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tv   U.S. Senate U.S. Senate  CSPAN  May 22, 2018 10:00am-1:05pm EDT

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program. the senate plans to recess after the votes until 2:15, we'll also be bringing you live coverage of any remarks from lawmakers following their party meetings. and more debate this afternoon on the veterans health care bill. you're watching live coverage of the senate here on c-span2. 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. almighty god, our faithful
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father and friend, take and use our lawmakers for your glory. fill them with your wisdom, enabling them to make tough decisions with complete confidence in your guidance. keep their lives unstained by any word or action that is urge worthy of their best. lord, give them clarity and understanding so that their labors will be acceptable to you. may they maintain the fidelity of those to whom much has been given and from whom much will be required.
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we pray in your sacred name. amen. 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: madam president? the presiding officer: the majority leader. mr. mcconnell: today the senate will begin considering the v.a. mission act. it marks a major step forward for the v.a. system and the millions of heroes who rely on it for services.
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the bipartisan reform legislation before us builds on the earlier progress of the veterans choice act of 2014 and reaffirms a clear message. delays at the v.a. cannot stand between veterans and the medical care that they need. the shortcomings of a federal bureaucracy do not free our nation from its promises to all our -- our all-volunteer forces. veterans deserve prompt, thorough care, period. in a few short years since the creation of v.a. choice, the program has seen important success. more than two million veterans have taken the opportunity to see private providers when the v.a. system couldn't meet their needs. in kentucky it helped more than 23,000 veterans in 2017 alone. thanks to the leadership of chairman isakson, this new legislation builds on this
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significant progress, continues it, and improves it in ways that will help veterans even more. the v.a. mission act will clear the path for veterans to receive greater health care choices. it will eliminate the wait time and distance requirements that keep veterans out of the driver's seat and empower them in consultation with their respective positions to take charge of their own care. it will help prioritize and speed improvements to existing v.a. facilities. it will direct $5.2 billion to fund the veterans choice program. and it will establish more streamlined delivery of care through the veterans community care program. the bill before us passed the house by an overwhelming bipartisan margin. it carries the support of the president and 38 veterans advocacy organizations. and it's based on a simple idea -- promises made to those who sacrifice for our freedoms must be promises kept.
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let's make good on these promises this week. now, on another matter this morning, the environment and public works committee is concluding its work on america's water infrastructure act of to -- of 2018. chairman barrasso has led an open, bipartisan process that has demonstrated a strong proposal. it builds on president trump's infrastructure approach, encouraging local control over local priorities and leveraging federal resources to ensure that each dollar spent goes to major water infrastructure improvements. it cuts red tape and empowers the u.s. army corps of engineers to break through bureaucratic backlogs. and thanks to senator boozman, it enhances the effectiveness of federal investments in our nation's failing drinking water and waste water infrastructure. my state of kentucky contains more than 1,900 miles of navigable inland waterways. our water resources support more
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than 13,000 jobs in the maritime industry. the duke of kentucky serves as the heart of america's inland waterways system and western kentucky is also home to major civil works program like the kentucky lock. this legislation is good news for communities throughout the commun wealth. the freedom to fish act will help safeguard a important part of kentucky's cultural heritage. generations of kentuckians have fished the tail waters of the wolf creek damn. i remember my dad and his friend taking me there. they were experienced fishermen. the last thing they needed was advice from federal bureaucrats on where to cast their lines. but in 2012, in a typical display of obama overreach, the army corps threatened to restrict being a is he is to
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these cherished waters. i don't know anyone in kentucky who thought it was a good idea. the farmers didn't. the anglers didn't. the area businesses relying on fishing tourism didn't. the kentucky department of fish and wildlife certainly didn't. so i worked with community leaders like my friend, judge wayne white, and my colleagues in kentucky and tennessee congressional delegations to put a stop to this government interference. we introduced legislation to prevent the army corps from robbing our fishers and anglers of this beloved pastime, and damaging this key component of the local economy. the measure passed with overwhelming support and was signed into law, and it's been successful. but its provisions are set to expire soon. that's why i worked with chairman barrasso, ranking member carper, and the committee to secure a new five-year extension of the freedom to fish
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act in this year's water infrastructure bill. it's just another achievement among the many victories this bill will deliver for communities across our country. i'm grateful to the supporters of this legislation such as the national league of cities and the national rural water association and the bipartisan coalition of senators that worked to craft it. i look forward to the committee's vote today and to supporting this bill once it reaches the senate floor. now, madam president, on one final matter, this week survey data showed that more americans say it's a good time to find a quality job than at any point in the last 17 years. let me say that again. more americans say it's a good time to find a quality job than at any point in the last 17 years. under president obama, this number got as low as 8%. it never broke 50% during his
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administration. but today, 67% of americans say it's a good time to find a quality job. 67% of americans say it's a good time to find a quality job. optimism has taken off for all groups since this president was elected, and the republican congress was sworn in. but the hope has been felt most among working-class americans. this is a major distinction between the economic policies that democrats spent year putting in place and the new approach this republican congress has taken. for nearly a decade, democrats followed the standard liberal playbook -- tax more, regulate more, and pile up more money and power right here in washington. they cracked down on american businesses, imposed one new regulation after another, and looked to the federal government
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to pick winners and losers. it's a familiar old set of ideas. here's what it produces -- an economy that works very well for a few -- a few -- but leaves many more behind. the obama era was just find for our nation's biggest coastal cities. roughly three-quarters of all the new jobs created between 2010 and 2016 poured into the country's largest metropolitan areas. but outside of these places, taxes and regulations created an antibusiness climate that hurt american manufacturing, american coal communities, and small- and medium-sized businesses throughout our country. so republicans chartered a new course. we understand that middle-class families know how to spend their own money better than the government. the american workers thrive when american job creators are expanding, hiring, and raising
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wages. so we passed once-in-a-generation tax relief for middle-class families and small businesses and are working at every turn to roll back runaway regulations. the result is an economic comeback that's reaching all kinds of communities, not just a favored few. a record-high percentage of american manufacturers have said they have a positive economic outlook for their enterprises. rural communities outpaced everywhere else in relative job creation last year. the total amount spent on employee compensation grew faster in 2017 than in any calendar year under president obama. this is what happens when republicans implement a pro-growth, pro-opportunity agenda that gets washington out of the way. everyone shares in the prosperity. mr. durbin: madam president? the presiding officer: under the previous order, the
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leadership time is reserved. morning business is closed. under the previous order, the senate will proceed to executive session to resume consideration of the following nomination, which the clerk will report. the clerk: nomination, consumer product safety commission, dana baiocco of ohio to be a commissioner. mr. durbin: madam president? the presiding officer: the democratic leader. -- the assistant democratic leader. mr. durbin: madam president, i ask consent to speak as if in morning business. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. durbin: last friday america watched in horror as a news story broke of yet another school shooting. this time in santa fe high school in texas. eight students, two teachers fatally shot. 13 victims wounded. another devastating tragedy. the alleged gunman was a student who came into the school with his parents' shotgun and handgun
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and used them to commit mass murder. of course we grieve for the families and the victims in santa fe, and of course we're grateful for first responders who ran to the sound of gunfire. but let's be honest. the shooting at santa fe high was, by one count, the 22nd school shooting in america this year. we're in the 21st week of this year. we've had more than one school shooting a week in the united states of america. america's schoolchildren, sadly, now go to school expecting that there will be a shooter on the premises. after the santa fe high school shooting, a reporter interviewed a student named paige curry. the reporter asked, and i quote, was there a part of you that was, like, this isn't real? this couldn't happen at my
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school in paige curry replied, there wasn't. when the reporter asked why, she said, it's been happening everywhere. i've always felt it would eventually happen here, too. can you imagine we've reached this point in america? that that's how many of our nation's high schoolers think. and sadly, in paige curry's case, she was right. her school was the target last week. on sunday "the new york times" published an article entitled "new reality for high school students: calculating the risk of getting shot." the article discussed how students across america from iowa to oklahoma, from illinois to mississippi, from seattle to new york are now forced to go through their day planning what they would do if the shooting starts in their school. the article quotes one student, a sophomore in new york high school, describing how vulnerable her desks were in each class where she sat.
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she started making mental calculations about when the gunman came to the door, whether she would be in the line of fire. she said her english class is the safest class for her because it is down a hallway and it makes it hard for the shooter to find t but her math class makes her particularly vulnerable. because she said she sits at the second desk in the second row, direct path from the door. the student whose name is emily rubenstein said, quote, it's like the front lines of a war. being seated in the front of the classroom could be what makes you live and what makes you die. it's not just high schoolers who think this way. it was my 6-year-old granddaughter who came home and told her mom recently that she had been warned that if there is a shooter in the school -- she is a first grader. if there is a shooter in the school, stay away from the windows and get down on the floor as quickly as possible. is there any sane person in america who thinks our kids should be going through this?
