Colorado's House delegation on May 19 split over a proposal to establish a 9/11-style bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, with all four Democrats supporting it and all three Republicans opposed.
The legislation passed 252-175 with all Democrats and 35 Republicans supporting the plan to create a 10-member commission — five members appointed by each party's congressional leaders — to examine the insurrection and make recommendations by the end of the year to secure the Capitol. It heads to the Senate, where its fate is dicey, since it will require 10 Republicans to break ranks in order to overcome a GOP-led filibuster.
Colorado Democrats said Congress needs to figure out who was behind the attempt to block certification of Joe Biden's win, while Republican Rep. Ken Buck argued the plan favored the Democrats and the commission's scope was too narrow.
Tweeted Rep. Joe Neguse, a Lafayette Democrat, before the resolution's passage: "The insurrection on January 6th was an attack on our democracy. It’s long past time to establish an independent commission to ensure it never happens again. And today, the House will do precisely that."
The insurrection on January 6th was an attack on our democracy. It’s long past time to establish an independent commission to ensure it never happens again.And today, the House will do precisely that.— Joe Neguse (@JoeNeguse) May 19, 2021
Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Silt Republican, ripped the commission as a distraction, tweeting: "Due to their pathetic & failed governing agenda, the Democrats have just created another Robert Mueller style witch hunt to distract us from everything that they’re ACTUALLY doing in the House. This Commission is a farce & anything that comes of it has no credibility. I voted NO!"
Due to their pathetic & failed governing agenda, the Democrats have just created another Robert Mueller style witch hunt to distract us from everything that they’re ACTUALLY doing in the House. This Commission is a farce & anything that comes of it has no credibility. I voted NO!— Lauren Boebert (@laurenboebert) May 20, 2021
IN THE HOPPER ... Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper on May 20 introduced his first batch of bills, four proposals to make it easier for small businesses to access federal dollars and to encourage the Small Business Association to encourage investment in businesses in rural and under-served areas.
Hickenlooper, who as an out-of-work geologist in the late 1980s overcame difficulty raising start-up money before being a driving force behind Colorado's brewpub industry, said the legislation will break down barriers faced by diverse businesses and business owners.
"When you introduce a new bill in the Senate, someone from the office has to deliver it to the 'cloakroom' where the Senate clerk receives it. I wanted to do the honors for my very first bill!" Hickenlooper tweeted, along with a video of him doing just that.
When you introduce a new bill in the Senate, someone from the office has to deliver it to the "cloakroom" where the Senate clerk receives it.I wanted to do the honors for my very first bill! pic.twitter.com/8Ag6mujtjP— Senator John Hickenlooper (@SenatorHick) May 21, 2021
Fans of former Sen. Cory Gardner, the Republican defeated by Hickenlooper in November, raised an eyebrow at the freshman senator's announcement, pointing out to Colorado Politics that Gardner had already prime-sponsored nearly two dozen bills, resolutions and amendments by the same point in his first five months in the Senate. What's more, then-President Barack Obama signed a Gardner bill to get construction of Aurora's Veterans Administration hospital back on track on June 15, 2015, just a few weeks further into the calendar.
Gardner, to be sure, had a head start, having spent the previous four years in the House legislating, an activity still new to Hickenlooper, a former mayor, governor and restaurant CEO.
• Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet introduced the Military Childcare Expansion Act with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, on May 14 to help the military provide more child care for military families.
The bill would allow the military to expand a subsidy program for in-home childcare services and create a pilot program to offer childcare through off-base private providers, as well as take steps toward fixing troubled Military Child Development Centers.
Seven Democratic senators are co-sponsoring the legislation, and Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, is introducing the bill in the House.
• Bennet introduced a resolution on May 17 to designate May 15 as National Mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS) Awareness Day to bring attention to MPS and Mucolipidosis (ML), genetic disorders that affect the body's lysosomal storage system, involving how enzymes are processed inside cells.
Noting that his staff recently met with Cooper Tippett and Jack Fowler, two Coloradans with MPS who are being treated at Children’s Hospital Colorado, Bennet said he hopes the resolution "will help uplift stories like theirs and shine a spotlight on this disorder for which there is currently no cure.”
Signs and symptoms of the disease vary, so diagnosis is sometimes delayed, but an estimated 1 in 25,000 babies born in the U.S. will have some form of MPS. There is no cure for the disease, but enzyme replacement therapies can reduce non-neurological symptoms and pain, Bennet's office said.
