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tv   U.S. Senate 10252017  CSPAN  October 25, 2017 1:29pm-3:30pm EDT

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quorum call:
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mr. merkley: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from oregon. mr. merkley: i ask that the quorum call be lifted. without objection. mr. merkley: i ask that my intern sara finley be granted privileges of the floor for the balance of the day. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. merkley: thank you very much. mr. president, i am coming to the floor to talk about the challenge we have with forest fires that have been raging in the west, from montana and idaho and washington and oregon and california, and periodically we have devastating fires in colorado and new mexico, nevada. so we have to figure out how we do a better job in a multitude of ways. first, it's very important that we quit treating terrible fire year, enormous fires as if they're some ordinary event, because there is currently no fema-style reaction to terrible forest fires.
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we respond with fema for for neigh tows and -- for tornadoes and with floods and hurricanes and with earthquakes but not with forest fires. well, the result is that the forest service runs out of funds to fight the fires in a bad year, and then they have to drain all the other programs they're working on, including the programs to prepare for future timber cuts, the programs to thin the forest, the programs to repair the infrastructure in the federal forests, all these other efforts. and then they can't resume those efforts until we've restored their funding, which can come often far later. this fire borrowing has to end and that's why we absolutely need to support the bill that senator wyden and senator crapo and others have been working on to say, let's create a fema-like structure for these forest firings so we end this -- for these forest fires, so we need
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this. that needs to happen. rye now there are three funding issues that we need to address. first we need to help out the communities that have been impacts economically by these devastating fires. some have been scorched directly. others have been profoundly affected by the smoke in the community. others have been affected by highways be shut down. others have been impacted by tourism dropping dramatically. so it's very important that we send a message to the department of agriculture and the small business administration, the housing and urban development department to say, use your emergency programs to assist these communities. and we really should make sure that they're at the front of the line along with those who have suffered the disasters in texas and florida and puerto rico for emergency loans and assistance from the small business administration and for an augmented share of community development block grants to
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assist them in a very flexible fashion. i had the chance to meet this weekend with leaders in the valley to talk about how smoke had affected them and company after company after company had been dramatically impacted. some, you would say, was obvious. if you have a zip line company and tourist aren't coming because the smoke is very thick, you're going to be impacted. but others are a little less o for example, the production of fine and the potential impact of the smoke both directly and the fires directly on the harvest but then also on perhaps tainting the flavor of the wine, which will have an impact down the road. so we need to make sure we do all we can to assist these communities just as we're assisting the communities that have been devastated by harvey and maria and irma. the second thing we need to do
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is we need to include $200 million in the next package, the third tranche of assist for the disasters this year. $200 million to fund the repair and replacement of infrastructure and trail infrastructure that was damaged -- the buildings and trails that were damaged by these forest fires. now, that $200 million, that goes half to trails and infrastructure that was damaged by the hurricanes and half to those impacted by the fires. essentially, the damage was roughly equally split. without this type of funding, the forest service will be forced to postpone or cancel projects in 2018. it will compromise the work to remove hazardous trees, road and trail maintenance, restoring watersheds and rehabilitating wildlife and fish habitat.
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the third thing we have to do is seize the moment and invest in fire resilience. every single time we have a fire season like this -- and this season we spent twice as much, almost twice as much as average to fight the fires. people say, w why don't we do more on the front end to reduce the risk of these fires? well, that's such logical thinking. to do more on the front end. what do they mean by that? we have millions of acres, of second-growth forests. we clear cut them. some of them regrew naturally. others were replanted. we replant virtually everything now. and after you have 10 or 20 years, the trees are very close together. the branches are very close to the ground. and this is prime territory for fires. fires love this.
