What You Are Writing About
Each year, I hear from thousands of Idahoans who write, e-mail, fax and call my offices to let me know how they feel about issues facing our country today. On average, I receive approximately 1,000 letters and e-mails a week. In recent years, an increasing number of that correspondence has come via electronic means. Even with such a volume of correspondence, I try to respond to each Idahoan as promptly as possible. In an effort to be even more responsive and to fully utilize the technology available through the Internet, this web page features the top five issues of concern from Idahoans and my response on each from the previous week. You may also wish to review information in the Issues Section or details from my Legislative Record, which lists bills I have sponsored and co-sponsored.
Here are the top issues Idahoans have recently written me about:
Iran Nuclear Deal
Immigration Reform and Border Security
Dissatisfaction with the Obama Administration
When the President initially announced the negotiations with Iran, he assured the American people the agreement would ensure the Iranians dismantle the entire nuclear weapons program, stop enrichment, close development facilities, limit the ballistic missile program, and disclose past military dimensions of the nuclear activities. In return, President Obama would gradually suspend sanctions that keep Iran economically weak and corralled. Over the course of months, the President’s negotiating team abandoned nearly all of the stated purposes of the negotiations.
The proposal signed with Iran walks away from these principles and goes even further. Iran will be permitted to keep the tools necessary to be a threshold nuclear weapon state. No enrichment facility will be dismantled and no accounting for past military dimension of the enrichment program will be disclosed. Instead of instantaneous and unfettered inspections, a weak verification regime will permit Tehran to delay inspections for weeks. Conventional arms, nuclear research, and economic embargoes will begin to lift within days of enforcement. For us Idahoans, the fate of Pastor Saeed Abedini also remains unchanged.
We must keep focused on the implication of the agreement on our national security and whether Iran continues to pose a threat to Americans and our allies. Moreover, in a direct effort to undercut Congressional oversight, President Obama has chosen to ignore Congress’ responsibility to evaluate the agreement by rushing to the United Nations for endorsement.
A recent analysis by Charles Krauthammer succinctly explains the alarming consequences of the President’s tactic. It can be found at:
On September 10, 2015, the vote to take up the measure failed to reach the 60 votes needed to proceed by 58-42. This dangerous agreement will significantly increase the threat to America’s national security and our allies, and I will work to see that Congress rejects it.
U.S. law authorizes the entry of limited numbers of individuals facing a demonstrated threat based on persecution for political or religious beliefs. However, U.S. refugee programs should serve a very narrow role in protecting U.S. interests abroad. We must ensure that any program relocating refugees to the U.S. places America’s security as its foremost objective.
Officials at the U.S. State Department have announced plans to review an increasing number of applications of Syrians and others fleeing the violence and political unrest occurring in North Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere. This announcement is alarming and I agree the refugee program in the U.S. has been too costly and expanded beyond our ability to manage properly.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees maintains current control over most assigned refugee applications. Frequently, UN programs and objectives do not align with U.S. national interest and infringe upon U.S. sovereignty. The U.S. should maintain complete control over who it is willing to accept, not the United Nations or any other international organization. Further, Idaho community leaders and officials should play a real role in decisions made to relocate refugees to our state.
Many Idahoans have shared their views with me about the resettlement programs to the U.S. in response to the ongoing migrant crisis. I share the same concerns regarding the vetting process individuals undergo to enter the U.S. through refugee and asylum programs. Global terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claim that its members have infiltrated the migrant populations in Europe. Any applicant for asylum into the U.S. should undergo extensive criminal and national security background checks to safeguard against admitting individuals whose backgrounds may pose a threat. The security of the U.S. remains paramount and officials should not admit refugees who support or have supported groups recognized by the U.S. as terrorist organizations.
Sanctuary cities are locations throughout the country where local laws have been implemented to shelter illegal immigrants from the enforcement of federal immigration law. The increased national attention to this issue was set off by the killing of a woman by an illegal immigrant. On July 1, 2015, Kate Steinle was shot and killed in San Francisco. The crime was allegedly committed by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an illegal immigrant with a lengthy criminal record who had previously been deported five times. The City of San Francisco is one such jurisdiction that has implemented policies allowing local law enforcement to circumvent the federal government on matters of immigration enforcement.
