WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) penned this op-ed in The Hill on Sunday defending the blue slip nomination process for district court judges.
Kennedy also highlighted the success of district court nominee Darrel Papillion, a Louisiana nominee who received blue slips from both Republican senators and sailed through the Judiciary Committee vote last week, earning bipartisan support.
Below are key excerpts:
“[T]he blue slip isn’t about dunking on the opposition. The blue slip is one of the only ways that citizens have a say—through their elected senators—in who gets to call the legal balls and strikes in their communities.”
. . .
“Trust in our judicial system depends on these judges’ being highly qualified. That means knowing legal procedure and constitutional rights inside and out. These judges must also have the appropriate judicial temperament to ensure every citizen receives a fair trial. Republican and Democratic senators alike should be loath to leave this responsibility to unelected bureaucrats in the White House Counsel’s Office who don’t know or understand the people we represent.
“While I believe my colleagues on both sides of the aisle take the responsibility of confirmation seriously, the majority party can get tunnel vision when trying to rush through the president’s nominees. I’ve served during Republican and Democrat White Houses, and I know that presidents from both parties have nominated some duds. The stakes for green-lighting a questionable candidate may seem low, but bad judges have real consequences. No one wants to find themself fighting for their freedom before a judge who thinks the U.S. Constitution is the name of a ship.
“Senators can’t afford to overlook unqualified nominees because we are accountable first and foremost to the people of our state—the same people who suffer at the hands of biased or untalented appointees. If a bad judge lands on a district court in Louisiana, that judge can oversee a lifetime appointment’s worth of injustices. And that can do irreparable damage to the people who sent me to be their voice.”
. . .
“The blue slip process encourages bipartisan cooperation. Our deference to the people of our respective states forces any White House to prioritize the qualifications and judicial temperament of nominees rather than bending the knee to activists or privileging people with political connections. The blue slip process makes our court system fairer and stronger. And that’s good for our democracy.”
Read Kennedy’s full op-ed here.
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today announced $12,677,732 in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants for Louisiana disaster aid.
“I am grateful to see that this $12.7 million will go towards disaster recovery efforts in Slidell and Jefferson Parish as well as to repairing the grid,” said Kennedy.
The FEMA aid will fund the following:
- $7,119,114 to Jefferson Parish for debris removal operations from Hurricane Ida.
- $4,332,704 for the elevation of 22 properties affected by flooding in Slidell, La.
- $1,225,914 to the Dixie Electric Membership Corporation for repairs from Hurricane Delta.
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) introduced the Chase COVID Unemployment Fraud Act of 2023 to recover stolen COVID unemployment money and return it to taxpayers. The legislation encourages states to implement guardrails that would protect against future fraud.
“The pandemic may be over, but the financial damage is still hurting honest Americans. The greatest theft of taxpayer dollars in American history is the billions of COVID unemployment money that fraudsters stole. This bill will help recover that money and return it to taxpayers,” said Kennedy.
According to testimony provided by the Department of Labor (DOL) Inspector General, improper payments in pandemic unemployment programs have left taxpayers on the hook for at least $191 billion that people took illegally.
The bill would fight fraud by:
- Incentivizing states to recover fraudulent unemployment payments by allowing them to retain 25 percent of the funds they recover from federal COVID unemployment programs. Workforce agencies currently have little incentive to go after fraud and must pay the up-front costs of hiring investigators and paying to prosecute fraud.
- Allowing states to retain five percent of state unemployment overpayments that they recover and dedicating those funds to preventing future fraud by:
- Hiring investigators and prosecutors to go after criminals to recover fraud payments.
- Modernizing state systems’ ability to verify identity and income for unemployment.
- Supporting additional program integrity activities to deter, detect and prevent improper payments.
- Preventing further fraud by requiring states to match unemployment claims and verify employment, in addition to preventing incarcerated people from receiving unemployment benefits and stopping payments to deceased people.
- Prohibiting the Biden administration from allowing states to waive suspicious overpayments by requiring the DOL to amend guidance that lets states off the hook for over-looking large volumes of suspicious unemployment claims.