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disease loves this. and so it becomes a real problem unless you go in and you thin the trees enormously, take out a lot of those trees, and you proceed to get rid of the hazardous fuels of branches that have accumulated on the ground and so forth. but if you do those two things, those forests become much more resilient to fire. when you're doing this on a stand that's a bit older, 20 or 30 years old, you also get a significant supply of saw logs for the mills. so this is a real win-win situation. you get a forest that is better in resisting fire. you get a forest that is better in resisting disease. you get a forest that is better for timber stands. and you get a forest that is better in terms of being an ecosystem. so with all that winning, we
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need to do more to make it actually happen. in my state of oregon, there are 1.6 million acres that have already gone through the environmental process. they are ready to be thinned and have the hazardous fuels removed. in washington state, it's at least 400,000 acres. there is additional probably hundreds of thousands of acres in every state from montana and idaho to california, nevada, new mexico. this picture shows the difference. this road right here had a stand on the left that had not been thinned, and if you can make out the colors, these trees are dead. they're all brown, dead trees because of the heat of the fire when it swept through. this side of the road had been treated. the trees had been thinned. the brush had been taken out from below. they often call that mowing. it had prescriptive fire in it
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which means after you have thinned it, you may go ten or 15 years and then let fire burn up the shrubs at the base. therefore, this side of the road that the forest is undamaged. in fact, i went out to this area outside of sisters, oregon, this last weekend, and it's just remarkable how the area that had been thinned and treated with mowing and prescription fire became very resistant to the fire that was sweeping towards sisters, and it really helped the forest service fight the fire because they can easily maneuver through the area that has been thinned much more than the area that hasn't been thinned. so that millie fire, it was stopped before it got to sisters, thankfully. in other places where the forest hadn't been thinned, the outcome might have been very different. so let us invest now in this win-win. let us not succumb to the
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traditional timber wars of the past, because after these fires like this, there are those folks who come along and say we just need to clear cut everything. let's do a 10,000-square-foot timber sale with no environmental review and allow everything to be cut. that's the 1950's. in fact, we have a bill in this chamber that says do exactly that and you can take out the old growth and the big trees. the irony of that is those are actually the trees that are fire resistant. those are the trees you want to leave. so this is a solution that brings the environmental world and the timber world together and provides a supply of saw logs for our mills. let's make that type of vision happen, but to do that, we have to fund the effort. we have to have the funds to be able to go in and do that thinning and mowing and fire prescription. that's why we're asking for about $600 million to help in
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the forests of montana and idaho and washington and oregon and california and nevada, new mexico, and wherever else there is a forest that has gone through that environmentalreview and it's ready for action. it's ready for action, and let's put americans to work out in those forests in this win-win strategy. three things we need to do -- help out our communities that are scorched, proceed to invest in emergency rare of the -- repair of the damaged infrastructure on our forest lands, and invest a significant $500.000000 to $600 million in in -- $500 million to $600 million in thinning the forests that have already undergone an environmental review. thank you, mr. president. i note the absence -- i do not note the absence of a quorum because my colleague is about ready to speak. the presiding officer: the senator from indiana. mr. donnelly: thank you, mr. president. mr. president, for years, i have been calling on democrats and republicans to work together to
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improve the health care law. there are some like myself who recognize the benefits of the existing health care law, as well as the areas that need fixing, and i have proposed that we partner together to strengthen our health care system. for the first time, we have legislation in the senate that has broad bipartisan support and would improve issues with our health care system by stabilizing the individual marketplace and lowering premiums for americans. this is what i have long pushed for. today it's more important than ever that we act to pass this bipartisan legislation, and i'd like to take a few minutes to explain why. beginning next week on november 1, millions of americans, including hoosiers, can sign up for health care coverage through the individual marketplace. unfortunately, as consumers prepare to shop for health insurance plans, there is uncertainty and instability in
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the marketplace and confusion and higher prices for consumers. that wasn't the case earlier this year as both public and private analysis showed that individual marketplaces were relatively stable and improving. for the last ten months, though, the administration has worked to make it harder for americans to access affordable health care and destabilize the markets. for many months, the administration refused to comment -- or to commit, i'm sorry, to continuing important cost-sharing reduction payments that reduced costs for consumers, and even worse has played politics with these payments. this culminated with the administration's announcement earlier this month that it would discontinue cost-sharing reduction payments. this decision came only weeks before open enrollment. there is no disputing a simple fact -- the administration's
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actions created uncertainty for insurers, causing some to significantly raise rates and others to leave the market altogether. as a result, many americans will be forced to pay more for health care plans through the individual marketplace. for example, caresource, an insurance company that offers insurance to hoosiers through the individual marketplace, told me earlier this year that rates would rise 2.2% if the federal government committed to continuing cost-sharing reduction payments. because the administration refused to do so, rates for caresource plans are on average now 20% higher for hoosiers than last year. centine, the other insurer offering coverage in the marketplace, will have average rate increases of nearly 36%.
