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: 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.

Byrne: Tough times show what makes our country great

(B. Byrne/Facebook)

This year, during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Memorial Day provided an even more unique opportunity to reflect upon what makes our nation great and the shared values we hold as a people. Though our celebrations may have been scaled down, the greatness of our country is, in many ways, more apparent in challenging times like these.

The struggles we are going through together as a nation are real and impactful. The coronavirus overwhelmingly targets seniors and those with preexisting conditions. As a result, nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been hit hard. More than 36,000 residents and staff have died after coming down with COVID-19, more than a third of all deaths in our country that have been attributed to the virus. Sadly, many of our cherished veterans have been among those lost to the virus. Of all the tributes to those we have lost, the stories of our veterans are especially moving.

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But there are bright spots in coronavirus medical research. Testing quality and access has improved significantly. And as we learn more about the virus, we are better able to prevent and treat Covid-19. The hospitalization rate for those diagnosed with the virus is 3.4%, and the CDC estimates that 35% of all infected people are asymptomatic. Taking this into account, the infection fatality rate is likely around 0.2% or 0.3%. While that is still two to three times higher than the flu, the coronavirus is nothing like the killer some predicted early on.

Without question, the economy has taken a hit. Unemployment levels are higher than any time since the Great Depression. Our small businesses shed more than 11 million jobs in April. That’s more than half of the 20 million private sector jobs lost last month.

However, congressional action to cushion the blow has helped. More than 4.4 million small businesses have been approved for a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, and over $511 billion has been processed in aid. In Alabama, at least 60,457 loans have been made for a whopping $6,136,772,466. The bulk of this aid to small businesses must go towards employee paychecks, ensuring that more Americans are able to keep their jobs. In addition to the Paycheck Protection Program, nearly 431,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loans have been processed to assist small businesses during this crisis. Alabama businesses have received 4,728 EIDL loans for $376,897,450.

There is no question that small businesses will face new challenges going forward. Evolving ways we interact with one another and patronize businesses, including new occupancy limitations, will make staying in business more difficult. That’s why it is so important for our economy to continue opening sooner rather than later. You and I can do our part by visiting businesses and restaurants in our community. Importantly, the foundation of our economy was strong before coronavirus spread prevention measures were enacted nationwide. So, the country can and will rebound from this. Prosperity will return.

One only needs to look at what is happening on the other side of the globe to be thankful for our nation. The brutal Chinese Communist Party, whose mismanagement and dishonesty during the initial outbreak of the virus cost countless lives across the globe, is using the pandemic as an excuse to ramp up authoritarian measures. The people of Hong Kong are suffering a loss of freedom that dwarfs the sacrifices we have made to stop the spread.

The American people have responded to crisis after crisis with resilience and togetherness, and we will do so again. We may not have participated in all of our Memorial Day traditions, but we can still honor the fallen by treasuring the country and values they sacrificed to preserve. That’s what makes our country great.

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

Byrne: The absent Congress

Bradley-Byrne-House

Last Friday, the House of Representatives took a truly unprecedented step. The Democrat majority voted to change our rules and allow members to vote online in committee action on bills, and to vote by proxy on passage of bills and resolutions. That’s right, members of Congress can now vote from the comfort of our homes and not set a foot in Washington. We no longer have to show up for work, like millions of Americans do every day, even during this pandemic.

Article One, Section 5 of the Constitution clearly requires a majority of members to be present for the House to do business. Indeed, if a majority is not in attendance, those present have the power to compel absent members to attend. The framers could have provided for proxy voting but did not. The young nation was brought into being by two Continental Congresses and was governed by one under the old Articles of Confederation. So, our forebears knew the importance of representatives of the people to come together in one place to do the nation’s business, to work together and debate together in passing laws.

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James Madison was perhaps the most informed and influential member of the Constitutional Convention. He kept records of the daily debates. Along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, he wrote the Federalist Papers. Yet he, like other members of the very first Congress under the new Constitution, met for days in March of 1789 without being able to conduct business because they didn’t have a quorum present for nearly a month. He and his colleagues knew a majority had to be there.

This wasn’t just any Congress either. Once it achieved a quorum, it established the departments of Treasury, State and War, as well as the Attorney General and Federal court system, and passed and sent to the states for ratification the Bill of Rights. Yet no one in March of 1789 thought they could act without a quorum physically present.

For 231 years the Congress has met, in person and in one place, and done its business together. Through the War of 1812, even when the British sacked Washington, and the Civil War with the Confederate Army sometimes just miles away. Through World Wars I and II and in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Through yellow fever epidemics, and the 1918 flu. Through the 1890s and early 1900s when Washington was the nation’s hotspot for typhoid fever.

The House has at its disposal the professional help of the Capitol Attending Physician’s office, the Sergeant at Arms and Capitol Police. We have shut down the Capitol building and offices to outside people. An army of House staff continually cleans our buildings under new strict guidelines. We are provided masks, and plenty of sanitizer. We distance when voting and are called to vote in small groups. We’ve met three times in the last two months and achieved a quorum every time. Nearly 400 members were in attendance last week.

So, we know how to do it, even during a pandemic like this one. The President has been in the White House working every day. The Senate has come back, in person. Federal workers all over the country are physically present doing their jobs which are frequently essential.

The Constitution makes the House and its work truly essential. And it requires us to be there. Not only that, in this time of political polarization, it’s even more important that we work together to get the people’s business done, and it just doesn’t work as well on the phone or in virtual meetings. We miss the opportunity to really hear one another, and it’s certainly easier to dismiss or demonize representatives from the opposite party or other places when we’re not together.

This change is historic and very damaging to the House as an institution and to the work of the nation. It sets a very bad precedent and a very bad example to the people of this country. For those in the House who are vulnerable, I understand that they can’t come, and they shouldn’t. We have members who miss votes all the time due to illness or injury. But, that doesn’t mean we should disregard the Constitution or good practice. Remember, we only need a majority for a quorum.

Now, however, 22 Democrats with proxies in hand can control the House. Indeed, the real winner here is the speaker who easily controls everything, drafting bills in her office with the influence of unelected interests and with no hearings or committee work, just like she did with her $3 trillion far left giveaway last week. This rule change is the culmination of Speaker Pelosi’s calculated effort to disempower individual members which has debased the institution. And don’t buy her arguments that this rule change is temporary. Should the Democrats return next January as a majority in the House, they will do it again.

I’m greatly saddened by this development. America is reopening and getting back to work. The House of Representatives should, too.

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

Byrne: Opening economy now, not later, best for Americans

(Rep. Byrne/YouTube)

Last week, Governor Ivey issued orders allowing Alabama’s restaurants, hair salons, barbers and other personal service businesses to reopen Monday under social distancing guidelines. This is an important step towards safely reopening our state’s economy and ending extreme measures put in place to flatten the curve and limit the spread of the virus. While Alabama – and our district – continue to see cases and sadly some deaths, we have been successful in preventing our hospitals and ICU units from being overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases—the original goal of social distancing and business shutdowns.

With our Alabama economy taking steps to open in line with the White House coronavirus task force recommendations, we still must use common sense, practice social distancing and good hygiene, and limit certain types of gatherings. There are capacity limitations for open facilities such as restaurants, childcare centers and public spaces like our beaches. And most entertainment venues, including movie theaters and bowling alleys, remain closed.

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On Monday, I spent the morning in Orange Beach with our local law enforcement and first responders. I was pleased to see that those taking advantage of the beautiful day on the beach were observing guidelines to limit gatherings and social distance. While law enforcement was on hand to ensure compliance, it was encouraging that our citizens were taking steps on their own to remain safe and in compliance with the governor’s orders. I believe most Alabamians want to do the right thing and will take steps to be safe. At the end of the day, there is really little law enforcement can do to stop the spread. All of us must do our part.

