WASHINGTON -- Minnesota's eight House members and both senators collectively urged the Army Tuesday to clarify a new directive expanding legal services to victims of sexual assault in the National Guard.
The Army recently released new rules expanding important legal services to certain victims of military sexual assault, but the rules don't cover National Guard members who become victims of sexual assault outside drill weekends or military duties.
Minnesota's ten members of Congress say the directive will undermine the Minnesota National Guard's ability to "effectively provide support services to survivors of sexual assaults," according to a release.
The letter was led by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and GOP Rep. John Kline and co-signed by Democrat Sen. Al Franken and Reps. Collin Peterson, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, Tim Walz and Rick Nolan, and Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann and Erik Paulsen.
"Our Minnesota service members should not be impeded from seeking critical services in the aftermath of a sexual assault," the letter said. "The Army must provide clear guidance and direction in order for the National Guard to effectively provide these services authorized by Congress."
The letter comes as the Department of Defense scrambles to deal with the increasing problem of sexual assaults in the military. According to the delegation release today, the DoD found in May that overall reporting of sexual assaults in the military in 2013 was 50 percent higher than it was the previous year -- 5,061 in 2013 versus 3,374 in 2012. Previous year-to-year increases in reporting never exceeded five percent.
There are more than 13,000 soldiers and airman in the Minnesota National Guard.
The much-criticized nomination of businessman George Tsunis to be ambassador to Norway is facing even more opposition, now from the co-chairs of the congressional Friends of Norway Caucus.
The co-chairs – Minnesota U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum and Erik Paulsen -- are urging President Obama to withdraw Tsunis’ nomination.
“In Minnesota we have a vibrant Norwegian-American population with a rich appreciation for the culture and heritage of Norway,” McCollum said.
“We expect the next U.S. ambassador to possess both expertise and appreciation for Norway and its people. Unfortunately, the current nominee falls far short of this standard. I urge President Obama to withdraw his nomination immediately and instead find a new nominee who will make Norwegian-Americans proud.”
McCollum, a Democrat, and Paulsen, a Republican, join both U.S. senators from Minnesota, home to the United States’ largest Norwegian-American population, in opposing Tsunis.
Earlier this week, Sen. Al Franken announced he will vote against Tsunis if his nomination comes to the Senate floor. Sen. Amy Klobuchar made the same vow earlier this year.
Tsunis, who helped raise nearly $1 million for Obama’s 2012 campaign, was nominated for the diplomatic post nine months ago.
During an appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Tsunis bungled answers to questions and testified that he has never visited Norway. His performance drew a strong rebuke from Norwegian-Americans across the country.
Because the Senate has sole responsibility for confirming ambassadors, McCollum and Paulsen can’t cast votes against Tsunis.
"While ambassadorships are often tied to political support for the President, the answers provided by nominee George Tsunis clearly demonstrate that he is unqualified for this position and may damage an important international bond if confirmed,” Paulsen said.
“The President would serve the Norwegian-American community well by withdrawing Tsunis’s name and nominating somebody that will help our relationship continue to grow and thrive.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has added former state Rep. Mike Obermueller's campaign to its "Emerging Races" list, the ground floor of a program designed to support promising U.S. House candidates from around the country.
The “Red to Blue” program allows the party to send a signal to political donors that candidates have organized campaigns. Obermueller is vying to unseat Republican Rep. John Kline.
But Obermueller’s 2014 congressional campaign has yet to generate the same enthusiasm among national Democrats as his 2012 bid.
At this point in the 2012 election cycle, Obermueller had already reached the top tier of the “Red to Blue” program, less than three months after announcing his candidacy. That year, he lost to Kline by eight percentage points, in what was a closer-than-expected race.
This time around, Kline has managed to accumulate a sizable fundraising advantage and keep the race off the national radar, until now. With the next federal fundraising reporting period just weeks away, the DCCC nod to Obermueller’s campaign could help him make up ground.
Kline had $1.66 million banked for his re-election bid at the end of March, the last reporting period. That’s roughly seven times as much as Obermueller’s $238,000 cash-on-hand total.
