The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

Byrne: A national compact

(Wikicommons, Pixabay, YHN)

Four hundred years ago this month, a group of just over 100 people arrived off the shores of Cape Cod after a two-month sail from England. They were dissenters from the Church of England like the Puritans but went further by formally separating from the established church they considered to be corrupt beyond repair. We call them “Pilgrims,” although there is only one instance when any one of them used that word to describe themselves. That person was William Bradford, the longtime governor of the Plymouth Colony, who borrowed the word from the 11th Chapter of the Book of Hebrews.

Their arrival that November was not the occasion of the first Thanksgiving. That came the next year when they had built their homes and brought in their first harvest. In fact, they spent their first few months in a harsh winter still on their ship, the Mayflower, while their settlement was built.

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Their original destination wasn’t Plymouth but the mouth of the Hudson River where New York City is today, then the northern part of the Virginia Colony, but they were weary after a long journey, running low on provisions and determined to begin the long work of establishing their new home. That meant they weren’t on land covered by Virginia’s royal charter and so there were no colonial government or laws. Some on the ship weren’t separatists like the Pilgrims, remaining true to the Church of England, and talked about “using their own liberty.” These “Strangers,” as the Pilgrims called them, thus threatened the order of the new community.

So, before they landed, all of the adult male settlers on the ships, Pilgrim and stranger, reached an agreement we know as the Mayflower Compact under which they organized themselves as a “Civil Body Politic” by which they could “frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices from time to time, as shall be thought meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony.” They weren’t declaring independence from England but laid out a basis for people to govern themselves in America. Their example was an inspiration for those who 150 years later would indeed seek independence to form a new American nation with a government based on the consent of the people.

The Compact was also firmly based on the settlers’ religious beliefs. It begins with the words “In the Name of God, Amen”, and states frankly that their voyage to America was “undertaken for the Glory of God, and the Advancement of the Christian Faith.” Yet, as they differed on exactly what their faith meant, they established not a theocracy but a civil government based on the laws made by the settlers themselves. Their settlement was risky, and their path filled with hard work, privation and danger, but their faith sustained them. That faith would indeed inspire them to hold a three-day time of thanksgiving a year later after a successful harvest.

Perhaps, in this time of political polarization, we should renew our compact with each other as members of a great nation. Understanding our differences, we can yet agree to work with each other through those differences and achieve a successful consensus based upon shared principles and the value of sacrifice and hard work. As President Lincoln observed, we are the last best hope of earth, a nation founded by and beholden to the people. We should, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, “pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” In the name of God, Amen.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Much to do

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Congress returns to Washington this week after a six-week hiatus for the election. Since the end of July, we have only met for a few weeks, and the work we need to complete has piled up. This Congress ends at noon on Sunday, January 3 when the new Congress will be sworn in and start all over again as any bills pending from the old Congress die. Let’s look at what needs to be done between now and then.

Every year since the Kennedy administration, Congress passes a National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which authorizes the operations of the U.S. military and our national defense, an obligation of Congress under Article One of the Constitution. This year’s bill passed out of the House Armed Services Committee on which I sit by a unanimous vote and out of the full House by a huge bipartisan vote. A Conference Committee will iron out our differences with the Senate bill, and I hope we will vote on the Committee’s report in the next few weeks. The NDAA is one of the few examples this Congress when we have come together to meet our constitutional duties.

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I also anticipate that we will vote on the Water Resources Development Act, another bill we regularly pass and which authorizes much of what the Corps of Engineers does for navigation, flood protection and the like.

But the big two are the funding of the government and a new COVID bill.

Back in September, Congress passed a bill continuing government spending for the fiscal year that began on October 1 but using the numbers from the previous year. I wasn’t present for the vote on the bill as I was in the district working on our response to Hurricane Sally. Had I been there, I would have voted against it because these continuing resolutions are punts as we fail to meet our constitutional requirement to fund the government. That bill only runs through December 11, however, and there will be substantial pressure to pass something funding the government beyond that date.

This has been a source of failure in the past. You may remember it happened at the end of 2017. Will we produce an actual appropriations bill or will we pass another continuing resolution taking us into 2021 and the new Congress? Or, will we have a shutdown? The appropriations process, like virtually every other legislative endeavor this Congress, is badly broken because Speaker Pelosi refuses to let it work. There is little effort to work across the aisle or the Capitol, despite good people on both sides and both houses being involved, as the speaker insists on calling the shots and bypassing the capable leadership on the Appropriations Committee.

I am pessimistic that we can get a true appropriations bill this Congress and anticipate another continuing resolution will be proposed on or shortly before December 11. The question is whether that will pass and whether President Trump would sign it if it does. It’s likely to go down to the wire that week.

And the outlook for another COVID response bill this Congress looks even worse. You would think that with the elections out of the way, and having suffered significant election losses among her membership, the speaker would settle into serious negotiations. Not so. In fact, after pushing a $2 trillion bill this summer and fall even as the Senate told her that figure was far too high, she has now come back post-election with a bill for spending over $3 trillion. She is effectively expecting Senator McConnell and the Republican Senate, which seems to be retaining their majority, to bid against themselves. I don’t know what about Senator McConnell’s leadership of the Senate these last six years would give anyone the thought he would cave into that.

Indeed, the speaker’s COVID proposal is really just her way of postponing the discussion until after Inauguration Day when she expects to have a President Biden to help her instead of President Trump. Once again, her goal is less about helping the American people and more about her own power. Here we are at the beginning of the worst part of the year for viral diseases and she is punting the passage of a much-needed bill for at least two more months.

I hope I’m wrong about the speaker’s posture on these bills, but her performance as speaker so far has been depressingly consistent. When the choice is between the needs of the country and her own power, she always chooses the latter.

We have much to do this Congress and not much time to do it. I wish we’d break the mold of this Congress, learn from the election results and actually do the jobs we are required to do under the Constitution. It just doesn’t look like the speaker wants us to fulfill our responsibilities under the Constitution.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: What America said

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, YHN)

Election Day has come and gone. Despite the fact that multiple national news sites have “called” the presidential election, court cases and recounts are going forward in several states where the margin is less than 1%, and we don’t yet “know” who was elected president. By federal law, all election disputes must be resolved by December 8 and presidential electors must meet and cast their votes for president on December 14. The ballots will be counted in Congress on January 6. These are the key dates when we will “know” who will become president on Inauguration Day, January 20. So, let’s not jump to a conclusion about who won this very close presidential election just yet.

But, we already know some important things about America from the votes last week.

Perhaps the most important thing we witnessed was a free and open democracy working. We take for granted our system for choosing our leaders, but if you look around the world, we shouldn’t. Even in a very politically divided nation, we held peaceful elections, and even where there are election disputes, we have legal processes for resolving them. For the most part, things have been handled peacefully, except in a few places like Oregon where they apparently don’t need an excuse to riot.

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And, while we are divided for sure, there are some things we have agreement on. Despite the now predictable assurances from media “analysts” and other so-called “experts,” there was no blue wave, no generational realignment of our body politic. The media discovered what the rest of us knew: America is not a left-leaning nation. And demographics aren’t destiny. That’s why an increasing proportion of blacks and Hispanics are voting their relatively conservative beliefs. As a nation, we don’t want a Green New Deal, Medicare for All or defunded law enforcement agencies. We aren’t socialists or even socialist leaning.

The elections for the two houses of Congress showed a narrowing majority in each. With two special elections for Senate pending in Georgia on January 5, it looks likely that Republicans will hold a very narrow majority in the upper body. That alone guarantees that tax increases, court packing, climate change, government ordered health care, and other far left proposals of a potential Biden-Harris administration would go nowhere, an accurate reflection of the national mood.

In the House, the Democrats apparently held their majority, but it will be much reduced as Republicans flipped as many as 15 seats and have net gains of 8 to 12. During a post-election conference call last week with her members, Speaker Nancy Pelosi proclaimed that the shrunken Democrat conference had a “mandate” even as Democrats on the call excoriated their party’s policies and messages of the last two years. Don’t let the national media fool you. This isn’t a struggle between moderate Democrats and liberals because there aren’t any moderate Democrats left in Congress after this year’s primaries. This is a fight between liberals and socialists, the two groups that now make up congressional Democrats.

The Republican side is a very different story. Though disappointed that we didn’t retake the majority, we are heartened by our gains and believe we will succeed in the 2022 midterms. Many governorships and state houses were also elected last week, and they will reapportion their states next year with the census numbers from this year, thus determining the makeup of House districts for a decade. Even though President Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, spent enormous amounts of money to get Democrat control of these state houses nationally, his effort failed and Republicans will be in control of states with far more House seats than the Democrats will. By Election Day 2022, the map for House elections will be more favorable to Republican candidates than was the case last week. That blue wave is actually a firmly rising red sea in the House.

I woke up the day after the election both pleased and disappointed. I wish Republicans had taken the House and had a larger majority in the Senate. And I truly wish we had a clear victory for President Trump, who may still win in the states with recounts and lawsuits. But, America once again proved the experts wrong by saying loudly who we are and who we aren’t.

We aren’t socialists or even liberals. We don’t want massive change to our Republic. We won’t let gender, race, religion or any other demographic category define us, because we are a people free to decide for ourselves what we believe and who we will vote for. We have spoken as a people and we don’t need the news media and entertainment industry to act as if they speak for us.

And it’s the job of those who are elected to listen to the people of this country and not the out of touch elites on TV and the internet. Once again, they were wrong. By their votes the people of America said so.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: After the election — One nation under God

(Wikicommons, Pixabay, YHN)

I’ll never forget sitting in the U.S. House Chamber in January of 2017 watching the counting of the Electoral College votes from the 2016 presidential election. Under the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, the sitting vice president opens and counts the votes as submitted and certified by the electors chosen from each state, and the vice president must do so “in the presence of the Senate and the House of Representatives.” Because Inauguration Day was still several days away, the sitting vice president was Joe Biden, and as a member of the House, I was entitled to be there.

