Democratic lawmakers urge FEMA to help rebuild Vieques, Puerto Rico hospital

(trendingtopics on Visualhunt / CC BY)

Say action needed immediately to make island-municipality’s single medical care center operational

SAN JUAN – U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) sent a letter Wednesday to the acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Peter Gaynor, requesting information about problems with the agency’s provision of disaster aid to help rebuild the only hospital on Vieques, Puerto Rico after it was shuttered in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

Joining the senators and congresswoman in sending the letter to “better understand the steps” FEMA is taking “to ensure that Vieques residents have access to a working hospital” were Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), as well as Reps. Darren Soto (D-Fla.), José Serrano (D-N.Y.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

Saying that Vieques experienced “extensive delays in accessing electricity, housing, and medical care in the wake of the storm,” and that “according to recent reports — the hospital ‘remains a shuttered wreck of rust and mold,” leaving the 9,000 U.S. citizens living on the island to rely on a ‘temporary facility’ that ‘still lacks the ability to perform key medical procedures,'” the members of Congress requested responses to their questions no later than June 5.

The letter’s authors referenced “disturbing reports of delays in medical care and well-documented harrowing trips that Viequenses must take to the Puerto Rico mainland to obtain care,” and that Puerto Rican officials “allege that Vieques ‘secured a commitment,’ in writing, ‘from FEMA more than a year ago to rebuild the hospital.'” However, they added, “according to new reports, FEMA still has ‘not decided’ whether the hospital needs” to be rebuilt.

“Vieques residents are U.S. citizens. Like all U.S. citizens, they need and deserve access to high-quality health services–not temporary medical facilities that cannot provide care to patients in need,” the lawmakers wrote. “Vieques has already faced extensive delays in disaster aid, and it is essential that FEMA take all necessary steps to help the island rebuild its medical infrastructure.”

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Acting Administrator Gaynor,

We write to request information about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) efforts to reconstruct the only hospital in Vieques, the “ravaged island…off the coast of Puerto Rico.” According to recent reports, the Vieques hospital building “remains a shuttered wreck of rust and mold,” leaving the 9,000 American citizens living on the island to rely on a “temporary facility” that “still lacks the ability to perform key medical procedures.”

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico and devastated the territory. Vieques, located roughly 7 miles off the coast of mainland Puerto Rico, was no exception. The island experienced extensive delays in accessing electricity, housing, and medical care in the wake of the storm. , It is unconscionable that over 18 months after Hurricane Maria, U.S. citizens still cannot access comprehensive medical care—and FEMA must take rapid and robust action to provide the hospital with the resources it needs to rebuild.

Notably, Vieques’ single hospital—which once housed “the island’s only labor and delivery room” and a dialysis center—is still “shuttered” as a result of the storm, now “home to the occasional rooster and band of wild horses whose droppings litter the empty parking lot and ambulance bay.” In the aftermath of the hurricane, FEMA “set up a temporary hospital for island residents,” but the facility, according to experts from the University of Puerto Rico, “lacks the ability to safely perform key medical procedures”—leaving Viequenses without access to critical care.

Recent reports have documented the harrowing trips that Viequenses must take to the Puerto Rican mainland to obtain care. A 64-year-old cancer patient, for example “waited 32 straight hours—sleeping in her car, snacking on chips and soda…, going to the bathroom off the side of the road—before securing a spot on the ferry that took her across the water and then to her doctor in San Juan.” Pregnant women must “travel…to the big island eight miles away” to deliver their children. And until temporary dialysis centers arrived on the island in November 2018, Vieques dialysis patients “had to travel…three times a week to get treatment” on the mainland—resulting in multiple deaths. These delays in medical care are especially disturbing, given that Vieques residents “suffer[] from cancer rates close to 30 percent higher than the rest of Puerto Rico” due to the U.S. Navy’s past use of the island a “military testing ground.”

Puerto Rican officials allege that Vieques “secured a commitment,” in writing, “from FEMA more than a year ago to rebuild the hospital.” It was Congress’s intent through the Bipartisan Budget Act [P.L. 115-123], which the President signed on February 9, 2018, to require FEMA to replace (or restore) critical service facilities damaged by the storm to industry standard.

According to recent reports, however, FEMA has “not decided whether the [Vieques] hospital needs to be rebuilt.” An initial FEMA assessment of the hospital “determined that [the hospital] qualified for…a building replacement”—but “a later report,” according to a FEMA spokesperson, “found the hospital required only repairs, rather than a full reconstruction.” FEMA is reportedly “awaiting an evaluation from…a group of experts” to make a final assessment about the hospital.”

Vieques residents are U.S. citizens. Like all U.S. citizens, they need and deserve access to high-quality health services—not temporary medical facilities that cannot provide care to patients in need. Vieques has already faced extensive delays in disaster aid—and it is essential that FEMA take all necessary steps to help the island rebuild its medical infrastructure. To help us better understand the steps that FEMA is taking to ensure that Vieques residents have access to a working hospital, we request answers to the following questions no later than [X]:

  1. Please provide an overview of all aid that FEMA has provided the people of Vieques and their hospital since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017.
  2. According to the Washington Post, an August 2018 FEMA report on the hospital stated, “FEMA personnel determined that this project qualified for the FEMA 50 percent rule, or a building replacement.” Please provide a copy of this August 2018 report.
  3. According to the Washington Post, a “later report” on the Vieques hospital “found the hospital required only repairs, rather than a full reconstruction.”

a. Please provide copies of all FEMA reports on the Vieques hospital produced by FEMA since August 2018.

b. Why did FEMA alter its assessment of what aid the Vieques hospital should receive?

  1. FEMA is allegedly “awaiting an evaluation” from “a group of experts” before making a final decision on whether the Vieques hospital should be rebuilt using federal funds.

a. Which “experts” is FEMA consulting to make a determination about the Vieques hospital?

b. When does FEMA anticipate that these experts will complete their evaluation of the hospital project?

c. What are the rules these experts are following in making their determination? Will their views be made public?

