Rob’s Rundown: Week of February 25 – March 1, 2019

March 1, 2019 | Rob's Rundown

Senator Portman delivered remarks on the Senate floor Thursday to honor the life of Ohio native Otto Warmbier and to remind everyone of his wrongful imprisonment and horrible mistreatment at the hands of the North Korean regime and its dictator Kim Jong Un.

Also this week, Portman chaired a Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) hearing and delivered remarks on a new bipartisan report that details the lack of transparency in how American colleges and universities manage Confucius Institutes—which are located at more than 100 American colleges and universities and have received more than $158 million in support from the Chinese government.  These Confucius Institutes are controlled, funded, and mostly staffed by the Chinese government. Later that day, Portman spoke on the Senate Floor about the report and hearing, and discussed the new commitments he received at the PSI hearing from (1) the Department of Education to issue new guidance to the more than 3,000 schools it oversees to ensure schools know they’re obligated to report receiving these foreign government funding sources; and (2) the State Department to do more to ensure visas are being properly used at Confucius Institutes around the country.

In addition, Portman introduced legislation this week called the Recovering Excessive Funds for Unused and Needless Drugs (REFUND) Act that would enable Medicare to recoup money from drug companies that were paid for wasted medications in order to lower prescription drug prices for seniors enrolled in Medicare and reduce costs for taxpayers. 

For a more detailed look at Senator Portman’s week, please see the following:  

Monday, February 25

Ohio and National Business Leaders Praise Portman’s Bipartisan Trade Security Act

Portman believes we must hold countries that violate our trade laws accountable, but we must do so in a way that protects American jobs and strengthens the U.S. economy. Recently, Portman introduced bipartisan legislation called the Trade Security Act, which will reform the Section 232 tariff process to ensure this trade remedy tool is used only for genuine threats to national security. In keeping with the original intent of Section 232 as a national security tool, this bill requires the Department of Defense to justify the national security basis for new tariffs under Section 232 and increases congressional oversight of this process. The bill has garnered praise from business groups in Ohio and across the country who view the legislation as a common-sense solution for preserving this important tool while reserving it for genuine national security threats. Here is a sampling of support.

Portman, Durbin Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Tackle PhRMA Waste in Oversized Prescription Drug Packaging

Portman and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced a bipartisan bill that would reduce the egregious wasted spending on discarded medications that are the result of excessively large, single-use drug vials. The Recovering Excessive Funds for Unused and Needless Drugs (REFUND) Act would enable Medicare to recoup money from drug companies who were paid for wasted medications, and provide savings to seniors enrolled in Medicare. 

 

Tuesday, February 26

Portman’s Bipartisan Migratory Birds Legislation Ready for the President’s Signature

Tuesday the House of Representatives approved bipartisan legislation introduced by Portman – the Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Act (S. 310) – which will reauthorize the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s program to promote the long-term conservation, education, research, monitoring, and habitat protection for more than 380 species of migratory birds.  The measure is now headed to the president’s desk for his signature.  Portman introduced the bill with Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), and it was approved by the Senate and House as part of a larger legislation that includes more than 100 public lands, natural resources, and water bills.  Portman issued the following statement:

“Hundreds of bird species migrate through Ohio each year, making Lake Erie one of the most popular destinations for birdwatching.  Birding contributes more than $20 million to Ohio’s tourism industry and attracts visitors from across the world each year.  Protecting and conserving these bird populations is critically important and I am pleased the House approved this bipartisan legislation. I urge the president to sign this legislation into law without delay.”

Portman, Brown Measure to Protect the Ohio & Erie Canalway & Support Northeast Ohio Jobs Ready for the President’s Signature

The House of Representatives Tuesday passed bipartisan legislation introduced by Portman and Sherrod Brown to ensure that the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area, which spans more than 110 miles between New Philadelphia and Cleveland, can continue to draw investment, and support local jobs, tourism and economic development in northeast Ohio.  The bill is now headed to the president’s desk for his signature. Portman and Brown’s measure was included as part of a broader public lands package that has passed by both the House and Senate.