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in addition to higher rates, it will be harder for hoosiers to find help enrolling in health care plans because the administration slashed 82% of navigative program funding for my home state of indiana. the deepest cut of any state in the country. consumers also have a shorter period to enroll than past years, and the administration plans to do maintenance and shut down for 12 hours on all but one sunday throughout the open enrollment period. it does not have to be this way. as i said for years, there is another path, a bipartisan path. we should work in a bipartisan manner to improve our health care system. all americans working together. i have pressed the administration to commit to providing stability to health
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insurance markets and to work together on bipartisan solutions that reduce health care costs and ensure access to quality medical care. over the past several months, i have engaged in bipartisan conversations and meetings with my colleagues to discuss ways we can partner together to stabilize our health care markets. we have talked to a range of health care experts. there has been a good-faith effort to find common ground on steps we can take to lower costs for families. that's what we should be doing. after participating in this effort, i was pleased that senators lamar alexander and patty murray reached a bipartisan agreement last week. it makes improvements to our health care system and helps reduce costs for our families. i'm proud to cosponsor this
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legislation. it continues cost-sharing reduction payments that reduce consumers' deductibles. it also reduces co-pays for two years, restores funding to help americans navigate signing up for health insurance, and enables more flexibility for states without undermining essential health benefits or harming people who have preexisting conditions. if this legislation came to a vote today, i am confident it would receive more than 60 votes here in the senate needed to pass. it has wide-ranging support from both democrats and republicans. it has bipartisan support, not only in the senate but also from republican and democratic governors all across the country. we have heard from groups, including the american medical association, the u.s. chamber of commerce, and aarp, urging
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congress to move forward on this proposal because it's common sense. it benefits families. it helps stabilize the insurance markets. it's our job to protect families from unnecessary increases in the cost of health care, particularly those within our control. we have an opportunity to do that with the bipartisan alexander-murray agreement that we achieved by working together. the health care debate should not be a political game. the stakes are way too high for that because health care impacts the well-being and the economic security of millions and millions of americans. i said over and over, the american people expect us to work together to try and make
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life a little bit better. at the very least, we should do no harm. the alexander-murray agreement not only provides relief for families, it actually helps put them in a better place. there is no doubt we have more work to do, but this proposal is an important first step. let's strengthen the health care system and make health care more affordable with this bipartisan solution. mr. president, i yield back. i'd note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call: quorum call:
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quorum call:
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a senator: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from oregon. mr. merkley: mr. president, i ask that the quorum call be lifted. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. merkley: mr. president, i thank my colleague from indiana for joining me here on the floor today to raise awareness of the ethnic cleansing that has been occurring on the other side of our planet. ethnic cleansing but the burmese military against the muslim minority. just last week together we sent a letter to u.n. ambassador
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nikki haley. it was signed by 21 of our colleagues. it called for, and i quote, tangible actions against the burmese government to end the violence, help the burmese people and make clear that there will be consequences for those who commit such atrocities against civilians. i'm pleased to partner with my colleague on this. i think he'll share some remarks and i'll follow-up with some remarks of my own. mr. young: i thank my colleague. the presiding officer: the senator from indiana. mr. young: i thank my colleague for his leadership on this issue. it's been a pleasure to lead a subcommittee in the foreign relations committee with senator merkley, and we've offered -- worked always in a constructive fashion on some consequential issue, nonmore consequential than the one before us here today. with respect to the crisis in burma, we recently met with the
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lead person on an international n.g.o. who just returned from campton, bangladesh. and he briefed us on some of the horrible circumstances facing these individuals that have been forced out of burma. we also led a letter, as senator merkley indicated, the letter being to ambassador hai haley. it was just last friday regarding the burma crisis. i also note we had an important hearing on this topic yesterday in the full foreign relations committee and commend our leadership for putting that together. i want to share some of my thoughts about this crisis, but before i do, i'd like to acknowledge folks back home, back in the state of indiana. i happen to represent a significant number of burmese americans. these are patriotic fellow hoosiers who have played an instrumental role in helping
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educate me and members of my team on this crisis and i'm happy we can be responsive to their concerns. it's important for all americans, though, to understand what's happening in america. in america and everything outside of our shores. burma is a country that doesn't typically capture the imagination or attention of people here in the united states, but right now in light of this humanitarian crisis, it requires all of our attention. the burmese military has conducted a deplorable campaign of violence against the rohinga muslim my minority, including the systematic use of arson, murder, and rape. our state department tells us that nearly 300 villages have been either partially or completely destroyed by fire just since august 25 of this year by the burmese military.