  1. How long, on average, does it take FEMA to assess the funding needs of hospital facilities in areas impacted by hurricanes? How does FEMA’s assessment of the Vieques hospital project compare to this average assessment time?

Please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,




U.S. pols urge Puerto Rico fiscal board to also go after banks, advisers in ‘illegal’ debt

Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., speaks during the House Natural Resources Committee hearing on Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority on July 26, 2018. (Screen capture of www.naturalresources.house.gov)

Base request on report that nearly $300 million in fees were paid out

SAN JUAN – Members of the U.S. Congress urged Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board to go after the banks and legal advisers that counseled island officials in relation to $6 billion in “illegal” debt.

The fiscal oversight board and the Unsecured Creditors Committee recently sued in court to annul some $6 billion owed from three bond issuances after 2012, arguing these violated constitutional debt limits.

The letter was led by Rep. Nydia Velázquez and signed by, among other lawmakers, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Charles Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, Edward Markley, Richard Blumenthal and Kristen Gillibrand.

The lawmakers said the three issuances earned banks and advisers hundreds of millions of dollars in the process, with some even managing to “double dip on these deals,” they said.

A report from the Public Accountability Initiative, a local government watchdog group, said underwriting and swap termination fees paid out for the three offerings totaled $293.8 million.

“While the initial step to invalidate a portion of the debt is a positive one, without any legal action against the banks and advisors that counseled the Puerto Rico government to create and market the underlying bonds, we feel Puerto Rico will not be made whole,” they said.

The letter noted that the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (Promesa) gave the fiscal board power to initiate claims that seek to return fraudulently transferred assets to Puerto Rico’s coffers.

Read the full text of the report by the Public Accountability Initiative here.

Unsecured Creditors seek invalidation of $3 billion in Puerto Rico retirement bonds

Fiscal board, Creditors Committee challenge $6 billion of Puerto Rico’s debt




U.S. senators seek expanded probe into FEMA contracts for Puerto Rico recovery

SAN JUAN – U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with three other Democratic senators, sent a letter Thursday to the acting inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), John Kelly, requesting he expand his agency’s investigation into the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) contracting in Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria relief efforts to include new reports of waste and abuse associated with the contractors hired to execute and manage the $1.2 billion Tu Hogar Renace program.

The letter was also signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

In October 2017, FEMA announced the creation of the Tu Hogar Renace (Your Home Reborn) program in Puerto Rico, which provides temporary repairs to damaged roofs, windows, doors, walls, and water heaters to “return the home to safe, habitable and functional conditions.” Seven major contractors were hired by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to conduct the repair work and two firms to manage the program.

In their letter to the DHS IG, the senators expressed concern about a recent New York Times report that “more than 60 percent of what FEMA is spending in the program” to repair up to 120,000 homes is not paying for these repairs but is instead “going toward overhead, profit and steep markups.” The report also found that while homeowners were approved for “up to $20,000 each in aid,” a review of hundreds of invoices and contracts indicates that, in nearly every case, they received less than half of that.

“It is a significant concern that only a small percentage of taxpayer funding went to actual home improvements for impacted Puerto Rican residents,” the senators wrote.

The lawmakers also expressed concern with FEMA’s decision to award Tu Hogar Renace contracts to two companies with connections to the Trump administration, Adjusters International and Excel Construction. In their letter, the senators noted that Daniel Craig, the owner of Adjusters International, was the Trump administration’s nominee to be deputy director of FEMA last year, and that Excel Construction, after donating $100,000 in 2016 to the Trump Victory Committee, was one of the seven companies awarded a contract for conducting repairs.

Blue tarps dot mountainside homes in Utuado, October 2017. (CB file)

“This pattern of parties with significant connections with either the Trump campaign or Administration being awarded contracts warrants scrutiny,” the senators continued.

They requested that the DHS IG expand the scope of its current investigation on FEMA’s award of contracts to include a determination of the “procurement, payment, and oversight of contractors and firms in the Tu Hogar Renace program,” according to a statement, and asked questions about the timeline, procurement and payment processes associated with the program.

The letter is the senators’ latest inquiry into FEMA’s contracting process for the relief and recovery efforts following Maria. Last year, the senators called for an investigation of FEMA’s decision to award more than $30 million in contracts to Bronze Star LLC for temporary roofing materials in Puerto Rico “that were never delivered,” the release says.

In February, the senators sent a second letter regarding the “botched” $156 million contract awarded to Tribute Contracting LLC for emergency meals provided after the hurricane, and in October, Blumenthal and Warren sent the DHS IG another letter regarding FEMA’s awarding of contracts to companies with “little or no experience” in conducting the work assigned to them.

Read the full text of the letter here.



Democratic senators introduce US territory debt-relief bill

SAN JUAN – U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) led the introduction of legislation along with other Democratic lawmakers Wednesday that would give U.S. territories “the option to terminate their non-pension debt obligations” if they meet certain eligibility criteria.

The U.S. Territorial Relief Act of 2018 would make $15 billion in federal funds available to Puerto Rican residents and other creditors if the government chooses to terminate its debt load within three years of the bill’s enactment.

Referring to the disaster response and reconstruction in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands since hurricanes Irma and Maria struck, the lawmakers said the territories’ respective public debts have hindered progress. They also pointed to the islands’ economic downturns and population declines, as well as  to having “limited or no access to many federal programs like Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.”

Puerto Rico’s public debt, for example, is of more than $7o billion, and the government’s fiscal plan projects a 19.4% population decline by 2022.

“Few investors are willing to put money into rebuilding if the debt overhang means that the islands have no realistic chance to recover. Congress’s previous attempt to address the Puerto Rican debt crisis-PROMESA-was enacted before the hurricanes, so it was not designed to account for the recent devastation,” the senators’ joint release said of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act.

