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Local lawmakers split on immigration reform
August 19, 2014 | Daily Press

Hampton Roads' representatives to Congress split along party lines Wednesday on the best way to approach immigration reform. 

The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform act last month. The bill includes a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million people now living in the U.S. without legal authorization and increased security at the U.S.-Mexico border. Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine both supported the bill.

But Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said the House would not consider the Senate bill and several bills addressing specific aspects of immigration have been put forth by House Republicans.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, said he opposes the Senate bill and amnesty. He said immigration reform is so complex that it needs to be examined piece by piece.

"There's a tendency to say, 'Let's lump a bunch of issues together,'" he said. "1,000-page-plus bills are not the way to take this piece of legislation up." 

Among the issues that need to be addressed, Wittman said, are assessing the effectiveness of border control strategies and determining how to deal with those who live in the U.S. illegally. He said the solution is to break the issue down into simple, understandable parts and build one piece of legislation on another, which he calls "foundational legislating." 

As far as the citizenship question, Wittman said different groups are seeking different things - those who have expired visas, for example, have different goals from those here on work permits - and some don't want full citizenship status. 

"Many people aren't desirous of a path to citizenship," Wittman said. 

One alternative being pushed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Henrico, scales back the scope of the path to citizenship outlined in the Senate bill and replaces it with a provision allowing those who came to America as children to earn citizenship.

Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, said he doesn't support an amnesty plan like that in the Senate bill. For immigration reform to be successful, he said, mechanisms to execute the law need to be a priority. 

"There's (a path to citizenship) out there now and people just don't comply with it," Forbes said. "Enforcement is crucial." 

Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News, supports the Senate bill, but said as long as the key provisions - a path to citizenship, measures bolstering border security and a plan for future immigration - are included, immigration reform will be a success. 

However, he says breaking the bill apart to vote on it will mean some important points may get less support than if the previsions were all bundled together.

"I just don't see how you can pass legislation unless it's comprehensive," Scott said. He said he was unhappy with the expensive border security provisions in the Senate bill but said he would accept them "if that's what it takes to get the bill passed." 

A spokesperson for Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach, who also represents parts of Hampton and Newport News, said the congressman would not support the Senate bill as is and that immigration reform is "a complex problem with no easy answers." 




Congressman On HHS Surprising States With Children: "There Is A Total Lack Of Communication"
August 19, 2014 | Daily Caller

WASHINGTON - When Virginia Rep. Rob Wittman discovered that immigrant children were being sent to his district, he demanded during a congressional hearing that "the administration fully divulge exactly where these children are going."

"There is a total lack of communication here. The taxpayers deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent. What the policy is - not just now, but in the long term? What are we going to do to address these unaccompanied alien children?" Wittman told D.C.-based radio station WMAL on Wednesday. 

The congressman finds it "unbelievable that they would just go about and scatter these children across the country without telling anybody what they are doing, how they are doing it and what their long-term plan is." 

In Wittman's congressional district, Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart was the one to discover the children coming to the area, but it was not the federal government who told him. 

It was an official from a Christian non-profit Youth for Tomorrow in Bristow, Va., who gave him the heads up that the federal government had contracted with the organization to house and care for the immigrant children.

Stewart wants to know how many more children the government plans to send his way.

"What really peeves us about this is that the federal government is doing this without informing us," the Prince William County official told WMAL Radio. 

Prince William County, Va. is not alone.

In the neighboring state of Maryland, word had spread last week in Carroll County that the Department of Health and Human Services officials were eyeing Westminster's former Army Reserve facility as a location to house immigrant children. 

Community leaders pushed back on the idea.

Rep. Andy Harris, whose district includes Carroll County, threatened to use his position in Congress to impact the purse strings of HHS if it went forward with the plan.

The congressman released this statement last Friday: "Should HHS attempt to proceed with housing them at this facility, Congressman Harris will use any and all resources at his disposal as a member of the House Appropriations Committee and in particular the subcommittee that oversees the HHS budget to stop this." 

Over the span of one weekend, the mounting pressure led the feds to retreat from the idea of using the facility.

Fox News reporter Ed Henry pressed White House press secretary Josh Earnest on why government officials in each state are "finding out in the last-minute" or not at all about undocumented immigrant children being relocated to their neighborhoods. 

"The public does have a right to know what's happening and that's why the administration has been trying to communicate clearly with the public about the steps we are taking to address the problem at the border," Earnest responded at Wednesday's White House press briefing. 

The White House spokesperson added a caveat: "At the same time, there are privacy rights that are included in the law that this administration is committed to enforcing and following." 

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman scoffed at the Obama administration's secretive transporting of illegal children as a matter of protecting "the privacy" of these underage minors. 