- Requiring the DOL to report on fraudulent overpayments and the amount of money states recover from fraudsters.
- Extending the statute of limitations for criminal charges or civil actions for prosecuting fraud from five to 10 years.
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) joined Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) today in introducing a bill to require the U.S. State Department to release a public, unclassified version of the July 13, 2021, internal dissent channel cable that reportedly warned of the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s ability to capture Kabul.
The bill would also require the State Department to provide Congress with a classified version of the dissent cable, removing any personally identifiable information of the senders.
“The American people deserve to know what led to the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and how the Biden administration could have avoided that disaster. The toll in terms of human suffering has been enormous. The need for accountability is urgent,” said Kennedy.
“As the Biden administration continues to pass the buck and stonewall accountability measures for its disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, this legislation would finally provide the American people and Congress with answers about the dire warnings that the administration ignored. The administration’s after-action reports confirmed the tragic error of withdrawing troops based on a date advertised to the Taliban instead of the security conditions on the ground. They also lacked any assessment of the failed decision-making that led to the chaos in Kabul, eroded the security situation in Afghanistan, and undercut U.S. credibility globally,” said Thune.
“More than a year and a half after the Biden Administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the State Department continues to refuse to provide Congress with a copy of the July 13, 2021, dissent cable warning of the rapidly deteriorating situation. Not only have repeated requests for this document been ignored, but the administration has buried lessons learned in a classified after-action report that may prevent a similar catastrophe from happening again. The American people deserve transparency. I will continue working with Senator Thune and our colleagues to obtain a copy of the dissent cable and to hold this administration accountable,” said Risch.
The July 13 dissent cable reportedly warned the Biden administration of the mounting deterioration of Afghanistan’s security and the need to immediately begin evacuations. Regrettably, it was apparently met with inaction, evidenced by the National Security Council Deputies Committee’s decision to delay its first meeting to discuss evacuating Afghanistan until a full month after the dissent cable was sent.
According to the State Department, the dissent channel “is a serious policy channel reserved only for consideration of responsible dissenting and alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues that cannot be communicated in a full and timely manner through regular operating channels or procedures,” which underscores the urgent nature of the warnings U.S. diplomats sent.
Dissent cables are distributed among senior State Department officials, and the State Department Policy Planning Staff are responsible for “acknowledging receipt of a Dissent message within 2 working days and for providing a substantive reply, normally within 30-60 working days.” The State Department cable addressed by this legislation was first reported on Aug. 19, 2021.
On March 27, 2023, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) signed a subpoena addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken for the dissent cable. As of today, Secretary Blinken had not complied with the subpoena.
On April 6, 2023, the Biden administration released an after-action report, including an unclassified summary, detailing its own assessment of the administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Kennedy, Cornyn introduce Back the Blue Act
May 11 2023
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) joined Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and more than 20 Senate Republican colleagues today in introducing the Back the Blue Act, which would increase penalties for criminals who target law enforcement officers and provide new tools for officers to protect themselves.
“Louisiana’s law enforcement heroes risk their lives for our communities every day, and vicious criminals too often target these officers because of their service. Supporting law enforcement means punishing the violent people who mean them harm and defending the freedoms that help these officers keep themselves and others safe,” said Kennedy.
“Our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to serve families across Texas. Violent criminals who target those who protect our communities should face swift and tough penalties, and the Back the Blue Act sends that clear message,” said Cornyn.
Background on the Back the Blue Act:
The bill would strengthen laws to protect police officers by creating new federal crimes for:
- Killing, attempting to kill or conspiring to kill a federal judge, federal law enforcement officer or federally funded public safety officer. The offender would be subject to the death penalty and a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years if death results. The offender would otherwise face a minimum sentence of 10 years.
- Assaulting a federally funded law enforcement officer with escalating penalties, including mandatory minimums, based on the extent of any injury and the use of a dangerous weapon. No prosecution could begin without certification from the attorney general that prosecution is appropriate.
- Interstate flight from justice to avoid prosecution for killing, attempting to kill or conspiring to kill a federal judge, federal law enforcement officer or federally funded public safety officer. The offender would be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for this offense.