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that's more than half of the approximately 470 muslim villages in northern rakhine state. ambassador haley has indicated that the burmese military's actions constitute a sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic my minority. ethnic cleansing. the u.n. high commissioner for human rights has referred to the situation as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. we've seen more than 600,000 mostly of the rohinga ethnic my minority flee their violence in the rakhine state and seek refuge in bangladesh. you travel on foot for days carrying what they can of that irbelongings, carrying their young children. it's mostly women and children who make this trek.
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and upon arrival in bangladesh, we've been briefed that many require immediate life-saving assistance. now, to put the severity in some measure of context, yesterday our department of state and u.s. agency for development characterized the population movement as almost unprecedented, almost unprecedented amidst all the other challenges we've seen in recent years, including the migrant crisis coming out of the middle east and across the shores of the mediterranean. some research suggests the refugee flow has been swifter than the exodus from rwanda in 1994. many americans will say, you know, honestly, we have a lot of challenges in the world. why should i care about this one. well here's why. in burma we see a group of people, the rohingya being stet
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matically targeted -- systematically targeted because of their ethnicity. this runs afoul of our basic values, the principles upon which our country was founded, and, you know, these principles inform the rules of the international order that have existed for some number decades now. these rules are the mortar that holds the order together. we simply cannot allow a certain rules of international behavior to be violated or that will encourage other bad actors and they'll continue to be undermined. thus, undermining our interests, our national interests. recent history demonstrates that the systematic violation of fundamental human rights sooner or later engender security threats to americans, to our allies, and to our collective
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interests. think of tunisia, think of syria, think of the country of yemen or my nigeria. there are almost countless examples just in recent history where we've seen or are seeing right now the deprivation of basic human right, and that in turn is undermining our values and our national interests. let me apply this observation about the linkage between our values and our interests, not just domestically but internationally to the situation in burma. now, we know that the past and present burmese governments have systematically deprived the rohingya population of their most fundamental human rights. not surprisingly, this has compelled a small number to join the arakane rohinga army, asra.
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the most recent cleansing after asra conducted a coordinated attack on burmese security outposts and the burmese military responded with disproportionate military actions and deplorable attacks on civilians. now, here's a point the burmese government and the burmese military must understand. by refusing to treat the rohingyas as full and equal citizens and attacking their own people, they just want to live in peace, the burmese military is only going to increase the number of rohingyas who will be cad recall -- radicalized, exacerbating the very problem the burmese military says it's trying to address. so this is not in burma's interest. i can't emphasize that enough. in december 2016 before the most recent iter ration of this crisis, the international crisis
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group, an international nongovernmental organization issued a report titled myian mar, a new insurgency in rakhine state. the report said a number of things, among them the continued use of disproportionate force that has driven tens of thousands from their homes or across the border to bangladesh could create conditions for further radicalizing sections of the rohingya population, the transnational jihadists could exploit. again, as we saw in syria, to choose just one comparative example, when a government fails to respect the basic human rights of their citizenry and conflict ensues, it can lead to far wider radicalization. the conflict becomes a magnet, a magnet for international
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terrorists. it becomes a factory creating more international terrorists. in short, when governments commit systematic and large-scale violence oppression and injustice against its own people, it creates fertile ground for islamists terrorist recruitment and radicalization. and this is contrary to the interests of everyone, including the burmese government. further, if left unaddressed, the humanitarian and security situation in burma and bangladesh will worsen and increasingly threaten regional stability and u.s. national security interests. so the u.s. must continue to lead. there has to be an international response in burma. we need other partners to step up and participate in that response, but the u.s. must continue to lead.
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and part of leading, part of leading comes down to clarity. what do we want of the burmese government? i see at least four things that the burmese government must do. first, the burmese government and their military must immediately end its ethnic cleansing campaign against the rohingya. second, the burmese government must address the root of this conflict by implementing the recommendations of a u.n. panel, so-called advisory commission on rakhine state. third, the burmese government must permit safe access for journalists, for humanitarians, and for a united nations fact-finding mission and all of their personnel so that we can figure out precisely what is going on and who is responsible. and finally, the burmese
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government must take sit at a time the safe and -- facilitate the safe and voluntary return of all the individuals who have been displaced. now, when i leave the senate floor today, i'm scheduled to immediately visit with burma's ambassador to the united states. and the points i just mentioned are points i intend to reiterate directly to that ambassador. moving forward, the united states should lead efforts to document atrocities in burma however we can so that the perpetrators can be held accountable. i also support the administration's announcement yesterday that it is exploring accountability mechanisms that are already available under u.s. law, including the so-called global magnitsky targeted sanctions. and i call on countries like china and russia to support the suspension of all international
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weapons sales to the burmese military. they should not be transferring weapons to this murderous regi regime. so in conclusion, as senator merkley and i stated in our letter on friday to ambassador haley, now is the time, now is the time to take bold and effective actions against the burmese government to end the violence, not just to help the burmese people but to help stabilize the region and protect u.s. national security interests. now is the time to uphold our fundamental values, the values, frankly, of civilized nations. now is the time to work with this administration and colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure that we can reach as peaceful and as positive resolution to this horrible situation as possible.