Procedurally, any representative or senator can object to any state’s electoral college votes but at least one member from the other house must agree with the objection before it can be considered. Alabama was the first state up, and Jim McGovern, a very liberal Democrat member from Massachusetts who served on the Rules Committee with me, stood up and objected because the Russians supposedly interfered with our vote for Donald Trump. He also made a blatantly false allegation that our state violated the Voting Rights Act and suppressed thousands of votes. No senator agreed with him and Vice President Biden ruled the objections out of order, which kept me from having to argue against McGovern’s silly and frankly slanderous objections.

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The count went on and as every Trump state’s votes came up, a Democrat House member would stand up and object but because no senator agreed with the objections, Biden would rule them out of order. Finally, after several of these, Biden leaned into the microphone and said firmly to his fellow Democrats, “it’s over.” Though they hated the result, he was saying, the Constitution calls for the person with the most electoral votes to be president. And that person was Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton.

This has been an extraordinary year, with the pandemic, a record economic downturn and recovery, riots and violence, and an unprecedented number of hurricanes. It will be an extraordinary election too, as record numbers of people have already voted in many states, but their votes can’t be counted until election day and many of those states’ election processes require days to count all those votes. There will also be challenges to the counting of some, perhaps many, ballots because they weren’t filled in or submitted properly. So, we aren’t likely to know the result on Election Day.

We didn’t know the result of the 2000 election until December, weeks after the election, and that took an extraordinary decision by the Supreme Court to resolve it in favor of George W. Bush. The 12th Amendment was passed and ratified because the 1800 presidential election resulted in an electoral college tie between Thomas Jefferson and his supposed running mate Aaron Burr. That threw the election into the House of Representatives which took 36 ballots to finally make Jefferson the president, three months after the election. In both cases, the nation moved on and accomplished great things.

Though this year’s election isn’t likely to be over as quickly as we are used to, all of us should be patient and trust in our Constitution and the institutions which have served us so well for over 230 years. There will be plenty of eyes on the process and nothing inappropriate is going to go unnoticed. Our intelligence and law enforcement communities have been closely monitoring foreign actors and will continue to do so after the election. Be careful of the information you receive during and after the election because we know there’s a lot of truly fake “news” out there, designed to divide us as a nation.

And when we have a result, if your candidate doesn’t win, let’s not have a replay of 2016 when Democrats refused to accept the result, who wouldn’t let it be “over” and shamefully called themselves the “resistance,” a slap in the face of the Constitution and our tradition of peaceful transfer of power. We’ve wasted too much time in Washington over the Mueller report and a failed impeachment effort, attempting to reverse the 2016 election. And we’ve had too much violence this year – we don’t need more due to the election.

If your candidate loses, the appropriate response is to be the loyal opposition – loyal to our nation and its Constitution but opposed to the policies of the victorious party. Remember, in American politics, today’s loser is often tomorrow’s winner.

Our greatest enemy isn’t a foreign nation but our internal division, driven by a hyper-partisan news media and entertainment industry ready to exploit every fault line in our country and craven before the far worse fault lines of countries where that industry makes a lot of money. Let’s ignore the media and entertainment industry and return to what we learned in school about the traditional values which make us great.

As a unified nation, there is nothing we can’t do, no problem or issue we can’t solve. We are one nation under God. Let’s keep it that way.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Let’s talk about tolls — Why we should support Local Amendment 2

(Bradley Byrne, James Gordon NBC 15/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Baldwin County voters will soon head to the polls to cast their vote for president, Congress, some statewide offices and a few proposed amendments. As your congressman and a Baldwin County resident, there is one local amendment I encourage my fellow Baldwin County voters to support: Local Amendment 2.

On the backside of this year’s ballot, Baldwin County’s Local Amendment 2 proposes the extension of the existing Baldwin Beach Express (The Baldwin Beach Express II) that would construct a new stretch of road to extend the Beach Express from Interstate 10 all the way up to Interstate 65, an infrastructure project I have long supported. This amendment is not asking for additional state or local funding, nor is it asking taxpayers to foot the bill for this much needed roadway. The legislation also states multiple times that the toll will only be established on this new road extension and cannot toll any existing roads.

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If passed, Local Amendment 2 would establish a toll authority to oversee the construction and maintenance of the Baldwin Beach Express II. Coastal Alabama is no stranger to tolls. During last year’s Mobile Bay Bridge debate, I worked hard to ensure my constituents would not have to pay excessive tolls that would create a financial burden impacting many of their daily lives. After a tumultuous debate, the proposal was ultimately scrapped.

The proposal that Baldwin County is being asked to vote on next month, however, is completely different. After listening to my constituents, carefully reviewing project details, and having numerous conversations with other elected officials, community leaders, strong conservatives and local business owners, I am confident this amendment has Baldwin County’s best interest in mind.

First, Local Amendment 2 would place a toll on a new roadway, while leaving existing roads untolled. If drivers do not wish to take the toll route, there are multiple existing toll-free alternatives. Last year’s Mobile Bay Bridge proposal did not offer a feasible toll-free alternative, which I believe is a fundamental difference with the Baldwin Beach Express II.

Second, preliminary research and traffic patterns show us the primary users of this new road will be tourists visiting our beaches. Unlike the Mobile Bay Bridge, this will not have a considerable impact on daily commuters, but instead mostly be used and paid for by visitors. Baldwin County residents may still take the many existing, toll-free roads they use daily – just as they’ve been doing for years.

Third, the proposed Baldwin Beach Express II will be funded entirely by the toll. One hundred percent of the toll fee will go toward the construction and upkeep of this roadway, leaving taxpayer dollars untouched. I have been and remain generally skeptical of tolls, but the only way to make this project happen and to alleviate our serious traffic congestion issues is through a toll. Baldwin County and the state of Alabama simply do not have the funding or resources to make this project happen otherwise.

Lastly, Local Amendment 2 will improve our public safety for the future. Coming on the heels of Hurricane Sally and Hurricane Delta, we know the importance of getting to safety quickly when a hurricane threatens to hit Alabama’s Gulf Coast. This new roadway will provide an additional northbound evacuation route to move traffic flow efficiently during evacuations. Importantly, the toll fee would be lifted in the event of a countywide emergency.

The preliminary planning and preparation for this project has been completed – all that’s left to do is build the road. Now it’s up to Baldwin County voters to choose the best decision for our county.

In my time representing Baldwin County at both the state and federal level, I have always promised to look out for my fellow neighbors, and that is exactly what I am doing by supporting Amendment 2. This project has the potential to greatly improve the quality of life for Baldwin County residents in a fiscally responsible way that does not cost Baldwin County taxpayers. I firmly believe the Baldwin Beach Express II is crucial for our county’s future, the safety of our families and loved ones, and our growing infrastructure and economy.

I ask that you join me in flipping over your ballot and voting YES on Local Amendment 2.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Taking a vaccine seriously

(Hal Yeager/Governor's Office, Pixabay, YHN)

Since COVID-19 started to bare down on the U.S. in March we have been told that the ultimate solution would be an effective vaccine providing immunity to the vast majority who receive it. But, in almost the same breath we were told anti-viral vaccines take years to be developed and tested to show their safety and effectiveness. Indeed, the fastest a vaccine has ever been developed for widespread use has been four years. Four years!

Knowing we couldn’t wait that long, the Trump administration launched Project Warp Speed, a federally funded and led public-private effort to develop an effective vaccine ready to be administered on a widespread basis in just one year – or even a little less than a year. Six manufacturers are currently working on their own individually developed vaccines and are in various stages of trials to assure their products are safe and effective.

The fact that six manufacturers using billions of federal dollars are all pushing for a vaccine at once is important for two reasons. First, the more making the effort, the greater the likelihood at least one will be successful. Second, if more than one are successful, then U.S. health care consumers will have options. As it is, the federal government has already ordered and these manufacturers are producing millions of doses so that when the testing is complete distribution will move very quickly so that we hasten the day we can return to the “new normal.”

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How close are we? Manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer are in the final phase of their vaccines’ trials involving tens of thousands of volunteers who are taking the vaccines or a placebo to determine safety and effectiveness. Public health authorities and leading scientists are cautiously optimistic that one or both of these, and perhaps a few of the others, will receive Federal Drug Administration approval by year’s end. The first priority for administering the vaccine will be frontline health care providers, first responders, and senior citizens, the three groups most at risk from the disease. The hope is that they will be vaccinated by the end of next March and that the ramp up in production will allow widespread administration of one or more of the vaccines beginning in April, perhaps sooner.

This is dramatic, unparalleled progress. But there are those with their own political agenda undermining Operation Warp Speed by sowing distrust in the process. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and California Governor Gavin Newsom have been prominent in this regard, as has Democrat vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris. They are doing a disservice to the American people who need to have confidence the vaccine will be both safe and effective. I am particularly concerned that black people will be reluctant to take the vaccine because of their bad experience with American health care in the past and because of this cynical pre-election messaging by prominent Democrats. Yet, the data is clear: Black people are contracting and dying from COVID-19 at relatively high rates. They need the vaccine, and injecting doubt into the process for purely political reasons is shameful.

The FDA will only approve one or more of these vaccines if the trial results and other data meet its appropriately high standards. That doesn’t mean every person who gets the vaccine will develop complete immunity – that’s not true for any vaccine. But the vast majority will become immune and those who don’t and still come down with COVID-19 are likely to have a much less severe experience with the disease.

I’m old enough to remember when everyone in the U.S. stood in line to get the polio vaccine in a sugar cube. As a result of that effort, annual new polio cases in the U.S. were reduced to 100 in the 1960s, and we have been polio free since 1979, eliminating the scourge of a disease which frightened everyone in the 1950s and 60s. And just think what it will mean for all of us to eliminate COVID-19. But that will happen only if the vast majority of us get the vaccine,

So, I want to be clear. I’ve already gotten my flu shot for the season and as soon as I can, I’m going to get vaccinated against COVID-19. I know the FDA will only approve a vaccine which has demonstrated through thorough trials and data that it is safe and effective, and you should have that confidence too. By the way, the vaccine will be free. At no cost, you will be able to protect yourself and those you love from this terrible disease and its dire effect on our economy and our very freedoms.

Don’t listen to the cynical politicians. Get vaccinated now for the flu and, when it’s available, for COVID-19.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: FEMA’s Hurricane Sally response

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

Most people in Alabama have heard of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Its name is a little misleading because emergencies by their nature aren’t so much managed as responded to, often after the fact. You can’t manage a tornado or an earthquake, for example, but you can and should respond to it.

