A New Role

Dear Friend,

As I write this, our newspapers, TV news shows, and social media feeds are focusing a lot of attention on President Trump’s executive order on refugees and immigration. This is a serious issue, so I want to start this week’s newsletter by diving into this topic in some detail.

President Trump's executive order places a blanket ban on all refugees and bans citizens from seven countries from entering the United States. As a consequence, you likely saw news stories about students, workers with green cards, and refugees from throughout the world being stopped at airports or returned overseas. Over the past few days, you may also have heard concerns from experts on immigration policy as well as religious groups, business leaders, and others. I share those concerns.

Let me say upfront that we must keep Americans safe and secure. That is why America has a rigorous process for evaluating men, women, and children fleeing violence and seeking asylum in our nation. Each successful applicant seeking refugee status spends more than 18-24 months being vetted by federal law enforcement, military, and intelligence agencies. The careful vetting includes biometric and biographic checks, interviews by specially trained officials from the Department of Homeland Security, and enhanced screening measures for Syrian refugees. Since the attacks on 9/11, our nation has accepted more than 750,000 refugees from places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and not a single one of them has committed an act of terrorism in the United States.

So, do the restrictions proposed by President Trump make our country safer? 

Not according to experts who work in international affairs and homeland security. 

In fact, homeland security experts have advised against diverting critical resources toward “extreme vetting” of women and children that are fleeing persecution because it takes resources away from actually trying to identify legitimate threats. Further, counterterrorism analysts havesuggested that this order could be used as a recruitment tool by jihadist organizations. In addition, many (including President Bush’s former Defense Secretary) have suggested that this will damage American alliances and further de-stabilize an already very unstable part of the world. 

But beyond these issues around security, there’s a fundamental question of the values associated with this Executive Order. There have been moments in our history where we have let fear stand in the way of what makes our nation great. Whether it was denying entry to Jews fleeing Nazism in Europe, or the internment of Japanese Americans, these moments are correctly judged as shameful exceptions to our values. This is one of those moments.

If there are ways to strengthen the vetting process, then that’s legitimate. But how does it make our nation safer when an Iraqi man who had spent a decade working for American forces in Iraq and who served as a translator for the 101st Airborne in Baghdad and Mosul was handcuffed and detained at JFK Airport on Friday evening?

I do not support this executive order. I do not support having a religious litmus test for entry into our nation and, in the view of many constitutional scholars, such an approach runs afoul of the constitution the president and I both took an oath to uphold. I also do not support religious registries which is why I have cosponsored a bill that will make it illegal to register Americans by religion.

We are going to remain vigilant and strike back against ISIL and other networks that would do us harm. But we must do it in a way that reflects our values and keeps America as a beacon of freedom for the world.

There has been a lot of other news that has occurred in the past two weeks, including a new development on the House Appropriations Committee. Read on to find out more.

My New Role on the Appropriations Committee

As many of you know, I have the honor of helping our region, and the nation, as a member of the House Appropriations Committee. Each year we work on 12 bills that provide funding for all government agencies and programs. So we cover a lot of ground. Everything from investing in initiatives that keep our drinking water safe, to programs that help workers learn skills for 21stcentury jobs, to ensuring the Veterans Health Administration is giving our retired servicemembers the benefits they earned.

This year, I was selected by my colleagues to serve as the Vice Ranking Member for the committee. I’m excited about this opportunity because it puts me in a better position to stand up for quality jobs, honoring our commitment to those who serve, and ensuring a secure retirement remains in reach for everyone.  

You can check out more about it here.

Helping Those Tied to Our Fisheries

The fishing season on the coast of our Olympic Peninsula usually brings a lot of excitement. Before sunrise, boats line the docks in Westport checking details to make sure they are ready for a long day on the water. The cash registers at bait & tackle shops stay busy as professional and amateur fishermen pick up supplies. Processors get ready to take in the day’s catch and send it to stores and restaurants far and wide. But for the past few years, unforeseeable events have caused both salmon and crab fisheries to take a serious hit.

Instead of cutting across coastal waters trolling for salmon or setting crab pots, commercial and tribal fishermen were stuck shore side wondering how they were going to make their next loan payment or put food on the table at home. Businesses tied to our recreational fishery were also impacted.

That’s because an unusually warm mass of water (that became known as “the blob”) appeared off our coast in 2013, and damaged the ability of salmon to survive. As a consequence, fish runs plummeted. In fact, the runs were just 20 percent of the previous five-year average. To add to this challenge, changing ocean conditions fueled a massive harmful algal bloom (or “HAB”) that impacted our iconic Dungeness crab population.   