The bill includes three main provisions. Title I, “Territorial Relief,” provides the option to terminate the territories’ public, unsecured debt if the local population decreases 5% over 10 years; received major federal disaster assistance; and per capita debt exceeds $15,000. “It also provides protection for secured creditors and creates a judicial process for creditors to contest the extent and perfection of their security interests,” according to the release.

The territory’s governor and legislature must approve the debt relief. The option cannot be used more than once every seven years.

Title II, which establishes the Puerto Rico Debt Restructuring Compensation Fund, provides federal funds to compensate unsecured creditors, with a special master designated to allocate $7.5 billion to Puerto Rican creditors “that did business solely” on the island, and $7.5 billion to eligible stateside creditors whose debt was terminated and “pledge to waive the manager’s fee for any compensation received.”

Hedge funds and their investors, bond insurers, and many large financial firms “with consolidated assets greater than $2 billion, and repo or swaps investors from the distribution” are among those ineligible.

Under Title III, the measure would also create the Audit Commission, “made up of experts from Puerto Rico, to perform a comprehensive audit of the causes and sources of Puerto Rico’s debt and to issue periodic reports.”

“In sum, the bill balances the need for immediate relief for the territories with protections for property interests, due process, and safeguards against abuse,” seven law professors said in a letter supporting the legislation. Warren and Sanders also received a letter, about the bill’s constitutionality, from Harvard Prof. Laurence Tribe.

Warren says in the release that disaster “funding and the other resources in struggling territories’ budgets must not go to Wall Street vulture funds who snapped up their debt,” adding that Congress “should pass this legislation right away – our fellow U.S. citizens are counting on us.”

Former presidential candidate Sanders added: “Greedy Wall Street vulture funds must not be allowed to reap huge profits off the suffering and misery of the Puerto Rican people for a second longer. It is time to end Wall Street’s stranglehold on Puerto Rico’s future, return control of the island to the people of Puerto Rico and give the territory the debt relief it so desperately needs to rebuild with dignity.”

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are cosponsors. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) said she will be introducing the companion legislation in the House of Representatives. 

The lawmakers said the U.S. Territorial Relief Act builds on the Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act they introduced in November to “protect” the federal funding provided to the territories from “Wall Street vulture funds.”

The new legislation is endorsed by AFL-CIO, AFSCME, American Federation of Teachers, the Hispanic Federation, LatinoJustice, Amor Para Puerto Rico, National Low Income Housing Coalition, Alliance for Puerto Rico-Massachusetts, CREDO, Grassroots Global Justice, Hedgeclippers, Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion, Latinos for Healthcare Equity, National Hispanic Medical Association, New York Communities for Change, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Public Justice Center, United Way of Central Massachusetts, Worcester Youth Center, AIDS United, and Puerto Rico Community Network for Clinical Research on AIDS.

Sen. Sanders presents legislation to ‘rebuild’ Puerto Rico, USVI




U.S. senators question FCC proposal to cut phone, internet service subsidy

SAN JUAN – A dozen U.S. senators called on Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai to drop a new rule that would limit phone and internet access for millions of low-income citizens.

In a letter addressed to Pai, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and other Democratic senators say that Lifeline serves more than 12 million Americans and that at least 6.5 million have internet access through the program.

Lifeline is a 33-year-old bipartisan program that grants a monthly household subsidy of $9.25 for phone and broadband service. The program is paid for through special service fees on phone bills.

FCC chairman proposes $954 million plan for Puerto Rico, USVI

The FCC chairman’s proposed rule would cut service to about 70 percent, or 8 million households, of the programs’ recipients. The senators argue that is is “essential for millions of Americans who rely on subsidized internet access to find jobs, schedule doctor’s appointments, complete their school assignments, interface with the government, and remain connected in a digital economy.”

They told Pai, “It is your obligation to the American public, as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to improve the Lifeline program and ensure that more Americans can afford access, and have means of access, to broadband and phone service,” the Senators wrote.

The letter includes a series of questions they want answers to before the commission holds a final vote on the proposal, such as “how does your proposal help to increase the already terrible connectivity situation in Puerto Rico after its devastation by recent hurricanes [Irma and Maria]?”

Puerto Rico Economic Development Secretary Manuel Laboy told Newsweek that the “action would disrupt the positive momentum we’re already seeing in the strengthening of Puerto Rico’s economy and the transformation of the island.”

According to a release last month by the National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved, which represents organizations focused on addressing health disparities, Lifeline is of the few tools available to communicate with underserved communities in the aftermath of a disaster.

The nonprofit organization says that about 17 percent of Puerto Rico’s population, or about 550,000 people, use the program, which it considers “an essential part of the emergency communication model that is now emerging” to “conduct emergency medical response and coordinate care in coordination with disaster response operations across Puerto Rico.”

The lawmakers also questioned the financial reasons for cutting the program, arguing “it is unclear why the FCC would spend billions of dollars to expand access to broadband while at the same time make Lifeline less accessible to those who need it most.”

Puerto Rico power company’s integrated resource plan a moving target

“The last thing we should be doing is rolling back the policies that have brought connectivity to millions of Americans,” the letter continues. “Instead of cutting the program, we should ensure Lifeline reaches more Americans in need of access to communication services.”

Puerto Rico residents are eligible for Lifeline Assistance if they receive benefits from programs like Medicaid, Housing’s Section 8, Supplemental Security Income, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Veterans Pension and Survivor’s Benefit.

The program is also available for Puerto Ricans whose household income is at or less than 135 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. According to Free Government Cell Phones, the annual household income for one person must be less than $16,000 to be eligible for the program, and rises $5,832 for each additional household member.

