LEGISLATION, LETTERS, & STATEMENTS
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) joined their colleagues at a press conference highlighting the Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax, legislation to curb profiteering by oil companies and provide Americans relief at the gas pump.
“Oil companies are exploiting Russia’s war in Ukraine to drive up gas prices to obscene levels. It’s time to end this corporate profiteering. We need a Big Oil Windfall Profits tax to take excess profits & deliver them to Americans getting stuck with the bill,” said Blumenthal.
— Amid disturbing reports that Hertz has been wrongly reporting customers to the police for stealing rental cars, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, called on the company to immediately fix their reckless practices. Reports reveal that Hertz has for at least the past four years filed more than 3,000 stolen vehicle reports with law enforcement each year. Many of these reports turned out to be inaccurate, resulting in false arrests of innocent Hertz customers who were arrested at gunpoint, jailed for days and sometimes months, lost their jobs or homes, and incurred thousands of dollars in attorney fees.
“It appears that Hertz’s abysmal record-keeping has resulted in its customers, through no fault of their own, being arrested on the basis of inaccurate stolen vehicle reports. This is all the more concerning because arrests—even false ones—have life-changing and long-lasting consequences,” wrote Blumenthal to Hertz CEO Stephen Scherr. “I demand information about the policies and procedures Hertz has in place related to stolen vehicle reports and that Hertz to take immediate steps to provide redress to customers who have suffered the profound and enduring harm of a false arrest.”
Blumenthal pushed back on Hertz’s claim that some of the reports it files are legitimate and raised serious concerns about the company’s apparent lack of willingness to correct the inaccurate reports, writing:
“Even if, as Hertz continues to contend, that some of the 3,000-plus reports it files each year are legitimate, one inaccurate report that leads to one false arrest is one too many. These false arrests are all the more concerning in light of reporting that Hertz has seemingly been unwilling to amend or withdraw its inaccurate stolen vehicle reports when presented with evidence that a vehicle has not, in fact, been stolen.”
The full text of the letter can be found here.
— U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and U.S. Representative John Garamendi (D-CA) introduced the bicameral, bipartisan Cabin Air Safety Act to protect commercial airline passengers and crew from toxic cabin air. Air in aircraft cabins can become contaminated by engine exhaust, fuel fumes, de-icing fluids, and ozone entering the cabin through the jet engine intake, creating “toxic fume” events. As revealed in troubling reports, passenger and crew exposure to even low levels of these contaminants can lead to incapacitation and long-term exposure can lead to serious, debilitating health issues. The COVID-19 pandemic also underscored the need for cabin air free from potentially virulent pathogens.
“This measure will protect the flying public and crew from toxic airplane air,” said Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. “Cabin air can become dangerously contaminated with noxious substances, but the FAA and aircraft manufacturers are ignoring this health hazard even after concerning reports of flight crews becoming sick as a result. Our bill would mandate thorough investigation of cabin air quality reports, proper training and resources for airline crew, and installation of air quality monitoring equipment and detectors on commercial flights to ensure the public and crewmembers are protected from these harmful fumes, smoke, or other contaminants.”
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), authors of the Empowering Olympic, Paralympic, and Amateur Athletes Act, called on Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review all information in its possession related to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) mishandling of its inquiry into former USA Gymnastics (USAG) physician Larry Nassar.
While DOJ is currently reviewing its decision to not criminally charge FBI agents who the DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) determined in July 2021 to have made material false statements during the FBI’s investigation and to the OIG, Blumenthal and Moran urged the Department to do more to ensure accountability for the agents who knew of abuse by Nassar, did nothing about it, and then lied about their inaction in violation of their sworn duty and the law.
“The Department’s response to the OIG report cannot end there. The fact that this review is based, at least in part, on new information that has come to light—more than six years after the Nassar allegations were first reported to the FBI—suggests that there might be more that the FBI and the Department missed,” the senators wrote in their letter to Garland.