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is there any sane person in america who believes that this is expected by the second amendment to our bill of rights? let's be clear -- addressing our nation's epidemic of gun violence and school shootings should be a top priority. about 300 americans are shot every day and a third of them fatally. gun violence is a public health crisis. it is traumatizing an entire generation of america's kids. in recent weeks, students across the country have marched in the streets, walked out of their classrooms to call on us, elected leaders, to step up and do something to reduce gun violence. the students are having an impact. at least 15 states have passed legislation to close gaps in their state gun laws since february 14, and that was the date of the parkland shooting in florida. four states -- maryland, florida, vermont, and washingtos to ban bump stocks.
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congress has not. seven states have passed bills to make it harder for domestic violence abusers to get guns -- kansas, new york, ohio, oregon, utah, vermont, and washington. congress has not. three states have passed red flag laws to temporarily remove guns from people who pose extreme risks -- florida, maryland, vermont. these state-level reforms are significant. they're even happening in states like florida and kansas, which have a reputation of being friendly to the gun lobby. i hope my state of illinois will soon join ranks with these states who passed meaningful state-level gun measures this year. we came close in illinois. when the general assembly passed a landmark bipartisan bill to provide more accountability for gun dealers' sales. governor bruce rohner unfortunately vetoed that bill, but the general assembly is working hard to put a revised
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bill back on his desk. in addition to these state law reforms, the student movement has brought major changes in corporate behavior. major gun retailers like dick's sporting goods and walmart have voluntarily changed their sales practices. companies like delta, united, hertz and avis ended affinity relationships with the national rifle association. institutional investors and financial companies are now pressuring the gun industry to change its behavior. these businesses understand that inaction is not an option. the student movement for gun safety has helped them realize this. unfortunately, unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely that this congress will take any meaningful action this year to reduce gun violence in america. why? because president trump and the republican majority in congress still won't push for any gun reforms that the gun lobby opposes. they are letting the gun lobby
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dictate federal policy. that is a mistake. it is disgraceful. the gun lobby cares about one thing above all else -- selling guns. they are not going to support any reforms that might reduce their sales. on sunday, the incoming president of the national rifle association, oliver north you may remember from the iran-contra controversy, blamed everything from video games to ritalin for our epidemic of school shootings, blamed everything except guns. in fact, rather than support efforts to strengthen our gun laws, the gun lobby is gearing up for its last big push this year to urge congress to weaken our gun laws even further. on april 16, the "washington examiner" reported that long-time n.r.a. board member, grover norquist, quote, said he had received assurance from the republican leadership that
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congress will put the n.r.a.'s concealed carry reciprocity bill on the agenda this year before the august recess. make no mistake, as appropriation bills and the defense authorization bill move through congress, the gun lobby and their allies are looking to weaken the gun laws on the books even more than they already have. america, keep your eye on congress. to all the students and young people across america who are asking for leadership when it comes to reducing gun violence, many of us hear you loud and clear, and we're not giving up. congress may not get the job done this year when it comes to closing the enormous gaps in our loopholes, but this movement of young people is making incredible things happen in state houses -- statehouses across america. they are rapidly becoming a major force for change in corporate behavior and their soon-to-be voters. this movement is getting results. congress is going to have to
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choose who to listen to -- the students who are spending their class time thinking about whether their desks are in the line of fire or the gun lobbyists who want to further weaken gun laws on the books so they can make more gun sales. i know where i stand. i'm going to keep doing everything i can to put the safety of my granddaughter, my grandson and kids across america and our neighborhoods ahead of the gun lobby's agenda of selling more guns. we may not be able to stop every shooting in our schools and in our streets, but if congress takes meaningful action to close the gaps in our gun laws, we will save lives. madam president, i ask consent that the next statement i make be placed in a separate part of the record. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. durbin: thank you, madam president. i want to bring the senate's attention to an article that appeared recently in "the new york times" entitled "education department unwinds unit investigating fraud at
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for-profits." that's right. even while tens of thousands of students are still waiting for the federal student loan discharges to which they are entitled under law because they were defrauded by for-profit colleges like corinthian and i.t.t. tech, the secretary of education betsy devos is dismantling the enforcement unit that was set up to prevent future fraud. corinthian and i.t.t. tech have become the most infamous examples of for-profit college predatory practice, but they are hardly unique in the industry. i have often said on the floor of the senate -- and the numbers have changed slightly over the years -- you can tell the story of for-profit colleges and universities if you know two numbers. this will be on the final. first number. 9% of students graduating from high school go to for-profit colleges and universities. university of phoenix, devry, kaplan, similar universities.
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9% of high school students go to for-profit colleges and universities. 33% of all the college student loan defaults are students from for-profit colleges and universities. 9%, 33%. why? why such a dramatic difference between the percentage of kids going to these schools and those who default on student debt, 33% of whom went to the same schools? two reasons. for-profit colleges and universities overcharge the students and produce a diploma that is virtually worthless when it comes to finding a job and paying off your student loan debt. that is the reality. in the last five years, nearly every major for-profit college has been investigated or sued by more than one state attorney general and federal agency for unfair, deceptive and abusive practices. thanks to secretary devos, they don't need to worry about the department of education.
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the writing has been on the wall for some time. last summer, secretary devos hired devry university dean julian schmoke to be chief enforcement officer where he would oversee the enforcement unit. i noted at the time that this troubling decision gave the enforcement unit the ongoing -- when it was done at the time the enforcement unit had an ongoing investigation of devry. the "times" story confirmed my fears. they note that members of the enforcement unit have been marginalized, reassigned, and instructed to focus on other matters. when it expanded under president obama to include around a dozen lawyers and investigators has now been reduced to three employees. according to the "new york times," the downsizing effectively killed investigations into several large for-profit colleges including -- you guessed it -- devry. in 2016, devry, based out of chicago, agreed to pay $100 million, $100 million to settle a lawsuit with the trump federal trade commission related
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to misleading advertising when it came to college students. around the same time, devry agreed to a limited settlement with the department of education, but an enforcement unit investigation continued. according to the "times," the investigation became a point of contention between the department staff and the new trump administration. but devry isn't the only former employer of a top devos advisor to escape department scrutiny. the "times" article also reports the enforcement unit investigations of bridgepoint, education and career education incorporation, have also gone dark. the cops are leaving the beat. bridgepoint, owner of the notorious ashford university, has a long record of abuse. last year, the consumer financial protection bureau ordered the company to pay $30 million for deceptive acts and practices, including lying to students about their obligations under student loans. bridgepoint, currently being sued by the california attorney general for defrauding and
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deceiving students, facing investigations in iowa, massachusetts, new york, north carolina, the u.s. securities and exchange commission, and the u.s. department of justice. the u.s. department of veterans' affairs is also taking action to withdraw ashford's eligibility to participate in the g.i. bill because of their failure to comply with v.a. regulations. but as "the new york times" article points out, bridgepoint has friends in high places when it comes to the trump administration. a former consultant for bridgepoint is now the director of strategic communications at the white house. and then there is robert itell, hired by secretary devos in february, 2017, as a special assistant. for the first nine weeks of his department of education tenure, itell was actually on unpaid leave of absence from bridgepoint. you heard that right. he was an employee of the department of education and continued as an employee of one of the most predatory for-profit colleges in this country at the same time.
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abc news reports itell had a hand in dismantling the department's borrower defense rule which would help students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges like ashford. how is that for a fox guarding the henhouse? but we're not done yet. don't forget about career agency corporation which reports it is currently under investigation by 23 state torsion including lisa madigan of illinois. in 2013, career education corporation agreed to pay $10.25 million in a settlement with the new york attorney general over job placement rate inflation. an act of fraud. the company has been investigated by the f.t.c. and the s.e.c. the department of education even placed one of its schools, american intercontinental university, on heightened cash monitoring for concerns related to its administrative capability, but the enforcement unit's investigation into fraud by the company has come to a screeching halt, according to the "new york times."
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so what at the department of education is connected to career education corporation? well, in addition to working for bridgepoint, mr. itell was previously a top lawyer for that company, the career education corporation. then there is dieian jones, previously a senior vice president of career education corporation, hired by secretary devos to be her senior advisor on post-secondary education. the department recently confirmed general counsel carlos muniz who previously provided consulting services to the same company. the devos-orchestrated takeover of the department of education by the for-profit college industry is an embarrassment. it's an affront to students, their families, and to taxpayers. the trump administration and secretary devos are more concerned with protecting their rich buddies in the for-profit college industry than protecting america's students and their families. they don't seem to care that taxpayer dollars are being wasted as long as those dollars are going into friends' pockets.