• Rep. Jason Crow, an Aurora Democrat, introduced the Public Health Workforce Loan Repayment Act on May 18, along with Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo of California and Republican Reps. Michael C. Burgess of Texas and Brett Guthrie of Kentucky. The bill would establish a program to help recruit public health professionals at local, state and tribal health agencies.
As envisioned, the program would help certain individuals with public health or health professional degrees who agree to work for specified public health agencies for at least three years.
The legislation, first introduced by Crow a year ago, was proposed by Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Colorado's Tri-County Health Department.
• Bennet and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina on May 19 introduced the Medical Supplies for Pandemics Act to help the country to be better prepared for future public health emergencies by boosting the Strategic National Stockpile of medical equipment and encouraging domestic manufacture of protective equipment and testing supplies.
The bill would authorize $500 million a year through fiscal year 2024 to enhance the domestic supply chain of equipment like masks and vaccine supplies, maintain domestic reserves of critical supplies enter into joint ventures to produce supplies. It's filed as an amendment to the Endless Frontier Act, a $100 billion bill to fund emerging technologies that's making its way through the Senate.
• Bennet and Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on May 19 introduced three amendments to legislation to make sure new investments in emerging technologies align with democratic values and promotes small businesses' ability to work on the technologies.
The first amendment would establish a task force to study how the federal government's use of artificial intelligence affects democratic values, including identifying gaps in policies or law that should be addressed in order to promote responsible use of AI and appropriate safeguarding of data.
The second amendment directs the National Science Foundation to determine how its involvement in emerging technologies has implications on democratic values.
The third amendment increases access to classified facilities for smaller and medium-sized businesses working on critical nationals security needs.
The amendments draw on recommendations from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence and Bennet's Colorado Leadership in Artificial Intelligence Strategy Group, which outlined concerns about the impacts AI can have on privacy, civil liberties and other factors. The senators also introduced the amendments as stand-alone legislation, they said.
• Neguse, a co-chair of the Bipartisan Innovation and Entrepreneurship Caucus, introduced bipartisan legislation to redirect up to $10 billion in federal contracts to small businesses by raising the Small Business Administration's contracting goals.
The Small-Business Procurement Utilization Reform Act (SPUR Act) is also sponsored by Democratic Reps. Kweisi Mfume of Maryland, Andy Kim of New Jersey and Dean Phillips of Minnesota, and Republican Rep. Maria Salazar of Florida.
The bill drew praise from John Taylor, president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, who said it "arrives at a critical juncture for our nation’s small businesses and economy" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He added: “Widening the scope of opportunity for small businesses to secure federal contracts will give them a fighting chance to keep their doors open, their manufacturing facilities running, and their employees working."
• Rep. Jason Crow, an Aurora Democrat, joined with Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger on May 19 to introduce the MADE in America Act — short for Manufacturing Abilities Determine Economies — meant to address national security concerns over supply chains highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill would offer incentives for American companies working abroad to move their manufacturing facilities to the United States or other countries in the Western Hemisphere. It would also establish a Manufacturing Security and Resilience Council to administer a $25 billion grant program to encourage certain types of manufacturing in the U.S. and expedite free trade agreements with other countries in the Western Hemisphere.
• Bennet joined fellow members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to co-sponsor legislation led by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine to help Americans beset with "Havana Syndrome," a malady thought to involve brain injuries brought on by microwave attacks on U.S. facilities abroad.
The Helping American Victims Afflicted by Neurological Attacks Act, or HAVANA Act, would authorize funds so the CIA and Department of State could provide financial support to injured employees. The condition, first identified in 2016 by the U.S. Embassy staff in Havana, Cuba, has afflicted more than 130 Americans. Symptoms, which can last for years, include dizziness, tinnitus, visual problems, vertigo and cognitive difficulties.
• Crow, an Army Ranger combat veteran with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Republican Rep. Brad Wenstrup of Ohio introduced legislation on May 20 meant to expedite the Special Immigrant Visa process for Afghan interpreters, contractors and security personnel, who face threats from the Taliban as the U.S. withdraws forces from the country.