As a strong federalist, I respect the authority of state and local leaders to exercise authority over their jurisdictions. However, it is very concerning when local leaders pursue policies to spurn federal immigration law that can have vast border security and public safety consequences.
In recent weeks, Congress has taken steps to ensure local jurisdictions and law enforcement adhere to federal immigration law. On July 21, 2015, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on sanctuary cities and immigration enforcement under the Obama Administration. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials and Jim Steinle, the father of Kate Steinle, all testified before the committee. Additionally, legislative proposals have been introduced in the wake of this tragedy seeking to punish sanctuary cities for not complying with federal immigration law as well as increasing the penalties for previously deported illegal immigrants returning to the United States.
Also, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced S. 1812, the Improving Cooperation with States and Local Governments and Preventing the Catch and Release of Criminal Aliens Act. The legislation would limit federal funding to sanctuary jurisdictions as well as require the federal government to publish the number of immigration detainers issued and ignored in each jurisdiction annually. Additionally, the bill would require a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for the reentry of a deported illegal immigrant. I am a co-sponsor of this legislation. S. 1812 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
On July 22, 2015, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) introduced S. 1842, the Protecting American Lives Act. S. 1842 would require sanctuary jurisdictions to collect and share information regarding criminal aliens with the federal government. The legislation would require local cooperation with federal immigration statutes and orders, and, like S. 1812, would restrict federal funds to those continuing to operate out of compliance. The bill also establishes a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal reentry into the United States. I am a co-sponsor of this legislation as well, which has been referred to the Judiciary Committee for further review.
I have consistently maintained that there is a real need for a rational immigration policy, and our nation needs a solid solution that will secure our nation’s borders. Absent a needed federal solution to fully address our nation’s immigration and border security needs, state and local authorities can and should be an important partner in the fight against illegal immigration. It would be better for the federal government to fully secure the border and enforce federal immigration laws so that state and local authorities do not have to bear the burdens and costs of doing so. However, local jurisdictions pursuing sanctuary policies and actively working against federal immigration law clearly takes us in the wrong direction.
Rarely does an issue invoke more interest from so many Idahoans and people across the nation than the issue of immigration reform and border security.
As you may know, on April 16, 2013, several of my colleagues in the Senate introduced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744). After the measure was reviewed and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the full Senate considered the measure. On June 27, 2013, despite my dissent, the Senate passed S. 744 in a 68-32 vote. The legislation will now head to the House of Representatives for its consideration.
During the course of the Senate’s consideration of S. 744, Members introduced many amendments to the measure reflecting a wide range of topics and issues. I reviewed the lengthy measure and its proposed amendments to ensure it was consistent with my long-held principles on immigration. I have consistently maintained that there is a real need for a rational immigration policy that is built on several important principles:
First, the United States must commit the resources necessary to have the strongest border enforcement realistically possible. Preservation of the integrity of our borders is essential to both a sensible guest worker program as well as our national security. When we have a stable and manageable guest worker and immigration system, we will be able to ensure that those who come to our country, whether they seek to come as a temporary worker or to obtain permanent residency, do so in compliance with our rule of law. This must be in place prior to granting legalized status.
Second, our immigration system must not grant amnesty to those who enter our country illegally or illegally overstay their visas. No person who breaks the law should obtain any benefit toward either permanent legal residency or citizenship as a result of their illegal conduct. This is unfair both to American citizens and to those who have gone through legal channels for immigration to the U.S.
Third, immigrants must not automatically be afforded the same means-tested, federal benefits available to U.S. citizens. Federal public benefit programs exist as a manifestation of the American aspiration to take care of our own less fortunate. In today’s fiscal climate, the solvency of these programs is ill-fated at best, making it nothing less than irresponsible to exacerbate these programs’ financial constraints by extending eligibility to individuals who are not U.S. citizens.
Fourth, our guest worker programs must assure that American citizens have the first right to access available jobs. There is significant debate about whether American citizens are losing U.S. jobs to workers from other countries. However, this debate can be resolved by assuring that any jobs made available in a guest worker program are first available to U.S. workers. Manageable ways to assure this have already been identified.
Fifth, an efficient and workable guest worker program must be developed that will provide employers with a reliable, verifiable and legal system to identify guest workers who are legally in the country.