The bill would create a specific aggravating factor for federal death penalty prosecutions by clarifying that the murder or attempted murder of a law enforcement officer or first responder is a statutory aggravating factor for purposes of the federal death penalty.
The bill would limit federal habeas relief for criminals who murder law enforcement officers. It would impose time limits and substantive limits on federal courts’ review of challenges to state-court convictions for crimes involving the murder of a public safety officer when the public safety officer was engaged in the performance of official duties or on account of the performance of official duties. These changes are consistent with the fast-track procedures created in 1996, which are applied to federal death penalty cases.
The bill would expand self-defense and Second Amendment rights for law enforcement officers by allowing them, subject to limited regulation, to carry firearms into federal facilities and other jurisdictions where such possession is otherwise prohibited.
ICYMI: Kennedy: Fentanyl dealers deserve punishments proportional to the poison they carry
May 10 2023
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) penned this op-ed in The Advertiser advocating for tougher punishments for fentanyl dealers who are destroying the lives of many young Louisianians. The piece also appeared in the Shreveport Times, Monroe News Star and Daily World.
Yesterday, Kennedy attempted to pass his Fairness in Fentanyl Sentencing Act to crack down on fentanyl trafficking and protect Louisiana communities.
Senate Democrats blocked the bill just days ahead of President Joe Biden’s ending Title 42. The end of Title 42 is expected to result in surges of illegal immigration at the southern border, which drug cartels exploit to bring more fentanyl into Louisiana communities.
Below are key excerpts:
“Fentanyl has torn too many Louisiana families apart. With President Biden ending Title 42 this week, I fear the problem could get worse before it gets better.”
“[It’s] not just migrants seeking to abuse our broken immigration system. The cartels are eager to exploit it, too. And they’re gearing up to send more poisonous fentanyl into Louisiana.
“Fentanyl has brought so much pain to our state. In 2021, 94% of drug overdose deaths in New Orleans were related to fentanyl. East Baton Rouge Parish’s coroner investigated 300 overdose deaths and found that 88% of those deaths involved fentanyl. In the average month, St. Tammany Parish loses 10 or 11 people to fentanyl overdoses.”
“I wrote the Fairness in Fentanyl Sentencing Act to reduce the fentanyl threshold for the five-year mandatory minimum sentence from 40 grams down to just two grams.
“To be clear: This bill does not aim to punish addicts for falling victim to cartel schemes hatched in Mexico and fueled by Chinese fentanyl makers. Like other parents in Louisiana, I want to help fentanyl victims before it’s too late.”
“I’ll continue to do all I can to secure the border and end the flow of fentanyl into Louisiana. I hope my colleagues in Washington will join me.”
Read Kennedy’s full op-ed here.
View Kennedy’s attempt to pass the Fairness in Fentanyl Sentencing Act here.
WASHINGTON – Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) today introduced the Fighting Inhumane Gambling and High-Risk Animal Trafficking (FIGHT) Act to enhance the enforcement opportunities against dogfighting and cockfighting. While this cruelty is illegal, it remains widespread.
“When it comes to dog and cock fights, these abusers are organized and dangerous—to people as well as innocent animals. It’s illegal to hurt God’s creatures for sport, and our bill would give law enforcement more tools to end this widespread abuse,” said Kennedy.
"Animal fighting is cruel, illegal, and unacceptable. It’s time we take stronger action to stop these heinous abuses against animals and protect them from being exploited for entertainment and profit. This bill will tighten enforcement to put a stop to illegal animal fighting,” said Booker.
Despite being illegal, cockfighting and dogfighting are still common across the country. Cockfights are often hubs of violence because of the illegal activity that accompanies them. Cockfighting also spreads diseases like avian influenza, so people who handle bloodied birds risk getting infected by them.
The FIGHT Act would amend Section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act to enhance the enforcement opportunities under the law. The bill would:
- Ban simulcasting and gambling on animal fights in the U.S., no matter where the broadcast signals for dogfights or the cockfights originate.