U.S. senators call for investigation into Puerto Rico power restoration

The full text of the letter follows below:

Dear Chairman Pai,

We write to express our opposition to your proposal to drastically cut the critical Lifeline program that has successfully provided phone and internet services to individuals who might otherwise not be able to access them. We ask that you reconsider your plan to deprive critical Lifeline support from 8 million otherwise eligible Americans.

It is your obligation to the American public, as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to improve the Lifeline program and ensure that more Americans can afford access, and have means of access, to broadband and phone service. Your proposal accomplishes the exact opposite – it takes resources out of the hands of the most vulnerable Americans.

The Lifeline Program is essential for millions of Americans who rely on subsidized internet access to find jobs, schedule doctor’s appointments, complete their school assignments, interface with the government, and remain connected in a digital economy. The program helps Americans—including disproportionate numbers of families with children, veterans and people of color—survive.

The majority of Lifeline’s recipients, at least 6.5 million Americans, use the program to receive internet service. From an economic standpoint, it is unclear why the FCC would spend billions of dollars to expand access to broadband while at the same time make Lifeline less accessible to those who need it most. Your proposal impacts over 70 percent of current Lifeline-recipient households by eliminating their wireless providers from the program, leaving less affordable and fewer Lifeline options, while making it more difficult for the companies trying to serve Lifeline customers. Instead of cutting the program, we should ensure Lifeline reaches more Americans in need of access to communication services.

The last thing we should be doing is rolling back the policies that have brought connectivity to millions of Americans. We are requesting responses to the following, before the Commission conducts a vote on the future of Lifeline:

The December 1, 2017, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) provides no evidence, analysis, or data to support its assumption that the FCC’s proposed changes to Lifeline will spur facilities-based broadband deployment and additional affordable services for low-income families. Provide any specific data, analysis, academic studies, economic reports, etc. that you relied on to support this assumption. Explain why the NPRM included no evidence or data to support this assumption.

  1.  What is the FCC’s plan for the millions of Americans that would lose service due to your actions to cut the Lifeline program?
  2.  How many Americans in total, broken down by state, would lose their current service provider under your proposal? How many Americans would be left without any provider offering Lifeline service?
  3.  How will you ensure the integrity of the comment record is intact, and that it will be taken into your decision-making process?
  4.  How does your proposal help to increase the already terrible connectivity situation in Puerto Rico after its devastation by recent hurricanes?
  5.  How does your proposal ensure connectivity/affect availability of Lifeline for the following groups (please provide current Lifeline participation statistics for each, where available):
    1. Tribal members
    2. Rural Americans
    3. Low-income Americans
    4. Veterans
    5. Elderly populations

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your timely response.

 




Sen. Sanders presents legislation to ‘rebuild’ Puerto Rico, USVI

SAN JUAN – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and five other senators introduced Tuesday what they called a plan to address “the immediate humanitarian needs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and ensure that the islands not only recover, but are able to rebuild in a way that empowers them to thrive,” according to a release from his office.

The Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act would instruct the federal government to address the issues affecting the island in the aftermath of two major hurricanes by “mobilizing all necessary resources and assets to restore power, provide clean drinking water and food, safe shelter and access to health care. And, it would do so without forcing the territories to take on more debt.”

According to the release, the legislation emphasizes “local control and sustainable rebuilding” and instructs Congress to address Puerto Rico’s debt – “a major impediment to a just and full recovery.” And, it “ensures that any federal disaster funding provided to the islands is protected from Wall Street vulture funds and acted upon with local input and local workers.”

Sen. Sanders in Puerto Rico: We’ve got to move forward in a different direction

“It is unconscionable that in the wealthiest nation in the world we have allowed our fellow citizens to suffer for so long. The full resources of the United States must be brought to bear on this crisis, for as long as is necessary,” adds Sanders, who visited Puerto Rico in October. “But we cannot simply rebuild Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands the way they were. We must go forward to create a strong, sustainable economy and energy system in both territories and address inequities in federal law that have allowed the territories to fall behind in almost every measurable social and economic criteria.”

The legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Reps. Stacy Plaskett (D-V.I.), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Darren Soto (D-Fla.) are expected to introduce a companion bill in the House. The bill is endorsed by 75 organizations.

The following are the components addressed in the bill, as published on Sanders’ Senate website:

1) Debt and Privatization: Puerto Rico’s debt must be addressed to ensure the territory can recover with dignity. Congress must also prevent the privatization of public institutions to benefit creditors in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico is struggling with an unsustainable $74.8 billion of debt, much of which is held by Wall Street creditors, with an additional $49 billion in unpaid pension obligations. The territories’ recovery should not add to existing debt.

2) Resilient and Renewable Energy: Instead of simply rebuilding an antiquated, centralized and inefficient system dependent on imported fossil fuels, the bill ensures the electric grids will be rebuilt to be more renewable and resilient, to provide less expensive electricity and create local jobs.

3) Medicaid and Medicare Parity: The health care systems in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were inadequate before the hurricanes made landfall, in large part because they receive far fewer federal dollars compared to states. The bill makes Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands eligible for the same Medicare and Medicaid benefits as the rest of America.

4) Rebuild and Improve the VA Hospital and Clinics: Appropriates necessary funds to the VA for veterans in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

5) Improve Public Schools, Colleges, and Childcare Facilities: In addition to rebuilding damaged schools and childcare facilities, we must face the fact that many of these facilities were inadequate before the storms hit. Hundreds of public schools in Puerto Rico have been closed because of austerity policies and schools in the Virgin Islands are struggling to prepare students for college and future careers. The bill appropriates necessary funds for services and facilities for public Head Start, elementary, secondary and higher education.

6) Invest in Infrastructure and Spur Economic Development: Underfunded infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands contributed to the severity of the damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. In addition to rebuilding damaged facilities, the legislation would make significant investments in the islands’ physical infrastructure to spur the local economy and create jobs.

7) Environmental Cleanup: Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have significant environmental contamination related to the hurricanes, prior pollution and a legacy of military bombing exercises on Vieques. The legislation would provide grants to the EPA, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense for environmental remediation.