Here in the district, we continue to see federal aid distributed to individuals and small businesses. The Treasury Department continues to work down the unprecedented backlog to make economic impact payments to individuals. And while all payments have not been made as quickly as Congress hoped, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program and the Paycheck Protection Program are continuing to issue loans and grants to help small businesses in our district remain open and keep employees on the payroll. In addition, the Coronavirus Relief Fund, created through the CARES Act, will distribute around $1.9 billion directly to Alabama to alleviate damage from the coronavirus.

While it has been good to see Congress act quickly in a substantive and bipartisan manner to aid Americans, we must be increasingly vigilant of efforts by those on the far left to use this crisis as an excuse to enact their radical agenda. Behind closed doors, Speaker Pelosi has been working on another coronavirus aid package that, even according to Democrats, is more of a “wish list” than a serious legislative proposal. By many accounts, she is negotiating a messaging bill with the most liberal and “progressive” wing of her party, certainly not with Republicans. In short, she is not making an effort to produce a coronavirus aid bill that will become law but is instead working to lay down an extreme liberal negotiating point. This is no way to run a railroad. In fact, just last week, I wrote in the Wall Street Journal about the need for Pelosi to stop negotiating alone and allow Congress to return to Washington and get back to work for the American people. While I continue working hard from the district to help constituents, talking daily with leaders throughout our community, representatives from both sides of the aisle should reject Speaker Pelosi’s power grab and demand we return to Washington to ensure all our constituents have a voice at the negotiating table.

However, government can never replace the American economy. The best thing we can do for the American people is to begin safely reopening the economy now, not later. I am glad we have started doing that in our state, and I am hopeful we will soon be able to do more to safely return Alabamians to work, school and church, and for more of our businesses to open their doors.

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

Byrne: In coronavirus fight, Alabama has benefited from federal action

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook)

Closing down the American economy has a real and enormous effect on the lives of countless Americans. Layoffs and job losses are devastating for individuals, families, and communities. In good times, it generally takes three to six months for someone to find a job after a layoff. Of course, these are not good times. Moreover, closures and layoffs go deeper than this. Large unemployment numbers can also make it much harder for areas to move into economic recovery when a crisis is over.

Certainly, the government’s coronavirus response has not been perfect, but President Trump, Senator Rubio, Secretary Mnuchin, and others deserve a lot of credit for thinking about how to stop layoffs and for their innovative solution, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), to help everyday Americans. The idea behind PPP is simple, keep Americans from being laid off or furloughed through this difficult time. Through PPP, the President offered small businesses a good deal, low-interest loans to cover payroll, rent, and utilities. These loans carried an important carrot. If the business retains its payroll or rehires previously laid-off workers, the loan is forgiven by the federal government.

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This deal for small businesses was more popular than the president’s team could ever have imagined. In late March, we passed the CARES Act which allocated $349 billion for PPP. This funding was exhausted in just a couple of weeks, but those payments kept countless businesses open and their employees on the payroll. To keep the program going, Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, or “CARES 2,” to replenish PPP funding. With the injection of $320 billion provided by this bill, the SBA has begun Round 2 of accepting PPP loan applications through banks and credit unions.

The data shows just how effective the PPP has been. In the week since Round 2 of PPP loan processing began on April 27, 2.2 million loans were made to American small businesses, more than during Round 1. Those 2.2 million loans have a total value of over $175 billion. And the average loan size is $79,000, an indicator that the program is going towards assisting the smallest of small businesses.

There are other indicators that PPP loans are going towards small businesses in small communities, those that most often fell through the cracks and did not receive aid before Round 1 funding went dry. Nearly 500,000 of Round 2 loans were made by lenders with less than $1 billion in assets. And about a third of the 2.2 million loans – over 850,000 – were made by lenders with $10 billion in assets or less. Here in Alabama, in Round 2 alone, the SBA has approved 26,724 loans for $338,700,245.

All told, since PPP launched on April 3, the federal government has processed over 3.8 million loans for more than $500 billion. Astonishingly, that’s over half a trillion dollars in economic support to small businesses and their employees in only a month. It is estimated PPP has saved 30 million jobs, just accounting for the first round of funding.

This is on top of the vast amount of other support the federal government has provided, including $30 billion for a Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to aid our hospitals and health care providers. This fund has paid $449,481,945 in distribution payments to 4,652 providers and systems in Alabama. In our district alone, 581 payments have been made totaling $66,833,755.62. While I know that many continue to wait on unemployment benefits, the amount of help already provided to those in need-based upon money Congress provided is staggering. The Alabama Department of Labor has paid out $503 million in unemployment benefits to 206,694 claimants since March 16.

There is no doubt that the PPP and other federal programs have been an important cushion to the economy, saving jobs and businesses. But, we must remember they are temporary measures and designed to cushion the damage caused by COVID-19. The federal government cannot write enough checks to come anywhere close to completely mitigating the collateral damage caused by coronavirus. Washington cannot be the American economy. We must reopen or our efforts thus far to cushion the blow will fall flat.

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

Byrne: Passing the peak of coronavirus and next steps

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

Alabama reached and passed the peak of COVID-19 new cases during the week of April 12. As I have written previously, this doesn’t mean we haven’t seen new cases since then because we have. Nor does it mean we won’t see new cases in the future because we will. It does mean that the number of new cases per day is beginning to gradually come down. This is the flattening of the curve you have heard so much about. We have been successful in achieving what we set out to do with state-ordered extreme social distancing.

Indeed, we have avoided the worst experiences of other places in the country, especially the New York metro area which has had the worst. Nearby New Orleans has also had it very badly. While over 200 Alabamians have died from the disease so far, and every one of those deaths is a tragedy, our “case fatality rate,” or the percentage of those testing positive who die, is 3.5%, better than the national rate of 5%, and much better than the international rate of 7%. Indeed, it is projected that deaths from the disease in Alabama will be less than a third of those from the flu.

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Just as important, here in Alabama we didn’t come anywhere near exhausting our available hospital beds or ICU units. Our health care system, while stressed for personal protective equipment, or PPE, has been able to treat people without entering crisis mode. In part, this is true because we suspended so-called “elective” procedures so that there would be beds and PPE if we had a feared breakout here.

We also escaped the worst because only around 9% of the 75,000 people tested so far in Alabama have been positive for the disease, half the national average of 18%. Moreover, only 13% of Alabamians testing positive required hospitalization, most of them not in ICU beds.

We still have much to learn about COVID-19. Because we have concentrated our tests on those most at risk, we have yet to test the broader population. We know many more have it, or had it, than we have tested. We also know a large percentage had mild or no symptoms. Some experts believe the percentage who have the disease without significant symptoms to be as high as 85%. Until we broaden testing, as we will continue to do in the weeks to come, we won’t know for sure. But, it’s a good sign that our COVID-19 deaths in Alabama this year are predicted to be less than those from the flu.

As we begin to reopen parts of the state shut down due to state-required extreme social distancing, we will have to test more and make sure our health providers have what they need when, not if, cases rise again, likely in the fall.

They will need more PPE. FEMA is helping with that by flying in more from overseas, and the President is using the Defense Production Act to produce PPE here in the United States. They will need more financial help. In the CARES Act extension Congress passed last week, we provided an additional $75 billion for our health care system, especially our hospitals. We will also need to increase testing even more, so Congress added $25 billion for that.

The CARES Act extension increased funding for the small business PPP and EIDL programs by $310 billion and $50 billion respectively, in an effort to keep these businesses and their payrolls afloat until we slowly regain our economic footing. Unfortunately, both of those programs have hit roadblocks in providing the needed funding on a timely basis.

As I have said for some time now, the government cannot substitute for our private sector economy. The government just doesn’t have the means to do that, nor was it designed to do so. That is why bringing the economy back is the key to recovery and to bring it back we must gradually return to normal life. Some in the national news media try to pit our public health against our economic health. That’s a false choice because we can do both.