Ultimately, the final version of S. 744 did not reflect my long held principles and did not provide sufficient reform to stop illegal immigration at the border while ensuring fairness for both current Americans and immigrants alike. As one example, the changes in the border security measures contained in S. 744 were nowhere near acceptable and amendments that may have addressed some of my concerns were consistently denied votes. In the end, I had to vote against final passage.
Nonetheless, I remain committed to the enactment of sound immigration policy. I understand the urgency expressed by many to enact a federal response to address our nation’s immigration and border security needs. However, realizing the significant impact of legislation of this magnitude, I will continue to press for a solid solution that will secure our nation’s borders, not provide incentives for further illegal immigration through rewarding illegal entry, provide Americans with the first right to access available jobs, and enable an efficient and workable guest worker program.
Please rest assured that I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress and all Idahoans to find sensible solutions to the challenges we face with regard to immigration.
A fundamental cornerstone of our Constitution is the inherent checks and balances between the branches of government. Each acts as a check on the others to ensure no single individual or institution can accumulate undue powers. Actions that seek to challenge this balance undermine the founding principles of our federal system.
The congressional oversight process serves to hold executive officials accountable for the implementation of delegated authority. Given the evolving role and scope of the federal government in recent decades, the importance of Congress’ review function looms large in checking and monitoring the delegated authority granted to federal agencies.
The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 strengthens legislative oversight by enhancing committees’ ability to hold agencies accountable for the implementation of their performance goals and outcomes; to carefully evaluate the budget requests of various agencies, and to reduce or eliminate unnecessary duplication among federal agencies that implement policy areas.
The Congressional Review Act (CRA) of 1996 enables Congress to review and disapprove agency rules and regulations. Under the CRA, agencies must submit major rules to Congress and Government Accountability Office before they can take effect. The law provides for expedited procedures for any joint resolution of disapproval. The President can veto the joint resolution of disapproval; however, as with all legislation, Congress can override the President’s veto with a two-thirds vote from each chamber. Congress also has the ability to constrain the executive branch by passing statutes that repeal rules, including appropriations measures that limit funding for the development, implementation, or enforcement of certain rules or types of rules.
The role of the executive branch, whose activities have wide impact, underscores the critical importance of holding administrative entities accountable for their actions and decisions. Congress has a responsibility to continue strong oversight to ensure that our branches of government exercise their powers in a manner consistent with the Constitution. Government transparency and accountability are important aspects of a healthy and vibrant democracy, and I support initiatives to reassert public and congressional oversight of government programs and initiatives that have an effect on the American people.
The delicate relationship that exists between the Legislative and the Executive Branches, as directed in the Constitution, is vital to the effectiveness of the federal government and must be protected. The ultimate check on the conduct of elected officials is the public. Our Founding Fathers envisioned a system of government in which the people would be given the power to regularly review and pass judgment on elected representatives through the ballot box.
I understand your concerns with many of the policies and conduct of the Obama Administration, particularly its handling of the Fast-and-Furious scandal and the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. As a result of such actions, many Idahoans have contacted to me to express their support for the impeachment of the President.
As you may know, impeachment is the process by which charges can be brought by the legislative branch against certain officials serving in the executive and judicial branches of the federal government for misdeeds in office. Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution of the United States specifies that "The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." The U.S. House of Representatives has the responsibility for bringing the charges against the official, otherwise known as impeachment. Once the House has determined enough evidence exists for impeachment, the Senate has the role of trying the impeached official.
The mechanism for impeachment and conviction is a critical and powerful part of the process of checks and balances envisioned by the Founding Fathers and should not be taken lightly or used for purely political purposes. The seriousness of the impeachment process is reflected in the fact that only two presidents in the history of the United States have been impeached, President Andrew Johnson in 1868 and President Bill Clinton in 1998.
Although government officials should be held accountable for any malfeasance, any effort for impeachment of President Obama would require a high threshold to be met. Should any such proceeding be proposed by the House of Representatives, it is my sincere hope that it is based on a thorough and legal investigation and not for partisan purposes. Please be assured that, in reviewing the issue, I will maintain my commitment to upholding the Constitution. The delicate relationship that exists between the Legislative and the Executive branches, as directed in the Constitution, is vital to the effectiveness of the federal government and must be protected.