- Halt the shipment of mature roosters (chickens only) shipped through the U.S. mail. (This legislation does not address shipping baby chicks, which are used in accepted animal agricultural operations. Shipping dogs through the mail is already illegal.)
- Create a citizen suit provision to allow private right of action against illegal animal fighters and ease the resource burden on federal agencies.
- Enhance forfeiture provisions to include real property used in the commission of an animal fighting crime.
Reps. Andrea Salinas (D-Ore.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.) have introduced the House version of the bill.
More than 100 organizations endorse the FIGHT Act, including Animal Wellness Action, the American Gaming Association and the Rural Sheriffs and Small Law Enforcement Association.
Senate Democrats block Kennedy bill to crack down on fentanyl trafficking and protect American communities
May 09 2023
Watch Kennedy’s speech here.
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) today attempted to pass his Fairness in Fentanyl Sentencing Act to crack down on fentanyl trafficking and protect American communities. Kennedy’s bill would lower the threshold required for minimum sentencing in light of the drug’s potency relative to other substances.
Senate Democrats blocked Kennedy’s bill just days ahead of President Joe Biden’s ending Title 42. Today is National Fentanyl Awareness Day.
The end of Title 42 is expected to result in surges of illegal immigration at the southern border, which drug cartels exploit to bring more fentanyl into Louisiana communities.
Key excerpts from Kennedy’s speech are below:
“What you allow is what will continue. And today . . . the United States Congress allows fentanyl dealers to carry on their person, if they would like to, enough fentanyl to kill 20,000 Americans before they face a mandatory five-year minimum sentence if they’re caught. Until these traffickers deal themselves with real consequences, I think the carnage is going to continue.
“I have a bill. It’s called the Fairness in Fentanyl Sentencing Act of 2023, and it will change what I just talked about drastically. It will reduce the amount of fentanyl that a fentanyl dealer has to possess before facing the mandatory minimum of five years of prison. . . . When you’re dealing with fentanyl, the amounts really matter.
“Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin. . . . It only takes two milligrams to kill you. . . . The amount of fentanyl that you can put on the point of a pencil will kill you.”
. . .
“This bag has 400 grams in it. . . . You have to have 400 grams. . . to face a mandatory 10-year sentence. Four-hundred grams will kill 200,000 people dead as a doornail. Shreveport, Louisiana . . . is home to 184,000 people. So, a dealer could [have] 400 grams—an amount that could kill every man, woman, and child in Shreveport— . . . in order to get a mandatory 10-year sentence.”
. . .
“My bill helps our criminal code reflect the reality that fentanyl is not like other drugs—it’s not.”
. . .
“The cartel thugs who operate south of our border have found that fentanyl is a cheap way to cut corners and to make more money. They use fentanyl to make other drugs. They put fentanyl into cocaine. They put it into heroin, which makes the final concoction cheaper and more powerful. Today, everything from marijuana to Adderall can be laced with lethal amounts of fentanyl on the black market.”
. . .
“My state of Louisiana—like every other state in this country—has seen the carnage of fentanyl. We all have. In 2021, 94 percent of drug overdose deaths in New Orleans were related to what? Fentanyl.”
. . .
“Our coroner’s office in East Baton Rouge Parish investigated 300 overdose deaths. Eighty-eight percent of them, last year, were linked to fentanyl. In the average month, in St. Tammany Parish . . . . we lose 10 or 11 people, just about every month . . . to fentanyl overdoses.”
. . .
“These are sons. These are daughters. These are friends. These are coworkers. And every one of them has a family.”
. . .
“Our Customs and Border Protection officers are working as hard as they can to try to stop drugs from flowing into the country, but their hands are tied by our bad policies. More people have crossed the border in the last year than at any time in the history of ever. That’s a fact. More than 5 million people have entered this country illegally under President Biden, during the Biden administration. I only have 4.6 million people in Louisiana. . . .
“The problem is expected to get even worse. As we know, Title 42 expires [this] week, and more people will be coming in.”
. . .
“This is about fentanyl dealers who deal death every day in order to make money.”