Supreme Court nominee unscathed facing last day of hearings

Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch is sworn-in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 20, 2017, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch is sworn-in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 20, 2017, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON – Assured of support from majority Republicans, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was wrapping up two days of Senate questioning Wednesday to glowing GOP reviews but complaints from frustrated Democrats that he concealed his views from the American public.

Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge in Denver, refused repeated attempts to get him to talk about key legal and political issues of the day. But he did tell Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who worried that Gorsuch would vote to restrict abortion, that “no one is looking to return us to horse and buggy days.”

The Supreme Court itself threw one surprise Gorsuch’s way when it ruled unanimously Wednesday in a case involving learning-disabled students, overturning a standard for special education that Gorsuch had endorsed in an earlier case on the same topic.

The decision prompted sharp questioning from committee Democrats.

“Why in your early decision did you want to lower the bar so low?” Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois asked.

Gorsuch said he was bound by an even earlier decision on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and said that any implication that he was against autistic children was “heartbreaking.”

“I was wrong senator, I was wrong because I was bound by circuit court precedent,” Gorsuch said. “And I’m sorry.”

Aside from a few uncomfortable moments, Gorsuch generally maintained the mix of earnest talk about respect for prior court decisions, a pledge for absolute independence – “when you put on the robe, you open your mind” – and folksy humor that led to lighthearted exchanges with Republicans about his passion for fly fishing.

“What’s the largest trout you ever caught?” Sen. Jeff Flake asked late in Tuesday’s session. “Oh, now we’re talking,” Gorsuch shot back.

But every time Democrats tried to draw him out on a range of serious issues, including abortion and gay rights, Gorsuch answered in the same way: “I have declined to offer any promises, hints or previews of how I’d resolve any case.” Gorsuch similarly wouldn’t commit to a view on cameras in the Supreme Court, despite widespread support from senators on the Judiciary Committee.

Feinstein, the committee’s senior Democrat, summed up her colleagues’ frustration. “What worries me is you have been very much able to avoid any specificity like no one I have ever seen before,” Feinstein told Gorsuch. “And maybe that’s a virtue, I don’t know. But for us on this side, knowing where you stand on major questions of the day is really important to a vote ‘aye,’ and so that’s why we pressed and pressed.”

Republicans, on the other hand, couldn’t get enough of the Colorado native. Sen. Orrin Hatch said he hadn’t seen a better nominee in 40 years in the Senate.

Lindsey Graham of South Carolina lamented what he called the deterioration of the Senate confirmation process since Antonin Scalia, whose seat Gorsuch would fill, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were confirmed with more than 90 votes each.

“What’s happened? Did the Constitution change? I don’t think so, I think politics has changed. I think it’s changed in a fashion that we should all be ashamed of as senators, and I think we’re doing great damage to the judiciary by politicizing every judicial nomination,” Graham said.

His statement about the process left out Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the seat that opened up when Scalia died more than 13 months ago. Senate Republicans blocked any action on Garland’s nomination all year, and the episode has left Democrats enraged.

Following Graham, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said the treatment of Garland was unprecedented. “For the first time in the history of the United States, the Senate refused to hold a hearing, refused to have a vote,” he said.

The hearing is taking place against the backdrop of turmoil in Trump’s young presidency. Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are demanding a pause in Gorsuch’s confirmation process pending the FBI investigation of alleged ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia. Republicans have dismissed those demands.

“I think President Trump, with all of his problems and all of his mistakes, chose wisely when it came to this man,” Graham said.

Under questioning from Graham, Gorsuch repeated statements he’d made publicly for the first time Tuesday, that he was “disheartened” and “demoralized” by Trump’s attacks on the judiciary, including federal judges who blocked the president’s refugee travel ban.

When Leahy pressed him on whether the president could ignore a court order, Gorsuch replied: “You better believe I expect judicial decrees to be obeyed.”

The confirmation hearing will wrap up with a panel of outside witnesses talking about Gorsuch, before a committee vote expected April 3 and a Senate floor vote later that same week. Republicans control the Senate 52-48, so it would require eight Democrats to move Gorsuch past procedural hurdles that require 60 votes.

No Democrat has yet pledged to support the judge, but Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said Wednesday he is open to voting for him. McConnell could also change Senate rules to confirm Gorsuch with a simple majority, and appears prepared to take that step.




Sens. Sanders, Warren call $6.3B research bill gift to drug firms

By Alan Fram

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two of the Senate’s most liberal lawmakers are assailing a $6.3 billion medical research bill as a gift to drug companies, even as Republican leaders prepare to try pushing the measure through the lame-duck Congress.

“It’s time for Congress to stand up to the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies, not give them more handouts,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Tuesday in a written statement.

ARCHIVO - En esta foto del 23 de junio de 2016 se ve al aspirante presidencial demócrata Bernie Sanders dando un discurso a partidarios en Nueva York. Unos días después de terminar su campaña y manifestar su respaldo a Hillary Clinton para la Casa Blanca, la editorial Thomas Dunne Books anunció el 14 de julio de 2016 que el senador publicará un libro. (AP Foto/Craig Ruttle, File)

Sen. Bernie Sanders offers a discourse to supporters on June 23, 2016 (Craig Ruttle, File/AP)

The comments by Sanders came a day after Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., delivered a ferocious attack on congressional Republicans and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the legislation and pushed fellow Democrats to oppose a measure she said “is corrupt, and it is very, very dangerous.”

The opposition by Sanders and Warren was noteworthy because it comes as progressives and moderates are struggling over the direction the Democratic Party should take in the wake of its defeats on Election Day.

Hillary Clinton lost her White House bid to Republican Donald Trump and Democrats remained in the House and Senate minority, making only small gains in each chamber.

In remarks Tuesday to the Senate, Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said there is “some angst” among Democrats about the bill and said he was expecting it to be changed, but was not specific.