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i want to close by once again acknowledging the tremendous leadership of senator merkley. i want to dank him for his partnership -- thank him for his partnership on this effort. with that i yield the floor. mr. merkley: mr. -- president. mr. merkley: i appreciate the comments of my colleague and the opportunity for us to work together to help shine a light on this moment of great atrocity in the world, and a great deal of what we're calling for is for america to do more to shine a light on it and for the world to work together to not just shine a light on it, but to end it, to end it and proceed to have as much healing as can possibly take place. so thank you very much to my colleague from wranian -- indiana. we must address this situation.
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according to a report from the u.s. high commissioner for human rights, government forces have carried out a well-organized and coordinated and systemic campaign of human right violations against the muslim of rohingya to create widespread fear and trauma, physical, emotional, and psychological among the rohingya people. this comes after the commissioner's statement that this security operation, as they referred to it in burma was, and i quote again, a textbook example of ethnic cleansing. now, as we ponder international relations, we see from time to time somewhere in the world that one group will, i guess, respond to deep tribal impulses and
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prejudices and seek to wipe out another group. this is horrific moments in history and we've seen this -- this move, this situation occur time and time again and the world has said after such incidences have said, never again. never again. meaning we will respond when we see this happen. we will apply great pressure. we will coordinate with the world to make sure it stops because such effort to wipe out another ethnic group is so unacceptable and it is such a crime against humanity, but here we are. it's happening right now in burma. it's happening with a buddhist nation. and we normally associate the
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buddhist religion with a main emphasis on peaceful conduct. yet, here this tribal impulse an deep prejudice is so powerful they have overcome whatever peaceful effort there is and are wiping out the rohingya people. in the course there have been a massive number of rapes. there have been children killed right in front of their mothers, there have been villages surrounded by soldiers, and then the villages -- village's huts set on fire and as people run, they are shot as they flee. this is about as inhuman as it gets. close to 300 villages burned to the ground. by some estimates 3,000 civilians killed, and now we have a count that a few weeks ago we were talking about
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400,000 refugees pouring into bangladesh and now it is 600,000 refugees. those refugees include 300,000 children. think about the type of of trauma -- of trauma these children have experienced. and then there are those who are internally displaced inside of burma who have been driven out of their villages that haven't been able to make their way to bangladesh. so that is the challenge we face. there an area -- there is an area of bangladesh where these two main refugee camps are and international aid groups are working to get as many resources as they can quickly into this area so people do not starve, so that medical wounds can be addressed, but there is still a significant lack of food, a lack
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of clean water, a lack of sanitary bath and toilet facilities. that is a condition that is ripe for spreading disease, disease like cholera. when i was home in oregon, i met with a group of row hingians -- rohingyans who settled in oregon and they have a very personal connection to what is happening. some of them have distant relatives still there and some have immediate family members. they don't know exactly what happened to everyone in the middle of this chaos. we also heard about villages that didn't get burned down but where the military was blockading people from leaving the village to go to the fields to secure food and blocking them from leaving the fields and
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going back into the village. so probably responding to international outrage to villages being burned and resorting to starving out the villages to drive people away. can you imagine being trapped in one of those villages, egg knowing what happened in -- villages, knowing what happened in the other villages, that women have been raped and men have been shot. the desperation is enormous. i heard first-hand accounts from refugees who just returned from a two-week trip to visit them. he told powerful and moving stories about children who had been brutalized, separated from their parents, children who are possibly orphans because they are not clear if the parents are still alive. the world collectively has not done enough -- the community of
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nations have not done enough to address this unspeakable brutality. bangladesh should be complimented for accepting these refugees fleeing for their lives. they have been cooperative and it is a challenge for them and we should acknowledge that and we should continue to ask them to do everything possible to give the u.n. commissioner on refugees and the various aid organizations full opportunity, full access, full authority to be in and assist those in the refugee camps. now, our nation, the united states and the united kingdom, and the united nations have condemned the actions of the better meese, and that is -- burmese and that is appropriate. but we have not done enough.
