Lankford issues Constituent Letter
Mike Seals - July 26, 2020 10:40 pm
By James Lankford, United States Senator for the State of Oklahoma
Dear Oklahoma friends and neighbors:
I encourage everyone to stop for a minute and count your blessings. With everything in the world being so unstable, it is a good moment to remember all that is still good. It is also a good moment for leaders in every business, neighborhood, and family to take responsibility and set the example for others around you. Let’s find practical ways to help others.
This week, the Senate continued to consider nominations to fill Executive and Judicial Branch vacancies and work through committee hearings and legislation. We authorized funding for our defense community and addressed the atrocities by the Chinese government in Hong Kong. The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on which I serve passed a number of important bills out of Committee to address issues including: supply chain problems from China, preparing for the next pandemic, stopping spying from China, improving security technology on America’s southwest border, improving telework for federal agencies, stopping unfunded mandates from federal agencies, and more.
After we finish legislation on our national response to COVID-19, I plan to directly hear from constituents back home and work with them to develop solutions to our problems. I will spend the upcoming August state work period connecting with Oklahoma healthcare providers, manufacturers, school leaders, law enforcement, farmers and ranchers, nonprofits, small businesses, local government entities across the state, and others to hear about the issues they and their families face and how Congress can do its part to resolve those issues. I am grateful for the time we have in August to be out of Washington, DC, and hear from Oklahomans.
Please stay engaged with my office if you need help navigating federal agencies or need to be directed to resources for where to turn on other issues. We’re here to serve you.
US Supreme Court Decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma
On May 11, attorneys for Mr. Jimcy McGirt and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Oklahoma Solicitor General argued their respective sides of a case before the US Supreme Court about whether the Creek Reservation (a large section of eastern Oklahoma) was “disestablished” as a reservation by Congress more than 100 years ago. Attorneys for Mr. McGirt, a Tribal member, argued that Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction to try him in Oklahoma state court because they argued his crime of rape was committed on Muscogee (Creek) reservation land.
The Major Crimes Act, which covers crimes like rape and murder, gives only the federal government the ability to try these crimes if committed on a reservation and involving a Tribal member. If the Muscogee (Creek) Reservation was never disestablished, as the defendant argued, the state would have never had jurisdiction to try Mr. McGirt because the federal court should have been the appropriate trial venue.
On July 9, in a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Gorsuch, the Court held in McGirt that the Creek Reservation was never disestablished by Congress. So Mr. McGirt must be retried in federal court.
CLICK HERE to read my statement.
The Court’s decision has caused numerous rumors to spread regarding Tribal and non-Tribal land ownership and jurisdiction in the reservation land. My staff and I have been engaged along with the entire Oklahoma congressional delegation, the Tribes, the state, and all stakeholders to track areas that Congress will need to work on regarding any required follow-up federal legislation to provide predictability and certainty for all Oklahomans. The more questions we answer now, the fewer guesses or assumptions people will have to make in the future. If you have questions, concerns, or ideas about Oklahoma’s future, please send me an email with your thoughts. As we write legislation to bring predictability, we want to be sure we cover as many relevant issues as possible for future generations.
CLICK HERE to read the Oklahoma delegation’s commitment to resolving this with all stakeholders through legislation. At the end of the day, we are all Oklahomans.
Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act
Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, who is Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has worked diligently again this year to provide our defense community with the important federal authority needed to continue to serve missions at home and abroad to keep us safe. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) lays out congressional priorities for our nation’s Armed Forces and gives Congress an opportunity to consider—along with input from the Pentagon—our nation’s defense priorities for the next year. Senator Inhofe and his team have done a thorough job once again to ensure those priorities are met and that our Oklahoma military installations have the tools they need for their missions.