As I write this, we don’t know exactly when or how Governor Ivey will reopen our economy. But, when we start that process, we need to all remember that each of us have a role to play, by continuing good hygiene, avoiding groups of 10 or more, keeping six feet social distancing, and staying away from the most vulnerable to the disease so we don’t endanger them.

We’ve turned a page in the book of COVID-19 here in Alabama. I don’t know about you but I’m ready for the next chapter.

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

Byrne: At the peak of the coronavirus

(Rep. Byrne/YouTube)

National and state officials agree that we have reached the peak of new cases and deaths here in Alabama from the coronavirus called COVID-19. What does that mean? It means that the number of new daily cases and daily deaths have reached their highest projected point and should plateau for a while before coming down. It doesn’t mean we won’t have any new cases or deaths after the peak passes, we will. But the number of new cases and deaths per day will decrease. That will be a blessing.

Does it mean we can totally reopen our society and economy by totally ending social distancing? No, it doesn’t. Until we have a vaccine so that the vast majority of us have immunity, we will still have to deal with the disease. So, we all should be practicing appropriate hygiene, and if we are vulnerable due to age or underlying health condition, we should stay home. Those of us who aren’t vulnerable should avoid being in groups larger than ten people and maintain six feet distance from others while shopping or working. If we can telework, we should. If we must be at work in person, we should work with our employers on how to be safe and protect ourselves.

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But, we are at the point where we can discuss how to gradually reopen our closed society and economy. The White House and the Centers for Disease Control last week issued guidelines for states to follow in doing so. Governor Ivey has asked the seven of us who represent Alabama in Congress to give her recommendations on how and when to open our districts. My recommendations, which are informed by input from business and community leaders from around the district, will follow the federal guidelines for a phased reopening of our region.

I am honored to be asked my opinion but it’s Governor Ivey’s decision ultimately how and when we begin to reopen down here.

My recommendations start from the federal guidelines’ metrics for how to gauge when you have truly passed the peak and then have a 14-day period of reduction in the number of new daily cases. The guidelines also call for our hospitals to be able to operate on a non-crisis basis and for a robust testing program for our frontline health care workers.

The initial daily case numbers running up to the actual peak here in Alabama are promising, but we will have to see if we can get that two-week sustained experience of reducing case numbers. It’s pretty clear we will get there well before Memorial Day, unless the case numbers make a significant change for the worse this week or next. Even the University of Washington’s IHME projections, which two weeks ago said Alabama would have the most COVID-19 deaths in the nation, now says we are at the peak and will be ready to begin opening the state by mid-May.

Indeed, IHME now says Alabama will see 290 deaths by August 4, far lower than their original projection and less than half the number of influenza deaths we see on average.

Mercifully, our hospitals have not been overstretched in dealing with COVID-19. Indeed, they have many empty beds and ICU units.

The frustration has been testing. There are two pieces of good news now. The first is that we are already at the point where we meet the federal guidelines for testing our health care workers. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, has verified we have enough testing capacity to take care of the need to robustly test them. Second, the US Department of Health and Human Services says that we will be able to test four million people a week by the end of May, four times what we can do now, and the figure needed to robustly test the general population.

So, I anticipate the governor will begin reopening Alabama next month. It won’t be like flicking on a light switch, however. It will be more like gradually turning up a light using a dimmer. That’s good because a rapid return to normal risks an outbreak, which will cause us to return to where we are now.

One final note is that whatever her order provides, we all have a role to play in ensuring we all adhere to it. Self-enforcement is what will be truly needed. Then, we can all move together, safely, to get to a new livable normal, rebuilding our economy and enjoying the insatiable human impulse to be with one another.

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

Byrne: Approaching the peak of the coronavirus

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Passover and Easter came and went with all of us still in extreme social distancing. There were online Seders. Many of us missed being in church on Easter Day for the first time in our lives. Easter egg hunts and parties were canceled, and parents conducted their own hunts with just their children. The big Easter brunches and dinners which have been the tradition for so many were forgone, postponed or just very small. And too many of us were literally alone, all alone.

The experts tell us our peak for the disease in Alabama is about a week away. At that point, the number of new cases and deaths will hit their highest point, plateau, and then, mercifully, begin to come down. How long it takes for the rate of new cases and deaths to come down on a sustained basis is still unclear, but that time is getting nearer.

So, it is appropriate for President Trump to convene a group of experts to ask the question, when and how do we begin to relax the extreme social distancing we have been under? Public health is the main consideration, but the long-term health of our society and economy is also important. I am grateful the president has started the conversation, even in the face of never-ending criticism from the news media.

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The biggest problem we face in this discussion is the lack of solid data. We haven’t had enough testing to really understand the course of the disease and our national numbers have been largely driven by the virus’ tragic toll in the New York metro area where we have experienced over half of all of the nation’s deaths, and where most of our national news media companies are headquartered. There’s no measure they have had to take there that could be characterized as going too far. Other places like New Orleans and Detroit have experienced similar outbreaks, but the New York experience has been the nation’s most extreme.

The lack of transparency in China, where the virus began, has been a hindrance. The CIA has warned us that Chinese government information on the virus is not to be trusted. So, the U.S., and the rest of the world, will have to use our own data to tell us what we can do and when we can do it.

Here in Alabama, we have been blessed to escape the worst of the disease. While one infected Alabamian, and certainly one death, is one too many, as I write this, around 3,300 Alabamans have been confirmed as having the disease, 400 have been or are hospitalized, 180 have been sent to the ICU, and around 90 have tragically died. The light in this dark news is that our case fatality rate is 2.9%, which is lower than the national average of 3.9%, and far lower than the world average of 6%. Alabama’s cases represent only about one half of one percent of all cases in the U.S. Moreover, of the over 21,000 Alabamians who have been tested, only 15% are coming back positive, which means 85% have tested negative for the disease. And remember, we are only testing the most at-risk people.

In our congressional district, we have seen just under 500 cases and 13 deaths. Our case fatality rate here is a little less than the rest of the state.

Still, the peak hasn’t arrived here in Alabama, and even after it does, we will have more cases and deaths, just at a falling rate.

What to do?

First, we all need to stay safe and protect ourselves by practicing recommended social distancing and good hygiene. We need to wash our hands thoroughly and frequently, clean and disinfect hard surfaces, and avoid touching our faces.

Second, our public health professionals will have to guide our understanding of where we are with the disease and where we need to go. Testing has ramped up, and will continue to do so, thus yielding a lot more data. I am grateful to Dr. Tony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for his good counsel to the president and Congress, and for his willingness to spend so much time in seemingly endless briefings where he patiently answers individual Congress members’ questions. I am also grateful to Dr. Scott Harris, our state health officer, for his good work and willingness to spend time with me and others as we work through our Alabama response.

Third, it’s time to start the conversation about when and how we begin to relax extreme social distancing at the national, state, and local levels. America is the third most populous nation in the world with a continental footprint, including Alaska, and various islands like the state of Hawaii, and territories like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, and Guam and American Samoa in the Pacific. We are a very diverse nation and that diversity is reflected in the diversity of experience with this disease. The decisions that must be made will by necessity differ from state to state, and from county to county in many states. One size fits all makes no sense.

Fourth, it is not just appropriate but essential that we take into account the effects of extreme social distancing on our society and economy. As I said in this column two weeks ago, Genesis tells us that God said it’s not good for humans to be alone. It hurts us sociologically and psychologically. And it has taken the U.S. economy from being the strongest in 50 years with record-breaking unemployment, to losing 29% of our daily economic output in just one month, costing over 17 million people their jobs. That has never, ever happened before in America. And we did it, abruptly, to ourselves. Extreme social distancing is impoverishing millions in this country and we know their economic recovery won’t be easy or quick. The mental health and social pathology effects will be staggering. The longer extreme social distancing lasts, the worse all of this will be.

There is a balance to be struck here. President Trump has said this is the most difficult decision he has ever made. Short of going to war, that would be true for all our presidents. I know he will rely on Dr. Fauci and other national public health experts as he does so. Governor Ivey has very difficult decisions to make, which I know she will make with the close advice of Dr. Harris.