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we have not strengthened sanctions or coordinated the international countries to all weigh in. the only thing that is going to make a real difference here is pressure on the burmese military. they are in charge. we can criticize the civilian got -- government in burma. they sometimes often reflect the prejudices that reflect this, but it's the military that make the decisions. we had testimony from the state department yesterday in which one of the officials used the term, well, vigil ant ees -- vigilantees. this is not uncoordinated action. this is action coordinated through the military decision-making process. you don't surround camps, you don't have significant planning that goes into it and have it just be vigilantes are not the
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driving force. this is a coordinated act of the military of burma and it is important that the community of nations convey that to the military, how unacceptable this is and that there will be significant consequences. my colleague referred to the fact that in this situation that no military sales should be made to such a military. that is important, but that takes a conversation among nations and the united states needs to be deeply engaged in this. there's a lot of international fundraising going on, there was a donors conference on monday to assist the refugees. it raised a little more than $200,000. that is a little more than $400 per refugee. that is not enough.
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it will take more than that and weed should be involved in working with the united nations and unicef and the world food program to step up and assist. and i certainly believe that it would be very helpful to have president trump take this issue on and speak from the heart of our nation to this dark and evil deed that's happening and that we reject it and that we will partner with the rest of the world to end it. i do feel that there is a history in which we have helped lead the nation in these situations. we haven't always been there. i know that president clinton said that the biggest regret of his administration is he didn't respond quickly in central
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africa when the hutu went to battle. this is a chance for us to really respond and respond aggressively, to have that moral clarity, to exercise that leadership in the world. so i join my colleague in calling for such action for more assistance with the aid to both burma and bangladesh, for the moral clarity to take actions that pressure the burmese military in a significant, compelling -- compelling way and to provide so much assistance in the right of return, the ability of these individuals to be able to return to their villages. traditionally this group has been denied citizenship.
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early on we heard from the civilian government in burma, well, we'll let them come back if they show that they are citizens. one, they've never been granted citizenship. second of all, and after a horrific situation like this, if they did have papers, they wouldn't have them now because they have been burned in the villages. there has to be a change of heart among the burmese military to lead an effort in the peaceful tradition, the buddhist tradition, of embracing this diversity and returning these people to their land. form former u.n. -- former u.s. secretary kofi annan have laid objection specific actions to end the cycle of radicalization and cycle of violence and weed need to work -- and we need to work to ensure that is
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implemented. we need to show that the world will not stand and the world will respond and respond aggressively and in a forceful way when ethnic cleansing occurs. that is the best deterrent we could have for future atrocities. i thank my colleague for being in this dialogue, in this support to shine this light to take and compel more forceful action, and like him, i look forward to meeting with the ambassador from burma later today. thank you, mr. president. mr. president, i note the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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quorum call: ms. klobuchar: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator from minnesota. ms. klobuchar: mr. president, i wish to speak this afternoon -- the presiding officer: we are in a quorum call. ms. klobuchar: mr. president, i ask that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: without objection. ms. klobuchar: mr. president, i wish to speak this afternoon to honor the memory of paul and sheila wellstone. today marks 15 years since we lost paul and sheila, their daughter marcia and staff members tom, mary mca voy and will mcclawf lynn. it is hard to believe because paul is such a memorable and incredible person, it's hard to believe it's been 15 years since
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we lost all of them. for me as so many minnesotans, it is impossible to forget the moment that we first heard about their plane going down. it's impossible to forget the wait to get the final news that there were no survivors. that's how much paul and she lament to the people of our state -- sheila meant to our state. i hear my own special reminder every day first from the employees of the capitol who were around back when paul graced these hallways, they remember him because he treated everyone with dignity, whether it was the tram operator or the elevator operator or the police at the front door, he treated them like they were senators. i also have the flags in my office from his senate office, and they are in my office. and every day it's a reminder for me of paul and all he did for the people of our state. paul and sheila were always on the move. they were full of joy.