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it's shameful, it's scandalous, it's become routine in u.s. department of education. i yield the floor. mr. schumer: madam president. the presiding officer: the democrat leader. mr. schumer: first, let me thank my friend from georgia for being able to go, and my friend from illinois who has been passionate, strong, and effective when it comes to these nonprofit colleges. he laid out a whole strong case, these for-profit colleges, excuse me. but let me just make one more point which sometimes my colleagues on the other side of the aisle and the -- in the trump administration, miss devos, seems to forget. who loses money when these for-profits take advantage of kids? the federal taxpayers, because the vast, vast majority, the overwhelming percentage of funds that go to these for-profit colleges are from federal student loans. so this is a waste of taxpayer
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money. and somehow our republican colleagues -- not all. some -- and the jumpings are willing to have the treasury just basically in certain ways be looted. and they shrug their shoulders and let the for-profits keep doing it. it's an amazing contradiction, so i thank my colleague. now, madam president, on the issues that i came to speak about here, last -- mr. president. excuse me. you have changed. mr. president, it was reported by "the wall street journal" that the trump administration has agreed to relax sanctions on the chinese telecom giant z.t.e. and remove the ban on z.t.e. from selling components and software in the united states. instead z.t.e. will be required to pay a fine and reorganize its board. it appears in exchange, china will lift some tariffs on u.s.
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agriculture products. first let me say this. i've said this repeatedly but i'll say it again. i feel much closer in my views on china and how they treat us in terms of economic issues to president trump and his views than i was with president obama and president bush and their views, who i don't think did enough. and i have public arguments with both president obama and president bush on this issue. so when donald trump started talking about going after china and making them play fair, i felt that was a good thing. and when his administration fined z.t.e. and then put sanctions on them so they couldn't get american components, i said finally, finally we're doing something tough on china. so you can imagine my disappointment in the reports last night that president trump,
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being advised so wrongly by people like treasury secretary mnuchin, is backing off on his toughness and just giving them a slap on the wrist, the fine. if the reports are true, the trump administration will have suffered a great defeat. the fines and board changes do nothing, absolutely nothing to protect american national or economic security. it's my view it's the chinese who proposed this, because they know it doesn't do the real job. and when president trump shows weakness and backs off on the area where he's been toughest with china, it signals to them they can roll over us on issue after issue where they have been rapacious in terms of how they deal with our economy, our intellectual property, the ability of great american companies not to sell things in china. the 2018 april commerce order
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penalized z.t.e. says plainly that past fines have not and will not deter z.t.e. because they are financially backed by china's government. and putting in place board changes doesn't coerce a company that takes its orders from china's government. the proposed solution is like a wet noodle. it's outrageous and i hope that democrats and republicans will join together in making sure, as house republicans did in the appropriations subcommittee, that the proposed sanctions against z.t.e. -- not letting them buy american products, not letting them sell here -- will stick. but i don't think they will. all the handwriting is on the wall, and i won't divulge, but i did have a half-hour conversation with president trump about this friday, and with some of his advisors. so i am truly worried.
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the penalties that are proposed by secretary mnuchin are penalties in name only. they are a diversion from the fact that it seems president xi has outman tphaoufrd president trump and -- out maneuvered president trump and secretary mnuchin. the art of the deal it should be president xi who writes the book because he's taken us to the cleaners on z.t.e. z.t.e. was shank shunned in -- was stphaeufrpbd -- sanctioned in 2016. the company was further sanctioned when the commerce department discovered z.t.e. lied to the u.s. about plans to rectify the violations and president trump and secretary mnuchin, according to reports, have inexplicably excused z.t.e. of these inexcusable violations.
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but the president and secretary mnuchin, what they are doing sends a dangerous signal to businesses around the world that the united states is willing to forgive sanction violations or reduce penalties. it emboldens foreign companies to play fast and loose with u.s. sanctions when we should be putting the fear of god into these companies, especially one that was as brazen as z.t.e. if we don't uniformly enforce sanctions, a critical diplomatic tool used by administrations of both parties to pressure our adversaries, then they will be far less effective. none other than secretary of state pompeo and interior secretary zinke wrote a letter to president obama in 2016 making this point, urging him to crack down on z.t.e. for this reason. and imagine if obama were doing this, if he were president today
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and doing this, you can be sure our republican colleagues would be hollering. you can be sure that president trump, if he wouldn't be president then, would be hollering. even more important are the national security implications of removing the ban on u.s. companies selling z.t.e. components and software. this is the number-one reason that i am opposed to any change in the sanctions against z.t.e. allowing z.t.e. to make deals with u.s. companies to sell its products here would allow a foreign state-backed firm access to our telecommunications network, prying open the door for z.t.e. to steal american data, hack our networks, and even conduct espionage, both economic and national security. now don't take it from me. hear what some of our leading republicans have said in the administration. the republican-led f.c.c. has
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said that allowing z.t.e. into the united states would pose a national security threat, saying it would give state-backed chinese companies, quote, hidden back doors to our networks that would allow them to inject viruses and other malware, steal americans' private data, spy on u.s. businesses, and more. we all know that china is involved in stealing our intellectual property. there's no better way to do it than through z.t.e., and we're going to let them be here? slap them on the wrist with a fine. that's a dereliction of our duty here in the congress and the president's duty to protect us. the pentagon has banned z.t.e. phones, saying in a statement, quote, z.t.e. devices may pose an unacceptable risk to the department's personnel information and mission. if our defense department is banning these phones, why are we allowing them to come into the
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country and do industrial espionage and steal our intellectual property from our companies? here's what f.b.i. director chris wray, appointed by president trump, told the senate intelligence committee in february. he said, he was saying that we shouldn't use z.t.e. products or services, period. here's what he said, quote, we're deeply concerned about the risks of allowing any company or entity that is beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values to gain positions of power inside our telecommunication networks. that provides the capacity to exert pressure or control over our telecommunications infrastructure. it provides the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. and it provides the capacity to conduct undetected espionage. the head of the f.b.i. says letting z.t.e. in here will provide the capacity to conduct
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undetected espionage. so after all those statements and so many more, every american should be alarmed by the reports that president trump may allow z.t.e. into american markets. putting our national security at risk for minor trade concessions is the very definition of shortsighted and, frankly, it would be a capitulation on the part of the trump administration. president trump's instincts are to be tough on china. he should not let secretary mnuchin lead him astray, or others in the administration who may be urging it. i know that there are some -- mr. lighthizer, mr. navarro -- who understand the dangers here, and they're in the administration too. and from press reports, they're arguing on the other side.
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president trump ought to come to his senses and stick with being tough on z.t.e. stick with his instinct. that's what i say to you, mr. president. please stick to your instincts and be tough on z.t.e. don't let these other members of your cabinet lead you astray for short-term reasons that will hurt america dramatically in the long run. the deal president trump seems to be making is exactly the kind of deal that donald trump, before he was president trump, would call weak, or the worst deal ever. i hope these reports aren't true. but if they are, democrats and republicans must do something about it. i know there are members on the other side -- i saw senator rubio's tweets this morning -- who are concerned about national security of the united states with respect to z.t.e. so i will be reaching out to my
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republican colleagues and members of my caucus, anyone who's willing to turn this ship around, to see what we can do legislatively. the chinese, they're worried about their security. it's a different type of security. they don't want their citizens to get information so they exclude our best companies, our googles and our facebooks. and now they're raising a fuss when we want to exclude z.t.e., which violated our sanctions and would allow chinese government to spy on us. what hypocrisy. how are we going to go along with that? i hope not. now on another matter, over the past few days the white house has put extraordinary, unusual, and inappropriate pressure on the department of justice and the investigation into russian meddling in the 2016 election. on sunday the president demanded a counter investigation of the russia investigation, breaking long-standing and critical norms
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against political interference in law enforcement matters. then yesterday the president summoned the leaders of the russia probe to the white house to pressure them into releasing sensitive and classified documents pertaining to the investigation of congressional -- of the investigation by congressional republicans. let me repeat that. the white house planned to arrange a meeting where highly classified and other information will be shared with members of congress is highly irregular, inappropriate and unprecedented. the president and his staff should not be involved in reviewing or dissemination of sensitive investigatory information involving any investigation let alone one about the activities of his own campaign. it's amazing. it is what you hear happening in
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third world countries. the leader says, no, i'm above the law, and interferes with the process of law. congress has a right to oversight and to know what's going on after an investigation is complete. while an investigation is open and active, demands for oversight are tantamount to interference, especially when the folks demanding the information are the most biased, irresponsible actors. a man like deven nunes, who i hear privately from my republican colleagues, they think he's off the deep end. and he's going to get hold of this. do we think that's for fair unbiased oversight? give me a break. if such a meeting occurs -- and i don't believe it should -- but if it occurs, it must be
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bipartisan, to serve as a check on the disturb tendency of the president's allies to distort facts and undermine the investigation and people conducting it. democratic members of the house and senate, the an hollings of the republican -- analogs of the republicans selected to be in the room should be in the room as well. so if deven nunes is there, adam schiff should be there. to me, this is just amazing. amazing that it is happening. now one further point on this -- and again, the contradictory statements and opinions, the virtual hypocrisy of president trump on these issues is just mind-boggling. president trump, for instance, has been peddling the myth that a deep state bias against his presidency has animated the russia probe. of course the idea is ridiculous. if there was such a deep state aligned against president trump, why then was the active
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investigation into his campaign communications with russia intelligence kept secret during the campaign? the deep state could have killed him in the election. if there was such a conspiracy against donald trump, why was the f.b.i. investigation of his campaign under wraps while at the same time the f.b.i. investigation into his opponent was in full view of the public eye? whether you agree or not, secretary of state and presidential nominee clinton believes that those comments by the f.b.i. about that investigation hurt her chances to win the presidency. you may or you may not disagree, but one fact is incontrovertible. the f.b.i. talked publicly about the clinton investigation and was silent about the trump investigation. yet the president says the deep state is out to kill him. it is not fair. it is not right. it's contradictory.