- For Tinker Air Force Base, this year’s NDAA fully funds the KC-46 and the B-21 programs, which are significant to Tinker and the surrounding community. The bill also includes a pilot program for the “180-day rule modification,” which is a provision I secured and one that the folks at Tinker have consistently requested. Currently, people exiting their military service have to wait 180 days before they can move from military to civilian status within the Armed Services. As a result of that six-month delay, a defense contractor hires them in the mean-time and our defense community loses that hire. We should not punish our military retirees who are trying to continue serving as civilians.
- At Altus Air Force Base, the bill fully funds the important KC-46 and helps continue the transition of aircraft to the Base, which is vital to our nation’s tanker program and has been unfortunately delayed for a variety of issues, including several critical deficiencies with the remote vision system and the refueling boom. Until the KC-46 is operational, the Air Force may need to continue using refueling aircraft that are more than 60 years old to complete its missions.
- At Vance Air Force Base in Enid, this bill funds the T-7 Red Hawk and its development, which will ultimately replace the T-38.
- At the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, this bill funds their important work and helps increase the capability of the “C-Line,” where old munitions are returned to McAlester to be safely disassembled. It is a dangerous job our folks in McAlester faithfully do every day.
- In Lawton at Fort Sill, the bill funds the paladin integrated management (PIM) system and its important work along with the Ft. Sill Fires Center of Excellence, which organizes, trains, and equips all of the PIM units that serve military installations worldwide.
CLICK HERE to watch my floor speech on this year’s NDAA.
The NDAA passed the Senate yesterday and now awaits further action with the House. I look forward to getting this important legislation finalized and signed by President Trump as soon as possible.
CLICK HERE for more information on what’s in this year’s NDAA.
UPDATE: Coronavirus Economic Relief Proposal
This is certainly one of the more unique summers we’ve experienced as a nation. The virus has certainly challenged our health, our economy, our families, and our sense of normalcy. I hope that in spite of the virus, you remain in touch with your family and friends and engaged in your communities, wherever possible. In the mean-time, the Senate continues to consider the next phase of economic relief.
Although the legislation for the next “phase” of economic relief and aid in the Senate is not yet finalized, my focus for any additional economic relief package is to make sure we are directing aid to those who need it most. We recently added more than $3.5 trillion to our federal debt to help American businesses and families through this unprecedented moment in our history and hopefully avoid outright economic collapse due to our shuttered economy. I do not take that astronomical amount of money lightly. In conversations about any further relief packages, I’d urge all of us to consider the impact of spending taxpayers’ money now and the impact 100 years from now on future generations.
As the next coronavirus economic relief proposal continues to move through the legislative process, I will continue to press my priorities in areas of improved access to healthcare, Medicare clarity and access to telehealth, small business loan access, education, long-term care access, nonprofit support, agricultural food assistance, fraud protection for unemployment and other state-run programs, and much more. I will provide updates whenever possible and additional information on my website about any future federal economic relief for the pandemic. If you have concerns or questions about the conversations and ultimately any legislation circulating in Congress to continue to address the pandemic, please don’t hesitate to call my office.
While people wait on the federal government, our nonprofits step in to support our families. Before, during, and after the relief package (CARES Act) was passed back in March, I have continued to work on a bipartisan basis to press for support for our nonprofits, who must also pay rent, utilities, and payroll during this pandemic and who also help our families and communities day in and day out whether we’re experiencing a pandemic or not.
I have had calls throughout this time with Oklahoma nonprofits and their collaborative organizations like the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits to find out how they’re serving and how we can serve them. I’ve also sent numerous letters over the past several months to federal agency administrators to get clarity for nonprofits and businesses of some of the key areas of the CARES Act, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), and others. Families, nonprofits, and small businesses are still hurting during this pandemic. As we consider future relief, we should look at targeted ways to help that do not have a long-lasting impact on federal debt.
In June, I led a bipartisan group of senators to introduce the Universal Giving Pandemic Response Act, which would expand the current above-the-line deduction for charitable giving made available by the CARES Act in March, The bill would ensure that Americans who donate to charities, houses of worship, religious organizations, and other nonprofits are able to deduct that donation from their federal taxes at a higher level than the current $300 deduction.