White House spokeswoman Katie Hill voiced support for added research and drug abuse spending but said officials are reviewing the legislation “while conversations continue in Congress.”

The House planned to consider the 996-page measure on Wednesday and Senate debate was expected next week, which is expected to be the final week of this year’s post-election Congress.

The bill would let the Food and Drug Administration approve drugs and medical devices more quickly and bolster federal mental health programs. It lays plans for $4.8 billion in additional spending over the next decade for cancer, brain and other biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health, $1 billion for grants to states for drug abuse prevention and research and $500 million for the FDA to accelerate its approval procedures.

Top Republicans announced the research bill last week, more than a year after the House approved an earlier version by an overwhelmingly bipartisan margin.

Sanders and Warren — two of the highest-profile liberals in Congress — both complained that the bill’s money is not guaranteed and must be provided in later legislation by Congress. They also criticized the legislation’s savings, which includes cuts in a public health program under President Barack Obama’s health care law, reduced payments under Medicare and Medicaid and oil sales from the government’s strategic petroleum reserve.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 25:  Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) delivers remarks on the first day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Philadelphia, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Democratic National Convention kicked off July 25.  (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren delivers remarks on the first day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

In a Monday speech on the Senate floor, Warren used the populist rhetoric that has made her a hit among progressive voters.

All but demanding that her party follow her lead, Warren said, “Republicans will control this government, but they cannot hand that control over to big corporations unless Democrats roll over and allow them to do so.”

She said the research bill would “legalize fraud” by reducing the scientific evidence the government needs to approve existing drugs for new uses. She said it would “cover up bribery” by exempting medical companies from publicly reporting some payments they make to doctors.

“I cannot vote for this bill. I will fight it because I know the difference between compromise and extortion,” said Warren, who some mention as a potential 2020 presidential contender.

Warren also said the bill benefits a Republican donor who backs contentious therapies that are supposed to regenerate cells. She did not name the donor during her speech but said McConnell, R-Ky., has accepted contributions from him.

A Warren spokesman said Warren was referring to an April report by Politico that said separate legislation helping companies get approval for stem-cell treatments was backed by Ed Bosarge, a wealthy Texan. The report said Bosarge has donated to McConnell’s political committee and invested in regenerative medicine.

A McConnell spokesman declined to comment. McConnell said this month that the overall bill is a major priority for Congress’ lame-duck session and singled out its provisions helping regenerative medicine.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Monday that he wanted the removal of a provision letting companies not report some payments to doctors. Consumer groups have complained that the payments encourage doctors to prescribe those companies’ products.

No. 3 Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York is also trying to remove that provision, a Democratic aide said.




FACT CHECK: Misfires in Hillary Clinton’s speech

WASHINGTON – In her speech accepting the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton wrongly implied Donald Trump has proposed banning Islam in America and sketched out a plan for defeating Islamic State militants that merely mirrors what the U.S. is already trying to do.

Clinton spoke Thursday night to the largest TV audience she is likely to have until the presidential debates, meaning many Americans were probably hearing of her agenda for the first time. Although she brings plenty of policy detail when stacked against the broad-brush ideas of her Republican rival, in some cases there’s less than meets the eye to what she says she will do.

A college education, for example, might not end up as debt-free for everyone as she suggested.

For his part, Trump spun a story about the Iran nuclear deal that was more fiction than fact at an Iowa rally that preceded Clinton’s convention speech.

A look at some of the claims from the political maelstrom:

CLINTON: “I’ve laid out my strategy for defeating ISIS. We will strike their sanctuaries from the air, and support local forces taking them out on the ground. We will surge our intelligence so that we detect and prevent attacks before they happen. We will disrupt their efforts online to reach and radicalize young people in our country. It won’t be easy or quick, but make no mistake – we will prevail.”

THE FACTS: Clinton might as well have said she laid out President Barack Obama’s strategy for defeating Islamic State militants. Everything she mentioned, the Obama administration already is trying to do.

CLINTON: “Bernie Sanders and I will work together to make college tuition-free for the middle class and debt-free for all.”

THE FACTS: Tuition-free for students who go to an in-state public college or university. Debt-free is a harder lift.

Clinton has adopted parts of Sanders’ plans to defray some of the costs of higher education. Under her proposal, the government would pay for tuition at in-state colleges and universities for students from families earning less than $125,000 a year. That would leave students still bearing the cost of room and board, which makes up more than half of the average $18,943 sticker price at a four-year public university, according to the College Board.

Experts worry about other impacts: Will colleges raise tuition once the government starts paying, increasing the cost to taxpayers? Will more students flock to public colleges because of the subsidy, also raising costs?

CLINTON: “In my first 100 days, we will work with both parties to pass the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II.”

THE FACTS: It would be the biggest since World War II only if you don’t count Obama’s $814 billion 2009 stimulus. Clinton doesn’t have price tags on all her proposals, but the bulk of the investment appears to be her plan to spend $275 billion over five years on roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Obama’s stimulus included infrastructure as well as tax cuts and aid to state and local governments, all intended to boost the economy and hiring.

CLINTON: “We will not ban a religion.”

THE FACTS: Trump never proposed banning Islam in the U.S., as Clinton seems to suggest. He proposed a freeze on the entry of all foreign Muslims into the U.S., then adapted the idea with several iterations. Recently he said he’d stop immigration from any country compromised by terrorism, or impose “extreme vetting” on people coming from places with a history of terrorism. He’s also spoken in support of surveillance on mosques in the U.S. As contentious as his thinking has been on the subject, it hasn’t extended it to outlawing a religion.

TRUMP, boasting about how he would have conducted talks with Iran over reducing its nuclear weapons capabilities: “I would have said sorry, we can’t give you the $150 billion back. We want to give you the money back, but we don’t have it. It’s not there.”