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the truth is that the president and his allies only concoct these conspiracies totally contradicted by well-known facts to kick up dust. to obscure and obfuscate, to distort and distract. and when that's not enough, the president and his team directly interfere with the russian investigation by asking its leaders to turn over documents to the most irresponsible actors in congress -- his ardent political allies. it ought to stop. it ought to stop. the justice department doesn't take demands from the president. the special counsel's investigation must continue in search of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. finally, mr. president, on the subject of teachers, for the better part of the 20th century, being a teacher in america meant being part of the middle class.
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you worked hard, you received decent pay and benefits, enough to afford a home, a car, a vacation, and raise a family. but for the past 20 years, teachers' pay has been falling behind. a 2016 report from the economic policy institute found that teachers take home weekly wages that are 17% lower than comparable workers. that's why thousands of teachers across the country have organized and staged walkouts to demand fair page, adequate resources and better working conditions. i've always felt teaching is a vital profession. i know that how my teachers at cunningham junior high school affected me in such a positive way. they're great. so i believe in the 21st century teaching should be an exalted profession, sort of like doctor or lawyer was in the 20th century. it is that important to the
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future of of america, to the fue of our children, to the future of our grandchildren. but the pay sure doesn't reflect it. that teachers' pay has fallen so far behind matters a great deal. not just to teachers but to all of us. education is the catalyst for economic mobility. it puts wrongs on the ladders of opportunity. we need great teachers in every classroom so that our children have every opportunity to succeed. in my view, as i said, teaching should be an exalted profession in the 1stst -- 21st century, and teachers' pay should more closely reflect their value to society. so today democrats in the house and senate will come together to announce our plan to offer our nation's teachers a better deal. i yield the floor and once again thank my dear friend from
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georgia for waiting and listening to me. mr. isakson: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from georgia. mr. isakson: to the democratic leader, it was a pleasure. mr. president, i rise today to talk about a vote that we'll take in the senate sometime later today after 12:00. there will be a cloture vote on the v.a. mission act, which after we adopt cloture later this week will hopefully lead us to a vote to adopt the act, in a final mosaic that's been put together by the administration and both the house and senate to address the v.a. benefits program for all our veterans. we all know we've had the challenge to do better. this, i submit to you, mr. president, is us doing our very best for those who have given everything for us. you know, on monday of next week we celebrate memorial day where we honor those who have
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sacrificed their life so we could all be here today. you, mr. president, as the presiding officer of this officer, me as a representative of the people of georgia, if it weren't for our veterans, we mitt be -- we might be speaking japanese today. we won those wars because our best and brightest sacrificed so america could be there. there's nothing less we need to ask for ourselves than to have the health care benefits we've promised them for so long. the v.a. mission act answers all those questions that have been long on the front pages of the newspapers. i want to thank john mccain. john mccain was really the inspiration for the veterans choice bill, which we started four years ago when i was on the committee, finally passed a part of that program and it's been in operation until now. it's needs to be reformed and funded and with the passage of this legislation, we'll make it even better. i want to thank jon tester, the
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senator from montana, my ranking member on the committee who's done everything one could ask, to be a team player to see to it that we got through all the minefields that you have to go through in the legislative process to get there. senator tester has been an invaluable partner in the v.a. mission act. i want to thank my staff and miss staff and my members of the committee from the republican party and his members from the democratic party. it's as close to a unanimous effort as any effort we've done in the committee for some time. i thank them for their hard work and effort and thank you in advance to the members of the house and senate for being with us on this venture today. i ask for your vote for cloture and later in the week will ask for your vote for final passage. briefly, let me tell you what we're doing because what we're doing is critical. one, we're making choice better for the our veterans. we're repealing the 30-mile rule -- the 40-mile rule and pot-day
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rule -- and the 30-day rule which we passed three years ago. we passed a rule that you can go to the private sector if you live more than 30 miles away. it became cumbersome, difficult, the third-party contract theirs we dealt with to open the gates for these veterans to go. we had a number of problems with them. although we improved access for our veterans, we didn't make it everything it should be. the mission act does that because it makes the choice the veterans' choice, in concert with the veteran's primary care doctor at the v.a. if a veteran, because of quality, timeliness, distance, urgency, our niedringhauss to go to the private sector or wants to exercise that choice rather than go to a v.a. doctor, if there is one, or if there isn't one, go to the private sector because that's the only choice they have, they'll be able to do so in consult with their v.a.-primary care doctor. so the choice is truly the
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veterans choice. the veteran has the choice heed into -- he needs to make to see to it that they the question timely, professional, quality care. that is a huge step forward. the 30-day rule and the 40-mile rule were great starts. that is great improvement. i am a vietnam-era veteran. a vietnam-era veterans are now mostly in their late 60's, early or mid-70's. the injuries of the vietnam war were some of the most tragic. they were survived for the first time ever because of our health care. we have a lot of those veterans living today that can't take care of the basic functions of life. they need assistance in eating, assistance in making their bed, assistance in getting up and down stairs, assistance in getting anywhere they need to go. we've got veterans programs for almost every veteran around but not for the vietnam-era
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veterans. so this act applies the v.a. care benefits to all veterans. if that veteran need that assistance, to help with a stipend for that service is available to that veteran. that is a giant step forward for all of us. it is very important to also recognize that we school date the -- consolidate the v.a. funding sources into one single community care source. so for the first time in three years the v.a. will no longer announce every three months they're running out of money. they use that little trick on us because they run out of the money in one department but they have six others that were loaded. so we've merged them all together to make sure funds are available all the time for the veterans that have the need for the benefit. no more crying fire in a crowded theater. no more scaring us that we're not funding our veterans and seeing to it that our veterans have access. that is a very important change and that's a move forward that we need to make for a long, long time. it makes sense for us to make sure that our veterans have
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their choice based on quality and access and timeliness. it makes sense that we make that a key part of the veterans benefits. it makes sure that we make sure that caregiver benefits are available. it makes sense that we do all the other things that we've done in all the v.a. acts to come together to totally reform the veterans administration. how many people is that? it's 22.5 million people. 6.5 million served by the v.a. health services. that's a lot of people. it's a small handful of people compared to the 350 million people in our country. think about this. less than one percent of our population served and defended us all and risked their lives. so when you go to vote on this bill today, think about the veteran in your state, the v.a. service in your state, people in your state. think about what you remember about world war i and ii and what you remember about vietnam and what you remember about the
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iraqi freedom in afghanistan. think about what you think you owe to those that signed on the bottom line. they weren't mandated, they volunteered. and they went and they fought and they died. i want to leave you with a thought on two of those veterans because they're the two faces i see every day as chairman of this committee that i'm working for. one of them is noah harris, a cheerleader at the university of georgia when he watched like you and i did on television and saw al qaeda and the evils of that era take down the twin towers and have the first battle of the ultimate war between good and evil. we fought that battle. we're still win fighting it and winning it. we've lost over 6,000 lives, individuals to sacrificed their live in iraq or afghanistan or other places in the middle east. and there will be others to come. they've sacrificed so that you and i can do what we're doing today. the first amendment protections are speaking our mind, as i'm
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doing, the right to assemble, as our constituents do. all of those god-given rights we have were written on paper but given life to us by the veterans who fought and died. i remember noah because he was a cheerleader one day and then the day after 9/11, he went down to the armory, signed up for o.c.s., went into the army and became an officers and two years later almost to the day died in gazaria in baghdad, the victim of an i.e.d. he died defending the country he loved so much. he cheered for the football team, but he fought and sacrificed his life for the country. and to lucy and rick, his dad in georgia, i want to know we haven't forgotten noah. i sign most notes the way he signed them, -- idwic -- i do
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what i can. i want to vote for this bill for all the right reasons. principally for noah harris. the someone for a veteran that died in the battle of the bulge in the netherlands. when i went to the cemetery to visit the gravesites there and check on the american battle monument, i walked with my wife down to the row across -- of crosses and stars of david to pause and give thanks for what the soldiers buried in that cemetery did in the battle of the bulge to make our lives possible and for me to enjoy the benefits that i've enjoyed. we got to the end of row 23. there was a cross that said roy c. irvin from new jersey, private. december 28, 1944, k.i.e. -- killed in action. i froze because i was born on december 28 in 1944. the day ray c. irwin died in the
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battle of the bulge, my mother delivered me. i'm almost 74 years old. i've had those wonderful 74 years including the opportunity to serve in the senate because a guy i never knew when he was 18 years old volunteered to go to fight in the battle of the bulge and in the army for the united states of america. paid the ultimate sacrifice. so he did, i got the ultimate benefit when you think about your vote today, think about all the veterans that did the same for you. if you have the same birthday or the same killed-in-action date as you do birthday. recognize that every one of us stand on the soldiers of our veterans, work and pray on the shoulders of our veterans. i am going to vote for our veterans when we pass this bill so the v.a. mission act becomes the final mosaic in the beautiful patchwork of benefits of those who sacrificed the most for us. i notice the absence of a quorum.