I recently penned a bipartisan op-ed with Senator Angus King of Maine on the important role of nonprofits and why we should support them now more than ever. CLICK HERE to read our bipartisan op-ed on the important role of nonprofits and charities and the need to continue to support their work.
CLICK HERE to learn more about my Universal Giving Pandemic Response Act.
We must hold China accountable for its mounting violations of international agreements and its disregard for decades-old agreements with the people of Hong Kong. As a commissioner on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), I have worked to hold China accountable for its human rights abuses and predatory lending practices. I was also a cosponsor of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which was signed into law by President Trump in 2019.
Recently Hongkongers have raised their voices to the world about the Chinese overthrow of Hong Kong. The communist Chinese government recently imposed a sweeping security law that removes basic freedom in Hong Kong, including limiting access to the internet and restricting their ability to share information online and protest in public. The law was enacted to suppress voices in Hong Kong that the governments don’t like or to “cancel” peaceful protest movements that disagree with the abuses of power by the government. Our nation should stand with the people of Hong Kong and work to preserve their freedoms. Teachers, journalists, and protesters have been arrested or fined for speaking out about basic human rights. Freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and the press are liberties that could cease to exist in Hong Kong.
This week, Democrat Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia joined me to introduce the Safeguarding Internet Freedom in Hong Kong Act, which pushes back on China’s aggressive actions to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedom by bolstering firewall circumvention infrastructure in Hong Kong. We should allow the free people of Hong Kong to talk to each other online and share their stories and pictures with the world. China does not want the world to know what they are doing to the people of Hong Kong.
This week, the Chinese Consulate in Houston was shut down by the US government after it was discovered that Chinese personnel there could be involved in espionage and theft. I will continue to do what I can to shed light on the dangers posed to our nation and the international community by the communist Chinese government.
CLICK HERE to listen to my podcast, The Breakdown with James Lankford, this week with former US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, on what’s happening in Hong Kong.
CLICK HERE to read more about my bill with Senator Kaine.
CLICK HERE to watch my speech on the Senate floor this week on issues in Hong Kong.
The JUSTICE Act
Since the last Lankford Letter, we have considered the JUSTICE Act to reform some law enforcement practices and help the Department of Justice work with local agencies to keep communities and officers safe. I worked with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina to draft the legislation and move it quickly to floor consideration. The JUSTICE Act supports communities of color and law enforcement.
We offered the opportunity for up to 20 amendments to the bill for those who wanted to see different reforms than we proposed. However, Democrats in the Senate dug in and said, “If we’re not going to consider Speaker Pelosi’s law enforcement bill, then we’re not going to do one at all.” Unfortunately, in an election year, they wanted to have the political issue, rather than solve the issue. The bill, which was similar in many ways to the House’s proposal, ultimately failed to receive the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate.
While there is legislative work to do, ultimately race relations is a family issue and a heart issue. Improving our friendships and community relationships is everyone’s responsibility.
CLICK HERE to learn more about the JUSTICE Act.
Keeping You in the Loop
- In June, Cindy and I had the opportunity to pay our respects at the funeral of Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson, who tragically died in the line of duty. We must continue to stand together in support of the police officers who serve with honor and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect everyone in our communities. I prayed for Sgt. Johnson and injured Officer, Aurash Zarkeshan, and their families on the Senate floor prior to the loss of Sgt. Johnson. Officer Zarkeshan continues to recover from his injuries, and Cindy and I continue to pray for his swift and complete recovery. CLICK HERE to watch my speech on the Senate floor.