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they were persistent in their fight against injustices, small and large. during his lifetime as an educator, as an activist and as a united states senator, paul wellstone touched the lives of people throughout minnesota and across the country. and that's because his philosophy was simple. a lot of people, he said, would have people paid to represent them in washington, but he was going to represent the other people. as he said in one of his famous campaign ads, he wasn't there to represent the rockefellers. he was there to represent the little fellers. so you go to any local mental health group, and they remember paul. you go to any somalia event, and they remember paul. you go to any community on the iron range in northern minnesota, they remember paul. both the man and then what he
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did. paul is my friend and mentor. he told me i should run for office. and like he did with so many others, he taught me that politics should have a purpose. he also taught me how to campaign on city buses. so this is how we would do it. on nicolette mall -- the presiding officer is aware of this. we would get on one end of the mall on a city bus and work it like we just get on the bus, meet everyone on the bus, get way to the end, get off and then get on another bus going the other way and meet a whole group of people. i have no idea what the bus drivers thought after an hour of this, but that's what we did. paul wellstone worked it bus by bus, block by block, precinct by precinct, and he made a lasting impression on people in a way that made them believe and made them know that getting involved in politics could make a real difference in their lives. he had this unending sense of
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optimism, optimism that maybe people he didn't agree with in this chamber would eventually change their views. he made a lot of friends here on both the democratic and republican sides of the aisle. that was the message that paul took to new citizens, new voters and everyone looking to get involved. he told them that working in public service can make a difference, and he showed them through his actions. he had many passions. he fought for everything from campaign finance reform to improving our rural economies. he fought against veteran homelessness, to protect the environment. and of course he fought for the rights of workers. he truly believed, as he famously said, that we all do better when we all do better. and that politics is simply about improving people's lives. but anyone who ever met or talked with paul found out that he had a special passion for helping those struggling with mental illness.
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that was shaped by his own family. as a young child, paul watched his brother steven's traumatic descent into mental illness. in college his brother suffered a severe mental breakdown and spent the next two years in hospitals. eventually he recovered and graduated from college with honors but it took his immigrant parents years to pay of 0 the hospital bills. paul would always talk about that when he grew up, his house was dark because no one wanted to talk about mental illness back then because it had so much stigma. he wanted to get it out in the sunlight. he knew that there were far too many families going through the same experience, too many devastated by the physical and financial consequences of mental illness. and he knew that we could and we should do better. so for years as a senator, he fought for funding for better care, better services and better representation for the mentally ill.
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and he fought for mental health parity and health insurance coverage. even years after his death, paul's voice was heard loud and clear. congressman ranstand, a republican congressman at the time from minnesota, took up his cause in the house. i helped ted kennedy lead the way and of course pete domenici who had paired up with paul on this important bill. and finally, in 2008 we passed the paul wellstone and pete domenici mental health parity and addiction equity act. the bill requires insurance companies to treat mental health as an equal basis with physical illness. for paul, this fight was always a matter of civil rights, of justice, and of basic human decency. and that landmark legislation is one fitting way we honor him. sheila, of course, also dedicated herself to helping
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others, especially survivors of violence. i had the opportunity to work closely with sheila when i served for eight years as hennepin county attorney. she focused on domestic violence and was instrumental in creating and getting the funding for the hennepin county domestic abuse center. that center is an international model for serving victims of domestic violence by bringing together a full range of services and resources in one central location. victims of domestic violence don't have to go through the red tape that would be difficult even for a lawyer to figure out. and of course one of paul's greatest legislative achievements was the work he did along with vice president biden and others to pass the original violence against women act. it was a team effort, and sheila was right there on the front lines with paul. together they accomplished so much. their commitment to others never wavered, and neither did they. it was just a few weeks before
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that tragic crash that i last saw sheila and paul. sheila and i had been asked to speak to a group of new citizens, immigrants from russia. it was a very small group, and we were there to talk about our own immigrant experiences, our own relatives. and she, i remember, talked about the relatives in appalachia, and i talked about my relatives on the iron range coming over from slovenia. and so the event was winding down. small, small thing in the synagogue with these new immigrants, and all of a sudden a big surprise. in walked paul. he wasn't supposed to be there. it was just a few weeks, a month away from one of the biggest elections he had ever faced in the united states senate. but he had gotten on an early flight and came home from washington, and there he was, him and just a group of immigrants and us. no press, no tv's, not even a
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big crowd, all just a few weeks before his election. he came for two reasons. one, he loved sheila, and he wanted to be there to support her. but he was also there because he loved the immigrant experience. he embraced it. his family, like so many minnesota families, was an example of how you can come to america, succeed in america, and then in turn help america succeed. so that's my last memory of paul as he stood before those immigrants telling about his own story embracing them. i will remember him in that way, but i will also remember the joy he felt for politics, how he would run around that green bus of his with people running alongside of him on the parade routes. and in the last year of his life, he told the public he had
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m.s., and he couldn't run like that anymore. so he would stand in the back of the bus with sheila and wave. but what was so amazing about it was that he had energized so many people in those green wellstone shirts to run around that bus that you didn't even notice that he wasn't running. he had given them the energy and the hope to carry on his work, and they were doing it for him. now 15 years after we lost paul and sheila, it's our job to carry on and run around that bus. that's organizing. that's politics. and that is the gift of joy in improving people's lives that paul and sheila and marcia and those other beloved staff members left for us. thank you, mr. president. i yield the floor. i note the absence of a quorum.