THE FACTS: The Iranians immediately would have called Trump’s bluff. That’s because the U.S. never had $150 billion to give back in the first place.

Iran had foreign assets spread across numerous banks and countries before it struck a deal with the U.S. and other countries to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. The sanctions meant Tehran couldn’t access these funds abroad. But Iran’s government knew very well where its money was.

Much of the revenue came from Iran’s oil sales to China, India, Japan and South Korea. These countries were able to purchase Iranian petroleum before the July 2015 nuclear agreement, but U.S. financial restrictions made it all but impossible to facilitate payments. So the money mainly sat in escrow in those countries, instead. These were not funds within the grasp of a U.S. president.

Trump’s comment also doesn’t reflect how banks work. Money is fungible. If you have a bank account, it doesn’t mean specific bills of currency or bars of gold are sitting in a box waiting for you to pick them up. The can’t-find-your-money argument doesn’t work.

Trump got the sum wrong, too. Iranian and U.S. officials agree that the amount of frozen funds totaled about $100 billion.

CLINTON, on taxing the wealthy and corporations: “Because when more than 90 percent of the gains have gone to the top 1 percent, that’s where the money is.”

THE FACTS: While vague, Clinton’s claim probably relies on outdated figures and exaggerates inequality.

Her assertion echoes similar claims made by Sanders during the primary campaign, though it’s not clear if she is referring to income or wealth or over what time frame. According to Emmanuel Saez, the University of California at Berkeley economist whose research on the wealthiest 1 percent helped spark the Occupy Wall Street protests, income gains have been more widely shared in recent years.

The top 1 percent captured 52 percent of the growth in incomes from 2009 through 2015, still a hefty amount. But that’s down from the 2009 through 2012 period, when the top 1 percent captured 91 percent of the growth.

CLINTON: “In Atlantic City, 60 miles from here, you’ll find contractors and small businesses who lost everything because Donald Trump refused to pay his bills. People who did the work and needed the money, and didn’t get it – not because he couldn’t pay them, but because he wouldn’t pay them.”

THE FACTS: Indeed, Trump casinos failed on several occasions. During the bankruptcy of the Taj Mahal Casino in the early 1990s, some contractors who’d helped Trump build the property went bust because Trump’s company didn’t pay what it owed them. Trump himself was short on cash at the time, though his bankers did give him a $450,000-a-month allowance to maintain his lifestyle while his debts were renegotiated.

DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION VIDEO, narrated by Morgan Freeman: “She could have joined a big law firm, been a corporate bigwig. Instead she chose the Children’s Defense Fund. There, she went door-to-door gathering stories to help children with disabilities over denied schooling.”

THE FACTS: She had a “bigwig” path in her legal career, too.

Although Clinton did devote her early career years to the Children’s Defense Fund, she also worked at the Rose Law Firm, a prestigious Little Rock, Arkansas, firm and the third oldest in the United States. Clinton became its first female partner when her husband, Bill, was the state attorney general and then governor. Among the firm’s clients were Tyson Foods, Wal-Mart and several brokerage houses. It became well-known during the Whitewater scandal, when investigators probed real estate deals between the Clintons and a Rose client, Jim McDougal.

CLINTON: “Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again – well, he could start by actually making things in America again.”

THE FACTS: Trump has regularly sourced his branded products from overseas, including his menswear line and products for his hotels. Trump has defended himself on the grounds that as a private businessman his priority is to make money. But in stump speeches, Trump has regularly shamed companies like Apple for doing the same and manufacturing products elsewhere.

TRUMP: “We pick up 73 percent of the cost of NATO. We’re paying to protect them. Wouldn’t it be nice if people would pay, and we could do things properly? … That’s got to change.”

THE FACTS: No, the U.S. picks up just over 22 percent of the cost of NATO operations, based on last year’s figures. Trump’s figure of 73 percent is based on the U.S. share of overall military spending by NATO member countries, not of the money devoted to the alliance.

Because of high spending and unique military resources possessed by the U.S., the alliance acknowledges that it is over-reliant on Washington in areas such as intelligence, surveillance, in-flight refueling, ballistic missile defense and airborne electronic warfare. NATO asks member nations to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. Of the 28 NATO nations, only five – the U.S., Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland – meet or exceed that percentage.

FRESNO, CA - MAY 27:  Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Fresno on May 27, 2016 in Fresno, California.  Trump is on a Western campaign trip which saw stops in North Dakota and Montana yesterday and two more in California today.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Fresno on May 27, 2016 in Fresno, California. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

TRUMP: “We’re fighting in Yemen.”

THE FACTS: Only a small number of U.S. special operations troops are in Yemen and they’ve not been near the fighting. In Yemen, Houthi rebels backed by Iran are fighting government forces backed by Saudi Arabia. The United States has provided logistical and intelligence support to longtime ally Saudi Arabia. Separately, the Pentagon has provided military support, intelligence, ships and a small contingent of special operations forces to help fight al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as part of the ongoing counter-terrorism fight.

U.S. officials have acknowledged that U.S. special operations forces have advised the Yemeni and Emirati forces in the region, but they are working at the headquarters level, not near the conflict.

TRUMP: “We’re right now the highest-taxed nation in the world.” He acknowledged his numerous past assertions of this have been questioned, and added, “OK, we’re one of the highest taxed.”

THE FACTS: Closer, but still wrong. The U.S. tax burden is actually one of the lowest among the 34 developed and large emerging-market economies that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Taxes made up 26 percent of the total U.S. economy in 2014, according to the OECD. That’s far below Sweden’s tax burden of 42.7 percent, Britain’s 32.6 percent or Germany’s 36.1 percent. Only three OECD members had a lower tax bite than the U.S.: Chile, South Korea and Mexico.

TRUMP: “Religion’s voice has been taken away. It was taken away by Lyndon Johnson in the 1970s because of a dispute he had, I think, with the church. And this was his way of silencing the church.”