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the presiding officer: will the senator withhold his request? a senator: madam president? the presiding officer: the senator from iowa. mrs. ernst: i ask that the quorum call be vitiated. the presiding officer: the senate is not in a quorum call. mrs. ernst: thank you, mr. president. thank you, chairman isaacston for your work on this bill as a veteran, as a spouse of a veteran, as the mother of a young lady who will enter into the service this summer and as a grandmother to a young man who will begin his enlistment this fall, i thank you. i than -- i thank you for the work that you have done. i appreciate your service as well. thank you so much. we can and we must do better for our veterans. i spoke those words during my very first speech given here on the senate floor just over three years ago. i also spoke about the need to fulfill the promises made to our
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veterans who have sacrificed everything for our country. at that time the average wait for a mental health appointment at the v.a. was 36 days. there were on average 22 veteran suicides every single day in the united states. it underscored the troubles within the v.a. and the urgency to act immediately to help our veterans get the quality and the timely care that they have earned and that they deserve. that's why i introduced on that very day my first bill, the prioritizing veterans' access to mental health care act. my bill would have eliminated the distance and the wait time requirements for veterans seeking mental health care under the current choice program. every veteran should have the
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choice to receive care in the community, but they should not be burdened by bureaucratic red tape or strict guidelines that serve as roadblocks to receiving this type of care. to illustrate how burdensome and sometimes ridiculous these guidelines are, i want to share a letter i received from a veteran in ames, iowa. they wrote, quote, i am a disabled veteran who currently receives health care at the des moines v.a. hospital. i live 39.7 miles from the des moines v.a. hospital, which means i do not meet the 40-mile v.a. choice criteria. while i have not had a bad experience at the des moines v.a., it is burdensome to travel approximately 40 miles when i have had surgeries that require a family member to transport me.
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i am unable to utilize a non-v.a. facility in my own back yard, end quote. the frustration evident in this veteran's letter has been present in hundreds of letters and stories. and i have received many, many, many of those over the years. i'm frustrated, too. those who are willing to lay down their lives for our country shouldn't have to jump through hoops to receive the care that they have earned. i am thrilled that this week the senate has the opportunity to do better for our veterans. just last week, the house passed the v.a. mission act which improves how veterans access community care. under the v.a. mission act, the v.a. remains the coordinator of a veteran's care. the v.a. would still be in
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charge of scheduling those appointments, ensuring that a veteran is going to follow-up visits, and also ensuring that no veteran experiences a delay or a gap in their care. the v.a. mission act also makes significant improvements to accessing community care. a veteran will no longer be bound by strict disadvance and wait time requirements just as i expressed from that veteran who lives in ames, iowa. instead, that decision rests with the veteran and their provider. if a veteran and their provider determine that it is in the veteran's best medical interest, the v.a. will be required to offer access to community care. the v.a. mission act ensures that veterans have a say and a choice in their care.
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this legislation also includes my bipartisan veterans e-health and telemedicine support act, also known as the vets act, which i introduced with senator hirono of hawaii. v.a. providers will now be able to practice across state lines, expanding telehealth services which can include critical mental health care and care desperately needed to veterans in rural and underserved areas. the act will also expand v.a. caregiver benefits to pre-9/11 veterans, create a commission to evaluate how to modernize v.a. facilities, increase resources to hire more providers, which is very important, and ensure prompt payment to community providers. i am also pleased to report that
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this bill has bipartisan support and the support of over 30 veteran service organizations. funding for the choice program is expected to run out at the end of may, so in a matter of weeks. the men and women who have put their lives on the line for freedom of every american deserve better than the status quo. and again, i say we can and we must do better for our veterans. the v.a. mission act is a positive step forward towards getting veterans the care they need, and that is why i will be voting in support of it, and i urge my colleagues to do the same and cast their vote in favor of the v.a. mission act. thank you, mr. president. i yield the floor and i suggest
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the absence of a quorum. the presiding officer: the clerk will call the roll. quorum call:
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the presiding officer: the senator from connecticut. mr. blumenthal: thank you, mr. president. i ask that the quorum call be lifted. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. blumenthal: thank you, mr. president. mr. president, the consumer product safety commission is a small agency with a major mission. its goal is to protect the public from the threats of injury or death associated with
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defective and dangerous products. that mission is more important today than ever before because consumers face dangers from fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazards. not only consumers but their children and families. and so that agency is already resource starved. it is already depleted in terms of the support that it needs in congress, and already it needs zealous and relentless advocacy. the individuals who are members of that board should be dedicated to that mission and to the safety and well-being of consumers above all.
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that's their mission. and so today when we consider the nomination of dana baiocco, we should keep in mind that no matter how able and skilled and experienced a litigator she is, the question is whether she will devote those skills, ability, and experience to the mission of this agency. unfortunately, every sign that she has given indicate that her goal will be contrary to the agency's mission. i say that, first of all, because of her experience. she participated in cases that
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are of extraordinary concern to americans. in 2007, she represented mattel as a member of their litigation team when lead was discovered in the paint of 83 different mattel toy products affecting nearly one million toys. in 2007, when she represented mattel, i was the attorney general of the state of connecticut. i remember that year well. it was known as the year of the recall because of the frequency and number of recalls involving unsafe products. in trefn, there were more than four -- in 2007, there were more than four recalls each week, and more than half of them were from children's products. it was a time when our nation was facing this crisis in
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dangerous toys, and mattel ultimately was fined $2.3 million for violating the consumer products safety act. and knowingly selling children's toys with contaminated paints or surface coatings. this decision was an important win for consumers and children. the consumer product safety commission did its job, but ms. baiocco was on the wrong side of consumer safety in that case. and similarly in representing the yamaha motor company, a manufacturer of off-road vehicles. she was on the wrong side. standing with the industry that violated basic safety standards, causing multiple injuries and
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lawsuits when consumers were seriously maimed, injured, and harmed in operating yamaha's rhino off-road vehicle. those injuries occurred while the cpsc was conducting a campaign on a.t.v. safety. her defense of yamaha put her on the wrong side of that issue at a time when there were more than 330 a.t.v.-related fatalities and 101,000 a.t.v.-related emergency department-treated injuries in the united states. and another area that i know well where she was clearly on the wrong side related to big tobacco. she represented r.j. reynolds in the early part of this century,
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2007, in a class action lawsuit in florida by injured smokers who were seeking to recover for the damages they suffered as a consequence of big tobacco deliberately and purposefully addicting them. leading to lives of disease and stkeubgs. she -- disease and addiction. she was on the wrong side of that issue as well. on the side of the injury and the industry against consumers. she was instrumental in those lawsuits, and r.j. reynolds has been instrumental in lobbying to encourage the extended use of flame retardant chemicals in
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furniture to deflect pressure on cigarette makers to make a fire-safe cigarette. that issue is squarely within the cpsc's jurisdiction. she lacks that dedication to this agency's mission that is critical for any member to have. she may have skill, ability, experience, but if it's devoted to the industry's well-being rather than consumers, she should be working for a different agency or continuing to work for a law firm that represents these industries. and in fact, she has worked for a law firm, very large one. it represents many of those clients and industries. but she has refused to provide a
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full list of the clients and companies that she has represented. and so the only way that we have gained full knowledge of these clients is to go to the law firm's website where, by the way, she is cited in her profile as follows, quote, she is known for strategic business advice and high-intensity trials involving mass torts, consumer and industrial products, and medical devices in federal, state, and international courts. end quote. the clients are then listed in her profile. and i ask that that profile be made a part of this record, mr. president.