And we all have decisions to make. Will we let some of the inaccurate and overblown projections, and the blaring sensationalist national news media, panic us into irrationality? Or will we follow the public health experts’ guidance as we gradually reopen our society and our economy for the good of all?

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

Byrne: Love in the time of the coronavirus

(Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

Like many of you I “attended” Palm Sunday worship online. It was strange not to be there at St. James Fairhope physically for the Liturgy of the Palms to gather outside for prayers and walk into the church together with our palms singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”

I heard the words of the Passion according to St. Matthew but wasn’t there to see the faces and expressions of the readers. We said prayers for those afflicted by the disease and those caring for them. We also said the right words for the offering, the Eucharist and the peace, but there was no offering or Eucharist, and we couldn’t physically greet one another with the words, “The Peace of the Lord be always with you; And also with you.”

Worship is more than just words. It’s the act of coming together as God’s people to worship Him, sing hymns, pray, hear God’s Word and be one body. We did it apart last Sunday and will do it this Sunday for Easter. It’s strange but necessary.

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When I was a teenager, there was a novel and movie called “Love Story.” It had one of the dumbest lines I’ve ever heard: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Love means frequently having to say you’re sorry, whether or not you caused another’s trouble or hurt.

Over a million people worldwide are confirmed to have COVID-19. Tens of thousands have died from it. I’m very sorry for them, their family members and loved ones. I’m sorry so many on the front lines are working long hours, exposing themselves to danger, and that so many have lost their jobs as we practice social distancing.

All that could drive many to depression, anti-social behavior, and self-destructive acts. To avoid that we all must help one another, just as we do down here during hurricanes, except at a physical distance. And it doesn’t do any good – in fact it’s harmful – to play the blame game. While there will be a time to assess the culpability of the Chinese government, rhetoric or discrimination against Asian Americans is irrational, harmful and just plain wrong.

Congress and President Trump put aside our differences, however temporarily, to overwhelmingly pass the CARES Act, pumping over $2 trillion into our economy in a bold move to cushion the economic effects of social distancing and pay for the health care and research to defeat this disease. I and my staff are working around the clock to get information to our constituents about the disease itself and these new government programs. And, as we hear needs, we take them directly to those in charge of providing help. We aren’t on the front lines caring for the sick, but we have a supportive role to play and are determined to do our part.

During Sunday’s online service, I remembered that love isn’t a sugary, sentimental thing. It often involves sacrifice. It’s not that sacrificial for me to miss being physically in church, though I felt I was missing something. That something is a small thing compared with risking the spread of this disease.

And, listening to the Passion narrative, I remembered what real sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, really is. And why did Jesus do it? Because He loved us that much. It wasn’t just the physical agony, but more painful to him, taking on all our sins to himself, all our collective denial of and disobedience to God. He said “I and the Father are one” and then allowed Himself to be separated from God as He took on all our sins. No wonder he cried out at that moment, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But God did not leave Jesus to death, for the Resurrection was three days away.

God has not forsaken us. To care for us, he requires each of us to love and take care of one another. Right now, in part, that means we must be apart from one another, and for many to suffer economically and perhaps even emotionally. Let’s all be more attuned and sensitive, and helpful, to one another.

Good Friday isn’t good because Jesus was killed but because He rose again. It may seem dark now, but the light of Easter morning is just around the corner.

The last verse of an old French Easter carol called Now The Green Blade Riseth says, “When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain, thy touch can call us back to life again, fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: Love is come again like wheat that springeth green”.

Spring is here. So is love. Pass it on.

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

Byrne: Hope in the time of the coronavirus

(Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay, YHN)

In Genesis 2, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” He made us for Himself, but he also made us for one another. We are intimately connected to one another, and separation, even though for our own physical health, and even though on a temporary basis, is painful for us all.

John Donne, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London during the 17th century, said, “No man is an island, entire unto itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” He went on to say, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

We are not “islands,” we are part of the “main” of all humans and “involved” in the life of the world here and now. Disease and death diminish us all. But, they don’t have to defeat us. We can and will defeat this disease.

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This fight against the coronavirus called COVID-19 is hard. We are forced to separate from one another, a necessary infringement on our humanity, and however necessary, an infringement on basic liberties. Our economy is sorely wounded. Worse, our neighbors are infected with this disease, some fighting for their lives, some tragically losing that fight.

We are better, stronger than this disease. Brave men and women on the frontline, doctors and nurses, first responders and health paraprofessionals, pharmacists and those working to provide us food and necessities, are showing the indomitable American will, the will to win. And, yet, all of us have a role to play, to responsibly social distance from one another, to practice proper hygiene and to know when its time to be tested and/or to quarantine ourselves.

We have weathered diseases before in our history. The 1918 Flu Pandemic. The Polio Epidemic of the 1950s. Yellow Fever ravaged early Mobile and all of Alabama off and on during the 19th century. But, in all of those we didn’t have the public health resources in near the abundance we do now.

The public health professionals tell us that we must slow down the spread of the disease so it doesn’t overwhelm our hospitals and health care providers. That’s why we have social distancing.

We know the disease is spread person to person or when one of us touches a surface where the virus is still alive. By stopping our natural human contact, in our jobs, our schools, our restaurants and bars, our non-essential retailers, our group meetings, our social meetings and even in our worship services, we stop the spread and give our health care professionals the time and resources to help us, to heal us and, for some, to save us.

This obviously hurts us economically and socially. And we don’t need to continue it one minute longer than is needed. We will know when we can start to relax the mandates against social mingling. It will be when the number of new cases starts to come down on a sustained basis; not when we have no new cases, but when the number of new cases, or the rate of new cases, comes down day after day. As we get more tests out there, and new tests are increasing at a fast pace now, we will have a lot more cases. That doesn’t mean it’s spreading at that rate. In part, it just means that we are seeing the natural result of all this new testing.

A couple of data points are important to keep in mind. Only between 10 and 15 percent of all people tested in the US at present are testing positive. The vast majority tested here don’t have the disease. And remember, we are in many places only testing those at risk. As testing gets far wider, that rate may come down. Of those who do test positive, 80 percent have no or only mild symptoms. But, 20 percent need some form of significant care. They are of all ages, by the way, so the fact that you are young doesn’t protect you. And, tragically around 1 percent to 1.5 percent die. That may not sound like much but it’s 10 to 15 times higher than the flu.

Meanwhile, all levels of government play an important role. Our governors and mayors, as well as public health officers, must issue the appropriate orders to protect us all. Closing restaurants and bars, beaches and parks, small retailers and large group meetings, are each hard decisions. The economic and social ramifications are far-reaching. They must start, and they must end, at the right times, based upon sound medical and professional advice, and plain common sense.

We at the federal government must work with state and local leaders to inform their difficult decisions and help them, where appropriate, carry out these tough decisions.

The fathers of two of my House colleagues have served at the highest level of our government. I asked them both if their dads had seen anything like it. Jimmy Panetta, whose dad, Leon Panetta has been White House chief of staff, secretary of Defense and CIA director, said his father had never seen anything like it. Liz Cheney, whose dad, Dick Cheney has been vice president, White House chief of staff and secretary of Defense, said the closest experience in her father’s career was 9/11. Jimmy and Liz, Leon and Dick, Democrats and Republicans. We’ve rarely, if ever, seen anything like this.

When last week’s unemployment insurance filings were reported at over 3 million, the highest ever by far in our history, and when the number of cases and deaths dramatically expanded, it was clear we had entered truly extraordinary times, calling for extraordinary government action.

So, with broad and deep bipartisan support, we passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Security Act (CARES Act), providing over $2 trillion in support for individual citizens, workers who have lost their jobs, small businesses so that they will not close or lay off their workers, larger businesses in the way of loans and not bailouts, healthcare, education, transit, and more. Unprecedented resources have been quickly directed for more tests, more personal protective equipment, research and development for treatments and even a cure, and ultimately a vaccine.