Hurricanes are facts of life down here, and nearly every part of our state, not just the coast, has been affected in some way by at least one. We can prepare for hurricanes and guard against the worst consequences and that starts with each of us as individuals, family members and citizens doing our part to be prepared to protect and take care of ourselves, family members and neighbors. Alabamians are actually pretty good at doing that.

But, there is also a role for governments at all levels. Local governments actually play the most important public role because they are closest to the people of their areas and have the first responders already employed and trained to take care of the needs of local residents during the period running up to, during, and in the immediate aftermath of the storm. State governments manage the preparations before the storm and provide the support local governments need afterward to do their jobs. The federal government supports the state and local efforts, which typically means providing the lion’s share of the money needed, anywhere from 75% to 90% of the costs. So there’s not one emergency management agency involved in responding to hurricanes but three, corresponding to each level of government.

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The day before Hurricane Sally hit, I was individually briefed by the director of the National Hurricane Center Ken Graham, FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor and Coast Guard officials. That same day I went to the White House and made sure we had a good line of communication in case we needed help, which looked likely at the time. I have to say, the White House was immediately responsive and has continued to be so.

How has FEMA handled the federal response to Hurricane Sally? When the state of Alabama requested a pre-storm disaster declaration, which triggers federal financial support for preparations and response during the storm, FEMA and the White House gave the okay in just a few hours. On that day before when I spoke with the White House, I asked them to send FEMA Administrator Gaynor to my district as soon as possible once the storm cleared to see the damage and meet with local officials. He came three days after the storm and spent several hours touring the damage with me and meeting with local leaders. When the state of Alabama requested a post-storm declaration, triggering federal financial support for public and individual assistance, FEMA and the White House responded affirmatively in less than 48 hours – record time.

Public assistance is federal financial support for the costs to state and local governments as a result of a storm. This includes water bottles and meals ready to eat for locally requested points of distribution, debris removal and cleanup costs (think of the large tandem trucks picking up debris piled up on the right of way), as well as the costs to repair damage to public buildings and infrastructure like roads and bridges, and in the case of Sally damage to the Port of Mobile.

Individual assistance, as the label states, goes to individuals affected by the storm. Private assistance won’t pay something you have insurance for, but it does pay for a variety of losses, particularly having to do with an individual’s home. So far 60,000 Alabamans have applied for individual assistance and already FEMA has approved $42 million. If you haven’t applied for individual assistance there’s still time for you to do so online at DisasterAssistance.gov, or if you need help in applying call FEMA’s Helpline at 1-800-621-3362. If you have applied for individual assistance and have been denied, appeal the decision because frequently the denial is simply because the applicant didn’t include all the needed information.

Many people were flooded by Sally and over 3,000 of them have made claims to the National Flood Insurance Program. Over $16 million has already been paid out on those claims. The Small Business Administration has approved over a thousand home loans to people with storm losses, totaling over $40 million, and many more loan applications are still pending.

So, how has FEMA performed in responding to Hurricane Sally? So far, pretty darn well. I want to thank FEMA Administrator Gaynor for coming down here so quickly after the storm and for FEMA’s quick and positive responses to all our requests. And I want to thank President Trump for his concern and quick response to Alabama’s requests for disaster declarations. Hurricane Sally was a brutal experience for us in Alabama, but FEMA’s response shows that government can do good things, helping people and communities when they really need it.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Business and school lockdowns don’t work

(Pixabay, U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, YHN)

The United States is such a big and diverse country with transparent sources of information and data that we are the world’s lab for various policy practices. Take the response to COVID-19. Some states closed down early and hard and stayed that way for a long time. Others were more judicious about their closure, closing later and with less severity, and came out more quickly. Those same hard lockdown states have been reticent to reopen schools for in-person learning, whereas the more open states have reopened more schools for in-person learning.

Who was right?

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Let’s start with the lockdowns. In general, the states with the earliest and hardest lockdowns have had the worst economic outcomes. Think New York and nearby New Jersey, two of the most locked-down states in the nation. New York’s August unemployment rate, for example, was 12.5%, and New Jersey’s was 11%, whereas the national rate was 8.4%. Here in Alabama, where the lockdown was moderate and we have largely reopened, the August unemployment rate was 5.6%. New York state government is facing huge deficits while Alabama just finished its fiscal year in the black.

The defenders of New York and New Jersey’s practices argue that those two states were better at protecting their people from the worst of the disease. OK, fair enough. New York’s extreme efforts to protect their people resulted in a case fatality rate of 6.5%, and New Jersey had an even worse fatality rate of 7.5%. Alabama’s rate? 1.6%. When your economy is substantially underperforming the U.S. economy and your people are dying at a much faster rate from COVID-19 despite your lockdown, perhaps it’s time to rethink things.

Last week, led by three leading public health experts, over 13,000 epidemiologists, public health scientists and health care practitioners from all over the world signed a petition calling for the lockdowns to end and for the world to return to a new normal, citing the physical and mental health issues caused by the lockdown policies. The World Health Organization echoed this call a few days later.

And schools? I’ve advocated for a return to in-person learning going back to this past July based upon data, reports and testimony those of us on the House Education and Labor Committee had received. In-person learning returned for many students around the country, and here in Alabama, in August. Many of the “experts” warned of spikes in the disease among those returning to school and made dire threats of these spikes spreading to older adults. Well, it’s two months later and experts such as Emily Oster of Brown University agree there has been no spike in the disease among these students. You can find a short article she wrote on her findings in the Atlantic Monthly dated October 9. Yet, as I noted in July, those students not returning to school in person face lifelong losses in learning, a point no one has argued with.

So, the verdict is in. Economic and societal shutdowns which have wrecked parts of our country and the world should be reduced to only those circumstances which clearly place people at great risk. This would include continued limitations on mass indoor gatherings, but a lessening of restrictions on outdoor events where people can spread out and on large indoor meetings where people can spread out. Restaurants, which have been opened for over five months now in Alabama, should open everywhere, including for indoor dining, and retail should be reopened everywhere as well. Travel restrictions should be lifted except for countries with exceptionally high rates of the disease in recent weeks, and for those with little transparency. I have been traveling these last few months without any problem and our travel and tourist industries need to come back.

And schools should reopen everywhere for students to return for in-person learning. I am proud to report that as of the beginning of this month, that is true for all schools in southwest Alabama. Again, that has been the case in many schools across Alabama for two months without a serious spike in the disease. In-person education is clearly far superior to virtual learning and those who have the most to lose are poor students as well as children of color. Without in-person education, they will slide even further behind, and their educational deficit is the main driver of inequality in America.

I’m aware that some parts of the U.S. are led by people who simply won’t open up. I believe in federalism and that is their prerogative. But, the rest of us shouldn’t bail them out as the Democrats have demanded in Washington. If they want to stay closed and are suffering as a result, they shouldn’t expect the rest of the country to enable their poor choices.

Shutting down doesn’t work. So, it’s time, it’s past time, to open up, carefully and safely. And now we know that opening up actually does work.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: A ‘Do Nothing Congress’

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Nancy Pelosi/Flickr, YHN)

Congress was sent home by Speaker Pelosi last Friday without securing a deal with the White House or the Senate on the next COVID bill. While we were told we might get a 24-hours’ notice to return, our calendar doesn’t show us coming back to Washington until November 16.

President Truman ran against the Republican majority 80th Congress (1947-49) as the “Do Nothing Congress” because it considered but refused to pass his “Fair Deal” program of liberal government initiatives as a follow on to President Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” In actuality, the 80th Congress was a very active one, passing major legislation including aid to Greece and Turkey as they faced Soviet-backed Communist insurgencies and the Marshall Plan, both significant parts of Truman’s anti-Communist program. They also passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which revised the National Labor Relations Act, and the National Security Act, a dramatic reorganization of U.S. defense and security efforts, including the creation of the Department of Defense, the Air Force, the CIA and the National Security Council.

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The 116th Congress hasn’t come close to matching that level of legislative production. We spent virtually all last year on hearings regarding the Mueller investigation and the Democrats’ failed attempt to have President Trump removed from office. This year we had the sorry spectacle of the speaker ripping up her copy of the president’s State of the Union address and then a hurried flight from Washington in the spring and continuing into the summer.

We have passed four COVID bills which have been important to the national response to the disease and its effects on the economy, but nothing else of such national importance. We wasted a Saturday session in August on a false issue regarding the Postal Service (see how quickly that’s been forgotten) and chased our tails on numerous messaging bills that have no chance in the Senate. For its part, the Senate continues to confirm new conservative judges for the Federal judiciary because it doesn’t need the House to do that.

Pelosi did push yet another of her COVID bills last week which barely passed after 16 of her own members voted against it. The Senate won’t take it up, however, as it contains a host of non-COVID policies like marijuana banking and because it cuts funding to law enforcement (“Defund the Police” the Democrats say) while providing too much money to blue state and local governments which have totally mismanaged their COVID response.

We actually ended the week on a resolution condemning the QAnon conspiracy theory which was hardly an issue worth House attention during a pandemic. And then we left for six weeks.

I wasn’t elected to Congress to waste time, and my first five years were largely productive, even when the House had a Republican majority and Barack Obama was president. But these last two years have been a waste in the House because of Speaker Pelosi’s choice to use our valuable time on pointless failed attacks on President Trump and totally unrealistic messaging bills — that is, when she hasn’t sent us away from Washington for weeks at a time.

I don’t know what to predict when we return in November. It probably depends on who wins the elections. But if past is prologue, we in the House will end this Congress not with a bang but with wearied and loud gridlock, doing little or nothing, a true “Do Nothing Congress.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: A new Supreme Court justice

(Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, CNBC Television/YouTube, YHN)

On the Friday night after Hurricane Sally passed, while many of us down here were still digging out and cleaning up and without electrical power, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. As an attorney, Justice Ginsburg was a leading advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. She was placed on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 and on the Supreme Court as its first Jewish woman by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Though small in physical stature, she became a liberal giant on the Court particularly with her dissenting opinions. In her later years, she became a cultural icon.