In the letter, Blumenthal and Moran cited several circumstances that have not yet been addressed by DOJ, including the fact that the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, whose office worked directly with the FBI agents involved in the Nassar case, is now representing one of the agents accused of misconduct during the investigation. Today’s letter also notes a Congressional committee referral of the CEO of the United States Olympic Committee to DOJ for making material false statements, and accusations that former USAG CEO Steve Penny instructed USAG employees “to immediately locate, pack up and remove any and all documents…related to Nassar or medical care,” when law enforcement arrived unannounced at a training facility.
“To date, we do not know what, if anything, the Department did with this referral…it is not clear whether the Department has ever investigated these events,” wrote Blumenthal and Moran. “Furthermore, other information strongly suggests failures – beyond the apparent dereliction of duty by two FBI agents – that merit your attention and fact finding.”
Citing these troubling findings, Blumenthal and Moran called on DOJ to take additional action to ensure justice for the athletes, writing:
“We write to urge the Department to conduct a comprehensive review of all information in its possession to determine whether any additional investigations should be opened or widened, and if other individuals and institutions who enabled the cover up this egregious abuse should be charged and held accountable.”
— U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, questioned Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Denis McDonough during a hearing on the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2021. The comprehensive legislation would address the healthcare and benefit needs of veterans exposed to dangerous toxins.
“When we go into a war, these kinds of healthcare coverage are part of the cost of that war. They’re not something we think about after. We have to change America’s state of mind,” Blumenthal remarked.
Passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month, the Honoring our PACT Act would streamline the VA’s review process for establishing toxic exposure presumptions, require medical exams and opinions for certain veterans with toxic exposure disability claims, and treat toxic exposure as a cost of war by addressing the full range of issues impacting toxic-exposed veterans, including access to earned benefits and healthcare.
“You know, a lot of these folks who are here with us today, for them, this is personal,” Blumenthal said of veterans exposed to dangerous toxins attending yesterday’s hearing. “A lot of people are going to wake up tomorrow morning and have to go through a full day wondering and worrying about their families. So time is not on our side here, nor was it on the side of the Agent Orange Vietnam veterans because they were dying and many of them are now dying.”
Blumenthal also joined Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) and U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) in meeting with Jon Stewart who has been advocating on behalf of veterans exposed to dangerous toxins.
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and U.S. Representative Lori Trahan (D-MA) hosted Madness, Inc., a live virtual summit featuring three panels with current and former college athletes and advocates discussing the gross inequities in college sports and how to fix them. Blumenthal and Booker, authors of the College Athletes Bill of Rights to guarantee fair and equitable compensation, enforceable health and safety standards, and improved educational opportunities for all college athletes, hosted a panel titled, “Protecting Athlete Wellbeing.”
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) joined 21 of their colleagues in a bicameral letter to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts demanding answers regarding Justice Thomas’s potential violation of federal ethics law, after last week’s explosive reporting on the efforts of his wife, Ms. Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Justice Thomas was the lone dissenting vote in a Supreme Court case requiring that Trump White House records be turned over to the January 6th House Select Committee earlier this year.
“Justice Thomas’s participation in cases involving the 2020 election and the January 6th attack is exceedingly difficult to reconcile with federal ethics requirements,” the lawmakers wrote. “Justice Thomas has neither disclosed the extent of his knowledge about Ms. Thomas’s activities nor recused himself from multiple Court cases involving the 2020 election and the attempted insurrection that followed. In fact, Justice Thomas was the sole dissenting Justice who would have blocked the January 6th Committee’s access to presidential records involving the Trump Administration’s efforts to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power — records that could very well contain communications between Ms. Thomas and top White House officials given what we now know.”
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) sent a letter to Netflix urging the company to take steps to decrease young people’s exposure to tobacco, nicotine, and vaping imagery in video content. According to a recent report by the Truth Initiative, Netflix has been the top offender for the last four years with respect to the prevalence of this imagery in both new releases and popular shows among 15 to 24 year-olds.
“Netflix’s apparent failure to stop the proliferation of this content poses serious health risks to young viewers. Young people who are exposed to tobacco imagery on streaming platforms are three times more likely to begin to use vaping products,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter. “As young people continue to view Netflix’ programming in large numbers, your company has an obligation to ensure that its programming does not pose a health risk to these viewers.”