I don’t like everything in the bill. In fact, there were parts that I strongly disagreed with. The time to talk about those, and how they came to be stuffed into an otherwise crucial bill, will come later, and those responsible will be named. But, our people are hurting, our way of life threatened, and this is no time to let these issues slow down the effort to get the job done. Indeed, I had hoped that the vast majority of us in the House could have avoided having to take the risk to actually travel to Washington and be in a room with hundreds of others as we have ordered the rest of the country not to do, but one member threatened to further delay the bill and so I and another 200-plus members made the trip and got the bill passed.

Like most of you, I am working from home and maintaining social distance. My staff is also working and our offices open for you but we ask that you call and not try to come in. We have helped repatriate a number of citizens from our district who have found themselves stuck in a foreign country closing its borders. We are answering many phone calls on the laws we have passed to respond to this disease and with questions about the disease itself.

I must confess, I don’t like to be kept at arm’s length from the people I serve. It runs against everything in me, but I recognize the wisdom of it. We in positions of public authority have the heavy responsibility of gauging how long this must continue and I pray that it is a matter of weeks, not months. But, unfortunately, the virus dictates that; I just want us all, at every level of government, to exercise good common sense. In the meantime, I feel like the words of the old song by one of Alabama’s sons, Hank Williams: “I’m so lonesome I could cry.”

Last week, I was on a number of conference calls with groups in the district and a teletownhall with nearly 4,000 constituents. In one, a person asked me to give them hope. I was struck by that simple request, that we provide hope.

So, here goes.

We are a great and powerful nation. We were born in an uncertain and dangerous revolution, invaded even in our Capitol by the greatest power in the world just 40 years after our founding, suffered a civil war costing 600,000 of our lives, fought two desperate world wars, watched our economy nearly disappear in a Great Depression, tore ourselves apart in the social upheavals of the 60s, and endured an attack by terrorists on our largest city and the center of our national defense. And yet, after each one we Americans not only survived, we learned how to make our country greater, how to perfect our union.

The prophet Isaiah, writing during the Babylonian captivity, put it in beautiful language:

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

And, as we approach Passover and Easter, let us remember the hope expressed in the miraculous delivery of the Jewish people from slavery and the resurrection of Christ who defeated death itself. Indeed, Solomon said in his Eighth Song, “Love is as strong as death.”

That’s the ultimate reason for hope: God’s love for us all overcomes death.

As we mourn those we have lost to this disease, as we continue to miss the physical presence of one another, as we struggle with the testing and spread of the disease, and as we fight to preserve our economy and our way of life, let us be confident in the ultimate result, using our own strength and leaning on God’s.

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

Byrne: Slowing the spread requires all hands on deck

(Wikicommons, YHN)

As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to change the way we live our daily lives, it’s important to take note of the ways this challenging time has brought our communities together. It has been reassuring to see stories of neighbors helping neighbors in communities in Southwest Alabama and beyond. As we continue to treat this unprecedented challenge with the seriousness it deserves, let’s not forget to help our neighbors as best we can.

Whether dropping off supplies to senior citizens or supporting local businesses, we all can do something for others in our community.

As expected with increased testing, the number of confirmed cases in Alabama has risen. The first coronavirus aid bill passed by Congress included more than $4 billion to make diagnostic tests more broadly available, and more test kits are on the way to Alabama. It is important to remember that approximately 90 percent of tests are coming back negative, and most who contract the coronavirus show no or mild symptoms. To slow the spread, it is critically important we all continue practicing social distancing, keeping our hands washed, and using common sense.

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Your federal government is continuing to work aggressively. Vice President Pence and the coronavirus task force have exhibited outstanding leadership. On March 16, with the consultation of medical professionals on the task force, President Trump instituted a “15 days to slow the spread” initiative to encourage Americans to stay home, avoid gatherings greater than 10 people, choose takeout rather than dine-in, and avoid travel and social visits whenever possible. The more we encourage others to follow these guidelines, the sooner we can “flatten the curve.”

This problem truly requires an “all hands on deck” solution. President Trump has called for the private sector to help, and the response has been encouraging. Some automobile manufacturers are working to transition from cars to ventilators. Just this week, Governor Ivey announced an anonymous donation of 100,000 masks to the state. Even my colleague in Congress, Denver Riggleman from Virginia, has transitioned his family’s distillery from making bourbon to hand sanitizer to supply to those in need. This is the kind of response Americans have always had during a crisis.

Our governor has shown strong leadership. She declared a state of emergency to mobilize all the state’s resources necessary to address the coronavirus. With this declaration, small businesses across Alabama negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic are eligible for assistance under the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. She authorized the Alabama National Guard to activate up to 100 guardsmen if needed. Following the federal government’s actions moving the filing deadline for federal taxes from April 15 to July 15, Governor Ivey did the same for state taxes. And she has continued to follow the best guidance from medical professionals to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

There are important state resources available to Alabamians that you should know about. The Alabama Department of Public Health established a toll-free hotline at 1-888-264-2256 to answer questions regarding testing locations and options. Their website is a great location for information, updates, and guidance specific to the state. Additionally, the Alabama Department of Labor announced that workers who are unable to work due to the coronavirus are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. If you are eligible, you can file online at the department’s website or call 1-866-234-5382. As always, the Centers for Disease Control maintains an excellent resource for information at www.coronavirus.gov.

We are far from out of the woods, but we are making great progress. Thank others for their sacrifices and work for others, especially our medical professionals and first responders. I’ll continue keeping you updated on new developments from Washington. Americans are resilient and strong, and we will get through this!

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

Byrne: Embrace precaution, not panic, for coronavirus safety

(PIxabay, Bradley Byrne/Youtube, YHN)

I wanted to update you on the latest COVID-19 coronavirus developments. While the situation remains serious, the risk to most Americans remains low. It is important that we stay calm and do not panic unnecessarily.

The federal government continues its aggressive response to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, secure access to testing for those who need it, and ensure those who have contracted the disease receive the treatment they need. Vice President Pence and his coronavirus response team have been outstanding and have held regular press conferences updating the nation on the latest developments.

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Working closely with President Trump, this team of professionals has done much not only to address this crisis but to calm the fears of Americans. Last Friday, the president declared a national emergency, opening billions more in aid, announced partnerships with private companies to help in the response, coordinated with the CDC for expanded guidelines, and declared Sunday a National Day of Prayer over the coronavirus. In addition to using existing powers, the administration continues to make serious efforts to work with Congress.

The work now is to limit the spread of the coronavirus and “flatten the curve” by limiting exposure. As most researchers and medical professionals predicted, the number of confirmed cases in the United States has increased over the past week. Aggressive actions by the administration and close cooperation with states and Congress can continue our progress in curbing new cases and preventing a crisis like Italy has experienced.

While the Trump administration is taking this situation seriously and working in the best interest of the American people, some of my colleagues in Congress are adopting President Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel’s maxim to “never let a good crisis go to waste.” With varying success, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tried to jam as many unrelated Democrat wish list goodies into House coronavirus legislation as possible. Even many Democrats have been unhappy that their leadership seems content rushing to pass huge bills that include drastic, permanent policy changes, but Pelosi’s actions should surprise no one. Remember, it wasn’t long ago during the Obamacare debate that she famously said “we have to pass the bill to find out what is in it.”

The American people deserve better, and I promise to work with this administration and both Republicans and Democrats in Congress to make serious and effective efforts to govern appropriately during this time.

To everyone at home, I encourage you to embrace precaution, not panic. Keep in mind that most rumors you hear about drastic actions will be just that—rumors. The best way to keep your family safe and avoid getting the coronavirus is simply to avoid exposure as much as possible. The simplest steps are to practice social distancing and good hygiene practices. Wash your hands with soap and water throughout the day. Avoid gatherings of 10 or more people and keep six feet apart from others whenever possible. Know the warning signs of fever, shortness of breath, and a consistent cough. Above all, use common sense. The best resource for information on the coronavirus and how to prevent its contraction and spread is www.coronavirus.gov.

