In 1986, African-American military historian Leroy Ramsey contacted me when I was a member of Congress and raised the disturbing fact that, of the 549 Medals of Honor (our nation’s highest military honor) awarded during World Wars I and II, none had been awarded to the 1,550,000 black soldiers who had served in racially segregated divisions of our nation's Armed Forces.
Dr. Ramsey’s meticulous research concluded that World War I Pvt. Henry Johnson of Albany, New York, was a decorated war hero (serving in France with the Black 369th Infantry Regiment called the Harlem Hellfighters), and should have received the Medal of Honor, as originally recommended by his commanding officer. (Sadly, Johnson died in 1929, a decade after his military service, homeless and penniless on the streets of Washington, while looking for a pension.)
[ Black Veterans Share World War II Military Service Memories ]
In order to make the effort bipartisan, I persuaded Texas Rep. Mickey Leland, a Democrat and the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, to join me in supporting Ramsey's long campaign for racial justice in the Armed Forces. And while Leland agreed to help, he added Petty Officer 3rd Class Dorie Miller from Texas, who served in World War II, to our quest to open the statute of limitations in order to obtain Medals of Honor for both men. (Leland died tragically in 1989 on a Congressional humanitarian mission to Ethiopia, and I continued what would become a 30-year mission to obtain Medals of Honor for African-American war heroes.)
Leland and I pushed for an independent study that was eventually authorized by the Defense Department, through a grant to Shaw University in North Carolina, to determine why dozens of African- American soldiers who were recommended for Medals of Honor did not receive them. Before the study formally commenced, the Army stumbled upon a “misplaced file” that showed that Cpl. Freddie Stowers of South Carolina had been recommended for the Medal of Honor for his heroism in World War I, but since the file showed that no action had been taken to deny the medal, it was not legally necessary to open the statute of limitations. Accordingly, the Defense Department revived the Stowers case in November 1990.
There are still fewer veterans in Congress than in past decades, but the drawn-out wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have given rise to a new generation on Capitol Hill.
Last year, Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry launched a bipartisan caucus to help post-9/11 veterans transition to civilian life and to draw attention to issues like post-traumatic stress. Both Gabbard and Perry served in the Iraq war.
"If they can get in, they become very well-known quickly because there are so few people who are credible," said Jon Soltz, chairman of VoteVets, a PAC that works to elect Democratic veterans to Congress. "Whereas in World War II, you may have been one of 300. Now you’re one of 30."
That visibility "creates a challenge as well as an opportunity," said Gabbard, a major in the Army National Guard, who cited her war experience when endorsing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president.
[ Tulsi Gabbard Resigns from DNC to Back Bernie Sanders ]
The fact that presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump publicly dumped on him in the media hasn’t deterred embattled entrepreneur Martin Shkreli from endorsing him.
I haven't been called by the Trump camp. I support him vs. Hillary. He should find a VP candidate who is seasoned in politics, an ugly game.
— Martin Shkreli (@MartinShkreli) May 27, 2016
“I support him vs. Hillary,” Shkreli announced on social media Thursday evening.
[ Shkreli’s Latest Trolling Victim: Clinton ]
The show of support stumped those who recalled how Trump has treated Shkreli in the past.
“He looks like a spoiled brat to me,” the White House hopeful said of Shkreli late last summer while campaigning in South Carolina.
When Google honored a civil rights activist who supported a man convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey fired off a letter .
He asked Larry Page, CEO of the tech giant's parent company, Alphabet Inc., "why anyone would choose to defend a cold-blooded murderer ..." The sacrifices by law enforcement officers, "deserve to be honored and respected," he wrote.
Toomey’s letter might look like a momentary diversion as he prepares for re-election. But the first-term senator has instead made support for police officers central to his campaign against Democratic nominee Katie McGinty, evoking a strong law-and-order message that appears to praise the police as much as it targets their critics.
The senator has opposed measures to “de-militarize” the police that became popular after the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. He’s backed legislation to give prison guards pepper spray. And he’s made a point of telling voters about it, in Senate speeches , press releases, and TV ads.