- In late June, the Senate began consideration of a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, which would add an 11th full day that federal buildings would be closed each year. I have supported the idea of recognizing Juneteenth, the official celebration on June 19th of the end of slavery in the US, as a federal holiday. We strive to “form a more perfect union” in our nation, and I believe celebrating positive changes we’ve made toward that goal is important. All 100 senators supported the idea of making Juneteenth a federal holiday, so I researched the impact on our national debt of the lost time and overtime every year from an 11th federal holiday. I learned that each federal holiday costs around $600 million. So I joined another senator to suggest we close federal offices on Juneteenth instead of Columbus Day since only 21 states observe the day off for Columbus Day. The amendment did not “abolish” Columbus Day. It simply meant that federal workers would not get the day off for Columbus Day, just like they do not get the day off for Flag Day, Mother’s Day, St. Patrick’s day, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, and countless others. Columbus Day would have still been a holiday each October, but we would have saved $600 million each year in lost time and wages by keeping our federal agencies open. I do not support the removal of any Christopher Columbus monument or his name on anything, but I do support saving taxpayers’ hard-earned money. If you are one of the Oklahomans who saw the blatant misinformation on social media or TV about my proposal to save our tax dollars, I hope you will take a minute to CLICK HERE and read the letter I wrote to Oklahomans who contacted my office about why I would offer this amendment.
- On June 25, the Senate Homeland Security Committee held a hearing to provide oversight of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). I questioned a senior CBP official about the agency’s ongoing work to seize items, including illegal drugs and fake COVID-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) and test kits along our borders and at ports of entry. Our conversation also highlighted the 11-year high of newly naturalized citizens to our nation over the last few months and the positive steps in the process of legal immigration President Trump and his Administration have taken. CLICK HERE to learn more and to watch my Q&A.
- July 8th was a great day for freedom in our nation and the foundational principle of religious liberty when the Supreme Court ruled with the Little Sisters of the Poor that a requirement to provide contraceptives to employees was a violation of their deeply held religious beliefs and First Amendment rights. Representative Vicky Hartzler of Missouri joined me in an amicus brief to urge the Supreme Court to uphold religious exemption protections for the Sisters, and I was even able to meet with the Sisters earlier this year. CLICK HERE to read more about their victory for religious liberty in the Supreme Court.
- In mid-June, the Senate considered and I voted against the Great American Outdoors Act, a sweeping and costly bill that sought to address purchase and maintenance issues with federal lands and reform the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The bill lacked critical provisions that would help prevent significant amounts of debt and deficit spending, and it ignored the critical maintenance backlog throughout the country within the 640 million of acres of American public land. We can and should protect our precious national parks and all of our tax dollars. This was not a new issue for me. I have addressed this issue numerous times throughout my service in Congress, and the LWCF has been a repeat-offender in my Federal Fumbles federal waste book. I spoke on the Senate floor prior to the vote about my opposition to the bill and my frustrations with our lack of attention to properly and responsibly address our maintenance backlog. CLICK HERE to watch my speech on the Senate floor.
- I am consistently grateful for Oklahomans like Ernest Odunze who manages Restore OKC, a faith-based community development organization working to equip, educate, employ, and revitalize northeast Oklahoma City. They teach young people important skills and even help them learn how to grow a garden in an urban setting. I was honored to have the opportunity to work in the garden and talk to the group of volunteers a few weeks ago—while taking all of our coronavirus precautions—to be able to encourage them and how they serve. Thank you, Restore OKC and Ernest, for all you do to serve!
- This week, the State of Oklahoma allocated $10 million in federal grants to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture’s Food Supply Stability Plan for Oklahoma meat processors. The grants of up to $1 million are intended to help Oklahoma meat processors build or expand businesses and create additional meat processing capacity in Oklahoma, which will help reduce the risks of plant shutdowns and ensure Oklahomans have access to meat. I also cosponsored the Requiring Assistance to Meat Processors for Upgrading Plants (RAMP-UP) Act with Senator Moran of Kansas to support smaller meat processors around the country. To learn more about how to participate in Oklahoma’s grant program for meat processors, CLICK HERE.
In God We Trust,
United States Senator for Oklahoma