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if there is no objection? the presiding officer: without objection. mr. blumenthal: thank you, mr. president. i take this extraordinary step because she has failed to provide it in response to a specific question that i asked in the written inquiries that we submitted after her testimony. and she said that in effect she was, quote, duty bound to maintain the confidential nature of legal advice sought by or provided to any client. this claim of attorney-client privilege is absolutely bogus and ought to insult this body,
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because there is no reason for the names of the client to be kept confidential for that attorney-client privilege to be sustained. and i think the the indication of this client, attorney-client privilege in this way speaks volumes to the kind of member of this commission that she would be. in fact, she has refused to reveal her full list of consumer product clients other than the ones like mattel and yamaha that are available through court filings and other public records. and i have entered many of those other clients into the record. but we have no assurance that we know that full list. and she has refused to recuse herself from matters involving her current firm, jones day, or
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its clients for more than one year. the office of government ethics requires one year of recusal from the time that she last represented that client, but no more than that length of time. and she has committed no more than the bare minimum required by law. in addition, her husband has represented ikea in a major product liability suit involving furniture tipovers. she has refused to recuse herself from matters involving ikea. we are in a perilous time, when the norms concerning conflicts of interest have been reduced, almost eviscerated. and we have an obligation to
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protect consumer interests at the consumer product safety commission. that responsibility is to make sure that serious defects, dangerous products, problems, and hazards that will face consumers as a result of deadly or defective products are prevented from reaching the market. consumers may have no knowledge of how they are deadly or dangerous. the consumer product safety commission has that mission, to protect consumers. for someone who has the ability, skills, expertise to represent wrongdoers who threaten consumers is the responsibility of admirable and able law firms like jones day.
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and the skilled and experienced and able lawyers who work there. it is not the job of a commissioner of the consumer product safety commission. and so it is really not about her personal ability. it is about the mission of this agency and who is qualified to serve on it. and when they have told us everything we need to know to hold them accountable if they are confirmed, on all those scores this nominee is lacking. and, therefore, i urge my colleagues to vote no today on her nomination. thank you, mr. president. i yield the floor.
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mr. cornyn: mr. president. the presiding officer: the assistant majority leader. mr. cornyn: mr. president, i'm sure i'm not unique in the fact that when i go home, my constituents ask me what in the heck is going on up there. and the truth is amid the polarization, the misinformation, the arguments, disagreements we naturally will have because we represent different parties, different regions, different points of view, but it's really important to occasionally reflect on what it is we've actually done, because as i learned a long time ago as a journalism student, good news is not news. what makes news is when there's conflict and disagreement.
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that's what people pay attention to. that's what reporters write about. that's what the cable tv channels run because they know that people will watch it. they can sell advertising. that's sort of way the system works. so good news needs to be told and needs to be spread. and what i'd like to do is just reflect for a few minutes on the last 17 months and what has been able to be accomplished here during that year and a half by a republican-led congress and by the trump administration working together. i think perhaps the single bigot accomplishment that has benefited the most people across this great land of ours is the new energized state of our economy. somehow during the last administration, following the great recession of 2008, we had
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this ahistorical idea that slow economic growth was the new norm. that sub2% economic growth each year, which isn't fast enough to create enough jobs to keep people employed, that was something we were going to have to live with. but the fast-track of the matter is -- but the fact of the matter is since world war the economy has not grown at 2%. it's grown at about 3.2%. so what we're beginning to see is the slumbering giant of the american economy wake up and grow. people have confidence again, optimism in the future, which is a good thing. unemployment fell to 3.9% recently, which is the lowest in 17 years. and 14 states hit record low employment, unemployment as well. as i said, consumer confidence is high. as a matter of fact, it's at an
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18-year high. and the tax reform package we passed last december has been the biggest single game changer, although i want to talk about regulations here in a minute. but the tax reform package got america back in the game. it made us more competitive globally as a place where people who want to invest money and create a business or grow their business, it's attractive finally. we weren't chasing people off, having to move offshore in order to compete globally. they now see america as a favorable place to invest, and that benefits all of us. nearly 800,000 jobs have been created. 164,000 in april alone. and to me, one of the most encouraging statistics is in february we saw more than 800,000 people rejoin the
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workforce. unemployment statistics, as the presiding officer knows, can be a little bit misleading because sometimes when people quit looking for work, they are not reflected in the unemployment statistics even though they're obviously unemployed. but the fact that 800,000-plus americans decided to rejoin the workforce because they thought there was a real chance they could get a good-paying job ought to be enormously encouraging to all of us. it is to me. so in addition to the new jobs, in addition to the, to more people joining the workforce, we've seen people who are on -- who are working receive pay raises, more take-home pay. their retirement contribution their employers maded to their their -- made to their 401(k) plan went up in hundreds of different cases. and we see actually people see a cut, a reduction in their utility rates, the amount of
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money they pay for electricity, because the utilities, the for-profit utilities saw a cut in their taxable revenue and because they are utilities, they had to lower the rates in order to meet the requirements of the regulators. and we've seen bonuses being paid by large companies like at&t in texas and commitments made to invest in more infrastructure. and we've seen benefits across the board. the national association of manufacturers says that 77% of manufacturers in america intend to increase hiring. and 93% of them have a positive outlook for their companies. well, that's the kind of optimism that i feel and hear when i travel back home. in visits to amarillo, college station, austin and elsewhere,
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i've had the chance, i've taken the opportunity to sit down and talk to my constituents in those places and say how's it going? how are we doing? how are you doing? and what i hear from small business owners regularly is the benefits they're seeing from the tax cuts and jobs act. i've also had constituents write to my office explaining how the boost in their monthly paychecks is making a big difference when it comes to making ends meet, buying groceries, paying their bills or affording health insurance. i alluded to this a moment ago, but one recent piece of news had the southwestern electric power company announced it requested its utility rates be lowered. actually probably didn't request they be lowered but they were lowered as a result of their lower overhead as a result of their tax bill going down.
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southwestern has more than 180,000 texas customers and attributed the rate decreases directly to the tax cuts and jobs act. i'd say that's a good thing when seniors, people on fixed incomes actually see their utility rates go down, it helps them make ends meet. enterg texas has a similar plan to return tax savings to customers. but those two companies are the tip of the iceberg. so the economy is booming so much that employers tell me it's hard to find qualified workers. and so we need to double down on our commitment to make sure we provide people access to the education and training they need to qualify for the new high-paying jobs that exist, but simply those jobs can't always be filled because there's not
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enough trained workers to be able to perform them. but it's not just the economy that deserves our mention. one of the most significant things that the trump administration has done is nominate and see the senate confirm a record number of judges. judges who, by the way, are committed to faithfully interpreting the constitution and not legislate from the bench because of their personal preferences. if you want to pursue a personal agenda or political agenda, you ought to run for congress, not seek the federal bench because we expect and demand something different out of judges, which is faithful adherence to the law, not imposing their personal policy preferences, and that's what president trump has prioritized in his nominees and the nominees we've confirmed. 21 circuit court judges have been confirmed so far. that's roughly one-eighth of the
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appeals court judges in the united states. the circuit courts hear appeals from federal district courts, trial courts, and as the presiding officer knows, has binding precedent on a wide range of issues. i would like to say for all practical purposes the circuit courts are the supreme court because the supreme court of the united states hears roughly 80 cases a year. they obviously set the precedent, but there's a lot of cases that never reached the supreme court and are -- and are -- their final court of last resort is the circuit court. so that means the men and women presiding over those courts, the way they approach their judicial decision making is making a real difference. as i said, with the help of the senate, president trump has had 21 circuit court nominees.