Immediately, the liberal mainstream media and Democrat senators demanded that President Trump wait to name a successor, insisting that whoever is elected president this fall should make that decision, obviously hoping that president will be Joe Biden. The irony is that they had nothing but good things to say about President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to take Justice Antonin Scalia’s place in the last year of the Obama-Biden administration and pushed the Republican Senate majority to confirm him prior to the presidential election that year.

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Article II of the Constitution clearly states that the president has the power to nominate “Judges of the Supreme Court” with “the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” There is no question President Trump has the power to nominate Justice Ginsburg’s successor, and there is no question the Senate has to consent to the appointment, a process which typically involves the Judiciary Committee holding hearings and then a vote to advance the appointee to the Senate floor for a final vote. In over half of the nominations to the Supreme Court in the history of our country, the time period between nomination and the final vote on confirmation has been 45 days or less. For Judge Ginsburg, it was 44 days. Until after World War II, some of our most illustrious justices were confirmed in a matter of just days.

This past Saturday, President Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to replace Justice Ginsburg. A former law professor at the University of Notre Dame who specialized in Constitutional law and statutory interpretation and was named “Distinguished Professor of the Year” three times, Judge Barrett has impeccable credentials to serve on the Supreme Court. So, why is the mainstream media and all Democrat senators, including our own Doug Jones, so indignant that President Trump would nominate and the Senate timely consider her for confirmation?

First of all, she’s a Trump appointee, and the left has gone crazy that he’s already appointed two Supreme Court justices and over 200 circuit and district court judges, all young and all with strong conservative bona fides, thus remaking the Federal judiciary and the course of the law for a generation. Judge Barrett would make a previously close 5-4 Supreme Court a stronger conservative 6-3 court. That’s truly a big deal. And the left is particularly offended by the fact Judge Barrett is a woman – a strong, smart, accomplished woman who doesn’t follow the leftist line.

Second, she has a strong faith and isn’t bashful about living that faith. A Roman Catholic, she has traditional personal views on many issues, including abortion. She and her husband have seven children, two adopted from Haiti and another with Down syndrome. During her confirmation hearing for her present position, she was attacked because of her faith. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said to Judge Barrett, “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s a concern.” Since when has faith been belittled to “dogma” and since when has being a Catholic been “a concern?” I thought we left that behind when John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960. The attacks on her faith are of even more concern because Article VI of the Constitution prohibits the use of a religious test for any public office, and the First Amendment protects everyone’s right to freely “exercise” their faith. And Judge Barrett has repeatedly made the distinction between her beliefs and her obligation as a judge to follow the law.

Third, Judge Barrett is an originalist in her approach to interpreting the Constitution and laws passed by Congress. That means she interprets the words according to the way they would have been meant at the time the Constitutional provision or statute was passed. Otherwise, the court is placing its own or modern society’s understanding on the words, in effect judicially amending the law. The Constitution has provisions for amending it, but those don’t include the courts doing so, and only Congress can amend its laws. The left wants to get around the difficulty of the amendment process by allowing judges, typically very liberal judges, to interpret the law as they like, thus expanding government far beyond the intent of those who wrote and ratified the Constitution and its amendments, and far beyond what Congress intended in passing its laws.

President Trump has the clear constitutional power to make this nomination, and history is a clear guide that, even in a presidential election year, a nominee can be confirmed in a matter of weeks, even days. He has nominated an outstanding, well-credentialed circuit judge for the position, and she should get a thorough vetting but not a delayed vote on the floor of the Senate. I’m looking forward to Judge Barrett’s service on the Supreme Court.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Help is on the way after Hurricane Sally

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

The aftermath of Hurricane Sally has left much of Southwest Alabama in bad shape. From the coasts of Mobile and Baldwin Counties to the northern parts of our district, winds and flooding have let many without essentials like power, water and shelter. Fortunately, help is on the way.

As the forecast showed the storm approaching, I began coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the White House, Coast Guard and our state and local elected officials and emergency management agencies. As the storm approached, it was clear there would be major damage. After the storm, by my request, Administrator Pete Gaynor of FEMA flew from Washington to Alabama. On Sunday, we drove all over Baldwin County surveying damage, and the Administrator was able to see with his own eyes the scope of the problem. I appreciated that Administrator Gaynor wanted to see it firsthand and talk directly to those impacted so he could understand the severity of what we are dealing with. In driving all over Baldwin County, we made constant stops to get out, walk through the devastation, and talk with people.

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During the administrator’s visit, President Trump granted Governor Ivey’s request for additional disaster relief, only 36 hours after an application was submitted. This speaks not only to the quality work done by the governor and her team but also to the commitment of FEMA, President Trump, and his entire team to get to work helping those in need, for which I am grateful.

The storm has been greatly underreported by the national media. It does not help that the unfortunate death of Justice Ginsberg occurred late last week. However, if this storm would have hit California or New York and had the same kind of impact, we would be seeing wall to wall coverage. Local first responders performed over 300 water rescues. Yet we only suffered two deaths. Certainly, even one death is a tragedy, and we mourn for the families who lost loved ones. But it is astonishing that a storm that defied forecasts to strengthen at the last minute and bring such flooding and devastation only caused two deaths. This speaks volumes to the work our emergency responders and volunteers did in preparing for the storm and carrying out their mission during and after landfall.

The media may not be paying attention, but President Trump and his administration have remained engaged in getting us what we need to hit the ground running with the rebuilding process. As a result of the disaster declaration, it is important to know what assistance FEMA will be providing to our counties and individuals. The two major areas covered by the FEMA disaster declaration are Individual Assistance and Public Assistance. Public Assistance is made available to counties and municipalities for debris removal, rebuilding public infrastructure, and working to restore utility services. Currently, FEMA can cover 75% of these costs.

Individual assistance is available for things like emergency housing repair and hotel costs. But before you know what assistance you may be eligible to receive, you must register with FEMA. This can be done online at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362. I cannot overstress the importance of documenting everything you do. Take pictures before, during, and after, and keep all receipts. FEMA will help our city and county government with debris removal, but you must haul your debris to the side of the road and follow guidance from your local officials. FEMA is also providing items like tarps and bottled water at stations throughout Southwest Alabama. The disaster declaration also triggers help to those who may have lost their jobs because of the disaster, like unemployment insurance benefits. I encourage you to contact the state unemployment office if you have lost your job due to Hurricane Sally.

In addition to FEMA’s response efforts, the Small Business Administration (SBA) is now accepting loan applications to assist with both physical and economic damages. These low-interest loans are available to businesses who have experienced substantial damage and may not be able to reopen their doors for some time. I encourage those businesses who need additional financial assistance to register with FEMA and apply for the loan that best fits their needs. Loan application details can be found at www.sba.gov.

As always, my office is a phone call away and can provide assistance or direct you to where you can find help. Alabama will get through this disaster as we have others in the past.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: A new Middle East?

(National Archives/Contributed, Wikicommons, White House/Flickr, YHN)

Last week when I wrote about some good news, I mentioned the recent peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates negotiated by the Trump administration. Just days after I wrote those words another Middle Eastern nation, Bahrain, reached a peace agreement with Israel, again negotiated by the Trump administration. What do these and other recent developments say about the Middle East?

First, let’s go back 11 years to the beginning of the Obama administration. President Obama gave a speech in Cairo calling for a “New Beginning” in the Middle East and undertook major efforts to reach out to the Arab world, including Iran, our major adversary in the region. But, the “New Beginning” was ultimately a series of terrible mistakes.

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Over the Obama administration’s tenure, the U.S. relationship with Israel, normally very good, grew sour as Obama pressured the Israelis over settlements in Palestinian claimed areas and issues in Gaza. He angered Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Persian Gulf, which normally lean to the U.S., by naively agreeing to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action allowing Iran to develop nuclear capability limited, for a time, to “peaceful” use only. Obama backed protesters’ demands for the removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a staunch U.S. partner, which facilitated the end of Mubarak’s pro-U.S. government only to be replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist group. When the Egyptian military overthrew the Brotherhood and one of the generals, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, became president, Obama withheld promised military assistance and then insisted they pay cash, which only worsened a strained relationship with a key regional ally.

Obama told Syria that using chemical weapons against its people was a “red line” which would trigger a U.S. military response but then backed off the threat when they did. He prematurely drew down the U.S. military presence in Iraq only to go back in as ISIS arose and took half the country. Afghanistan was at best a stalemate. And, in Libya, he used the U.S. military to attack Muammar Ghaddafi’s regime, which was toppled, and Ghaddafi was killed; Libya plunged into an ongoing brutal civil war that led to the murder of American diplomatic personnel in Benghazi.

I personally witnessed the difficulties Obama’s policies caused when I traveled to the Middle East with other members of the House Armed Services Committee in the summer of 2014. We met with King Abdullah of Jordan, President al-Sisi, and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel. We talked with other Middle Eastern leaders as well and received in country briefings from our diplomatic staff in each country. We were careful not to undermine U.S. policies in these meetings, but it was clear those policies constituted a terrible blunder.

In the summer of 2016, I participated in an intensive policy conference on the Middle East in London and was convinced the next president needed a better set of policies which would restore good relations with our normal allies, defeat ISIS, and push back on Iran. Most of the experts at the conference assumed that president would be Hilary Clinton. They were wrong.

What President Trump has done is reverse Obama’s failed policies in the Middle East. His first trip abroad was to Saudi Arabia to meet with our Gulf allies and repair those broken relationships. He pulled the U.S. out of the ill-advised Iran deal and took out their point man in sponsoring terrorism around the region this past January. He has healed our relationship with Israel and moved our embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. I was in Jerusalem last summer, met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and saw the improvement firsthand. Our renewed good relationships with Muslim allies and Trump’s Israel peace initiative paved the way for the agreements with UAE and Bahrain.

And let’s not forget that ISIS as a country dominating caliphate was defeated on Trump’s watch, allowing us to reduce our troop presence in Iran to just 3,000 this fall. And his initiative with the Taliban in Afghanistan is bringing the prospects for real peace closer than they have been in decades. Our troop presence there will drop this fall by half to just 4,500.