“This legislation will provide greater funding certainty for the Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area, which will help ensure that this site is protected and continues to attract jobs and investment,” said Portman. “The canal holds great significance to the state of Ohio, from helping our early towns and communities prosper to linking our state to the rest of the nation. I am proud to be one of the 2.5 million visitors who enjoy the canal’s towpath trail each year, and I urge the President to sign this legislation into law.”

Wednesday, February 27 

Senators Portman & Carper Unveil Bipartisan Report on Confucius Institutes at U.S. Universities & K-12 Classrooms

Following an eight-month long investigation, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), unveiled a new bipartisan report that details the lack of transparency in how American colleges and universities manage Confucius Institutes—which are located at more than 100 American colleges and universities and have received more than $150 million in support from the Chinese government.  These Confucius Institutes are controlled, funded, and mostly staffed by the Chinese government.  The report also details China’s one-sided treatment of U.S. schools and key State Department programs in China, and documents the lack of oversight by the Departments of State and Education of U.S. Confucius Institutes.   

“This bipartisan report documents the stunning lack of transparency and reciprocity from China in how Confucius Institutes operate inside the United States.  As China has expanded Confucius Institutes here in the U.S., it has systematically shut down key U.S. State Department public diplomacy efforts on Chinese college campuses,” said Senator Portman.  “We learned that schools in the United States— from kindergarten to college—have provided a level of access to the Chinese government that the Chinese government has refused to provide to the United States.  That level of access can stifle academic freedom and provide students and others exposed to Confucius Institute programming with an incomplete picture of Chinese government actions and policies that run counter to U.S. interests at home and abroad.  Absent full transparency regarding how Confucius Institutes operate and full reciprocity for U.S. cultural outreach efforts on college campuses in China, Confucius Institutes should not continue in the United States.” 

At Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, Portman Questions Experts on Current Issues with Russia and China

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Portman questioned experts about current global and national issues with Russia and China. Portman discussed his bipartisan efforts to fully utilize the Global Engagement Center, which was tasked with leading U.S. government efforts to counter propaganda and disinformation from countries like Russia and China through legislation that Portman and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) wrote and successfully passed in 2016. Portman also highlighted a hearing held Thursday by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), which he chairs, that examined China’s impact on the United States education system.  PSI used its broad investigatory power over the last eight months to examine Confucius Institutes, which are located at more than 100 American colleges and universities and have received more than $150 million in support from the Chinese government.   

Excerpts of his questioning can be found here and a video can be found here 

Thursday, February 28 

Portman Opening Statement at PSI Oversight Hearing on China’s Impact on the U.S. Education System

Thursday, Portman, the Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), delivered the following opening remarks at a hearing to examine China’s impact on the United States education system.  Yesterday, Portman and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) unveiled a new bipartisan report that details the lack of transparency in how American colleges and universities manage Confucius Institutes—which are located at more than 100 American colleges and universities and have received more than $158 million in support from the Chinese government.  These Confucius Institutes are controlled, funded, and mostly staffed by the Chinese government.  The report also details China’s one-sided treatment of U.S. schools and key State Department programs in China, and documents the lack of oversight by the Departments of State and Education of U.S. Confucius Institutes.  

Here is a transcript of Portman’s opening statement and you can watch his opening statement here.

Portman on North Korea: “We Can’t Be Naive About What They Did to Otto”

Portman delivered remarks on the Senate floor Thursday to honor the life of Ohio native Otto Warmbier and to remind everyone of  the North Korean regime’s unnecessary detainment and terrible mistreatment of Warmbier.

In his speech, Portman said, “We can’t be naive about what they did to Otto, about the brutal nature of the regime…”

Transcript can be found here and a video can be found here.

