nominations be confirmed, the motions to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate, that no further motions be in order, that any statements related to the nominations be printed in the record, the president be immediately notified of the
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senate's action and the senate then resume legislative session. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mcconnell: now, mr. president, i ask unanimous consent that when the senate completes its business today it adjourn until 3:00 p.m. monday, may 22. further, that following the prayer and pledge, the morning hour be deemed expired, the journal of proceedings be approved to date, the time for the two leaders be reserved for their use later in the day, and morning business be closed. further, following leader remarks the senate proceed to executive session and resume consideration of the branstad nomination. further, that the time until 5:30 be equally divided in the usual form. finally, notwithstanding the provisions of rule 22, the postcloture time on the branstad nomination expire at 5:30 monday. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. mcconnell: so if there's no further business to come before the senate, i ask it stand adjourned under the previous order. the presiding officer: the senate stands adjourned until 3:00 p.m. monday.
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