In short, the Trump administration’s reversal of Obama’s policies in the Middle East have resulted in much better relations with our allies and friends there, growing peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the defeat of ISIS, reduced troop numbers, and a much weakened Iran. The Middle East is no longer Arabs versus Israel as it had been for so long, but is now the U.S., our Arab allies, and Israel versus Iran and its terrorist groups. It’s a big move towards peace and away from terrorism and war. The Trump policies made the way for the beginning of a new Middle East.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Democrat gridlock shouldn’t be our fate

(CNN/YouTube, YHN)

“We will never accept political gridlock as our fate.” — 2020 Democratic Party Platform

Last Saturday, the House of Representatives met to pass a bill blocking the reform of our troubled Postal Service, reform which is desperately needed for a failing agency hemorrhaging billions of dollars each year. It was just a political show as the Democrats knew it was going nowhere, although I don’t know who in America wasted their Saturday afternoon to bother watching another display of blathering hypocrisy.

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Mark Meadows, President Trump’s chief of staff and until recently a member of the House, came over to do something positive. He had conversations with various members in an effort to kickstart the talks on the next coronavirus bill which Speaker Nancy Pelosi stalled three weeks ago before sending the House home for what would be six weeks. A group of House Democrats has circulated a letter to Pelosi and other House leaders calling for the talks to resume, so Mark wasn’t coming for show but to make an honest effort to get back to the bargaining table.

The problem is, Pelosi’s not having it. When Mark tried to see her on Saturday, she wouldn’t meet with him, claiming she was busy with others. Now, let’s consider all this: we’re in the middle of a pandemic, people are hurting, the economy still needs help as it recovers, rank and file Democrats want negotiations on a new bill addressing all this to resume, the president’s chief of staff personally goes to the speaker’s office – and she won’t make room in her Saturday schedule to see him? Instead, she presses on with the vote on a silly, unserious bill and ignores the elephant in the room.

I’ve said this before. Pelosi has cynically calculated that not passing a bill hurts President Trump’s chances in November and she’s willing to put the nation through months of unnecessary pain to get the political result, and the political power, she wants. Gridlock is her strategy, and she’s willing to ignore the president’s chief of staff, and her own Democrat members, to follow it. There we were, all together, and could have spent the otherwise wasted day on something of great importance to the American people. But we didn’t, and then she sent us all home for another three weeks.

That’s why when I read the preamble to the Democrats’ 2020 platform, I had to laugh: “We will never accept political gridlock as our fate.” They use gridlock as a political tool repeatedly. We started this Congress with the government shut down. We spent last year passing political messaging bills which went absolutely nowhere in the Senate and then burned the fall in impeachment proceedings which of course failed in the Senate. She literally tore up her hard copy of the president’s State of the Union Address while still on the podium and on national television. She’s caused the House to abandon Washington and our jobs as legislators. And she won’t talk to the president’s key aides.

Gridlock shouldn’t be our fate. As the legislative branch of the government of the most powerful country in the world we can and should be working together for the best interests of the American people. If you want gridlock to stop and for us to get to work, don’t turn power over to the party with the platform which says one thing while its leaders literally do the opposite. It’s called hypocrisy, a poor and bankrupt way to govern.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Democrats’ Postal Service hoax

(Wikicommons, YHN)

Apparently, I and the rest of the House of Representatives are being called back to Washington for a series of votes this Saturday. Has Speaker Pelosi finally reached an agreement with President Trump and Senator McConnell on the next phase of coronavirus legislation? No, her intransigence killed those negotiations and President Trump was left having to take unilateral action in executive orders issued last week. Has she reached an agreement on funding the government for the next fiscal year which starts in six weeks? No, there are no talks happening there either.

The House will meet this Saturday on legislation dealing with the U.S. Postal Service. The “Postal Service?” you may ask, and well you should. We are in the middle of a pandemic, our economy is recovering but still needs help, people are running out of money, and the government will close on October 1 if we don’t have an agreed bill to fund it. So, instead of dealing with these real issues, the Democrats made up a phony one.

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Unlike many things the federal government does, providing a postal service is expressly authorized by the Constitution and we have had one since 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was our first Postmaster General. I remember as a child knowing our postman and the excitement of a box or catalog in the mail. I have known postal employees over my life and appreciate their service to our country. Their mission provides postal services to all Americans no matter where they live, and that’s important.

But the Postal Service has lost $78 billion since 2007, mostly because its volume has been reduced as so many of us use e-mail and private delivery services like UPS, Amazon and FedEx. In response, the Obama Administration removed 14,000 mailboxes and tried to eliminate Saturday service. Unfortunately, it just kept losing money.

President Trump has tried to bring the Postal Service’s business model into line with the reality of modern American postal usage. He recently appointed a businessman with a significant logistics background, Louis DeJoy, to be the new Postmaster General. DeJoy is trying to restructure a massive government agency with over 600,000 employees and contractors and which ran a deficit of nearly $9 billion last year. This year it will lose another $11 billion and the Treasury Department recently loaned it $10 billion to get it through this year and next, so it has the money it needs to operate as it reforms itself.

So, why is there such an urgent need for Postal Service legislation? There isn’t. Indeed, before last week hardly anyone in Congress was paying attention to the Postal Service because of the other huge and unresolved issues before us. I had received no constituent contact about it. The legislation we will take up this Saturday would block any reforms to the Postal Service and provide it with an additional $25 billion. It’s unclear if that’s on top of the loan and/or on top of the $25 billion the Democrats voted to give the Postal Service in legislation passed earlier this year. We do know that the White House has already agreed to an extra $10 billion as part of the coronavirus talks Pelosi stalled.

Pelosi claims Social Security checks may not be delivered, which is ridiculous because beneficiaries get their monthly payments electronically now. Democrats also complain that the Postal Service won’t deliver mail-in ballots on time, which is also ridiculous because it has already told the states what they need to do to assure that won’t happen. They also claim mail sorting machines are being removed from Post Offices, but that turns out not to be true either.

There have been no Congressional hearings on the reforms the bill seeks to block. The bill hasn’t been marked up in committee, either. This matter wasn’t even a topic of Congressional conversations this time last week. Democrats have worked with no Republicans on the bill and have no agreement on it with the Senate or the White House which means it won’t become law, and they know that.

The real reason the Democrats have created this hoax is that they look bad for failing to negotiate in good faith on the coronavirus bill and left Washington for a month. President Trump was getting credit for his executive orders while they did nothing. Nothing. So, in time-honored fashion, they decided to change the subject and their allies in the news media have been happy to play along.

The crisis here is a crisis of leadership at the Postal Service which desperately needs to reform itself, exactly what DeJoy is trying to accomplish. There is also a crisis of leadership in the House, a self-inflicted crisis. I don’t mind going back to Washington to work in a bipartisan fashion to pass another coronavirus bill. But going back this Saturday to work on a bill which will go nowhere and which addresses a hoax the Democrats themselves created is crazy. But crazy is what we have in Washington now. And that’s no hoax.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Celebrating the Nineteenth Amendment

(Wikicommons)

On August 18, the U.S. will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to our Constitution which guaranteed women’s right to vote. The women’s suffrage movement in our country began in the 1840s as women abolitionists saw the parallels between the effort to free enslaved Americans and their own desire to vote. A convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 which produced an organized group led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, among others.

The two movements worked together until women suffragists became angered over the fact the Fifteenth Amendment gave freed slaves the right to vote but didn’t extend that right to women. Over the next 50 years, women suffragists labored to gain the franchise. One bloc worked to pass a constitutional amendment at the national level while another focused on the individual states. The Wyoming Territory was the first to give women the right to vote in 1869, followed by the Utah Territory and Idaho.

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Momentum built in the 1910s when Washington state, California, Oregon, Arizona, Kansas, the Alaska Territory, Montana and Nevada gave women the right to vote. But, states in the East and South were reluctant to do so and the effort to add a constitutional amendment picked up speed. While Republicans were generally supportive, Democrats weren’t. President Woodrow Wilson preferred a state by state approach, but suffragist leaders kept up the heat, even sneaking a banner challenging him into his speech to a joint session of Congress.

When the US entered World War I some wanted the suffragists to back off, but they indignantly fought on with the argument that the fight for freedom and democracy in Europe should be paralleled at home with a constitutional amendment enfranchising the one half of the U.S. population denied the right to vote. By 1918, President Wilson changed his mind. The House passed the amendment, but the Senate couldn’t get the two-thirds required vote even after Wilson took the unprecedented step of addressing them on the Senate floor.

Suffragist pressure finally swayed enough votes to get Senate passage in 1919, and ratification was achieved with Tennessee’s vote on August 18, 1920. It’s hard to imagine that my two grandmothers, both adult women with families of their own, weren’t allowed to vote until that year. The Nineteenth Amendment is too often a forgotten part of our history, but I hope we will use this anniversary to remember how important it continues to be.

When I look around Alabama, I see the fruit of the suffragists’ labor. We have a female governor in Kay Ivey and two female members of Congress, Martha Roby and Terry Sewell. Women serve as federal judges, state appellate and court judges, district attorneys, and in the legislature. I work with women county commissioners, mayors and city council members across the First District. They, each of them, make great contributions to our quality of life and the administration of justice.

My little granddaughter, Ann-Roberts, is a very smart and active girl. I have no idea what she will do when she grows up, but she’ll be darn good at whatever that is. Imagine telling her she can’t vote or hold public office. I can’t. And, I’m glad my grandmothers finally got to vote. It took far too long to give it to them. Let’s remember this important anniversary and the value to all of us of our previous right to vote.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: A way forward on coronavirus relief

(Wikicommons, YHN)

Last week was pretty frustrating in Washington. While the House frittered away at useless Democrat messaging bills which have no chance of passage in the Senate, Speaker Pelosi refused negotiations with the Senate on a $1 trillion dollar bill to address the nation’s ongoing needs as a result of COVID-19. At the end of the week, she and Senator Schumer refused offers from the White House to extend for four months the extra $600 a week those on unemployment insurance received as a result of the CARES Act we passed in March.

What’s all this about? We are in the middle of a historic pandemic and there are critical national needs to be addressed and last week in the House we just wasted time while the Democrat leadership played games. What is their game? By now, it’s all too obvious. They believe they have an opportunity to run the table in the November elections, take both houses of Congress and the presidency. Then, with an obviously weakened and limited Joe Biden as president, Pelosi and Schumer hold all the power, and in January they wield that power for their benefit and the benefit of the powerful special interests that fund them.