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and U.S. Representative Katie Porter (D-CA) joined 12 of their colleagues in introducing the Disabled Jurors Nondiscrimination Act, legislation that prohibits excluding a person from federal jury service on account of disability. Currently, federal law prohibits excluding an individual from jury service on account of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status. The new legislation would add the word “disability” alongside those protected characteristics.
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) joined 22 of their colleagues in a bipartisan letter requesting answers from President Biden’s national security advisor (NSA), Jake Sullivan, on the speed, specifics, and supply of lethal aid provided to Ukraine.
“The U.S. mission in Ukraine must go beyond ensuring the country merely has the means to defend itself against Russian aggression. The strategy must deliver Ukraine necessary weapons to defend itself, counter the Russian forces' advance, and give the Ukrainian people a chance to win this war. Success cannot be a Russian-occupied Ukraine - it must be a free, independent, and sovereign Ukraine. Authoritarianism cannot prevail in this conflict. Defending freedom in Ukraine is defending freedom everywhere,” the senators wrote.
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and U.S. Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Jahana Hayes (D-CT) joined eight of their colleagues in introducing the Affordable Loans for Any Student Act of 2022, comprehensive legislation that would ensure affordable, simple income-based repayment plans for all federal student loan borrowers.
Specifically, the legislation would give all federal student loan borrowers an option to structure their loan so that they pay 10% of any income they earn above the poverty level until their loan is paid off or until they have made 20 years of payments, whichever comes first. That option would give borrowers the flexibility to pursue public service, artistic careers, entrepreneurial initiatives, or other lower paying jobs without fear of defaulting on loans.
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-CT), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) joined U.S. Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), John B Larson (D-CT), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), and nearly 100 other lawmakers in a letter to President Joseph R. Biden urging the administration to act now to extend the pause on federally-held student loan payments until at least the end of the year and to provide meaningful student debt cancellation.
The payment pause has been a significant investment throughout the pandemic, providing essential relief to millions of families during the economic and public health crisis, and saving borrowers an average of $393 per month.
“Borrowers have benefited greatly from the ongoing payment pause, taking the opportunity to pay down other debt, relieve financial pressures from lost jobs or decreased earnings, and support their families' needs,” the senators wrote. “Restarting repayment will financially destabilize many borrowers and their families, and will cause hardship for many who could not afford repayment.”
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) joined ten of their colleagues in a letter urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power to press international donors at the United Nations pledging conference to fulfill the current $3.8 billion funding gap for humanitarian aid for Afghanistan and to ensure that aid can reach the Afghan people in need.
“The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is deepening, with more than half the population - 23 million people - in need of assistance. In response, the UN has released an appeal to international donors for $4.4 billion to meet the humanitarian needs in Afghanistan - the largest single country appeal in history. In advance of the high-level pledging event for the country scheduled for March 31, we urge the administration to work closely with our international partners to generously commit and rapidly deliver funds that will help save lives in Afghanistan,” the senators wrote.
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) joined 19 of their colleagues in a letter urging the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau to provide answers on what the Bureau is doing to address the decades-long problem of undercounting minority communities across the country – a problem the previous administration intentionally made worse while the 2020 Census was being conducted.
According to the Census’ post-enumeration report, the 2020 Census undercounted the Hispanic or Latino population by nearly 5%, up from 1.54% in 2010. Black or African American individuals were uncounted by 3.3%, and American Indian or Alaska Natives in reservations were undercounted by 5.64% – the most significant undercount margin of all demographic groups.
“As you are aware, an accurate decennial census is not only a constitutional responsibility of the federal government, but its results determine the apportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, guide the allocation of nearly $1.5 trillion in federal funds annually, and are used to draw legislative districts within the states,” wrote the Senators. “We ask the U.S. Census Bureau to consider ways to correct the undercount in the annual population estimates derived from 2020 Census data and reiterate its commitment to counting all persons in future decennial censuses.”
— U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) joined 25 of their colleagues in a letter urging Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg to swiftly execute the provisions from their Stop Underrides Act, which passed in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The legislation requires the creation of a rule within a year of enactment mandating trucks to have strengthened rear underride guards to stop cars from sliding underneath trucks in the event of a crash.