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the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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mr. franken: thank you, mr. president. i rise to talk about the devastation in puerto rico and the u.s. virgin islands and the need to rebuild the electric grid in a more resilient and sustainable way. mr. president, over the last few months, communities around the country have been devastated by natural disasters. we have had terrible hurricanes in texas, florida, puerto rico, and the u.s. virgin islands, as well as tragic wildfires across
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the west. these communities need immediate help, and that's why the disaster supplemental appropriation bill that we passed yesterday is so important. i'm glad that this bill provides nearly $19 billion to replenish fema's emergency disaster accounts to help communities start to rebuild. but it's just a downpayment. as we know, it will take a lot more federal assistance. one thing that we need to focus on is the electric grid. hurricane harvey, irma, and maria demonstrated the risks the electric grid faces from extreme weather. the communities hardest hit in texas and florida underwent days, sometimes much more without any power and when this happens, it is a serious risk to
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the safety and health of everyone in the area. and now american citizens in puerto rico and the u.s. virgin islands are facing a major humanitarian crisis, and the federal government needs to do everything it can to assist. more than a month after hurricane maria hit, only 25% of puerto rico has access to electricity, and it will take many months to get power back to these communities. this is completely unacceptable. without electricity, pumping stations can't supply drinking water to households. in fact, 25% of the island still lacks access to portable water. without electricity, wastewater treatment facilities can't operate, which means raw sewage is contaminating rivers and
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streams. without electricity, cell towers cease to function, making communication with first responders difficult. and without a stable electric grid, hospitals have to rely on backup power to keep life-saving equipment working. that backup power is often diesel generators that require fuel, which is in short supply. given the dire situation, it's no surprise that we've already seen tens of thousands of puerto ricans leave the island with nearly 60,000 arriving in puerto rico alone. now, the majority of the transmission and distribution lines were destroyed in puerto rico and the u.s. virgin islands. and we need to rebuild them. and i think we can all agree they should be rebuilt to withstands the next disaster --
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withstand the next disaster. so let's build -- rebuild the electric grid in a more resilient and sustainable way that reduces future threats and future costs. i've been talking with my republican colleagues and members of the administration and everyone agrees this is a good idea. that's why i want to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to include language in the next supplemental disaster aid package that does exactly this. it does this. mr. president, i'm talking about investing in a more modern and more decentralized grid so that not everyone is relying on a handful of power plants that can go down. decentralized energy resources operating in microgrids are more likely to remain functioning
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during and after storms. there are many instances of distributed energy keeping important facilities online after a natural disaster, including the texas medical center, the largest medical complex in the world, which has a combined heat and power plant that kept running during hurricane harvey. that's because during extreme weather, these technologies can go into island mode or operate independent of the grid. mr. president, puerto rico and the virgin islands have some of the highest electricity prices in the united states. that's because they rely on oil, coal, and gas that must be shipped from the mainland. but while these islands do not have fossil fuels, you know what they do have? lots of sun.
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and the rapidly declining costs of distributed clean energy technologies like solar, wind, energy efficiency, and battery storage in many instances makes them more affordable than existing power generation, which means that these clean energy technologies could help reduce prices. these investments will also save money in the long run. in 2005, a national institute of building sciences completed a study for fema that found that every dollar invested in disaster preparedness and resilience saves $4 in future avoided losses. we know that we're going to see more hurricanes and extreme weather events. so let's rebuild in a way so the
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impacts are not as severe the next time around. let's protect people and save taxpayers money. that's my message. let's protect people and let's all save tax pair -- taxpayer money and just do the thing that makes sense here. thank you. and i would suggest the absence of a quorum, which the next speaker will have to vitiate. thank you. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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