“When rioters destroyed American cities, Pat Toomey stood strong with police,” says an ad released in March . “Toomey fought for better police equipment and benefits — and denounced the riots when others wouldn’t.”
A spending bill that funds watchdog agencies overseeing Wall Street will offer lawmakers one of their last opportunities to undercut President Barack Obama’s signature financial overhaul before the November elections.
Financial interests are pushing for big changes, championed mostly by Republicans, to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the $21.7 billion House Financial Services draft appropriations bill . The debate will also give Democrats a chance to rail against big financial firms and reinforce a popular campaign trail refrain.
In addition to the CFPB, which was authorized by Dodd-Frank, financial industry lobbyists say they’re pushing for changes to insurance regulations as well as to the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which monitors the stability of the financial system.
“This particular bill is a magnet for Wall Street’s lobbyists and Wall Street’s allies,” said Dennis Kelleher, president and CEO of Better Markets and a proponent of Dodd-Frank.
[ On Fifth Anniversary, Dodd-Frank Financial Regulations Appear to Be Here to Stay ]
A pro-abortion rights group is alleging that Republican senators are blocking the president's Supreme Court nominee over abortion, and is targeting four of them in new ads.
NARAL Pro-Choice America plans to devote $100,000 to radio and digital ads in four states criticizing Republican senators for not considering Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
The ads will focus on Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, and vulnerable GOP senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Rob Portman of Ohio. According to audio of the ads shared with CQ Roll Call, female NARAL members from those states reiterate the Democrats' "Do Your Job" mantra, and add that without hearings or a vote on Garland, the senators "will be stopping the highest court in the land from protecting our right when it matters most."
[ Democrats Play 'Trump Card' Over Court Standoff ]
The ads allege that the Republican decision to not hold hearings or a vote on Garland is really about limiting abortion rights. A NARAL spokesman pointed to Grassley's reported remarks to a pro-life group in April that the Supreme Court was "one justice away" from making partial-birth abortion a constitutional right.
Congress is heading out of town for Memorial Day recess, but lawmakers still haveplenty of items on theirto-do lists.Members on both sides of the aisle have pushed for action to address issues ranging from the Zika virus to authorizing defense programs. Withroughly two months worth of legislative days left in 2016, here's a look at what's going on with some of the top issues in Congress:"The mosquitos are coming" has been a frequent message in urging action on emergency funds to combat the Zika virus, which is spread through mosquitoes and has been proven to cause birth defects . In February, President Barack Obama requested that Congress allocate $1.9billion for the effort. The Senate approveda compromise $1.1billion measure on May 17, and the House approved a $622 million package the next day.House and Senate lawmakers will now go to conference on the appropriations measures that encompass the Zika packages, where Democrats and Republicans will have to find some consensus on how much should be spent to combat the virus, and whether and how that money shouldbe offset with cuts.[As Zika Risk Escalates, Congress Heads Out]
In just a few short weeks on Capitol Hill, Majid “Sal” Salahuddin drafted and garnered enough bipartisan support to pass his first piece of legislation.
The measure, which reinstates a reporting requirement for the Department of Veterans Affairs, was adopted as an amendment in the Senate’s version of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending plan.
But Salahuddin is neither a sitting congressman nor a senator – he’s a 25-year Army veteran who is part of the Vet Voice fellowship program that aims to let post-9/11 service members lend their military experience to elected officials on the Hill. Citing a congressional report, Vet Voice said only 98 veterans from that period work among the more than 6,000 employees who work on the hill.
[ Getting a Job on Capitol Hill: For Veterans ] Salahuddin, 42, says veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bring a unique skill set that adapts naturally to congressional work, given their interaction with locals and other workers during deployment.
“The 10-year war has made us become efficient in so many different things that we didn’t have to do in previous wars,” he said. "We didn’t have to negotiate contracts. We didn’t have to speak to tribes.”