"We are talking potentially illegal individuals in this country and they are going to get 'privacy' protections that legal citizens don't get?" the Nebraska governor said to Fox Business Network host Melissa Francis on Wednesday. 

Heineman has been critical of the administration's handling of the border crisis since he recently discovered over 200 illegal children were sent to his state without warning. 

"It is about cooperation, transparency and my question is 'what are they hiding?' Why are they afraid to give us this information?" he inquired. 

The governor has received no response from the federal government about his questions regarding the children and the strain on his state's resources. 

"Who are these illegal unaccompanied children? Who is their sponsor? Where are you sending them?" Heineman wants to know. 

He continued: "We need to know all this information to protect our state and our citizens... We will be responsible for educating these children. Who will pay for that?" 

Mary Fallin, governor of Oklahoma, said she was "alerted through the media" about 600 unaccompanied minors arriving at Ft. Sill in her state. 

"It was quite a shock to us. It's a military installation that we're taking these children to," Gov. Fallin told Fox News on Wednesday. 

One mayor in California welcomes the immigrants to his city.

"We've already talked to HHS. Many of their parents are here. Before you get partisan and tell me where you are on immigration, these are children. Let's get them some place safe and secure. Let's get them legal representation which is what this country has always stood for," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at a forum. 

A mayor in Massachusetts said her town has become "overwhelmed" by illegal immigration and it has been a drain on the town's resources. 

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy in Lynn, Mass., said, "We have been aware of the unaccompanied children issue for quite a while but now it's gotten to the point with our school system is overwhelmed. Our health department is overwhelmed. The city's budget is being substantially altered." 

Massachusetts Sheriff Tom Hodgson described the nationwide immigrant influx best: "We're all becoming border states now." 




Thank You Voters
June 11, 2014 |

My fellow Virginians,

It is a privilege to serve the people of Virginia's 1st District, and I am honored that the voters across the district selected me as their nominee today in the Republican primary. I look forward to continuing to serve the great citizens of the 1st District and advocating for common-sense, conservative solutions to the challenges we face.

This is a critical year for America's future and for our party. The upcoming elections provide a significant opportunity for the American people to fill the House of Representatives and the Senate with leaders who can get this nation back on track. I will be working hard to ensure that the voices of Virginians are heard in Washington. First and foremost, I would like to thank my wife, Kathryn, and my entire family for their unwavering support. I am truly blessed to have them in my corner.

I would like to thank my opponent, Anthony Riedel, for his gracious words about the campaign and his pledge to support the Republican ticket going forward. It is important that Republicans come together and work hard to get this country headed in the right direction.

I would like to thank all the volunteers who have supported me by knocking on doors, talking to friends and family about the campaign, hosting and attending events, and calling fellow residents of the 1st District to remind them to vote. I am grateful for your support and look forward to working with you in the weeks and months ahead.

Sincerely,

Rob




An open letter on "slating" in the 1st District
March 26, 2014 | Open Letter

To the Members of the First Congressional District Republican Committee:

I am writing to state my strong and unequivocal opposition to the practice of “slating” at our Republican Party local unit mass meetings and conventions.The underlying basis of slating – the purposeful exclusion of certain dedicated activists from our political processes – will spoil any chance to build a conservative Republican Party to be the majority party of Virginia and a home for liberty-minded people to work to reform our government at the local, state, and federal levels.

I applaud the efforts of the grassroots folks – many of whom make American’s First District home – who stood up and fought back against Tammany Hall style machine politics in our Commonwealth. I find it particularly encouraging that when they have been in the majority, the activists who have been the target of these slash-and-burn political tactics have not reciprocated by excluding others, but have instead opted to allow participation by all, as they did last night in Henrico County. It’s that kind of dedication to principle that will help build our party for years to come.

We must reject the practice of slating because it is wrong and in the end it is counterproductive to our goal to build a durable majority party based on Constitutional principles and freedom.We all understand that politics is a contact sport. But it is a game we win by the addition of people with whom we share common cause, not by serving short-term political goals based on exclusion of those with whom we disagree a fraction of the time. It’s time instead to unite around the universal principles that bind us all together as Republicans, and to end the destructive practice of slating. A political party based on fair play, transparency, and honesty will always win in the end.

Sincerely,
Robert J. Wittman
Member of Congress




Governor contest tightens, poll says
September 19, 2013 | Times Dispatch

As Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli are locked in a tightening race, the Libertarian nominee for governor has siphoned support of 7 percent of likely Virginia voters.

Neither McAuliffe nor Cuccinelli have high favorability ratings among likely voters, potentially buoying Robert C. Sarvis, who, despite his support, is still unknown to most voters, according to a Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday.

