Byrne: Our common defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 hours ago

7 Things: Alabama not last in nation on coronavirus vaccine rollout, Aderholt defends Brooks’ comments at Trump rally, Biden ready to go big with executive actions and more …

7. State Sen. Allen: Keep the Monument Preservation Act

  • As there’s more talk to repeal the Monument Preservation Act of 2017, State Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) wants the focus to stay on preserving history.  
  • While on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Allen said, “If you start removing things and start saying that things shouldn’t exist — I think we need to be of open mind and about how important it is to protect history.” Some have started arguing that cities and counties should have more say in monument locations. 

6. State Sen. Sanders-Fortier wants Selma to decide on Edmund Pettus Bridge name

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  • State Senator Malika Sanders-Fortier (D-Selma) plans to introduce a bill that will allow those representing Dallas County to decide if Edmund Pettus Bridge should be renamed. 
  • Back in 2015, legislation to name the bridge “Journey to Freedom Bridge” didn’t get out of committee in the Alabama House of Representatives. Renaming the bridge would also be in violation of the 2017 Memorial Preservation Act. 

5. 100 pardons by Wednesday

  • A report from CNN says that President Donald Trump plans to issue about 100 presidential pardons to people before he’s out of office this week. 
  • About 90 people have already received pardons from Trump. According to the report, Trump isn’t planning to pardon himself.

4. Biden has some ideas — a lot of them are bad

  • President-elect Joe Biden is ready to hit the ground running with a series of executive orders, presidential memoranda and directives to cabinet agencies ready to go that will signal an obvious difference from the previous administration. The American court system will probably be far less hostile to a President Biden than it was to his predecessor.
  • Part of this initial flurry of action will include rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, killing the Keystone Pipeline, the end of the travel ban, a mask mandate for federal property and interstate travel, reopening schools, immigration, racial justice, and student loan repayment.

3. Migrant caravan heading to the U.S.

  • There’s currently a caravan of migrants traveling to the United States from Honduras, and one in the caravan said they’re coming to the country because President-elect Joe Biden is “giving us 100 days to get to the U.S.”
  • Biden has said he’d pause deportations for at least the first 100 days he’s in office. He has also promised a pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally. 

2. Ill-advised statements aren’t incitement

  • U.S. Representative Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) recently spoke about voting “no” on impeaching President Donald Trump and the threatened censure of U.S. Representative Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) for his comments at the pro-Trump rally on January 6. 
  • Aderholt said that he didn’t think what Trump said “would rise to impeachment.” He added that with all of the weapons and equipment that rioters had “was something that had to be premeditated.” Aderholt went on to say that Brooks probably could’ve said what he wanted differently, adding, “I don’t think it rose to the level of inciting the violence that did occur.”

1. We aren’t last in the country

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alabama is ranking last in coronavirus vaccine distribution, but State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris is disputing this. 
  • Harris said that the reason the CDC has ranked the state last is due to them not having all the latest data. Harris did acknowledge that “we would like to be giving doses out faster than we are. We could certainly be doing a better job, and we have a lot of things we’re putting into place to do that.” 

3 hours ago

Jerry Carl: Commitment to fighting for life

On Friday of this week, our nation will recognize National Sanctity of Life Day. This tradition started when President Reagan issued a proclamation in 1984 designating January 22 as the first National Sanctity of Human Life Day. The purpose of this special day is celebrating the gift of life, remembering the lives lost to abortion, and reaffirming our commitment to protecting life from conception to natural death.

Thankfully, we have seen a decrease in the total number and rate of abortions in America. In recent years, abortions have decreased by about 25%. Much credit is due to President Trump, the most pro-life president in history, for many of these positive changes. While this is worth celebrating, there is still more work to be done. Being an advocate for pro-life policies is one of my top priorities in Congress, and I have already begun working with my colleagues on some key pieces of pro-life legislation.

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One of the bills I’m proud to co-sponsor is Rep. Virginia Foxx’s bill, The Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act, which amends the Public Health Service Act to prohibit the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) from providing federal family planning grants to entities that perform abortions or provide funds to entities that perform abortions. This is a critical step to stemming the tide of abortion in our country, and I strongly believe that no taxpayer money should ever be used in support of performing an abortion.

As a nation, we must remain rooted in the fundamental truth that every life is a precious gift from God. We should also recognize and thank the many men and women who advocate for life, whether it’s supporting women dealing with unplanned pregnancies, counseling women who have had an abortion, or supporting the adoption and foster care industries. I hope you will join me this week in reaffirming our nation’s commitment to protecting life at all stages.

Jerry Carl represents Alabama’s First Congressional District. He lives in Mobile with his wife Tina.

4 hours ago

State Sen. Butler: Space Command announcement reminiscent of Huntsville reaction to 1958 Explorer launch, U.S. response to Sputnik

In 1957, the Soviet Union stunned the United States by launching Sputnik, the first manmade satellite. The news put Drs. Eberhard Rees and Wernher von Braun to work on a U.S. response at Redstone Arsenal’s Army Ballistic Missile Agency in Huntsville.

At 10:48 p.m. on January 31, 1958, the Jupiter-C lifted off from Cape Canaveral and successfully deployed Explorer I, the United States’ response to Sputnik. The news was greeted with celebratory sirens and horns in Huntsville.

Last week, the U.S. Air Force announced Huntsville was its choice for Space Command HQ. According to State Sen. Tom Butler (R-Madison), that announcement created an atmosphere much like the 1958 launch.

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(Huntsville Times, Feb. 1, 1958/NASA)

“I tell you, everybody here is just tickled to death,” he said during an interview on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show.” “I was here in 1958 when the Explorer went up. It was our answer to Sputnik. And the whole town at midnight — sirens were blowing, people were blowing horns up, just tickled to death. I think that same kind of atmosphere is here again. I guess we’ll have a new saying, where we’re called the Rocket City, and that’s for great purpose. Now we’ll say, ‘May the force be with you.'”