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president obama's was not confirmed -- did not have circuit court nominees confirmed until after 21 months. it's not just that we have good judges, we're doing so at a good clip. this includes don wil lerch t, jim hough, and soon andy owen, who has been nominated to the fifth circuit court of appeals. that's not to mention the very talented district court judges as well. two of them karen schooler and david counts are both in my state and the federal judiciary is lucky to have them. the third thing i want to mention in terms of the economy is regulations because what we've been able to do working with the president when it comes to the regulatory state, the bureaucracy, the nameless, faceless entities that make life ease -- either easier or more difficult for small businesses,
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we've had a big impact. specifically rerepealed burdensome obama era regulations through the congressional review act. it's been said before, and i will say it again, in all of senate history it had only be used one time and that was to repeal the ergonomics rules. we used it 16 times to eliminate rules that found found their way into law during the waning hours of the previous administration. this effort, the congressional review act has been spearheaded by people like the junior senator from pennsylvania, among others, and it has eliminated rules like coal mining regulations that would have put more than 100,000 jobs at risk and another one by the department of education that undermined local control of schools and directly violated a
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statute several times. our congressional review act has been referred to as a regulatory wrecking ball, and the most regulatory rollback since ronald reagan. now, i don't agree it's been a wrecking ball. i think it's been more of a surgical operation, but it has provided both a signal to businesses as well as real regulatory relief in those 16 specific cases, and i think that's another reason for optimism in the sense that the federal government's no longer tying one hand behind the back of our job creators. another important development has been finally rolling back some of the overregulation of dodd-frank. you will recall this was legislation passed following the great meltdown recession of 2008, but like most things that happen up here in washington,
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d.c., the pendulum swung way too far. i tell my community bankers and the credit unions in texas, you weren't the target, but you sure were the collateral damage. they didn't cause the 2008 crisis of 2008. the subprime lending crisis. that was the big boys on wall street. but thanks to senator crapo and the banking committee and bipartisan effort in the senate, we pulled back some of the regulations where the small community banks, they had been required if they were going to stay in business, they were required to hire people just to fill out the paperwork, not to make more loans, but to fill out the paperwork and many of them couldn't survive at all and so they had to merge or just go away, and the people who got hurt the most are the people who needed access to credit, again,
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our small businesses. well, this bill is now, thankfully, expected to pass the house this week, and it will be a big win for the smaller financial institutions and make it easier for them to serve their communities by providing mortgages, providing credit and lending to small businesses. so that's the past. let's just take a peek forward to this next week. this week we'll keep our commitment to our veterans, people who have worn the uniform of the united states military and who have served us so well and to whom we have a moral commitment, i believe, to keep our commitments to them, the promises we made to them when they were on active duty that when they left active duty we
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would keep our commitments and we will do that when we vote on the v.a. act this week. this is a bipartisan, bicameral bill that will strengthen the community care options that are available to america's veterans. it will provide $5.2 billion to the much-needed choice fung program -- funding program to prevent interruption of access to care for veterans. in other words, what we've done, mr. president, is said if you're a veteran and can't get to a designated v.a. health care facility, a hospital or clinic, you can get treated in your community by a hospital or other health care provider and we'll pay the fee. so if you have to wait too long in line, you have to drive too far, you will have health care options, and that's why funding the $5.2 billion for the choice program is so important.
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this bill will also provide care tbifer assistance and -- caregiver assistance and sol date the -- consolidate the program into one program and it will allow veterans to seek care when and where it makes the most sense for them. on the caregiver program, i can't help but remember when i visited walter reed, visiting some of our warriors who have been injured in the line of duty in places like afghanistan and iraq. frequently the spouse of that wounded warrior has to quit his or her job and come care for their loved one, and it's really an important aspect of the con tin yum of -- continuum of care for them to get back on their feet. we're going to provide greater access to caregiver assistance so that spouses and family members can do exactly that, and
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it's the right thing for us to do. our v.a. mission bill also authorizes access to walk-in clinics, it removes biewrkt red -- bureaucratic red-tape. in this new technological age, it makes no sense to have restrictions on the ability for people to get access to care through telemedicine when and where appropriate. i want to conclude by saying, i appreciate chairman isakson, senator moran and others working with the president and acting director wilkie to get it done before funding runs out. i appreciate all of our colleagues who worked on this on a bipartisan basis. last week the house passed the bill so now it's our turn. what a great sign of appreciation to our veterans it will be to get this bill passed and to the president's desk and have it signed before memorial day. mr. president, i yield the
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floor. the presiding officer: the senator from alabama. mr. jones: i come to the floor to speak about a challenge that our rural communities face in alabama and across the country. people living in rural areas often face difficult in finding health care providers. the challenges of consistent quality health care for rural america is ex bow nengsly -- exponentially more difficult than any other area in the country. these persistent gaps in health care inevitably lead to poor health outcomes. as a result, life expectancy for rural alabamaians is approximately six months lower than those who reside in urban areas, and three and a half years lower than people living in the rest of the country.
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in some parts of my state the outlook is even worse. in wilcox county, for example, life expectancy is nine years lower than the national average. that is unacceptable, mr. president. the county of your birth or where you choose to live should not dictate the quality of your life much less your life expectancy. despite the prosperity some pockets of the country feel today, outcomes don't seem to be improving in many areas in rural america. alabama's rural hospitals are at risk and many are in immediate danger of closing. sadly, some already have. just last week yet another hospital, this one in jacksonville, alabama, announced that they would close. it's about the 12th, i think, since 2011. it has become an all-too familiar pattern in alabama and other rural areas. that means the quality and
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number of treatment options in these rural areas and in alabama continues to decline. 52 of alabama's rural counties facing primary care shortages, and those numbers get worse for specialty practitioners like dentistry and obstetrics. having spent nearly my entire life in washington, d.c., the exception being living in washington, d.c., and working on this body in the senate judiciary committee, i am acutely aware of the difficulties we face in keeping folks healthy. as i traveled across alabama, i heard from folks who struggled to access medical care. i heard from expecting mothers who didn't know if they would make it to the hospital in time for a delivery because the closest one was more than an hour away. i heard from people who are impacted by the growing opioid
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epidemic and the lack of substance abuse and mental health treatment options in their communities. so when i came to the senate, i knew i needed and wanted to make increasing access to quality, affordable health care one of my first priorities. i also knew finding the holy grail of health care reform in today's politics is a difficult and complex task. i am proud to say we made some progress since i got here in january. for instance, through bipartisan efforts, the expired children's health insurance program, chip, which provides coverage to 150,000 alabama kids as well as community health centers that served 350,000 alabamaians was funded. we secured a three-year funding
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for community health centers that provides health care for many underserved communities. i was also cosponsor of training the next generation of primary care doctors act. it was signed into law as part of the budget deal. that is critical for those in my state in the training that it provides for doctors in community health centers and clinics and it ensures that those who -- that they will stay in their communities. this is it is one of the many ways we can improve how folks receive health care in the united states. there is of course another option which leaders in alabama have failed to make. and that's to expand medicaid. by failing to expand medicaid, many of alabama's most vulnerable citizens have been denied access to basic care, and
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we've turned away literally billions of our own taxpayer dollars in the process. that decision just doesn't make sense. while i'm hopeful that my state's leadership will reconsider the short sided decision made -- shortsighted decision made solely for political reasons, i'm going to continue to work to find ways to help. for example, i want to continue to advocate for changes in the medicaid wage index which is unfairly hurting alabama health care providers and has been doing so for years. but for my part today, taking one additional step. proud to say that one of my -- that my very first piece of original legislation will focus on improving rural health care through making government more efficient. today along with my colleagues senators mike rounds and tina smith, i'm introducing the rural health liaison act. i want to acknowledge and thank
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congresswoman sherry bustos for her leadership in the house and her offer to partner in this important effort. the world liaison act will streamline federal investment in rural health care and improve coordination between federal agencies and other health care stakeholders by creating a rural health liaison within the united states department of agriculture i believe that the usda is the appropriate spot for such a position because the department plays a major role in rural development efforts. for instance, usda has the capability to finance the construction of hospitals, to implement telemedicine programs, and carry out health education initiatives. we want to make sure that these efforts are fully coordinated and leveraged with the u.s. department of health and human services and other federal
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agencies as well as other important health care stakeholders. among other things, the rural health liaison would consult with h.h.s. on rural health issues and improve communication with all federal agencies. it will provide expertise on rural health care issues. it would lead and coordinate strategic planning on rural health activities within the usda, and it would advocate on behalf of the health care and relevant infrastructure needs in rural areas. i thank senator rounds and senator smith for their support on this important legislation. and i look forward to working together with them and other colleagues to move this bill forward. mr. president, this is a great example of how senators from both sides of the aisle can come together to propose commonsense legislation to make government work better and more efficient.
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it is exactly the kind of work i hoped to do when i arrived here just a few months ago. but this is just another step in a very complicated process. in the months ahead, i hope to have the opportunity to continue to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in this body to lower health care costs, increase access to quality health care, and to improve the health and well-being of people living in rural alabama, in rural america, and in fact for people all across this great nation. thank you, mr. president. and i yield the floor. a senator: mr. president? mr. nelson: mr. president, would the senator yield? mr. jones: yes. mr. nelson: this senator from florida wants to thank his neighbor and colleague for those comments and to say that how
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true it is that if there's an underserved part on health care, it's not only underserved areas in the inner city but it is clearly also in rural america. and this senator wants to thank the senator from alabama for coming forth with that piece of legislation. i look forward to discussing it with him. i also want to thank the senator for his comments about how shortsighted it is that the government, as he stated, of his state of alabama and certainly the government of my state, the state of florida, refuses to expand medicaid and has so for almost seven years when in fact
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in the state of florida, there's almost $5 billion a year that is sitting on the shelf, that is florida taxpayer money that is going elsewhere if not accessed, and it has not been accessed, and in my state of florida, that is 800,000 people, almost a million people, poor people, disabled folks that would be getting health care that otherwise are not getting health care. and would the senator believe when in fact they don't have health care through medicaid of which they're eligible under the law when they get sick. what do they do? they end up going to the emergency room.