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If this sounds raw and cynical that’s because it is. They don’t mind putting the entire country through unnecessary pain for months if that means it enhances their power, because that’s all this is about – their power. They can confidently rely on the support of a national news media that is institutionally and culturally leftist to amplify their message to the detriment of the average person in this country. Just last week I e-mailed one of these news reporters to point out things she left out of a story she wrote. Did I get a reply? No, of course I didn’t get a reply, because the information I provided didn’t help her pre-ordained message. Such is the state of modern so-called “journalism.”

So, what is the way forward? First, let’s continue in our legislative work to focus on the disease. More money for testing and rapid turnaround of results. More money for those healthcare providers on the frontline. More money for domestically produced PPE and for effective therapies. And continued support for vaccine development and ultimate distribution. Second, protection for those laid off through no fault of their own and up to 70% of their state’s average pay. Third, more help for struggling small businesses to keep their workers employed and just stay alive, which means extending the Paycheck Protection Program and expanding allowed uses of those funds. Fourth, more help for schools to open. Fifth, liability protection for all – there is simply no excuse for allowing a small group of lawyers to profit off this crisis.

I know I’m hearing from many of you about these priorities, and I’m sure Democrat members are hearing from their constituents as well. But Pelosi’s hold on many of them is very strong, and she is feeling heat from the far-left interest groups that now dictate the policy positions of the Democrat Party. Based on the polls I’ve seen, the average Democrat is not as far left as this regressive group of neo-Marxists, but they have the money that Pelosi needs to win elections and she’s all about that.

Meanwhile, like robots, we are called to the House floor in groups to vote on bills on which we’ve had no input, and then hurried out of the room by the floor staff. This isn’t a republic anymore, and certainly not what the framers had in mind. It’s all controlled by one person and her special interest cronies, smug in their assurance the national media will paint only the most positive picture of the charade.

But, in the end, the people still hold the real power in this country. My hope is this November they won’t continue in supporting the Pelosi regime, or elect a toady for her as president. The way forward is a House of Representatives whose members think for themselves and are allowed to be the real crafters of legislation. Then, we can solve our national problems the way the framers of our Constitution intended and do the people’s business the way they want us to.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Education in the time of the pandemic

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Last week, I had a virtual conference with the leaders of the local school systems in our district. Starting a new school year is a difficult task in the best of times. Doing so in the middle of a pandemic with the disease spreading as it is now makes this normally difficult job truly daunting.

I greatly appreciate what these leaders and their staff are going through. Over $500 million of the CARES Act money Congress sent to Alabama will be used to help schools deal with COVID-19, and the purpose of our call was to bring them up to speed on that federal money coming their way and to offer them the support of my office.

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The first and most important decision our local school systems have to make is whether to allow students to return this year in person. Most of our local systems in southwest Alabama have decided to do that starting in August but with an option for parents to decide if they prefer for their children to only participate virtually. The Mobile County system has elected to delay start of the school year until September 1 and provide instruction during the first quarter, which lasts nine weeks, in remote fashion only. Then they will reassess.

Actually, all of these systems will have to constantly monitor the situation and potentially reassess based on how things are going. It’s important to know that flu season begins in October and peaks between December and February, which is relevant because public health experts warn that COVID-19 spread could worsen during this same time. We will just have to wait and see because like so much else with regard to this disease, the experts really don’t know.

Why is there such a push to reopen schools? We had a hearing on the Education Committee last month, and testimony indicated that virtual or distance learning may work for some students but for many it doesn’t. That may be because they don’t have access to the internet or because they just need in-person help from a teacher physically present in the classroom. For the many students for whom distance learning doesn’t work, virtual classes are the same as no classes.

In April, the Collaborative for Student Growth, a non-partisan education research organization, released a study on the potential impact of school closures on student academic achievement. It projected that the early closure last spring resulted in a 30% loss in reading gains for the academic year, and a 50% loss in mathematics. And that was for missing only part of a semester. That same month the Brookings Institute, a left-leaning research organization, released preliminary findings on the cost to students’ future earnings caused by the spring closures. It came to a loss of over $1300 in future income per year, per student, and a 12% hit to national GDP.

On the health side, in May the U.S. Center for Disease Control issued a resource for school leaders called “Considerations for Schools” which lays out how schools can open with safe environments and operations. Last week it issued new guidelines for schools and a statement on “The Importance of Reopening American Schools This Fall,” concluding that the health risk of COVID-19 to children is small when compared to the considerable benefits of in person education.

And, just a few weeks ago, the American Academy of Pediatricians, which is “Dedicated to the Health of All Children,” issued a “Guidance for School Re-Entry” in which it emphasized that “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” It noted that “children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease” from COVID-19. It also provided detailed guidance for schools.

There is another important consideration here. The AAP found that “schools play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity.” At a time when the US is having a major national discussion on inequality, we need to consider the potential long term, serious, and disproportionately negative effect not opening schools will have on poor children and children of color. They are more likely not to have internet at home or a caregiver there during the school day as their parents are more likely to have to work. Not being in school for an extended period is a big issue for any child, but for these children it will likely mean a permanent, lifelong setback.

Finally, we all should include in our considerations the health and safety of our educators. Putting them physically in a classroom exposes them to risks, and some of them have justifiably expressed their concerns. The CDC guidance on healthy school environments and operations will help protect students and teachers. But there will also be extra stress on our educators as they cope with the challenges posed by the disease, and the AAP’s Guidance directly addresses the need to help them with that stress. As with health care providers during this pandemic, educators operating in person are front line heroes and deserve our support.

As we work our way through the experience with this disease, let’s not forget that there will be a vaccine that effectively provides immunity, and an effective treatment so that those who have it won’t face hospitalization or death. As a result, we will return to a new normal in which we won’t be so distanced from one another and schools will operate closer to the old normal. Let’s make decisions for today with an eye to this future new normal. And let’s take care of our children in their health AND their education.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: A fiscal reckoning

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

When the House returns to business next Monday, we will take up the National Defense Authorization Act I wrote about last week. Then, we will take up appropriations bills for next fiscal year, which begins October 1, and likely another coronavirus bill.

This spring I voted for both of the CARES Acts, which together spent $3 trillion. That was on top of this year’s projected total federal spending of $4.8 trillion, which was already going to add $1 trillion to our national debt. With the CARES Act spending, however, the total deficit for this fiscal year will be $3.7 trillion. The deficit for the month of June alone was $864 billion.

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Following the work of the Democrat-controlled House Appropriations Committee last week, I became very concerned about the bills they will pass out of their committee this week and that the House will vote on later this month. They are exceeding the spending cap deal reached by their leadership, Senate leadership and President Trump last year. Just as bad, they are loading up their spending bills with controversial policy riders they know Republicans won’t vote for. Unless they make a big change, I’m going to vote against the House version of appropriations for next year. I hope the Senate brings some sanity to the process.

I also have big concerns over another coronavirus bill. We’ve spent so much money already, money we don’t have and are borrowing. And I don’t agree with the Modern Monetary Theory which says deficits don’t matter. I won’t bore you with the very solid arguments against it by eminent economists because common sense is all you need to understand individuals and nations can’t borrow unlimited amounts of money over the long term. That’s even true for the richest nation the world has ever known.

Investors buy U.S. government debt in the form of treasury bills (which are government securities due to be paid in a year), treasury notes and bonds (which mature over a longer time frame), and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (bonds indexed to inflation). They don’t do that out of patriotism or the good of their hearts. This isn’t World Wars I or II where bonds are purchased in a great national effort. No, the investors who buy our debt do it for their own self-interested reasons, and they expect to be paid back in full and on time. If they believe that they may not get paid back because the U.S. won’t be able to make the ever-growing payments, they will stop buying our debt.

And that’s when reality kicks in. It recently happened to Greece and Italy, both of which experienced severe economic turmoil and downturns. It could happen here too because even the U.S. is not immune from the laws of economics. It would be catastrophic for us, but it would be catastrophic for the world as well. If the U.S. falls economically, who gains the most? The answer is China, which already has concrete plans to replace us as the most powerful country in the world. We owe them $1 trillion and counting.

So, we need to start thinking longer term which hasn’t been a U.S. strong point for some time. Yes, we must deal with COVID-19 both as a health crisis and a danger to our economy. But, it’s time to be more focused and avoid the panicky temptation to just shovel out money. The money we have already approved hasn’t even been all spent.

What should be our priorities in the next coronavirus bill? First, it’s the cost of developing and making readily available a vaccine, just as the U.S. did with the polio vaccine during my childhood. Second, it’s the care for those who contract COVID-19, which includes effective therapeutics, and protecting the caregivers themselves. Third, it’s making sure we have the tests and PPE we need. These three all deal directly with the disease because our society and economy cannot return to “normal” until we address the disease more effectively. All of us have an individual duty in this regard, to avoid large gatherings and those most at risk of the disease, to social distance and wear face masks inside buildings.

But, when we turn to the economy, I have great concerns. I know the PPP loans/grants worked to save millions of U.S. jobs and bring many of those laid off back to work. So, maybe we start there. But, as I drive around, I see many “help wanted” and “now hiring” signs, and I hear from many business owners that they can’t get employees back to work. So, we must ask the question, do we need to keep paying the extra $600 a week to those drawing unemployment? Have we created a disincentive to work? Everyone has their hand out: colleges, schools, hospitals, this industry and that industry, the states and local governments. Where will all this money come from?

So, as we approach these two big spending projects, I am very skeptical. I’m not saying I won’t vote for either, but it looks like the FY 21 appropriations bills will just be too much for me to support. On a new coronavirus bill, I’m taking a wait and see position. My mind is open but not empty. It’s time we start reckoning with our fiscal deficits – before we’re painfully forced to by our creditors.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Our common defense

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, YHN)

Last week, the House Armed Services Committee, which I’m proud to be a member of, passed and sent to the full House the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. This is the 60th year in a row that we have passed this act out of Committee, and since we passed it unanimously, we are optimistic it will pass the full House later this month. This year’s version is named after a longtime member of the Committee and former Chairman, Mac Thornberry of Texas. Mac led the charge to increase defense funding when President Trump took over. He is also a personal friend of mine and a true friend to the people of Southwest Alabama.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution empowers Congress to “provide for the common defense … of the United States,” “declare war,” “raise and support armies,” and “provide and maintain a Navy.” It’s our most important power, and the hard work of exercising that power is carried out by our Committee. We pass only one bill each year, but in my judgment, it, along with the bills appropriating money for operating the government, comprise the biggest legislative job of Congress each year.