In light of the economic hardship caused by this, it was good news for jobs when the U.S. Commerce Department issued fishery disaster declarations last week. These declarations give local communities access to assistance that will mitigate the impacts of these disasters in the short term-term and invest in projects that will help our fisheries recover over the long run.  

I’ll keep you up to date with more details of this restoration effort. In the meantime, read more here.

Helping Veterans Get Jobs and Healthcare

The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard is a critical jobs anchor in our region. The workers there keep our Navy’s fleet running, and a good number of them are veterans too. Folks like Tom Bartz, a recently retired sailor, who was originally supposed to report to work last Monday. Unfortunately, now he can’t start until May.

An outdated policy from the 1960s bans retiring members of any branch of the U.S. military from seeking employment in civil defense jobs until 180 days after their service ends. Since 9/11 this policy has been lifted by Presidents Bush and Obama. Unfortunately, the rule has now gone back into effect. 

The consequences of this rule change are hitting people like Tom and his family. That’s a shame. The men and women who serve our nation shouldn’t be disadvantaged when it comes to getting a job at our region’s largest employer.  

Last Congress I introduced a bill that could do away with this harmful policy once and for all. I’m going to keep at it and will soon reintroduce the bill. You can read more about Tom in the Kitsap Sun here.

Speaking of veterans…

I’m also joining with members of the House and Senate in warning President Trump of the impact a federal hiring freeze could have on our veterans. We are concerned that the hiring freeze will leave open positions at the Veterans Administration for everyone from primary care doctors to mental health professionals to nurses.

That will have consequences for veterans who need care. They should not have to wait for an appointment or an operation just because there aren’t enough staff at the VA. Veterans have sacrificed so much for us. We need to make sure we have their backs. I’ll keep pushing the new administration to make sure the VA can hire the professionals they need to carry out their mission.

Protecting Our Environment – and Jobs

Last week I also sent another letter to the Trump Administration with some of my colleagues on the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee. As you may have read, the President halted all grants and contracts by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That’s significant since more than half of the agencies budget consists of grants to local, state, and tribal governments as well as nonprofits. For example, in our region, the EPA provides vital support for Puget Sound restoration and it supports the cleanup of toxic waste sites. 

In addition, industries like our salmon fisheries, shellfish farming, and forestry rely on clean soil, air, and water. The EPA is an important partner in keeping our environment healthy for these jobs.

Unfortunately, EPA staff has been directed not to provide information regarding this freeze, so there’s even further uncertainty. There’s been some indication that this freeze is temporary, but my colleagues and I asked President Trump to explain why these critical tools are being halted.  

You can read more about the situation in the Seattle P-I here

Preparing our state for cyber attacks

We live in a world that is changing faster and faster with technology that allows us to connect more than ever. Unfortunately, this technology also exposes more and more of our personal data.

Bad actors have figured out how easy it is to punch holes into our cyber defenses. Now it seems like you can’t go a day without hearing of another credit card hack, hospital service disrupted, or a new massive phishing scam.

We need to look beyond these incidents and ensure that America is prepared for the future and has the professionals who can address these problems. That’s why I will soon introduce a bipartisan bill focused on helping states develop and implement cyber resiliency plans.

Recently, I joined leaders from the University of Washington-Tacoma, the Washington National Guard, local utility providers, and from industry to talk about my bill and to get their input. Stopping these problems and keeping our country safe from cyber attack will require cooperation and commitment to the goal.

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District Visits

I always enjoy a visit to Keyport, and I was honored to be a part of the ribbon cutting ceremony for Barb Hall. The new facility is the first to take care of unmanned underwater vehicles and demonstrates our nation is leading the way in helping the Navy carry out its mission.

 Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Keyport holds Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the Opening of Barb Hall

I was thrilled to visit Lincoln High School to chat with students from Nathan Bowling's class. Every time I visit this Tacoma high school, I leave with a better sense of why I do this job. These students are engaged, unafraid to ask questions, and represent the absolute best of our nation's future. It helps that they have one of the best teachers on the planet. Thanks again to Mr. Bowling and his students for having me. I look forward to returning very soon!

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I was pleased to join local leaders from Pierce and Kitsap Counties at the Economic Development Board in Tacoma to discuss proposals to fix our nation's failing infrastructure. Transportation, water, and sewer systems are important building blocks to a vibrant and growing economy; so too are emerging networks of infrastructure like broadband capacity and smart grids. It’s expected that there may be forward motion in Congress this year on an infrastructure bill, and I want to make sure local priorities are a part of it. Stay tuned.

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I also met with Kitsap Mental Health Services to talk about the amazing work they're carrying out. They've seen a 62% increase in patients since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. We talked about the challenges they face and discussed solutions that I'm excited to pursue.

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That’s it for this time. Thanks for reading. As always, I’m honored to represent you.

Derek Kilmer