In the letter, the lawmakers also call for DOT to initiate a study on the impact of side underride guards, solicit public input via an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), and strengthen requirements on any new rule regarding rear underride guards.
“We urge you to expeditiously establish the Advisory Committee on Underride Protection and to complete the life-saving side guard research which we hope will lead to a proposed rule on side guards,” the members wrote. “Together these provisions will help save lives and aim to prevent passenger compartment intrusion from crashes with trucks.”
— U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) reacted to reports that Russia may be using ongoing peace talks with Ukraine to regroup before launching another offensive push.
“Welcome as real peace would be, there’s every reason to disbelieve & discount Putin’s head fakes & false pauses. Military analysis indicates he needs to resupply & regroup his forces—preparing for brutal new assaults.”
“Expanded US military support, particularly aerial defense, is more vital than ever, plus humanitarian aid & tightened economic sanctions. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”
— U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) cosponsored the Baltic Defense and Deterrence Act, legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). This bipartisan, bicameral legislation seeks to codify the Baltic Security Initiative effort and create a complementary initiative at the U.S. Department of State. Jointly, these two efforts will enhance and strengthen U.S. security and economic cooperation with the Baltics amid Russia’s continued aggression toward the Baltics and heightened tensions with China.
— U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) cosponsored the Support Kids Not Red Tape Act, legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The bill extends USDA school meal flexibilities from June 30, 2022 to September 30, 2023. These flexibilities have been crucial to feeding children throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With 90% of our schools still facing many challenges as they return to normal operations, these flexibilities give our schools and summer meal programs much-needed support to deal with ongoing food service issues and keep kids fed. The bill will also help schools transition back to normal meal operations under the National School Lunch Program. USDA requested this authority be extended in the omnibus.
— U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) met with students from Woodstock Middle School during their visit to Washington D.C.
“How wonderful to welcome yesterday the first in person school group in 2 years—students, staff, & parents from the Woodstock Middle School! Great questions & lots of good energy. Thanks for making the journey.”
— U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) wrote to Marissa Gillet, Chair of the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), in support of the Office of Consumer Counsel’s petition to investigate collections and wage garnishment practices by Eversource and Avangrid during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the actions by both utilities, more than 300 court judgments were obtained against customers, including wage garnishments.
“Prior to the pandemic, many households were already unable to pay their utility bills. The pandemic -- with families advised to stay home in order to protect themselves and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and unemployment soaring to record levels -- increased this economic stress. It is therefore highly inexcusable for utility companies to aggressively pursue residents who were already having trouble meeting their financial obligations,” wrote Blumenthal.
Further, between 2020 and 2021, Eversource CEO Joseph Nolan received almost $25 million in total compensation, with other executives earning more than $1 million. Avangrid executives also received several million dollars during the same period.
“While households were facing a financial crisis, Eversource Energy and Avangrid were looking to increase their revenue on the backs of consumers who could not afford to pay their electric bills. It is critically important that PURA aggressively investigate these anti-consumer activities as requested by the state Office of Consumer Counsel’s (OCC),” added Blumenthal.
— U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) praised the announcement by Governor Ned Lamont that his administration has reached an agreement with Lockheed Martin to potentially bring new helicopter lines to Sikorsky in Stratford.
“This amazingly exciting news is a credit to Sikorsky’s incredible new helicopter lines and world-class workforce. Our Congressional delegation joins Governor Lamont’s leadership to grow one of our state’s most important employers. Connecticut stands strongly in support of our defense manufacturers and their employees who are second to none in expertise and experience. I will continue to fight to bring defense work to our state, which tremendously benefits Connecticut and boosts our nation’s security,” said Blumenthal.
— U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) released the following statement following the news that longtime Associated Press photographer Bob Child passed away:
“For guys like me in front of his camera, Bob Child was not only the consummate pro but a wonderful friend of depth and warmth. He brightened our day no matter how tough the story and he illuminated it with a penetrating insightful eye. My thoughts and heart are with his family.”