Voters are split on McAuliffe — 38 percent view him favorably and 38 percent unfavorably — and Cuccinelli’s rating is upside down, 51 percent unfavorable and 34 percent favorable.

As for Sarvis, 85 percent of voters said they did not know enough about him to form an opinion, according to the poll.

Overall, McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli 44 percent to 41 percent, including voters who are leaning to one candidate, which is within the poll’s margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. Other recent polls had showed McAuliffe leading outside the margin of error.

“Sarvis’ backing is at an unusual and consistent level for a third-party candidate, and the reason is obvious: There’s widespread dissatisfaction with the two major-party nominees,” said Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, pointing to the favorability levels for Cuccinelli and McAuliffe in the survey.

As for whether Sarvis can maintain this level of support, Sabato said it would help him if he were allowed to participate in an upcoming debate.

“Sarvis doesn’t have the money to sustain support on his own. He has raised a pittance compared to the other two, and he’ll be drowned out in the final weeks of the campaign unless he gets lots of free news coverage.”

Sabato said “the one prominent exception to this rule for third-party candidates” was Ross Perot, who ran for president as an independent in 1992. Perot soared in the polls then faded, dropping out of the contest in July before re-entering the race that October.

“When he got back in the race in October ’92, he was at 4 percent; a month later he had zoomed to 19 percent,” Sabato said. “But he spent about $60 million to get there.”

In 1998, former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota as the Reform Party candidate, running a low-budget campaign that urged voters to turn against “politics as usual.”

In Virginia, it’s rare for third-party candidates for statewide office to exceed a couple of percentage points. The exceptions have usually been candidates who were well-known office seekers as Democrats or Republicans before they ran as independents.

For example, J. Marshall Coleman, a former attorney general and two-time Republican nominee for governor, ran as an independent and received 11 percent in the 1994 U.S. Senate election that also featured incumbent Charles S. Robb, a Democrat, and Oliver L. North, a Republican.

Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, said Sarvis’ numbers indicate that he has a problem common to third-party candidates generally, “which is they have a hard time breaking into the consciousness of voters.”

Third-party candidates have several issues that make it difficult, he said, including raising money, in part, because there is little party infrastructure for them to tap.

John Vaught LaBeaume, a campaign strategist for Sarvis, said: “We’re pleased to see Quinnipiac recognize that Robert Sarvis is running a professional, mainstream campaign by including him — finally — in their polling for this contest.

“And we’re reassured that they recognize, too, that the Sarvis vision for a Virginia that’s ‘Open-minded and Open Business’ needs to be polled so that it can be analyzed to determine how it’s received in a ‘purpling’ commonwealth undergoing significant demographic upheaval.”

Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, indicates that it’s difficult to determine which major party candidate Sarvis is impacting most.

“Right now, we can’t tell whether Sarvis’ candidacy is hurting Cuccinelli more than McAuliffe,” he said, adding that Sarvis is getting 3 percent of the GOP vote, 2 percent of the Democratic vote and 14 percent of independent voters.

“Since there are more people in Virginia who now consider themselves Democrats than Republicans, logic says that Cuccinelli needs a solid margin among independent voters. Instead, these voters are divided 37-37 percent between the Democrat and Republican,” Brown said.

Cuccinelli said Wednesday after an unrelated event that he thinks Sarvis is “probably pulling from both sides.”

Cuccinelli said his campaign addresses issues of importance to Libertarians, citing his ad that details his efforts to get justice for Thomas Haynesworth, who spent 27 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.

“I think as people learn more, we do better. Virginia races really don’t start to accelerate that process until after Labor Day, and I think we’ve got a lot of momentum, especially this week after the (Northern Virginia Technology Council’s PAC) endorsement and how the other side handled it.”

McAuliffe, who also commented Wednesday after addressing the Virginia Summit on Economic Competitiveness and Higher Education at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, said he’s “not paying attention to polls.”

“I feel great about where we are. We’re here talking education,” he said. “We had a spectacular day yesterday” he said, citing his endorsement by Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms.

“I think we have 15 former legislators … putting together quite a coalition. Building a great ground game.”

The poll released Wednesday shows a tightening between McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, as the Democrat’s edge shrank from an August Quinnipiac poll that showed him with a 6-percentage point margin, 48 percent to 42 percent.

On whether the candidates have the right kind of experience to be governor, 58 percent of voters said Cuccinelli does and 47 percent said McAuliffe does.

Asked if they think the candidates are trustworthy, 39 percent of voters said they find Cuccinelli trustworthy and honest and 49 percent don’t. For McAuliffe, 39 percent said yes and 42 percent said no.

Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,005 likely voters Sept. 9-15 with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general are still unknown to most voters.

omeola@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6812

Twitter: @omeola

Staff writer Jim Nolan contributed to this report.