As I mourn the loss of my dear friend and colleague, John Lewis, I take solace in knowing that I do not mourn this incredible man, this champion of justice, this tireless fighter for equality, alone. From Selma, where he was brutally beaten while fighting to expand Black voter registration, to his more than thirty-three years of dedicated, purposeful service in the House, John stood as a symbol of progress, of courage, and of inspiration to all who were fortunate enough to hear his words and watch him lead. His passing is keenly felt by so many.
I will miss John’s voice, a voice that now belongs to the ages. It was an immense honor to work closely with him on several major pieces of civil rights legislation including the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law that would not have existed without his tireless activism.His early support for the Equality Act provided crucial momentum in ensuring the bill’s passage by the House. And in 2016, he led our colleagues in a sit-in on the House floor to demand that Congress address the scourge of gun violence. He truly was the Conscience of the Congress and of our country. I send my deepest condolences to his family, his staff, his constituents, and the entire nation as we grieve John’s passing. May his memory be a blessing.
Working to Keep the MTA Afloat
COVID-19 has wreaked tremendous havoc on public transit systems across America, yet none have been as hard-hit as New York City and the MTA. With ridership at an all-time low, the MTA is facing a $16 billion deficit—one of the most existential financial crises in its history. For years, I have fought hard in Washington for the MTA, and during this pandemic I helped secure $4 billion in federal funds in the CARES Act and another $4 billion in the Heroes Act. Yet with the Senate refusing to act on the Heroes Act, that additional $4 billion remains in purgatory, forcing the MTA to consider significant cuts and heightened costs. I will continue fighting for federal funds for the MTA so that the economic burden does not fall on the riders who rely on the MTA as an essential service, and the MTA can continue serving as an engine for our city’s economy and people.
Fighting for Progressive Budget Priorities
This past week, I voted against the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021.Although the bill did contain many productive, progressive measures—including provisions prohibiting the use of funds to support the Saudi-led coalition air strikes in Yemen and limiting the President’s ability to divert funds to build his border wall—I could not in the end support it. Voting for the NDAA would have been authorizing a record-breaking Pentagon budget of $740.5 billion—over half of our discretionary budget. The spread of COVID-19 has brought our misguided financial priorities into stark relief: it is unconscionable to support a defense budget of such immense size when the Centers for Disease Control’s budget is only $11 billion, or 1.5% of the Pentagon’s budget. With this budget, our nation will provide $550 billion more in discretionary funding for military spending than for healthcare, education, workforce development, and anti-poverty programs combined—all of which I believe should be our priority as we face this unprecedented crisis.
On the other hand, I was proud to vote for H.R. 7608, the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act. This appropriations package delivers funds to crucial, urgent priorities. I am especially proud of the over $10 billion it allocates to COVID-19 emergency funding, the strong support for global women’s health and the repeal of harmful anti-choice family planning policies, and the $500 million it provides to fight climate change internationally. It also expands broadband access, provides billions in rental housing loans and rental assistance, and commits $1 billion to domestic conservation efforts. Many of the priorities within this package—supporting low-income families, safeguarding the environment, and protecting public health—have been priorities I have been fighting for as well, and I’m happy to vote in favor of its passage.
For too long, America’s public lands have gone underfunded and underserved, leading to multi-million dollar maintenance backlogs that limit the National Park Service’s (NPS) ability to provide safe, memorable experiences to millions of annual visitors. My district, which is home to seven wonderful NPS sites, has witnessed these maintenance backlogs firsthand, with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island burdened with a combined$90 million backlog. That’s why I co-sponsored and proudly voted for the Great American Outdoors Act, which would deliver billions in federal funds to conservation efforts, national park repairs, and over 100,000 new jobs. The funds allocated within this bill will not only ensure that trails are open and facilities are functional, they’ll deliver $900 million per year to the vital Land and Water Conservation Fund while making certain that the NPS can hire the staff it needs to serve as a careful steward of our shared lands. I’m proud of the House and the Senate for taking bipartisan, decisive action and I look forward to this bill becoming law.
Removing Racist and Confederate Statues from the Capitol
In 2020, there should be absolutely no tolerance for celebration of the Confederacy or the racism it represents. Yet statues of Confederate Generals and soldiers are still displayed throughout the Capitol. I was proud to vote for H.R. 7573, which calls for the removal of several Confederate generals’ statues from Capitol grounds, as well as the bust of Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney, who wrote the majority opinion in Dred Scott v. Sandford denying citizenship to Black Americans. Our nation is in the midst of a long overdue reckoning that demands sustained introspection and substantive growth. Removing this statutes is a small, but powerful, step to bringing that reckoning to the halls of Congress, a reckoning we should have begun long ago.