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not having any preventive care, now it's an emergency. and of course, when treated at the emergency room, the most expensive place at the most expensive time, lo and behold it's uncompensated care and the hospital can't eat all of that uncompensated care. what happens? all of the rest of us pay by increases in our premiums. and i want to thank the senator for his statement about what has happened in my neighboring state of alabama. mr. jones: thank you, senator nelson. i appreciate that. although the numbers aren't as staggering in alabama, they are still significant for the state of alabama with regard to medicaid. so i appreciate your comments very much. i look forward to working with you on this bill and helping this move forward. mr. president, i yield the floor. mr. nelson: mr. president? the presiding officer: the senator from florida. mr. nelson: mr. president, i
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rise today regarding the nomination of dana baiocco to serve as a commissioner on the consumer products safety commission or as we refer to it as the cpsc. it is a small safety-focused agency. it has about 500 employees. but it has a critically important mission, to keep americans safe from potential defects in thousands of consumer products, many of which are imported from china. we've seen the need to have a strong cop on the beat, and we've seen that many times over the years. for example, back in 2007, we
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saw what was referred to a summer of recalls, when a number of children's toys were recalled for high levels of lead and other toxic substances. in response to that summer of recalls in 2007, congress almost unanimously passed a law, the consumer product safety improvement act of 2008, to address the safety of toys and other children's products. but there's still a lot more to do. last summer another tragedy played out in florida involving portable generators. so people go and buy these portable generators in the anticipation that they're going to lose electricity in their
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home, as is so often the case with a hurricane. and in the wake of hurricane irma last year, 12 floridians died and a number of others were injured because of portable generators. because carbon monoxide poison ing is emitted from these portable generators. in many cases the victims were just trying toe clean -- trying to clean up debris or provide power to their families after the storm unaware that these generators give off large amounts of carbon monoxide which is colorless, odorless, and it's deadly. for years we've been calling on the cpsc to ensure that portable
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generators are equipped with mechanisms that limit carbon monoxide emissions and automatically shut off the generators when the carbon monoxide level reaches up to a high dangerous, lethal level in an enclosed area that could cause the death. it's a small modification to generators that would not affect the performance, but it would definitely save lives. and this happens after every hurricane. people get generators because it's a number of days or weeks. they still want to have electricity. and, of course, untold deaths in
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the case of florida, in the aftermath of hurricane irma, 12 deaths. and so a small modification, if those had been in place last summer, it's very likely that some of those floridians who lost their lives would still be with us. and that brings me to mrs. baiocco's nomination. now, she certainly has a distinguished legal career. she's been a partner of a major law mirm. and -- law firm. and i congratulate her on that. but when she was in front of our commerce committee, when she was asked would she support a mandatory standard requiring that generators have mechanisms
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that limit carbon monoxide emissions or other devices that switch the generators off when the carbon monoxide level rises to dangerous levels, her response was that we should defer to a voluntary industry standard. mr. president, do you think the industry is going to voluntarily put on these shutoff mechanisms? isn't the cpsc, the consumer product safety commission, aren't they there for the purpose of protecting the public? do we want when the next hurricane hits, perhaps the state of the presiding officer, do we want another dozen deaths as has occurred in florida?
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i don't think so. and i think that that's the role of the cpsc and yet, miss baiocco said she wants it to be voluntary with the industry. well, mr. president, that's exactly what we've been doing for years. and we just keep seeing more deaths and more injuries because the industry doesn't change it. and in some cases, whole families have been wiped out. that's not a pleasant thought. mr. president, hurricane season starts june 1. and every day that cpsc fails to act on portable generators equals more americans are going to die and especially where
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hurricanes hit. a place called hurricane highway, it comes not only to a peninsula called florida but it also comes to the gulf coast, the gulf states of which is the state of the presiding officer. the fact that mrs. baiocco cannot recognize this need makes we wonder if she is going to do anything about the other hazards that impact our families. mr. president, i ask for -- i ask for 60 more seconds. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. nelson: this is serious. things like potentially toxic-flame retardant chemicals in children's products. remember all those chinese toys
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that were defective? what about recycled crumb rubber that's used in playgrounds that have high levels of toxic substances? sadly, it seems that with the administration's recent appointments to the cpsc, the commission could soon become known as the commission to protect shareholders and companies. this senator believes that the people appointed to protect us, they have to display a desire to protect the consumers first, and the stakes are just too high, and, unfortunately, this senator, a member of the commerce committee, has concluded that mrs. baiocco does not meet this standard,
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therefore, i must oppose his nomination. mr. president, i yield the floor. a senator: mr. president. the presiding officer: the senator from south dakota. mr. thune: mr. president, i have 12 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: duly noted. mr. thune: mr. president, i ask unanimous consent to conclude my remarks regarding this upcoming vote prior to the vote. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. thune: mr. president, i rise today to voice my strong support for the nomination of dana baiocco to be a commissioner at the consumer product safety commission. ms. baiocco has dedicated her career to consumer safety and liability matters. her depth and famenty --
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familiarity will bring an importance perspective to the commission. born and raised in ohio, she went to the school of law. while still in law school, ms. baiocco served as a law clerk in the western district of pennsylvania. she joined the law firm of jones, day, and became a partner in 2007 where she has dedicated her legal career on counseling clients on product safety and liability issues. in 2007 she became one of the partners of jones, day's office. currently the cpsc has a 3-1 democratic majority. while her nomination has been favorably reported, as well as an mary buerkle's nomination,
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twice in this congress, both have been held by the other side.ms. baiocco's confirmation is a crucial measure of good governance to restore balance to the commission. to date, mr. president, i have not heard a single argument against mr. baiocco's abilities, notwithstanding her extensive qualifications to be a commissioner at the cpsc, however, some colleagues on the other side have voiced concern about her nomination on the grounds that her career representing business clients in the consumer product and liability space may impact her impartiality when considering issues before the commission. a few have raised issues about her impartiality because of her spouse's career as a litigator at the law firm of white and williams. mr. president, to my colleagues who harbor such concerns, i would note that the senate
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routinely confirms nominees who are lawyers with private practice backgrounds and we expect such office holders to advocate for the public interest just as zealously as they would for their clients. i remind our colleagues that the role of government ethics plays in assuring that nominees have resolved any actual or apparent conflict of interest before -- before they are even considered by the senate. the office of government ethics is closely scrutinized ms. baiocco's financial disclosures and evaluated her finances with background for -- i shouldn't background for conflicts of interest. further, ms. baiocco has formerly pledged in her ethics agreement that she would recuse herself from matters involving her firm, jones, day. she also specifically stated in her ethics agreement that she
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will not, and i quote, will not participate substantially in any tirk matter involving specific parties where her spouse is a party or represents a party, end quote, unless authorized. she has complied with everything concerning her assets. her experience will afford a -- there is no legitimate reason to delay her confirmation any further. and i therefore urge my colleagues to support her nomination. mr. president, i yield the floor. the presiding officer: all time has expired. the question is on the nomination. mr. thune: request the yeas and nays. the presiding officer: there is a sufficient second? there appears to be.
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the clerk will call the roll. vote:
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the presiding officer: are there any senators wishing to vote or change their vote? if not, the yeas are 50, the nays are 45, and the nomination is confirmed. 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 presiding officer: the clerk will report the motion to invoke cloture. the clerk: cloture motion, we, the undersigned senators, in accordance with the provisions of rule 22, do hereby bring to a close debate on to s. 2372, a bill to provide outer burrual reaccept cals for remains in national parks. the presiding officer: by unanimous consent, the mandatory quorum call has been waived. the question is, is it the sense
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of the senate that debate on the motion to concur on the house amendment to s. 2372, an act to amend title 38, united states code to provide outer burial reaccept cals for remains in national parks and for other purposes, 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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vote:
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the presiding officer: are there any senators in the chamber wishing to vote or change their vote? if not, on this vote, there are 91 ayes and the nays are 4. three-fifths of the senators duly chosen and sworn having voted in the affirmative, the motion is agreed to. under the previous order, the senate stands in recess until
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senate stands in recess until >> voting to limit debate on the veterans choice healthcare measure back at 2:15 eastern time. we will bring comments in the as they exit their party lunches here on season two. when the gavel back in more debate on veterans health care. while the senate is out we will take your life to the national press club in washington dc for remarks by former mexican president vincente fox on democracy at the crossroads, globalization versus nationali nationalism. >> a staunch defender of north amer e

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