As Congress, the administration and other entities such as the Federal Reserve continue pursuing actions to limit the economic ramifications of the coronavirus, there is no doubt there will be significant short-term repercussions. But, our country remains strong and I have every confidence that the economy will rebound once we have contained the coronavirus. My office remains open to answer any questions you may have about the coronavirus and assist you however possible. Together, our nation will get through this and emerge stronger than ever.

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

Byrne: Combating coronavirus misinformation

(Contributed)

Although the COVID-19 coronavirus is dominating the news, it’s important to know the facts about the virus and the ongoing work to prevent its spread. I’d also like to dispel some misinformation regarding your government’s actions to fight it.

Despite what some fearmongers have said, the federal government has been preparing for a public health challenge such as this. In fact, according to the 2019 Global Health Security Index, the United States ranks number one in a “comprehensive assessment and benchmarking of health security and related capabilities across the 195 countries.” No country is better prepared than we are to deal with a challenge like this. And despite politically motivated accusations by Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, Republicans have increased funding to public health agencies. For example, since 2015, we have increased funding for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) by 24%, National Institutes of Health by 39% and infection disease response by a whopping 70%.

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Just last week, Congress passed a coronavirus bill that provides over $8 billion in emergency funding. This package will speed the development of vaccines, increase access to testing and treatments, and expand access to telemedicine services so more people can see their doctor remotely — a trend that will continue to accelerate in the years to come. This bill will ensure the CDC, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Department of Homeland Security have the resources needed. If further action is needed, Congress stands ready to act quickly.

The Trump administration has also acted aggressively to protect Americans. I’ve been very disappointed in my colleagues who have used this opportunity to mislead and divide Americans. We must be better than that. Make no mistake, since day one, President Trump and his administration have made the safety, security, and health of the American people their top priority. The administration instituted travel restrictions for incoming flights from places like Iran and China, declared a public health emergency, and appointed Vice President Pence to lead the coronavirus task force. They have continued to host bipartisan briefings for members of Congress and called for health care providers across the county to ensure they are implementing their infection control procedures. And HHS is purchasing 500 million respirators over the next several months for the Strategic National Stockpile.

The risk to the average American remains low, but as testing continues, there are certain to be more cases. Most cases will be mild, but seniors, especially those with underlying health conditions, can be most at risk. The CDC says there is no need for Americans to change their day-to-day lives, but there is plenty that you can do to protect yourself. CDC’s website is the best source of information about prevention and treatment. Most importantly, avoid close contact with people who are sick, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. And you should know the warnings signs of fever, shortness of breath and a consistent cough.

Most importantly, there is no need to panic. If we all work together, we can continue to control this situation in the best interests of every American.

While this situation can and most certainly will change rapidly as more data and information becomes available, you can be assured that your government has prepared itself for this challenge and is doing all it can to continue prioritizing the health and safety of Americans and mitigate the spread of the virus. I will continue to monitor this situation and do all I can in Congress to work with the administration to take all necessary steps to ensure the well-being of the American people. We can all do our part by staying informed and practicing good hygiene.

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

Byrne: No fight is more noble than defending the unborn

(Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, Pixabay)

I can think of no fight more noble or important than defending unborn children. The Scriptures make clear that God makes every person in His image, so this issue is very near to my heart. I am proud to be a leader in the fight to end abortion. With the election of President Trump, we have never been closer.

Just last week, two very important pro-life bills received a majority vote in the Senate! The first was the Born Alive Survivors Protection Act. This bill is common sense. It just requires abortionists to provide the same medical care to a baby born alive in a failed abortion as they would an infant born prematurely at the same age. The second was the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which says abortions cannot be permitted when the child can feel pain, about 20 weeks. Only seven countries in the world permit these terrible late term abortions, sadly including the United States.

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Unfortunately, Democrats in the Senate filibustered both these bills, preventing them from advancing despite a majority of senators supporting. Speaker Pelosi has used similar tactics. She has forbidden these bills, and many other pro-life bills, from even receiving a vote. After Virginia’s governor said he would allow children who survive an abortion to die, I came to the floor and tried to call up the Born Alive Survivors Protection Act. Pelosi cut off my mic. Since gaining power last year, she has blocked my colleagues and me from bringing up this legislation over 80 times!

Democrats can pull these stunts, but the truth is the American people are not on their side. According to a Susan B. Anthony List poll, 77% of Americans believe that Congress should protect babies born alive after a failed abortion. And 62% oppose legislation allowing late-term abortions. The Democrats may have used procedural gimmicks to stop us for now, but we will prevail in the fight against abortion.

This week the Supreme Court will hear arguments in one of the most important abortion cases in years. The Supreme Court hopefully will end the practice of allowing abortion businesses, such as Planned Parenthood, to sue to block pro-life laws. Federal courts have twisted the rules to give them what is called “standing,” allowing big abortion businesses to file expensive lawsuits against pro-life states like Alabama. Changing this rule could be a game changing moment, as lawsuits are one of the biggest hold ups in making progress in the pro-life movement.

That is why appointing conservative judges to the Supreme Court and other federal courts is so important in the fight against abortion. President Trump has kept his promise to give us judges that will be pro-life. With the successful confirmations of Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, it is now possible that we could see further changes to the court’s position on abortion. These appointments are on top of the many other pro-life efforts of the Trump administration. Just this week, President Trump’s regulation that will defund Planned Parenthood from receiving federal family planning dollars will go completely into effect!

It saddens me beyond measure that abortion is permitted inside this great country. How long can a nation that practices abortion and infanticide continue to be great? I believe wholeheartedly that mass abortions will be one of the greatest stains on this nation’s history. I am fully committed to fighting for life and protecting the unborn. The cause is too important to sit on the sidelines.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Byrne: We can’t let up in the fight against gun-grabbers

(Wikicommons, YHN)

The Second Amendment is under attack like never before in our nation’s history, but I am leading the fight to preserve your constitutional rights.

Last year, just weeks after taking power, House Democrats passed a bill to limit the constitutional right to own guns. Their misguided legislation would do nothing to address the underlying problem behind actions of mass violence. That bill, H.R. 8, would prevent lawful gun owners from selling their guns to other law-abiding Americans. If that bill became law, anytime a gun owner like me wanted to transfer or sell a gun, he or she would have to go through a government-sanctioned middle-man. Of course, this process would be prohibitively time consuming and expensive. The authors of this bill’s true intent not only was to freeze all gun transactions through the power of a slow and inefficient federal bureaucracy but to subject millions of Americans to federal prosecution. Even transferring a firearm to a family member or friend could require federal permission!

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Let’s not kid ourselves. Criminals are not going to put their illegal enterprises on pause while waiting for permission to buy or sell a gun. H.R. 8 does nothing to stop crime and only burdens lawful citizens. And it does nothing to address the mental health crisis behind so much of the mass violence we have seen. During the debate on that bill, I introduced an amendment to strip out this anti-gun legislation and replace it with nationwide concealed carry reciprocity. My amendment actually could make our country safer. Unsurprisingly, Speaker Pelosi blocked my amendment.

Fortunately for gun owners, we have a true friend in the White House. President Trump has been the biggest advocate for the Second Amendment ever to sit in the Oval Office. To appreciate the significance of that, contrast his Second Amendment policies with those of his opponent in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton.

In 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller, in a major victory against zealous gun-grabbing liberals, the Supreme Court ruled against a District of Columbia law criminalizing handgun ownership. That law made it illegal to possess an unregistered firearm in the city but also effectively prohibited registration itself, a blatant attempt to block constitutional rights to own a gun. Clinton, however, disagreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling! Can you imagine if we had a president in the White House who thought it should be illegal to own a gun? Unfortunately, her beliefs are now standard for Democrat politicians.