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The NDAA authorizes the defense of the country and the operations of the Department of Defense and the respective service branches. It’s one of the few bills that enjoys broad bipartisan support year after year because our Committee’s members are committed to bipartisan support for the men and women who wear the uniform and defend the nation. We hold numerous hearings, classified and unclassified, before the bill is written. Our subcommittees do the same for their respective parts of the bill. And we really legislate, that is we work through differences and address the nitty gritty details with the seriousness they deserve. The bill is hundreds of pages long and takes an enormous amount of work.

This is my seventh and last year to participate in the process and I am proud of the work the Committee has done even though there are some parts I personally would have done differently. For example, I don’t agree with the topline spending we authorized because I think we have shortchanged some important defense endeavors like shipbuilding. But, I understand that the number was negotiated last year by President Trump and Congressional leadership as part of a two-year spending plan. Our Committee had no choice but to honor that agreement, but I know it’s too low.

We also had a protracted debate on military bases named after former Confederate generals. We Republicans backed an amendment to require the service secretaries responsible for those bases to review the use of those names going forward but did not want to dictate to them what their decision should be. The Democrats on the Committee wanted to require them to change the names but didn’t dictate what the new names would be. I couldn’t support the Democrats on this point because I don’t like usurping the service secretaries’ authority on operational details and I also wanted stronger input from the local communities where the bases are located. As they form the majority on the Committee, the Democrats’ version prevailed.

We also had a long discussion regarding the Insurrection Act. Passed in 1807, and amended twice, in 1861 and 1871, the Insurrection Act empowers a president to use active and national guard personnel under very exceptional circumstances, such as an armed uprising. It was last used in 1992 to quell riots in Los Angeles. President Trump talked about using the Insurrection Act when the protests around the country turned violent in late May and June, and that set off the national news media and the Democrats who wanted to limit his authority to do so. As it turned out, President Trump did not invoke the law at all, but that didn’t stop the Democrats from offering an amendment that would have substantially limited a president’s authority. I took the lead for the Republicans on the Committee as we didn’t want to limit that authority any more than it is already limited by the Posse Comitatus Act. Fortunately, we won the debate, and the amendment to limit a president’s authority was defeated.

Most importantly for our area, the Committee added an Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) ship at my request and with the blessing of the Navy. The EPF is an aluminum-hulled catamaran capable of transporting 600 short tons of cargo 1200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots in Sea State 3. It has a roll on/roll off capability for things like the Abrams Main Battle Tank, and a helicopter flight deck. Its shallow draft dramatically expands the ports and waterways it can operate in. It’s made at Austal USA in Mobile, and I’m very proud of the work the great shipbuilders there do. I predict you will be hearing more about varied uses for the EPF in the future.

The American people deserve the peace of mind a strong national defense brings. The men and women who wear our uniform and provide that defense deserve the Congressional authority to carry out their important jobs. I have not hesitated to be critical of Congress when we have all too often failed to do our job in the past year and a half. But, this time we did our job and passed a bill out of Committee which, while not perfect, fulfills Congress’s responsibility to provide for the common defense of our country.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Our sacred honor

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, YHN)

This weekend, America will celebrate its 244th birthday. Unfortunately, we do so in a time of a pandemic, a struggling economy and violent protests. But, it’s still our birthday and we should both commemorate and celebrate it.

We usually do a good job in our celebration, although this year will be different since social distancing means we’ll be in smaller groups and public fireworks displays have been canceled. I suspect most of us will find a way to gather with family and close friends to cook out and show the red, white and blue.

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But, a commemoration is more than that. Merriam-Webster defines “commemorate” as “to call to remembrance” or “to serve as a memorial of.” How many of us will stop and remember what it meant for the Second Continental Congress to not only declare our independence from Britain but also to state our reasons for doing so in majestic language positing the highest ideals?

Let me make a suggestion. This Fourth, get a copy of the Declaration and read it. My extended family and friends usually get together and have several of us read the various portions of the Declaration out loud and talk about its meaning. It doesn’t take much time and we always experience a renewed appreciation for the gift that is our country. This year we will do it virtually, in smaller groups.

The Declaration was meant to be read out loud. Indeed, on July 4, Congress not only voted to accept it but also provided for its distribution to the states and the Continental Army. On July 6, John Hancock, as president of Congress, sent letters to the states and to General Washington enclosing broadsides of the Declaration requesting that they have it “proclaimed.” It was read out loud to celebrations in dozens of cities and towns in July and August, and to the Continental Army on July 9 as it prepared for the British Invasion of New York.

To some extent, these events were meant to inform and inspire the people of a newly independent nation. But then, and now, the Declaration is a defining document. It not only said we were an independent nation but also who we aspired to be. Freedom and equality were to be at the heart of the nation’s character. And the rights stated in the Declaration — life liberty and the pursuit of happiness — are clearly labeled gifts from God himself to all of us.

The story of our country is really the unfolding of the efforts to live up to these aspirations. President Lincoln used it as a primary basis for arguing against slavery, as in the Gettysburg Address where he famously said, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” As a result of the Civil War, these ideals were enshrined in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

Martin Luther King used it in his 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech, referring to the Declaration and the Constitution as a promissory note to all Americans which he and others in the Civil Rights Movement called upon the nation to honor. As a result of the Movement, Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and in 1965 the Voting Rights Act.

I know it is fashionable now among our nation’s elites to view America as evil from our birth, evil in our institutions and evil in our character. That view is a myth, untethered to the reality of our history. This myth is just a false preamble to lay the groundwork for their efforts to radically reorganize our society and have government run every detail of our lives, all the while piling tax upon tax on us. Isn’t this type of government what caused the founders to declare independence in the first place? These elites call themselves “progressive,” but their plan is actually a regression to a tyrannical central government taxing us against our will.

Despite our faults, some of which have been grievous, we are a nation established upon the highest ideals and which has the strength of its character and institutions to self-correct as we strive toward those ideals. Our history repeatedly demonstrates that is who we are.

David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian, several years ago told a gathering of those of us in Congress that Americans would be more hopeful if we only knew our history. How true. Complicated and contradictory, yes, but it is also a history of spectacular success and of a major force for good, here and abroad.

So this week, let’s celebrate and commemorate who we are. Let’s pause in the middle of our present troubles to renew our pride as Americans and draw lessons from our founding and history for the resolution of the issues of the day. And let us, like our founders, “mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: America needs building up, not tearing down

(Wikicommons, Pixabay, YHN)

Our brilliant founders built our democracy upon two different but complimentary pillars.

The first and more obvious pillar is our constitutional system itself, what the writers of the Federalist Papers called the “new science of politics.” Our representative democracy would not be possible without our revolutionary constitution and the laws that uphold it, separation and enumeration of powers, and effective checks and balances.

The second pillar is more difficult to define but just as essential – nationally shared values and a common morality. Our founders believed the natural expression of these shared values would be a patriotism and respect for our fellow citizens. In a functioning democracy where the government is a reflection of the people whose popular will directs it, civic virtue is a necessity. Alexis de Tocqueville, the French observer of early America, saw the source of our strength when writing “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” Without the second pillar, our democracy would be broken.

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Let’s go back to the first principles that united the people of our young Republic and guided our founders as they began the great American experiment.

In the very first chapter of Genesis, we are told that God made humans in His own image. We are all His children and that makes all of us of equal and inestimable worth. St. Peter in Acts 10, and St. Paul in Galatians 3 and Romans 2, make perfectly clear that we are not to show “partiality,” to ascribe more moral worth to one ethnic or class group over another. And the second of the Great Commandments is that we should love one another as we love ourselves.

The Declaration of Independence echoed these great Biblical principles when it said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But, the truth of America is that we excluded black people from these principles at the very moment we appealed to the world to recognize our existence as a new and independent nation based on noble ideals. We didn’t live up to those ideals.

The drafters of the Constitution didn’t fix this failure. It took a civil war 75 years later, and the loss of 600,000 lives, to end slavery. And the end of slavery did not bring equality and justice to black Americans, who endured segregation and violence for decades until the civil rights movement brought an end to legal segregation as well as passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. While we have made much progress since the 1960s, clearly we have more work to do.

Each of the pillars of democracy needs reinforcement, and our response to our current challenge will determine our nation’s course for decades. New laws are needed to strengthen the first pillar by taking steps to restore faith between the overwhelming majority of good and decent law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. Fortunately, there are areas of common ground between Republicans and Democrats. But we cannot forget the second pillar. As a civic-minded people, we have a duty to soberly reexamine and evaluate our values. By doing so, we can restore important foundational values while recognizing where they fell short and course correcting.

The only way to make America better is by building our nation up, not tearing it down. Perhaps we should remember these words of Tocqueville: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Keeping our heads

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne, Benjamin L. Crump, Esq./Facebook, YHN)

These last few weeks have riveted the country’s attention on police brutality. The murder of George Floyd was an atrocity, and unfortunately it’s not the first one. As we have so often in our history, it’s time for America to respond with appropriate and reasonable reform. It’s not time to lose our heads, however.

The “defund the police” movement is not the answer. My colleagues Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke out against it last week. Ms. Norton said that the poorest of the people she represents live in the parts of town that experience the most homicides and crime. “I’m not sure I would hear them saying we ought to reduce the number of police, I may hear them saying just the opposite,” she said.

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Neither does it make sense to paint all of law enforcement with a broad and negative brush. We all need law enforcement and we are blessed that the vast majority of our officers are good professionals, often doing their jobs under dangerous circumstances. Last year, 89 officers died in the line of duty in the U.S. Many more were injured. Most of us don’t work in a job where it is unclear whether we will return home at the end of the day safe and sound. But they do.

It is undeniable, however, that there are rogue officers treating black people unprofessionally, injuring and, yes, even killing them. That’s not acceptable. We need to make reforms to our law enforcement system, and some of those reforms will indeed cost more, not less, money.