Friday, March 1 

On Senate Floor, Portman Delivers Remarks on China’s Impact on the U.S. Education System

Portman, the Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), delivered remarks on the Senate floor highlighting China’s impact on the United States education system.  Building upon the opening remarks Portman delivered at the PSI hearing, Portman highlighted a new bipartisan report that details the lack of transparency in how American colleges and universities manage Confucius Institutes—which are located at more than 100 American colleges and universities and have received more than $158 million in support from the Chinese government.  These Confucius Institutes are controlled, funded, and mostly staffed by the Chinese government. Portman also discussed the new commitments he received at the PSI hearing from (1) the Department of Education to issue new guidance to the more than 3,000 schools it oversees to ensure schools know they’re obligated to report receiving these foreign government funding sources; and (2) the State Department to do more to ensure visas are being properly used at Confucius Institutes around the country.

A transcript of Portman’s remarks are here and a video can be found here.

Ohio Conservation Leaders Praise Portman’s Bipartisan Legislation to Fund National Parks’ Maintenance Backlog

Last month, Portman introduced the Restore Our Parks Act, bipartisan legislation that would address the nearly $12 billion backlog in long-delayed maintenance projects at the National Park Service (NPS). This legislation has been praised by Pew Charitable Trusts, the National Parks Conservation Association, the U.S. Travel Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Trust for the National Mall. The linked are supportive statements from Ohio conservation leaders who support the legislation.

On Social Media

 

   

 

Stivers, Portman not buying N. Korea denials on Warmbier - as Trump apparently has

WASHINGTON — In an apparent swipe at President Donald Trump, Sen. Rob Portman said the United States cannot “be naïve” in its dealings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the “brutal nature of a regime” whose mistreatment of Otto Warmbier led to his death in 2017.

Speaking on the Senate floor after Trump said earlier Thursday in Hanoi he did not believe the “top leadership” in North Korea knew of Warmbier being badly treated in prison, the Ohio Republican said Warmbier’s “detainment and his sentence were appalling; unacceptable by any standards.”

“We can’t be naïve about what they did to Otto, about the brutal nature of the regime that would do this to an American citizen,” said Portman.

Warmbier, who was from the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming and attended the University of Virginia, was seized by North Korean officials during a trip to the reclusive country. While in prison, Warmbier suffered a severe brain injury and he died in a Cincinnati hospital just days after Pyongyang released him.

At a news conference in Hanoi, Trump said Kim told him during a summit that “he felt badly” about Warmbier’s death from “bad things” in prison. But Kim “tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word,” Trump said.

“I know the Warmbier family very well,” said the president, who had them as his guests at this year’s State of the Union speech. “I think they’re an incredible family. What happened is horrible. I really believe something very bad happened to him.”

But Portman, who favors talks with Pyongyang on reducing its arsenal of nuclear weapons, cast doubt on Kim’s claim.

“Who did the North Korean government tell about the fact that he had this brain damage? Portman asked. “No one. Unbelievable.”

Other Ohio lawmakers were even blunter in their criticisms.

“Warmbier’s life was taken by the abusive and oppressive regime in North Korea,” Dayton Republican Rep. Mike Turner said. “As the head of that regime, Kim Jong-Un bears full responsibility for Otto’s death.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said “North Korea murdered” Warmbier and Trump “has a responsibility to make sure they face the consequences. Anything short of that is unacceptable.”

The Ohio Democrat added, “The president of the United States is sending a message to dictators around the world that he believes autocrats when they lie or when they cover up, or when they justify policies that result in the deaths of human beings.”

Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington, said it is “hard for me to believe that Kim Jong-un had no knowledge of Otto Warmbier’s treatment. Regardless of whether he was aware or not, he is ultimately responsible.”

“Any leader who allows gulags to operate in their country and allows thousands to die as a result is responsible for each and every one of those deaths,” Stivers said.

A spokesman for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said the Republican “respectfully declines comment.”

A federal judge has ordered North Korea to pay more than $500 million in a wrongful death suit by Warmbier’s parents.