The battle to preserve the second amendment continues in the courts. Last year, I wrote an amicus brief, often called a “friend of the court” brief, to the Supreme Court. The Court is working on a case, N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, to determine if New York’s ban on transporting a handgun to a home or shooting range outside city limits is constitutional. Like the District of Columbia law found unconstitutional in Heller, this law is a backdoor attempt to weaken your Second Amendment rights. I was proud to have 120 lawmakers sign onto my brief as well as the support of the NRA and Gun Owners of America.

Last week, I signed on as an original cosponsor to an important bill to strengthen and protect gun rights. The Lawful Interstate Transportation of Firearms Act would ban states from prosecuting lawful gun owners simply traveling through their state. This commonsense legislation would protect against liberal states’ sneaky schemes to circumvent the Second Amendment. I’ll continue fighting for this bill with my colleagues, including Mo Brooks of Alabama who introduced the bill.

The gun-grabbers aren’t letting up, so we can’t stop fighting either. Rest assured I will keep leading the fight in Washington to protect your Second Amendment rights.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Byrne: The New Way Forward Act is an assault on our borders

(B. Byrne/Facebook, CBP/Flickr, YHN)

A clear warning of how far to the extreme left the Democratic Party has moved is the recently introduced New Way Forward Act. This immigration bill would totally uproot the rule of law, provide amnesty for illegals here and import dangerous criminals into the United States. By allowing foreign citizens who committed serious felonies to stay in our country, all Americans would be at risk. And by granting new rights to illegal aliens, the New Way Forward Act would prevent our immigration officials from detaining most illegal immigrants. Shockingly, over 40 of my Democrat colleagues in the House have cosponsored this legislation.

We have long known that many on the far left have the goal of global open borders. They do not appreciate that to keep our country prosperous and strong we must have real, enforceable borders. Put another way, our country won’t be any different from the rest of the world if we eliminate our borders and let whoever wants here to enter.

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Simply put, the New Way Forward Act aims to decriminalize illegal immigration altogether. It would turn us into a sanctuary nation where anyone who desires entry can come in almost unchallenged. It grants new rights to illegal border crossers that would effectively shut down our already overworked immigration courts. For example, those detained for illegally entering would be entitled to an initial custody hearing within 48 hours, and detainees would be entitled to a new bond hearing every 60 days. This is designed by the bill’s authors to be impossible!

The bill also includes provisions to block local law enforcement from performing immigration enforcement activities. Why would we not want our law enforcement to actually enforce our laws? Isn’t that what they are for? This explains a lot of what some of my more liberal colleagues in Washington think about law and order.

Perhaps most shockingly, the New Way Forward Act removes certain felonies from consideration when considering whether detainees should be allowed entry to our country. Why would we want to protect convicted felons from being deported? This legislation would roll out a welcome mat for them. The bill would even repeal laws that make illegal entry into the United States a crime. Can you imagine the chaos this would bring?

This bill has one goal – open borders. That’s why Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf says this bill would “gut the rule of law” in the country.

I have been to our southern border. I’ve seen firsthand the challenges facing our border patrol agents. Without question, gutting our immigration laws would make their jobs tougher. It would erode American safety and incentivize illegal immigration. Yet Democrats overwhelmingly support sanctuary city laws that allow jurisdictions to refuse to enforce our immigration laws. These sanctuary jurisdictions go further by stonewalling federal officials seeking to enforce our immigration laws. But it gets even worse. States like California have passed laws to grant driver licenses to illegal immigrants. Shockingly, these laws could even automatically register illegal immigrants granted driver licenses the right to vote in elections!

Last week, I signed on as an original cosponsor of the Stop Greenlighting Driver Licenses for Illegal Immigrants Act. The premise of this bill is simple: if you are a sanctuary city blocking the enforcement of our federal immigration laws, you should be blocked from receiving federal money. This bill would prevent states that issue driver licenses to illegal aliens from receiving important federal grants.

Unfortunately, common sense is something lacking in Washington. I’m proud to be able to serve you by bringing Alabama values to the swamp. I’ll continue working with President Trump to fight bills like the New Way Forward Act and to ensure our immigration policies serve and protect you, the American people.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Bradley Byrne: Abolishing the U.S. Department of Education

(Rep. Byrne/YouTube)

The federal government is just too big and too intrusive in the daily lives of the American people. Our Founders never intended for it to have the gross overreach that it does today. Indeed, they had just won their independence from an overreaching English king, and they wanted their new government under the Constitution to be limited.

The Founders also valued the role of state and local governments, using the Tenth Amendment to reserve to the states and the people those powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution. Many things the federal government does today are not even mentioned in the Constitution.

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Education was important to the Founders, but they left that function to the states. So, it was the states of Georgia and North Carolina that formed the first public universities in 1785 and 1789. The first public high school was started by the City of Boston in 1821. Other than creating the service academies and providing federal land to states for them to sell for the endowment of agricultural and science colleges, like our own Auburn University, the federal government was not involved in education until well after World War II.

The federal government provides less than 20% of all education funding. So, in the U.S., education should be a state and local endeavor.

Nonetheless, during the Carter administration, Congress created a federal Department of Education, which now has 4,000 employees and a budget of $68 billion. It has no schools or colleges, but, like most federal departments and agencies, puts out lots of regulations and red tape to state and local schools.

This regulatory burden adds enormous expense to the cost of educating our students, a cost which cripples state and local governments and ultimately means state and local taxpayers. Worse, the federal government wrongfully steals the appropriate role of state and local governments in setting standards and policies for state and local schools. Remember when the Obama administration tried to dictate how public schools would run their bathrooms? They also tried to tell public universities how to handle student discipline.

The federal Department of Education should never have been created in the first place, but it’s time to abolish it, saving billions of dollars in administrative costs and removing the federal government from education decision making. They don’t know near as much about how to educate our students or run our schools as our superintendents, principals and teachers do. And their politically correct meddling is egregious.

I served on the Alabama State Board of Education and as the leader of our two-year college system. I have seen firsthand the costs of federal regulation at the state level and pushed back against the overreaching federal regulations. But, when I got to Washington, I was appalled to the waste, expense, and size of the federal Department of Education.

Everyone in America, except for the Washington bureaucrats at the Department, would benefit from doing away with it. Taxpayers would save money. State and local education officials would be free to do their jobs. And teachers, parents and citizens would reclaim control of our schools.

I know this would mean different choices in different states and localities and that we wouldn’t have a uniform national education system. But, that has been our tradition in this country. What Massachusetts wants will be different from what we want here in Alabama. There’s nothing wrong with that.

To be sure, we can learn from one another, as when Massachusetts studied the Alabama Reading Initiative to use parts of it in their state. The states were meant to be laboratories of innovation regarding these types of government functions. Let them do so, and we all will be better off.

The opponents of this idea want the power to control education from Washington, a power never intended by our Founders. And they want this power to dictate standards and policies for educating our children, and ultimately what we teach, including morality and values. It’s part of a broader agenda to reorder our society from the regressive Left. The Founders sure never intended that.

It’s never too late to do the right thing. And abolishing the federal Department of Education is clearly the right thing to do. As Alabama’s Senator, that is exactly what I will do.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Byrne: President Trump has the best week of his administration

(White House/Flickr)

Last week was President Trump’s best since moving into the White House. After giving a well-received State of the Union Address, the president was acquitted by the United States Senate, announced the killing of a major terrorist [and received a great jobs report. On the other hand, Democrats suffered several significant embarrassments.

It began Monday at the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. Despite months of work to manufacture enthusiasm, Democrats experienced extremely low turnout across the state. Things went from bad to worse as a host of errors prevented the counting and reporting of votes! Of course, it isn’t hard to see why the people of Iowa were not eager to support Democrat priorities. Socialist policies like the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and confiscation of firearms are radical and dangerous, and most Americans reject them.