This issue is primarily a local one as that is where most law enforcement officers work. Better and stricter standards, better training on those standards, and better discipline of officers who act outside those standards, all must occur locally.

There are some things we can do at the federal level, however, and there are a number of recent proposals. I believe there is a significant level of concern across both parties and enough consensus around some of the proposals that we should be able to pass a bill which is broadly bipartisan. The fact that the Democrats filed their bill with no effort to consult and work with Republicans, indeed against direct appeals to include us, is very disappointing, but we can’t let that stop us from finding common ground, without which there will be no change in the law.

We are presently scheduled to vote on a police reform bill next week, and while the Democrats have filed this purely partisan bill, I hope there will be a real opportunity for dialogue.

I support a federal ban on lynching, and we should condition federal grants to local law enforcement on adherence to higher standards, particularly on the use of force. More federal money should go for training to these higher standards. We need to collect and report more and timely information on the use of force and more Federal money should go to pay for body cameras. We should ban racial profiling but do it in such a manner that the ban wouldn’t preclude the appropriate use of information about specific suspects or specific crimes.

I’m open to discussing some reform to the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity” which shields law enforcement officers from legal action when they are acting in the line of duty. The doctrine needs more clarity which a well-drawn statute could bring. But I oppose outright repeal because that would leave officers who have acted appropriately the subjects of endless lawsuits which would likely result in these officers pulling back from doing their jobs.

For this same reason I am concerned about lowering the standard for criminal actions against law enforcement under the Civil Rights statutes. Presently, prosecutions against law enforcement officers require proof that the officer acted “willfully,” but some of the new proposals would lower that to proof of “reckless disregard.” Go look at the legal definition of the latter and it will leave you scratching your head as to what the courts mean. You don’t want a law enforcement officer in the middle of a violent situation, where he is present to protect innocent lives, to be scratching his head. If we are going to change that standard at all it needs to be very clear and precise.

Go back to what Ms. Norton said. Who is going to be harmed the most if law enforcement pulls back, if they retreat from their duty? It’s the poor, who are all too often the victims of crime and are also likely to be from a racial minority.

Let’s say it plainly. Black people are of equal moral value as white people. It’s Biblical, it’s American. And to treat people differently based on their race is morally and legally repugnant. To injure or kill them for the same reason goes against everything we stand for.

We are Americans, black, white, Asian and Hispanic. We are liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and everything in between. All of us are the beneficiaries of the American system of justice, however imperfect it may seem, because it’s the ultimate expression of civilization. Due process, the equal application of the law, limits on the power of the state (that includes law enforcement), and the basic principles and of our common humanity underly this system.

We stand with one another. With black people wronged by rogue law enforcement officers. With the vast majority of law enforcement who throw themselves at danger to protect us and conduct themselves with professionalism and with little pay.

And we should do all this using, not losing, our heads.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: Good economic news

(U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

First, it was the public health experts whose projections were wrong about COVID-19. They predicted far more spread of the disease, and death from it, than we have actually experienced.  They also predicted that those states which opened up before others would have a widespread breakout and a spike of hospitalization, and that hasn’t happened either.

Then, on Friday, the unemployment numbers for May were released by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists predicted that the report would show another 7 million people lost their jobs in May and that the unemployment rate approached 20%. But the actual numbers were that the U.S. saw the creation of 2.5 million new jobs and the unemployment rate, while still high, actually fell. The workforce participation rate also increased significantly.

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Who benefited from the jobs gains? Lower paid workers in general saw the largest uptick, which is a good thing since they were the main victims of the shutdown. By industry, leisure and hospitality, construction, health care, and retail trade led the way. While 21 million Americans are unemployed, an unacceptably high number, we have turned the corner in a big way.

What caused this turnaround? It appears that there are two reasons for these numbers far exceeding the pessimistic projections of the experts.

First, as states started to relax extreme social distancing orders, businesses that had been closed altogether reopened and rehired laid-off workers.  We have all seen the uptick. And states have been reopening gradually, with some not even starting until June, so there is reason to be optimistic about continuing improvement during the course of this summer.

Second, many small businesses didn’t receive their Paycheck Protection Program loan/grants until late April and only started to bring their workers back in May. As we hoped, the PPP provided these businesses with the cash flow “bridge” they needed as we waited for the nation to reopen.  There is reason to believe that a significant number of these small businesses will be hiring more this summer.

The fact that extreme social distancing is easing is a good thing. We will debate later whether we went into the shutdown too hastily and too hard, but it’s clear that the reopening is working to bring our economy back quicker than the economists thought, and without the significant uptick in cases and hospitalization the public health experts feared.

That does not mean we are out of the woods with COVID-19. New cases and deaths continue, and while we are now allowed to do more than previously, we all must be careful as we go about our lives.  If you are in one of the at-risk categories, or if you are sick, you should still stay home. All of us need to continue good hygiene and wear face masks while inside stores, offices, and other indoor areas not our homes. And we should distance ourselves from other people as we move around whether inside or outside.

The data released last week on the incidence of this disease in nursing homes does concern me. There is no more vulnerable group than nursing home residents, and unfortunately we have seen more than our share of nursing home cases and deaths here in southwest Alabama, particularly in Mobile. We will have to do more to protect them, and that includes, unfortunately, staying away from our loved ones who are in those homes.

The violence which accompanied many of the protests around the country also concerns me.  That violence did impact some businesses which experienced property damage and looting. Some business owners and workers were injured as well. That violence would have been bad in normal times but coming at the same time many of these businesses were just starting to reopen made it particularly egregious. People have a First Amendment right to assemble and speak their minds, but they don’t have a right to commit violence or arson, or to loot.

And now some of the protesters want to do away with law enforcement altogether, which would endanger all of us and further impede economic recovery. These radical proposals cloud the debate over potential reforms in law enforcement.

The national news media does not want to talk about the good economic news or the improving numbers from the pandemic.  Just see how quickly they pivoted from incessant news on the disease, and how they nearly ignored the May jobs data release, to breathlessly report every protest in the country. As we approach the election in November, they will play down positive news and emphasize bad news in their effort to defeat President Trump.

The recent improvements in our economy and in our experience with the disease are heartening and there is every reason to believe things will continue to improve. As the good news shows, Americans are far more resilient than the experts thought. Let’s all of us do our part to continue these positive trends and treat with great skepticism the negative predictions of the experts and the doom and gloom from the media. Yes, we have work to do to improve our country, but things are getting better as we Americans move forward with renewed hope and optimism.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Byrne: A more perfect union

(Wikicommons, YHN)

I was a young teenager in the late 1960s, but I remember the riots and violence that occurred around the country, and especially in the large cities. I was concerned that we were headed down that road again with racial violence around the country in the summer of 2016, President Obama’s last year in office. Over the previous several years we had become an extremely divided country, a clear failure of our national leaders. That seemed ironic inasmuch as President Obama’s election eight years earlier was supposed to have ushered in a new golden era of unity and prosperity.

This past week, as the nation continued to reopen from the extreme social distancing suddenly thrown on us in the early spring, an ugly incident in Minneapolis involving a white law enforcement officer arresting a black man ended with yet another death, and now a criminal case against the officer. The response has been arson, looting, and violence in many cities around the nation. Unfortunately, we had similar incidents in Birmingham and, to a lesser extent, Mobile.

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Despair is a strong human emotion and triggers extreme behavior, which all too often results in the destruction of private property owned by people who had nothing to do with the event at issue, and in personal injury or even death to innocent parties. We saw all that last week as well as reports that some groups helped instigate the violence.

The violence detracted from the message the vast majority of the protesters tried to deliver peacefully. They have rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution to peacefully assemble, speak out publicly, and petition their government. No one has a right to commit arson, loot, or engage in violence, and those that did hurt the efforts of those who were peaceful.

Our country has had a tough year. We began with a failed impeachment trial in the Senate and flawed Democrat presidential caucuses, but also with some of the best economic numbers in over 50 years. Indeed, they were the best ever for black Americans who were enjoying record low unemployment and rising wages. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and our leaders, on advice from public health officials, ordered extreme social distancing, which shut down significant parts of our economy. That cost 40 million Americans their jobs, including 500,000 in Alabama and over 70,000 in my congressional district. The negative effect on our economy has been record breaking and so very sudden. The jobs and incomes of black people have been particularly hard hit. Of course that affected people emotionally.

Many people are fearful of COVID and some of us should be, particularly if we are elderly or have a CDC-listed underlying health condition. Black people in Alabama have suffered disproportionately to their share of the population. While only 27% of the Alabama population is black, 44% of all Alabama COVID deaths have been among black people. We should all understand the fear that causes.

Yes, we need to continue to work with law enforcement so that they can continue doing the dangerous job of protecting us in a way that’s safer for everyone. The vast majority of law enforcement play by the rules and respect people, and I want to compliment Chief Battiste and the Mobile Police Department for their professionalism during the Mobile protests. But there is no room for anyone in law enforcement to overstep appropriate processes and procedures. One atrocity is one too many.

This past weekend, the national news media was almost totally focused on this violence around the country. Lost in all their coverage was the thrilling launch of a pair of astronauts on a U.S. rocket for the first time in nine years, which successfully took them to the International Space Station. I will never forget Apollo 8’s 1968 Christmas Eve telecast, the first from lunar orbit, when the astronauts read from Genesis, and Apollo 11’s July 1969 landing on the moon’s surface. Widely broadcast by the media and watched by record numbers, the space program was a source of great pride and unity at a time when we really needed it.

Back then, the national media actually believed that their mission included telling us the good things about our country, while reporting on the not so good things, like inequality and riots. In our present time, the national media acts as if its main role is to fan discontent and disunity.

Racial issues and violence weren’t the only negative stories from the late 1960s. The world faced a severe pandemic from H3N2 flu, which killed 100,000 Americans in 1968 and 1969. We were a smaller country then, so that would be like losing 140,000 Americans now. We didn’t shut our country down and the news media didn’t obsess over it. We dealt with it even as we struggled with inequality and put humans on the moon.

We’re capable of so much more in this country but only if we remember that one of the stated purposes of our Constitution is “to create a more perfect union.” That’s not a one and done thing, it’s a generation after generation thing. This generation must do its part by unifying to solve our problems while celebrating our many achievements.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.