A six-term incumbent, Kline is chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee and considered a safe bet for re-election by political handicapping services, including the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Thus far, Obermueller is the only Minnesota candidate on any of the DCCC’s lists. Democratic candidates in the Third Congressional District, where Rep. Erik Paulsen is seeking re-election, and the Sixth Congressional District, where Rep. Michele Bachmann is retiring, haven’t made the cut.
By Allison Sherry
With help from Rachel Stassen-Berger
WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar joined a chorus Friday in criticizing the Veterans Administration and pressed the regional office on wait times for medical appointments in Minnesota's clinics and hospitals.
"The incidents that have been reported at VA facilities in Arizona and elsewhere are outrageous and entirely unacceptable," the two wrote in a letter to Janet Murphy, network director for the VA Midwest Health Care Network in Minnesota.
Franken and Klobuchar specifically asked Murphy for the average number of days veterans must wait to receive appointments at every VA facility in Minnesota.
One of Franken's GOP opponents Mike McFadden pinged the senator earlier Friday for keeping quiet on the VA scandal, in which more than two dozen hospitals and clinics face allegations of long wait times and false record-keeping. In Phoenix, there are allegations the missteps caused multiple deaths.
"Criticizing mergers and talking about Internet fast lanes may generate headlines for Sen. Franken, but it does nothing to guarantee that our veterans have access to quality healthcare when they need it," said McFadden, in an e-mailed statement. He also called for Shinseki's resignation. "Minnesota doesn't need any more out-of-touch politicians like Al Franken."
Franken's office said that two weeks ago, in the wake of the news about several alleged incidents at VA medical centers in Arizona and elsewhere, the senator directed his office to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs to find more information about the wait times for medical care.
Franken and Klobuchar's letter went out the same day Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation.
Democratic Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz didn't go that far Friday, instead calling for a "national review" of all VA medical facilities. Walz is a veteran and member of the Veteran's Affairs committee.
GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen has not called for resignation. Rep. John Kline scribed an op-ed on VA issues earlier this week in a local paper, which stopped short of calling for a resignation. Rep. Michele Bachmann, on Fox News, called for his resignation.
All week, Minnesota Republican Congressional candidates blasted Democrats on the scandal. On Thursday, Republican 7th Congressional District candidate Torrey Westrom and 8th Congressional District Stewart Mills also called for Shinseki’s resignation. First District Republican Jim Hagedorn’s campaign sent out a release titled, “Obama-Walz have let down veterans."
Hank Sadler, chair of Veterans for Walz, sharply criticized the "partisan" attacks.
"It's despicable that Republicans running for Congress would use veterans' lives in a blatant attempt to score cheap political points. They should be ashamed," he said, in an email.
First District Republican Aaron Miller had also blasted Walz on May 21, with a release titled, "Our veterans deserve better, President Obama and Congressman Walz are failing them."
On May 27, Kline said: "General Shinseki is a decorated Vietnam veteran and I appreciate his service to our country, but the entire leadership of the VA must be held accountable which is why I’m calling on him to resign – and if he doesn’t, the President should relieve him of his duties."
On a voice vote, the U.S. House passed Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen’s bill that aims to ensure sex trafficking victims are not treated as criminals.
The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act is modeled after Minnesota’s “safe harbor” laws which help ensure minors who are sold for sex are treated as victims rather than defendants.
“The majority of these victims are not old enough to have graduated from high school, they’re not old enough to have voted in an election, they’re not old enough to have passed their drivers test because we’re talking about 12- and 13- and 14-year-old girls,” Paulsen said in a speech on the House floor.
Part of a comprehensive package of sex trafficking bills the House approved, the legislation would also make victims eligible for the Job Corps program, to help them find employment and minimize “the likelihood that they will be forced to return to sex slavery,” said Paulsen, who introduced the House bill with Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has authored companion legislation awaiting action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I’m looking forward to working with the House to produce a strong final bill that will give victims the support they need and help law enforcement fight these heinous crimes,” Klobuchar said.
The bill is among dozens of bipartisan and bicameral anti-trafficking bills that have been introduced in the past year. Klobuchar and Paulsen have focused on the exploitation of young girls who are lured into prostitution and later arrested and dumped into the criminal justice system.
“These girls are victims and they should be treated as victims … They don’t feel they can trust law enforcement because most states say they should be incarcerated instead of being treated as a victim,” Paulsen said during his floor speech.
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