Business, industry, transportation, labor and policy-making leaders from around the country came together during "Infrastructure Week" to discuss the many ways infrastructure affects our economy, quality of life, safety and communities. Amid talks of engineering, innovation and managing population growth, one question hung over every discussion: How will we actually pay for this?
As our nation grapples with its aging roadways, many political leaders have been unwilling to make hard decisions to find the right blend of financing for America’s roadways. Many states have recently raised state gas taxes because of Congress’ unwillingness to do so at the federal level. This is despite evidence that raising the gas tax is not a political death sentence. Last year, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association found that 95 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats who voted to increase their state gas taxes won re-election races.
With the federal gas tax stagnant, states need various highway funding solutions. They can consider registration fees, supplements from income, sales and property taxes, or even per-mile road usage charges. There is no silver bullet, no single right answer. But there is a wrong answer in funding transportation: putting tolls on roads that motorists currently use toll-free.
Pro-tolling arguments are the epitome of politicians passing the buck: “If you don’t use the road, you don’t pay for it.” In reality, tolling roads that currently don’t have tolls hurts budget-strapped states that need real solutions to repair and maintain existing interstate infrastructure, and it has real, negative consequences on businesses and families.
[ Carper Looks for Bipartisan Solution to Gas Tax ] While building new roads and paying for them with tolls has been appropriate and successful in some places, it’s a different situation on existing interstates. The federal government recognizes this and requires a federal exemption to do so. The opposition to and ill effects of such policy are well-documented. In the 18-year history of the pilot program allowing this exemption, not a single toll has been added to an existing interstate. The pilot program’s overwhelming failure shows it’s time to turn to more realistic, cost-effective and proven solutions — of which tolling is not. From a purely pragmatic perspective, building, staffing and maintaining toll facilities is inherently inefficient and takes many years to generate any net income. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the administrative, collection and enforcement costs of a typical toll facility are 33.5 percent of the revenue generated. Compare this to the academy’s finding that the administrative cost of the fuel tax is about 1% of revenue. Electronic toll collection is more efficient but still has upfront construction costs and can require 12 to 20 percent of the revenue collected for operation. That money should be going toward public infrastructure projects — not into tolling companies' pockets.
[ Ryan's First Test: The Highway Bill ] Aside from their inefficiency, tolls make roadways less safe by disrupting traffic patterns. Traffic diversion is a serious problem, crowding secondary roads near toll facilities. A 2013 study for the North Carolina Department of Transportation on the effects of tolls on Interstate 95 in the Tar Heel State predicted that tolls would divert up to 36 percent of traffic to alternate routes. This would contribute to delays, traffic accidents, and accelerated deterioration of smaller secondary roads not built for such high use. Congestion caused by toll diversion also delays response times for emergency personnel who rely on alternative routes to quickly get to and from accidents and emergencies, raising legitimate public safety concerns. Traffic diversion hurts local businesses that depend on interstate drivers for their income. The NCDOT study estimated that between 2014 and 2050, diversion around tolls on I-95 would cost approximately $1.1 billion dollars in revenue to businesses within a mile of the I-95 corridor in North Carolina. Tolls increase the cost of delivering goods and services, put local businesses at a competitive disadvantage and increase the cost of living for residents.
[ Gas Tax Hike Not Ruled Out by Inhofe ]
It’s important that the Interstate Highway System facilitate unrestricted commerce and travel throughout the country. Admittedly, today’s fuel tax revenues are not keeping pace with our highway transportation needs. Creative solutions must be explored, but tolls are by far the worst way to solve our transportation funding deficit. We can all agree that our beleaguered infrastructure needs help. But it must be the right kind of help. The data and facts are clear: Tolling hurts local economies and drives up costs for businesses and families. Policymakers should not settle for a detrimental financing option but pursue sustainable financing solutions that create economic growth and strengthen America’s future infrastructure. Kane is the spokesperson for the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, a national coalition of individuals, businesses and organizations that advocates for solving our growing transportation needs without tolling our existing interstates. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.