Congressional Digest: Pope Francis Visits, Boehner Exits

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 38 views 

Arkansas’ federal lawmakers faced the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, received a visit from Pope Francis and criticized a federal agency’s response to a disaster in the Animas River.

The following is a breakdown of events that happened in the nation’s capital this past week:

The announcement of the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, drew surprises as the Speaker faced increased scrutiny from conservatives over policy issues. Boehner made the announcement during a House Republican conference meeting.

Members of the state’s House delegation said Boehner, who became Speaker in 2011, faced an untenable position but led the House with distinction.

Read Talk Business & Politics’ coverage of the event and reaction from all four members of the state’s House Republican members at this link.

On Thursday, Pope Francis spoke to a joint session of Congress. During his remarks, the leader of the Catholic Church spoke about several issues including climate change, immigration, poverty and respect for life. The visit, the first such of a Pope to the U.S. Capitol, drew comments from the state’s Congressional delegation.

“Today Pope Francis made history by being the first ever reigning pontiff to address Congress. But more important than the historic occasion itself was his unifying message, that human life deserves our deepest respect, and that the preservation of human dignity and freedom is essential, no matter the political climate. These are beliefs that are cherished by all Americans, and they are the goals which we as a Congress strive for each day,” Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, said.

“It was an inspiring and emotional morning to be a witness to this historic event. As a Catholic, it was an honor to be present at the Holy Father’s address to Congress, and the day was made even more special by the attendance of my invited guest, Father Fred. I’ve known this fine man and wonderful teacher since 1971, and he has been contributing mightily to my spiritual growth and development ever since,” Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, said. “This Pope is an ambassador of the best virtues of religion; he is a staunch believer in fighting complacency, corruption, and helping those in poor communities. These are convictions that all Americans hold dear, and I hope that the members of Congress present today and the millions watching on TV take the Holy Father’s words and use them to continue to do good in their daily lives.”

“Today, we had the honor of welcoming Pope Francis to give a historic address to a Joint Session of Congress. The Pope’s message of working for the common good, protecting the most vulnerable, and preserving the dignity of each human life are values that have and will continue to shape the United States. Pope Francis is a uniting figure, and it is my hope that his address will inspire Congress to work together to fight for a society that produces unmatched opportunity for the next generation,” Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, said.

Also attending the speech was Msgr. Lawrence Frederick, a priest and teacher at Little Rock Catholic High School.

The House voted Thursday to rename the courthouse at Helena-West Helena after the nation’s first Jewish federal judge. The building has been named after Judge Jacob Trieber, who served as a federal judge from 1900 to 1927. The renaming was also approved by the Senate earlier this year and now heads to the President’s desk for signature.

“We owe this honor to Judge Trieber who was a well-respected leader in Phillips County. This is a great tribute that symbolizes the important work he did for the community and in pursuit of justice as the nation’s first Jewish federal judge. I’m pleased that my colleagues in the House of Representatives supported this legislation,” Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said.

Boozman and Crawford co-sponsored the bill in the Congress.

Both Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. and Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, this week opposed actions dealing with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cotton asked for the EPA to pay for damages from the Animas River disaster, while Westerman filed a complaint with Colorado officials on the Gold King Mine disaster.

“The EPA’s response to the Animas River disaster reads like an exaggerated Hollywood portrayal of a political cover-up. They underplayed the severity of the spill from the beginning and failed to warn affected states or groups to allow them to better mitigate damages,” Cotton said. “Unfortunately, unlike in Hollywood movies, real people’s lives have been devastated by this disaster. The EPA must take responsibility for their negligence and make things right. Administrator McCarthy should immediately begin setting aside funds from the agency’s budget to pay damages.”

“Because the EPA has not demonstrated a Colorado licensed professional engineer was engaged during the planning and design stages nor part of the Site Removal Team that was responsible for the Gold King Mine spill, the EPA was in direct violation of the Colorado statute, and should be subject to the same consequences any other entity in violation of this law would face.” Westerman said in his complaint. “I believe the spill could have been prevented, or at the very least, significantly mitigated, if the EPA had followed the engineering practice laws established to safeguard life, health, and property and to promote the public welfare.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., on Thursday criticized the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Judging from the White House invitation list for Pope Francis’s visit, it’s clear that President Obama plans to challenge his honored guest with activists who openly dispute Catholic beliefs and teachings. President Obama should apply this newfound diplomatic protocol even-handedly, and do so this very week at the state dinner for Chinese President Xi Jinping,” Cotton said. “There are a number of figures whom the White House could invite at the last minute who would guarantee a spirited challenge to President Xi’s deplorable record on human rights, freedom of speech and religion, and the rule of law.”

Cotton suggested that the White House ask Teng Biao, Wei Jingsheng and Tsering Kyi to attend the meeting.

“Referred to by some as the ‘Father of Chinese Democracy,’ Mr. Wei has been an outspoken critic of Beijing’s autocratic political control and human rights abuses for nearly four decades. Mr. Wei spent a total of 18 years as a political prisoner in China before being exiled to the United States. Mr. Wei would certainly offer President Xi a different perspective on Xi’s steady attempts to consolidate power in China and to crackdown on voices of dissent,” Cotton said.

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