“I think it’s appropriate for winning the command center for Space Force, and we will adapt, obviously, the assets that were needed for the Space Command, are already here in Huntsville, Alabama at Redstone Arsenal,” Butler continued. “There’s plenty of land, plenty of assets at the Space Command will need. The Army Materiel Command is here. The Space Command will be here. The Army Missile Defense Command will be here. And the big one — NASA. This is where the Marshall Space Flight Center is. And we have an old saying here, too. We used to say by air and car, you couldn’t go anywhere without going through Atlanta. Well, going to outer space, you have to come through Huntsville, Alabama. We just saw that this week with the testing down at the Stennis Center, down near you, the main engining that will be lifting us to the moon in Artemis. We’re just tickled to death the way that went. Those engines are now on their way to Cape Kennedy, down at Canaveral. We’ve got a lot of interest from Huntsville here in space, and I think that helped us win the Space Command.”

17 hours ago

Alabama’s coronavirus numbers have started to go down

After rising steadily since the first week of October, new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Alabama have begun decreasing in recent days.

Alabama has seen a 9% decrease in hospitalized coronavirus patients over the last week. As of Monday, the state has 2,798 COVID-19 patients in the hospital, a decline of 286 from the all-time high of 3,084 recorded on January 11.

In the last week, Alabama has averaged 2,019 new COVID-19 cases per day, an enormous drop from the 3,080 per day witnessed on January 11.

The current rate of new cases is likely lower than reality due to a slowdown in reporting usually caused by a holiday weekend, but the decrease began in the early days of last week.

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Yellowhammer News refers to cases as those confirmed by a molecular test performed in a laboratory. When including results from rapid tests and other methods of COVID-19 detection, the average rises.

Clicking image opens interactive chart in new tab. (BamaTracker)

Hospitalizations, like cases, have sometimes seen rapid jumps in totals just after a holiday weekend. Again, like cases, the declines began before the holiday weekend.

Clicking image opens interactive chart in new tab. (BamaTracker)

Several Alabama counties, including Jefferson and Madison, are now considered “low risk” for coronavirus transmission by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH).

Clicking image opens interactive map in new tab. (ADPH/Screenshot)

ADPH calculates the county risk assessments each Thursday.

The virus remains widespread in the state, even as the risk is lower than in recent months. Of Alabama’s 67 counties, 63 reported a new coronavirus case on Monday.

A metric closely watched by health officials, the percent of COVID-19 tests coming back positive for the virus each day has decreased from 31% to 23% over the last week.

Alabama’s death toll from the virus is now estimated to be 6,121.

Of those, 5,099 have been confirmed as coronavirus deaths by the Alabama Department of Public Health, and another 1,022 are considered “probable” COVID-19 deaths but have not yet been confirmed by the department.

Over the course of the pandemic, it has been rare for a probable COVID-19 death not to ultimately be certified as a coronavirus death.

Deaths reported in one week usually occurred in weeks, or even months, before being logged by APDPH. The agency has recency confirmed a large spate of coronavirus deaths, but few occurred in the week prior to the reporting.

More positively, Alabama’s vaccine distribution program has picked up pace after a slower than wished for launch.

Alabama has now administered 148,685 vaccine doses as of Monday afternoon.

The state had only given out 89,763 doses on the week ending January 9. Alabama hospitals received their first doses in the middle of December.

The federal government has now shipped 379,875 vaccine doses to Alabama, meaning that 39.14% of the state’s received doses have gone into the arms of its citizens.

Alabama has been allotted 640,150 doses of vaccine, meaning only 59.34% of the state’s promised product has been delivered as of Monday.

Both vaccines require two doses, administered three to four weeks apart, to reach their full effectiveness.

Monday, January 18, marks the first day that Alabamians age 75 and up and non-medical first responders like police officers and firefighters are eligible to receive the vaccine.

ADPH estimates there are around 350,000 citizens of the state age 75 and over. An estimate of the number of people eligible due to service as a first responder was not provided.

The state’s nursing home residents and medical workers — the initial categories slated to get the vaccine — remain eligible to do so. APDH estimates Alabama has over 300,000 health care workers.

Due to limited supply, it is likely that the vast majority of Alabamians will not be able to receive a vaccination for a few more months.

Health officials are urging continued mask-wearing and social distancing to continue mitigating the spread of the virus.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

18 hours ago

Crimson Tide’s Will Anderson named National Freshman Player of the Year

University of Alabama true freshman linebacker Will Anderson, Jr. on Monday was announced as the recipient of the Shaun Alexander-FWAA National Freshman Player of the Year Award for the 2020 college football season.

The award is named for Shaun Alexander, the former Bama star running back who went on to an All-Pro NFL career with the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Football Team.

The Football Writers Association of America also named Anderson and Crimson Tide defensive back Malachi Moore to the FWAA Freshman All-America First Team.

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This comes after Anderson earned the starting job at jack linebacker during the fall. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and picked up second team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press. Anderson ended up tied for second in the conference in sacks with seven while ranking third in tackles for loss at 10.5.

Meanwhile, Moore earned the starting role at star for the Tide defense. The former Hewitt-Trussville star was selected to the SEC All-Freshman Team and also picked up second team All-SEC honors from the AP and the league coaches. He led the UA defense with four forced turnovers, including a team-high three interceptions, while totaling nine passes defensed.

Retired from his playing days for the past decade, Alexander now travels the country speaking and teaching people about the things he is passionate about: his Christian faith, marriage, fatherhood, football, winning, leading and love.

RELATED: Shaun Alexander on life, love and loss — ‘We will see her again, worshiping God together’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn