Newsletter from US Senator James Lankford
Dear Oklahoma friends and neighbors:
The past two weeks have been exceptionally painful for our nation as we grieve for the loss of life, emotional damage to our communities and families, and damage to property and businesses. Last week I sent out a a note on the death of George Floyd and on our nation’s ongoing dialogue on racial reconciliation just days before the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. We’ve come a long way in the 99 years since the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, but we clearly still have a ways to go.
As we work to intentionally hear each of our different perspectives and learn from our diverse backgrounds, we should put that knowledge to work in our families, communities, churches, and workplaces. It would be much better if 100 years from now we can look back on this difficult time and the often violent history that led us here and be able to say, "That was when everything and everyone changed for the better."
I challenge each of us to continue to work through the family and heart issues to end racism together, but let’s take some wise counsel from Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who walked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and be “constructive” rather than “destructive” in these conversations and in our actions. We can do many things to help in this situation, but I think one way to solve the issues we face is to invite a family of another race into your home for a meal—even if it’s a social distancing outdoor picnic right now.
If you have other ideas, share them—with my office, with your family, with leaders in your communities, at your churches. Be the example for your children and the nation of how to treat all people with dignity and respect. Oklahoma can lead the nation in racial reconciliation, if each family chooses to get out of our comfort zone to listen and learn.
This week, I participated in an important discussion on Oklahoma City’s KFOR news station with OKC Mayor David Holt and United Voice Oklahoma leaders, Rev. Clarence Hill, Jr., and Minister Cece Jones Davis. I was honored to participate in this dialogue. CLICK HERE to watch the conversation.
Tomorrow is the 76th anniversary of the D-Day invasion by Allied forces during World War II. On June 6, 1944, Allied forces waded through waist-deep waters amid hailing enemy gunfire to storm the beaches of Normandy, France, in an invasion called Operation Overlord, or “D-Day” as it is called today. It was a joint naval, air, and land assault that marked the start of the Allied forces’ campaign to liberate Nazi-occupied Europe. More than 6,000 Americans died that day. Their sacrifice and heroism marked the beginning of the end of World War II.
We owe our deepest gratitude to those who gave their last full measure of devotion and saved a continent—and eventually the world—from tyranny, from the Holocaust, and from complete destruction. To those who wore the cloth of our nation halfway around the world: we are eternally grateful. To your families: thank you for sharing your loved ones with our nation so we can be safer and live out our liberty. World War II veterans are sadly very few these days, so if you have a WWII veteran or a veteran of any war in your family, please remind them how much our nation appreciates what they did for us.
CLICK HERE to watch the video about my visit with other senators to Normandy on the 75th anniversary of D-Day last year.
UPDATE: Coronavirus Response in Oklahoma
The Senate was in session every week but one in May, and we anticipate being in session every week in June to continue to address the coronavirus pandemic and also remain focused on the other important legislative and nominations work the American people need us to do. One area of my focus for our coronavirus response has been on phone calls with veterans’ organizations and the VA to ensure that we are able to provide veterans with the care and support they need during this pandemic. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the conversations I’ve had this week regarding the federal response to COVID-19:
This week, I spoke to Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister about funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for Oklahoma’s schools and learning programs, especially in the wake of the altered landscape many of our students faced with distance learning this spring semester. Additionally, this week I joined several of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to speak to Oklahoma and national nonprofits to continue to work on ensuring nonprofits can fully serve their communities during this pandemic and any future emergency. I also spoke to the Oklahoma Pork Council this week about how we can ensure stability in our food supply chain to ensure our markets can sustain us in future emergencies.
As we continue to implement the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), it remains an important program that many Oklahoma small businesses and nonprofits have accessed to ensure they are able to stay connected with their employees. The PPP has saved 50 million jobs nationwide. As of this week 61,412 Oklahoma small businesses, nonprofits, veteran organizations, sole proprietors, independent contractors, and Tribes have received $5,414,559,493 through the PPP to help support their businesses during this time. The Senate also passed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act by unanimous consent to extend the loan forgiveness period from 8 weeks to 24 weeks. President Trump signed the bill into law today.
CLICK HERE to read more about CARES Act funding for Tribes and Tribal members in our state.
Also, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, another existing Small Business Administration (SBA) loan given a boost by the CARES Act, has approved 34,063 advances for $107,229,00 and 7,274 regular loans totaling, $550,155,644 in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma economy continues to pick back up as businesses reopen and Oklahomans slowly and safely return to their routines. Our agriculture and energy sectors continue to reel from the coronavirus, but our farmers, ranchers, and producers and our energy producers continue to find ways to innovate and feed and fuel our nation. CLICK HERE to watch my speech on the Senate floor about the struggles facing our Oklahoma agriculture and energy industries.
Even with the PPP, thousands of Oklahomans have applied for Unemployment Assistance (UA) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to help get them through this time. The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, the state entity that administers UA and PUA, was inundated with never-before-seen numbers of unemployment applications and continues to work to get them processed and get Oklahomans who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 the temporary assistance they need. National unemployment numbers released today showed the economy added 2.5 million jobs in May. Although we still have work to do, that is good news.
A few days ago, I was on a call with the Secret Service to receive an update on its fraud investigation surrounding unemployment in our state. They are equally committed to ensuring bad actors are kept out of these essential systems and have a thorough plan to partner with FBI field offices, local banks, federal agencies, and law enforcement in this effort. If you need assistance with UA fraud, you can access Attorney General Hunter’s office’s information on how they are preventing fraud and scams related to the coronavirus and what to do if you feel you’re a fraud or scam victim, CLICK HERE.
Please stay safe and engaged. The issues facing our nation haven’t stopped, and we shouldn’t stop productive dialogue about how to solve them. My team remains available to help via phone, email, and teleconference as needed to solve issues with federal agencies, answer questions, and receive your ideas and opinions. I receive a report each day of everyone who calls my office and what they called about—yes, even your voicemails. So please keep your ideas, concerns, and solutions coming for our nation.
I recently wrote a piece about how we will weather this storm together. CLICK HERE to read it.
Preserving Religious Liberty during Coronavirus
Protecting religious liberty and ensuring people can practice and live their faiths or have no faith at all remain top priorities for my work in Congress. During the pandemic, many houses of worship moved to virtual services or discontinued services out of an abundance of caution for their parishioners. However, the First Amendment protects Americans’ right to choose to have a faith, practice a faith, or freely change their faith without government intrusion. Some states and localities imposed unfair restrictions on houses of worship even as the state began to reopen other similar businesses and venues. I have worked to ensure Oklahoma and our nation do not impede the free exercise of religion for people of faith.
The Justice Department and Congress are working to protect freedom of religion under stay-at-home orders. I was recently joined on my podcast, The Breakdown with James Lankford, by Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice Eric Dreiband. Dreiband wrote an opinion piece on how the Justice Department is standing up for civil rights amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
CLICK HERE to listen to my podcast with Assistant Attorney General Dreiband.
In May, the White House announced that houses of worship are considered essential and should not be unduly burdened by restrictions that are lifted or not imposed on other organizations.
CLICK HERE to read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) interim guidelines for communities of faith.
CLICK HERE to read more on my letter to senate leadership regarding the inclusion of help for nonprofits in the next proposals for coronavirus relief.
Continuing to Stand Up for Life during Coronavirus
In addition to the LIFE Now Act, I have worked with my colleagues to ensure that we continue to ensure federal taxpayer dollars are not used to fund abortions, especially after it was announced that Planned Parenthood received improper PPP funds for which the organization is not eligible. Following the announcement, I joined several senators to send letters to Attorney General Bill Barr and SBA Administrator Carranza to implore them to initiate investigations into how Planned Parenthood, a more than $1 billion, multi-state organization was able to get $80 million of taxpayer money by pretending to be a "small business."
CLICK HERE to read my letter to AG Barr.
State Department Oversight
On May 28, I learned that the Department of State hadn’t processed a single passport since March 19, creating a backlog of 1.6 million applications. Other government agencies—and my offices—adapted quickly to the safer-at-home recommendations and activated emergency preparedness plans to ensure employees could work from home safely and still protect Americans’ personal information. Unfortunately the State Department failed to adopt similar practices for employees processing passport applications. On June 3, I sent a letter, joined by several other senators, to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to get answers and assess what we need to do to solve this for any future needs. Earlier this week, I talked at length with several senior leaders at the State Department on how we can get passports going again.
CLICK HERE to read the letter.