The Honoring Our Promises through Expedition — or HOPE — for Afghan SIVs Act of 2021 wold waive the requirement that certain Afghan SIV applicants undergo medical examinations while in Afghanistan. The costly exams are only given at one facility in the entire country, in Kabul, forcing applicants to spend thousands of dollars and travel in often dangerous circumstances, Crow's office said.
• Rep. Ken Buck, a Windsor Republican and the ranking member of House Judiciary's Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, introduced legislation on May 21 aimed at allowing states that file antitrust lawsuits to stay in the court they select rather than having their cases moved to a court favored by defendants.
Under current law, Buck noted, antitrust enforcement actions filed by the U.S. government can't be transferred under a process that handles litigation across multiple federal district courts — giving the feds a homefield advantage and keeping cases moving quickly by preventing private parties from joining the lawsuits.
Buck's proposal would give states that file under the same antitrust laws the same benefit, potentially reducing delays and preventing additional injuries.
"Through this legislation, many of the inefficiencies and obstacles the states face in enforcing the federal antitrust laws will be eliminated, resulting in quicker resolution for the citizens of those states,” Buck said.
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN ... Members of Colorado's delegation put pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — this week, sending letters advocating for the state and their district.
Neguse, chair of the House Natural Resource's Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, added his influential voice to the chorus of Coloradans calling on the Department of Interior to leave Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Grand Junction, adding a suggestion that Interior make sure the agency is fully staffed and effective in its remote location.
“The mission of the BLM is critically important for the preservation, health and safety of our nation’s public lands and for Colorado,” wrote Neguse in the letter. “For both the benefit of our state — and to ensure full operations of the BLM — I support the headquarters remaining in Grand Junction, as well as increased hiring and staffing for the purposes of keeping the headquarters in Colorado."
Neguse made a case for keeping BLM's main office in the Western Slope town, pushing back on critics who saw the 2019 move as part of the Trump administration's effort to reduce the ranks of experienced public lands regulators.
Wrote Neguse: "From historic wildfires, to record-breaking droughts, to water management challenges, the Western United States has a front row seat to the impacts of climate change. Home to many scientific experts and federal labs, Colorado is also a leader in climate solutions in the West. Maintaining the BLM headquarters in Grand Junction would tap into the knowledge and experience in these fields and provide agency employees with the opportunity to live, work, and recreate in the lands they manage.”
Others who have thrown their weight behind the new headquarters location include Bennet and Hickenlooper, Gov. Jared Polis and Boebert, the area's Congressional representative. Announcing his position, Neguse included an endorsement from one of Boebert's predecessors, Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis.
“It is logical — you don't effectively run a ranch from the distance!” the Republican former member of Congress quipped.
TWEET OF THE WEEK ... Crow, the Army Ranger veteran, was on hand at the White House on May 21 when 94-year-old retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett Jr. was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery under fire more than 70 years ago during the Korean War.
Tweeted Crow: "Colonel Ralph Puckett’s heroism and service inspired me and generations of Army Rangers.
"What an incredible honor to join President Biden at the Medal of Honor ceremony to recognize a fellow Ranger and American hero.
"Rangers Lead The Way!"
Colonel Ralph Puckett’s heroism and service inspired me and generations of Army Rangers. What an incredible honor to join President Biden at the Medal of Honor ceremony to recognize a fellow Ranger and American hero. Rangers Lead The Way! pic.twitter.com/fZbXgmfDsT— Rep. Jason Crow (@RepJasonCrow) May 21, 2021
Calling Puckett a "true American hero" and saying the award was long overdue, President Joe Biden bestowed the honor on the Georgia resident alongside South Korean President Moon Jae-in ahead of a summit with the foreign leader.
The ceremony was made possible by a change in last year's defense policy bill, which changed a requirement that the medal be awarded within five years of the activity it recognized.
In November 1950, Puckett, then a first lieutenant with the 8th U.S. Army Ranger Company, helped secure a key hill near Unsan under fire from mortar, machine gun and small arms, the Associated Press reported. Drawing fire in the open to identify enemy positions, Puckett then led 51 Rangers fighting off counter-attacks after his foot was nearly blown off.
Stressing the importance of the ties between their two countries, Moon credited Puckett's bravery.
“Without the sacrifice of veterans, including Colonel Puckett and the 8th Army Ranger Company, the freedom and democracy we enjoy today couldn’t have blossomed in Korea,” he said.