THE FACTS: Trump was two decades off on the timing, and stretching in saying religion’s voice in politics was silenced by LBJ. Churches still have a loud political voice.

Before his years as president (1963-1969), Johnson as a senator in the 1950s achieved a law that prohibits religious groups and certain other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The potential penalty for doing so is the loss of tax exemption.

As Trump noted, the GOP platform calls for the repeal of that law so that religious groups could engage more directly in partisan politics. Opponents say that would clash with the constitutional separation of church and state.

Since the law’s enactment the rise of the religious right, the continuing influence of evangelical conservatives, the clout of the Roman Catholic church on social issues of the left and right and advocacy by liberal religious organizations are evidence that religion has not been silenced in politics.

TRUMP: “Median household income is down for the middle class since Obama took office.” – tweet.

THE FACTS: True, if using the latest official data. More recent, though unofficial, estimates suggest that household income has gone up marginally on Obama’s watch. Either way, it’s a weak spot in Obama’s economic record.

Median household income declined by 3 percent from 2008 through 2014, according to U.S. Census data.

According to more current estimates by Sentier Research, a private firm whose founders include former Census officials, median household income increased in 2015 and into 2016. That would mean median household income has risen 2 percent from June 2009, when the recession ended, to $57,206 in June 2016, Sentier says.




Clinton Wins Historic Nomination, Says Glass Ceiling Cracked

Screenshot_20160726-223452PHILADELPHIA  – On a night awash in history, Hillary Clinton triumphantly became the first woman to lead a major American political party toward the White House, breaking through a barrier that painfully eluded her eight years ago.

She put an electrifying cap on the Democratic convention’s second night, appearing by video from New York and declaring to cheering delegates, “We just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet.”

Minutes earlier, former President Bill Clinton took on the role of devoted political spouse, declaring his wife an impassioned “change-maker” as he served as character witness. He traced their more than 40-year political and personal partnership in deep detail.

“She has been around a long time,” he acknowledged. Casting her experience as an attribute, he added, “She’s been worth every single year she’s put into making people’s lives better.”

For a man more accustomed to delivering policy-packed stem-winders, Clinton’s heartfelt address underscored the historic night for Democrats, and the nation. If she wins in November, the Clintons would also be the first married couple to each serve as president.

She will take on Donald Trump, who won the Republican nomination a week ago. Trump, who campaigned Tuesday in North Carolina, mocked the former president’s speech in advance, calling him “over-rated.”

At Trump’s convention last week, Clinton was the target of blistering criticism of her character and judgment, a sharp contrast to the warm and passionate woman described by her husband. Seeking to explain the vastly different perceptions of his wife, Clinton said simply, “One is real, the other is made up.”

The former president took voters back to a time before an affair with an intern led to his impeachment – and to intense public scrutiny of the first couple’s marriage. While her aides believe his past transgressions are old news to voters, they have flared up anew at times during the campaign, with Trump often leading the charge.

Bill Clinton headlined the second night of the Democratic convention, a jubilant celebration of her formal nomination for president. In an important move for party unity, her primary rival Bernie Sanders helped make it official when the roll call got to his home state of Vermont, prompting delegates to erupt in cheers. It was a striking parallel to the role Clinton played eight years ago when she stepped to the microphone on the convention floor in Denver in support of her former rival, Barack Obama.

This time, Clinton shattered the glass ceiling she couldn’t crack in 2008.

She leads a party still grappling with divisions. Moments after Clinton claimed the nomination, a group of Sanders supporters left the convention and headed to a media tent to protest what they said was their being shut out of the party. At the same time, protesters who had spent the day marching in the hot sun began facing off with police.

Trump cheered the disruptions from the campaign trail. In North Carolina, he told a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that, “our politicians have totally failed you.”

Indeed, Clinton’s long political resume – secretary of state, senator, first lady – has sometimes seemed an odd fit for an electorate deeply frustrated with Washington and eager to rally around unconventional candidates like Trump and Sanders. Many voters have questions about her character and trustworthiness, suggesting she’s used her access to power to her personal advantage.

President Clinton spoke after three hours of testimonials from lawmakers, advocates, celebrities and citizens who argued otherwise. Each took the stage to vouch for her commitment to working on health care, children’s issues and gun control.

“Hillary Clinton has the passion and understanding to support grieving mothers,” said Sybrina Fulton, whose son Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012. “She has the courage to lead the fight for commonsense gun legislation.”

The significant time devoted to the testimonials underscored the campaign’s concerns about how voters view Clinton. Public polls consistently show that a majority of Americans don’t believe she is honest and trustworthy. That perception that was reinforced after the FBI director’s scathing assessment of her controversial email use as secretary of state, even though the Justice Department did not pursue charges.

President Clinton complicated the email controversy last month when he met privately with Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the midst of the FBI investigation. Republicans cast the meeting as a sign that the Clintons play by different rules, while Democrats bemoaned that at the very least, it left that impression.

The former president has campaigned frequently for his wife during the White House race, but mostly in smaller cities and towns, part of an effort by the campaign to keep him in a more behind-the-scenes role. His convention address was his highest profile appearance of the campaign.

Clinton’s landmark achievement saturated the roll call with emotion and symbols of women’s long struggle to break through political barriers. Jerry Emmett, a 102-year-old woman born before women had the right to vote, cast the ballots for Arizona.

Martha McKenna, a Clinton delegate from Maryland, said the night felt like a celebration for Sanders’ campaign as well as Clinton’s. She added, “The idea that I’m going to be here when the first woman president is nominated is overwhelming.”

The Democratic convention drew the party’s biggest stars to sweltering Philadelphia for the week-long event. On Monday night, first lady Michelle Obama made an impassioned case for Clinton as the only candidate in the presidential race worthy of being a role model for the nation’s children. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will speak Wednesday, along with Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, Clinton’s new running mate.