Keeping You in the Loop
This week, I supported the nomination of Michael Pack to lead the US Agency on Global Media (USAGM), a global network agency comprised of five media organizations that are tasked with connecting people around the world to support freedom and democracy. I advocated for reforms to the USAGM in the defense authorization bill several years ago to replace the chairman with a Senate-confirmed CEO to lead the agency among other needed reforms. Michael Pack will be the first person to be confirmed by the Senate to fill this role since those reforms passed. CLICK HERE to learn more about the USAGM and my ongoing work to reform the agency and its media organizations.
In early May, the Oklahoma Solicitor General, Mithun Mansinghani, argued before the US Supreme Court on behalf of the State of Oklahoma in the case, McGirt v. Oklahoma. This case is significant because it is the second of two cases before the Supreme Court involving crimes committed by Tribal members on Tribal land, specifically the Muscogee (Creek) territory in northeast Oklahoma. The McGirt case will determine whether or not Congress disestablished the Muscogee (Creek) Reservation land before or after statehood. This is a complicated case, and I will continue to track and work with our Oklahoma Tribes as we wait for the Court’s decision in a few weeks.
Last month, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution introduced by Senator Inhofe and me to honor the life and legacy of former Oklahoma Senator, Dr. Tom Coburn. Dr. Coburn was a friend, a mentor, and a fierce defender of our Constitution and of taxpayer dollars. CLICK HERE to watch my speech on the Senate floor in tribute to Dr. Coburn and the value he placed in the work done by the Senate.
I recently cosponsored the bipartisan Healthcare Workforce Resilience Act, which would recapture a limited number of unused visas from prior years and allocate them to doctors and nurses who can help in the fight against COVID-19. The bill would not increase current immigration numbers and will not displace American workers. It simply ensures that unused green cards can be allocated to visa applicants in the healthcare industry, particularly to ease the nurse shortage in our nation during this historic coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath, CLICK HERE to learn more about the bipartisan bill.
Two weeks ago, the Senate voted to confirm a well qualified Oklahoma attorney, Mr. John F. Heil, III, to serve as a US District Judge for the Northern, Eastern, and Western Districts of Oklahoma. The Senate continues to work through Executive and Judicial Branch nominations as part of our duty to provide advice and consent. CLICK HERE to watch my speech on the Senate floor in support of Mr. Heil’s confirmation.
Senator Inhofe and I recently introduced a resolution, which passed unanimously, to honor the life and commitment to the law of the late Judge Lee Roy West. Judge West, who passed away on April 24, 2020, was a former Chief Justice of the US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, Judge West served on the federal bench for nearly 40 years and received numerous accolades throughout his career. Judge West was beloved by his friends, colleagues, and of course his family, and he will be missed as a part of our federal court family. CLICK HERE to learn more about Judge West.
Don't forget to keep encouraging the high school students in your life to consider applying to serve our nation and attend one of our esteemed military service academies. Applicants must receive a nomination by a Member of Congress. Interested applicants can visit my website for more information on how to apply and how to participate in my recommendation selection process. CLICK HERE for my web page on the academy process.
On May 21, the US Department of State announced that the US would no longer participate in the international Treaty on Open Skies. That is a great decision. Open Skies has allowed Russian spies to gather intelligence in the air and on the ground in many American communities. CLICK HERE to read more about my support for President Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Open Skies treaty, and CLICK HERE to read the letter I sent President Trump last December regarding the Treaty.
Last week, the Senate voted to confirm President Trump's nominee, John Ratcliffe, as the new Director of National Intelligence. I supported Mr. Ratcliffe’s nomination and look forward to his work to ensure our intelligence community can continue to help prevent terrorism and also maintain privacy standards for Americans.
Ohio Senator Rob Portman and I sent a letter to President Trump last month urging him to use Inspectors General (IG) to ensure taxpayer dollars are used in the most effective and efficient way. With trillions of taxpayer dollars spent by the federal government to respond to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, independent IGs should be in place to prevent waste, fraud, and mismanagement. CLICK HERE to read our letter.
In God We Trust,
United States Senator for Oklahoma
If you would like more information on these topics or any other legislation currently before the US Senate, please do not hesitate to call my DC office at (202) 224-5754. My Oklahoma City office can be reached at (405) 231-4941 and my Tulsa office at (918) 581-7651. You can also follow me on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram for updates on my work in Congress.