Kennedy’s full speech is here.
Kennedy, Murphy introduce bipartisan bill to improve access to comprehensive training for future teachers
May 08 2023
WASHINGTON – Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) introduced the Teacher, Principal and Leader Residency Access Act to improve access to training for college students who aspire to become teachers and leaders in America’s schools.
“The effects of teacher shortages are devastating: Schools are closing, and America’s kids aren’t getting the education they need to succeed after graduation. Kids deserve to learn from capable teachers, but many young educators don’t get practical experience before they enter the classroom. Louisiana’s future rests on education, and we can improve schools by giving educators access to the training they need,” said Kennedy.
“Nothing prepares you like on-the-job experience, but college and graduate students who want to work as student teachers aren’t currently eligible for federal work-study compensation. This legislation would get more aspiring educators into the classroom while they’re still pursuing their degree. Expanding access to teacher residency programs like the one we have in Connecticut will help tackle the educator shortage and improve student outcomes,” said Murphy.
The U.S. is currently facing a shortage of teachers. Due to this, in 2017–18, more than 100,000 classrooms in the United States were staffed by instructors who were unqualified to teach. This legislation would expand the federal work-study programs at institutions of higher education to include work-study programs that compensate students serving in a teacher or school leader residency program.
The bill would provide access to training for low-income college students because programs that provide these types of work-based experiences are often out of reach for students from low-income families.
The Federal Work Study (FWS) Program funds part-time employment for undergraduate, graduate and professional students who require financial aid. The Teacher, Principal and Leader Residency Access Act would expand the FWS Program to cover residencies for students who want to become teachers or school leaders. It would also prioritize helping low-income students access the FWS Program.
Full text of the legislation is available here.
Kennedy questions FEMA official responsible for Risk Rating 2.0: What’s the point of flood insurance if nobody can afford it?
May 05 2023
Watch Kennedy’s full remarks here.
WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a member of the Senate Banking Committee, questioned Roy Wright, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Insurance Institute for Businesses and Home Safety about the skyrocketing price of flood insurance for Louisiana homeowners.
Wright previously served as the chief executive of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and launched Risk Rating 2.0. FEMA has refused to show Congress the algorithm it has used to implement Risk Rating 2.0.
Key excerpts of the exchange are below:
Kennedy: “Now, what’s the point of flood insurance if nobody can afford it? And, what's the point of having a federal agency paid for with people's taxpayer dollars, if they won't explain to the people what they're doing? Are you still for Risk Rating 2.0?
Wright: “Senator, I am five years removed from making decisions in FEMA. And yes, I was the person who launched risk rating 2.0., and, so, we've had these conversations, and I'm happy to continue to do so.”
Kennedy: “This isn’t personal to you, but it's—I don't know what your involvement was—but the people that implemented this and rolled it out in this manner ought to hide their head in a bag.”
Wright: “So, I do think that FEMA should be transparent about what they're doing. I also know that these insurance calculations are more like calculus than they are arithmetic, but the risks are growing. The cost of wind insurance in southern Louisiana is just as high or higher, and so, I think there's an affordability need for sure, but we've got to look at this. Yes, FEMA should be showing the pieces. We need to make sure people understand it. I think people need to know which mitigation actions—”
Kennedy: They’re not. They’re not. Nor do the people at FEMA seem to care.”
. . .
Kennedy: “If the IRS came to you and said—I don't know how much money you make, I don't want to know—if the IRS came to you and said, ‘We’re going to do your taxes for you this year, Mr. Wright. You owe $4 million in income taxes, but we can't tell you how we came up with the figure,’ you think that'd be fair?”
Wright: “That would not be a fair action.”
Kennedy recently introduced two bills to ensure fairer flood insurance premiums for Louisianians. The Risk Rating 2.0 Transparency Act would require FEMA to publish an explanation of how the agency is determining flood insurance prices under Risk Rating 2.0. The Flood Insurance Affordability Act would cap annual flood insurance premium increases.
Full video of Kennedy’s remarks is here.
More information on the impact Risk Rating 2.0 has had on Louisianians is here.