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In contrast, the very next day, President Trump presented a clear vision for keeping America great in a rousing State of the Union speech. I left my seat many times to applaud the president and his many guests, each of whom had inspiring stories. Two of his guests were Stephanie Davis and her daughter Janiyah from Pennsylvania. Janiyah had been on a waitlist of over half a million students to receive a scholarship to go to a better school. President Trump shocked the crowd by awarding her a scholarship right then and there!

The story of Janiyah was especially important to me because the president called on Congress to pass my bill, the Education Freedom Scholarship and Opportunity Act, so that one million American children could have the same opportunity for a scholarship! I developed this bill with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Senator Ted Cruz. President Trump is right that no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school, and I am proud to lead this important Trump administration priority.

The State of the Union ended on an embarrassing note for Democrats as Speaker Pelosi ripped up her copy of the president’s speech. This petty, undignified tantrum plainly displayed the level of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” that she and her cohorts suffer from. They simply cannot stand to see President Trump succeed. They are in crisis after their impeachment plan failed. In fact, it backfired and lost support as their rigged process was exposed. Realizing her mistake, Speaker Pelosi appealed to Facebook and Twitter to have videos of her ripping the speech taken down!

I was proud to be a leader in that fight against the sham impeachment. Thursday, a day after the president was exonerated, I was among a handful of House members invited to the White House to celebrate. It was an amazing honor and surprise to receive President Trump’s personal thanks for fighting by his side throughout this process.

Later Thursday, the President announced that an American airstrike had killed Qassim al-Rimi, a terrorist and the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. AQAP claimed credit for the December 2019 shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station that took the lives of three service members, including Ensign Joshua Watson from Coffee, Alabama. President Trump has made clear that our enemies will pay for taking American lives, and terrorists across the globe now know that he isn’t messing around.

Finally, an excellent January jobs report was released. Employers added 225,000 jobs as the economy continues to strengthen. Importantly, wages for working Americans are rising.

Put it all together and it’s obvious why the president’s approval rating is at the highest levels of his administration. Clearly, the Democrats’ misguided prioritization of an unpopular impeachment scheme has them in dire straits. I vow to keep fighting with the president against radical socialism and to support his America First agenda.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Byrne: Fighting to keep the state of the Union strong

(Representative Bradley Byrne/Facebook, White House/Flickr, YHN)

This week is one for the history books as President Trump gives his State of the Union address only hours before he is acquitted of impeachment in the Senate. There could hardly be a greater contrast between work being done for the American people and a sham scheme to prevent it.

The president can tout remarkable achievements over the last year despite unprecedented obstruction from Democrats afraid of his success. Facing a gridlocked legislature, President Trump has used his deal-making shrewdness to negotiate deals abroad and fight for his America First agenda at home.

With the Trump tax cuts in full swing and his success rolling back unnecessary regulations, the economy is at full throttle. The blue-collar boom we are experiencing has led to record low unemployment even while Americans are keeping more of their hard-earned money. His tough stance on trading partners like China who have a history of cheating us is paying off. Just weeks ago, he signed a new Phase One trade deal with China.

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In December, with polling showing overwhelming disapproval for their unpopular impeachment focus, Democrats gave in to public pressure and passed the bipartisan U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). President Trump’s deal had been waiting for House action for a year. USMCA will have major benefits for American workers, and Alabama is poised to benefit more than most states. Ironically, many Democrats now taking the credit for USMCA are the same ones who said that a new deal replacing NAFTA couldn’t get done.

The president has also prioritized lowering healthcare costs. His vision is in stark contrast to the socialist proposals offered by the left. Remember, in last year’s State of the Union, when President Trump proclaimed that we would never be a socialist nation, Democrats sat on their hands while Republicans cheered.

President Trump ran on the promise of restoring our national security after years of neglecting our servicemen and women. His America First policies are doing just that. Defense spending has increased, and we are honoring our commitments to our warfighters. While President Trump rightly has questioned our involvement in the Middle East, he has taken firm action when needed. He recently took out Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the most dangerous terrorist in the region. And he has proposed a historic Middle East peace deal.

For all the Democrats’ foolish talk about the Senate being a legislative graveyard, Mitch McConnell and his Republican majority have continued confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees at an extraordinary clip. That itself is an amazing accomplishment! Meanwhile, the House has rejected any meaningful legislation and instead continued its impeachment focus. Pushing through partisan messaging bills that won’t become law might please their liberal base, but it does nothing for the American people.

Don’t forget border security, one of President Trump’s key issues. His commonsense policies have lowered the number of illegal border crossings and contributed to American safety not just at the border but in all 50 states. I visited the border last year and know firsthand the challenges there. I will continue fighting with him against sanctuary cities and open borders.

I am pleased that one of President Trump’s priorities for 2020 is school choice. I am honored to lead his school choice legislation in the House and excited to have over 100 cosponsors of my bill. When I met with President Trump at the White House in December to discuss his education priorities, he made clear he will push for action on this initiative this year.

While Democrats will continue seeking their only goal to undermine President Trump, I will continue fighting to keep the state of our union strong, this year and always.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Byrne: Walking the walk in the fight for life

(B. Byrne/Facebook)

Last week, tens of thousands of Americans took part in our nation’s most important rally for the unborn, the March for Life. I am so proud of the large number of Alabamians who traveled all the way to Washington to participate. Sadly, it is mostly ignored by the mainstream media. But, this year’s rally received unprecedented support, as President Trump became the first sitting president to attend and address the group!

President Trump’s pro-life record is truly unmatched among presidents. He has been front and center in the fight. He has blocked Planned Parenthood from receiving federal family planning money. Just last week, his administration challenged the state of California over a rule that violates federal law in mandating insurance plans cover elective abortions.

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Perhaps the most significant contribution President Trump has made to the pro-life cause has been his judicial nominations. The Senate has confirmed 187 of President Trump’s judicial nominations, a staggering number that will leave a permanent legacy. Candidate Trump promised to appoint constitutional conservatives to the courts, and he has kept his word. After eight years of President Obama appointing judicial activists who want to legislate from the bench, we have made remarkable progress in short order restoring integrity to our courts.

President Trump’s two most important nominations have been to the Supreme Court. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh are brilliant jurists who truly seek to uphold the Constitution. Each of them could serve another three decades or more on the court.

To appreciate the magnitude of the makeup of the Supreme Court, look no further than Roe v. Wade. Since the horrific ruling in this case, over 60 million unborn children have been aborted. That’s over twelve times the population of Alabama. But, for the first time in my adult life, I can see a path to overturning Roe, thanks to the President’s leadership.

I’m proud of my record of fighting for life and against radical extremists seeking unlimited access to abortions. As a member of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, I’ve sponsored and fought for legislation to end federal funding of Planned Parenthood, ban abortions after a heartbeat is detected, and define that human life begins at conception.

Unfortunately, Washington is no longer a safe place for pro-life Democrats. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said last year, “[A]s a party, we should be 100 percent pro-choice, and it should be non-negotiable.” It is astonishing to see how far the Democrat party has moved. As President Trump correctly stated when explaining his reasoning for attending the March for Life rally, “religious liberty is under siege.”

Look at Senator Gillibrand’s own state. Last year, New York passed a law essentially making abortion legal up until the moment of birth. In explaining a similar proposed law in Virginia, Democrat Governor Ralph Northam said their law would make it legal to abort a baby after birth, essentially permitting doctors to allow infants to die after a failed abortion. This is infanticide! It is unthinkable that such a barbaric act could take place, much less be tolerated, in a civilized nation like ours. I tried to force a vote on legislation making this practice illegal, but the Democrat majority blocked me on the House floor and even turned off my microphone.

Let me be clear. I unequivocally believe that God makes every person in his image. Every single life is precious. I am fully committed to fighting for the unborn. As President Trump said in his address, “every life brings love into this world. Every child brings joy to a family. Every person is worth protecting.” Thank God we have such an advocate in the White House! I’ll continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with President Trump in this fight.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.