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley also seemed to distance herself from Trump, tweeting: “Americans know the cruelty that was placed on Otto Warmbier by the North Korean regime.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, questioned in a tweet Trump “accepting Kim’s denial of involvement in Warmbier’s death? Detestable, and hearkens back to Trump’s duplicitous acceptances of denials from other dictators.”

Trump has also given credibility to denials by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of misdeeds despite information from U.S. intelligence agencies.

In July 2018, Trump said in a joint news conference with the Russian leader that Putin “was extremely strong and powerful in his denial” and thus Trump didn’t “see any reason” to believe he was involved in attempts to manipulate American elections. Later, Trump backed off that remark somewhat.

Trump also expressed belief in bin Salman’s denial — again despite U.S. intelligence findings — that the Saudi government was not involved in last fall’s killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

(Stivers, Portman not buying N. Korea denials on Warmbier - as Trump apparently has. Columbus Dispatch. February 28, 2019.)  

Colleges’ program with China comes under Senate’s crosshairs

A bipartisan report from Congress is urging U.S. colleges and universities to sever ties with the Confucius Institute, a program that allows the Chinese government to help teach language classes on American campuses but that, according to critics, poses a threat to national security and academic freedom.

The report, released Wednesday, found that federal agencies have failed to monitor the program and the $158 million it has sent to the United States since 2006. The panel says the program should “not continue in the United States” unless Chinese officials provide full transparency and offer the U.S. equal opportunities for cultural outreach in China.

“We learned that schools in the United States — from kindergarten to college — have provided a level of access to the Chinese government that the Chinese government has refused to provide to the United States,” said Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who leads the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

More than 100 U.S. colleges host Confucius Institutes through partnerships with Hanban, an affiliate of China’s Ministry of Education. Hanban provides teachers and directors from China, along with textbooks and startup funding of $100,000 to $200,000. Schools have to sign a contract with Hanban and agree to split the cost.

The investigation by Portman’s panel found that the deals give Chinese authorities too much control over programs on U.S. soil.

Many colleges told investigators they don’t know how Hanban selects its teachers or if its process aligns with campus hiring policies. Teachers sent by Hanban sign contracts saying they will “safeguard national interests” for China. As a result, the Senate found, the program often depicts China as “approachable and compassionate” while leaving out critical views of the country.

The report adds to mounting scrutiny of a program that has been dogged by criticism for years. Professors have said China’s control of the program encourages schools to avoid events or speakers that might be seen as controversial by China.

The Confucius Institute U.S. Center did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

At least 10 schools have announced plans to close Confucius Institutes since the start of 2018, including the University of Michigan, Texas A&M University and the University of Minnesota.

Last April, the Texas A&M University system closed its Confucius Institutes at the request of two Texas congressmen who called the program a threat to national security. The system’s chancellor, John Sharp, said at the time he didn’t question the lawmakers’ judgment.

The University of Rhode Island closed its institute in January to preserve federal funding for its Chinese language program after a 2018 national defense bill explicitly barred schools from using Defense Department money on Chinese language programs if the school hosts Confucius Institutes.

The Senate panel acknowledged that there are mixed views on the institutes. While some school officials told investigators they had concerns about China’s influence, others reported no concerns about academic freedom or undue control.

The congressional report called for increased oversight of the program.

At the State Department, officials have been ramping up oversight, the report found. Last year, the U.S. revoked 32 visas for Chinese nationals who said they were coming for research but were found to be teaching at Confucius Institutes. This year the department plans to take a close look at more campuses.

At the same time, the report found that the State Department doesn’t collect information on Confucius Institute employees and doesn’t know how many are in the U.S. The Education Department tells schools to report foreign gifts of more than $250,000, but the Senate found that 70 percent that received that amount from Hanban didn’t properly report it, and the agency didn’t catch it.

Through its own investigation, the Senate found that Hanban has sent more than $158 million to more than 100 U.S. schools since 2006.

Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the investigations panel, said that while there’s no evidence of illegal activity, U.S. officials must “have our eyes wide open about the presence of these institutes in our schools and around young, impressionable students,” especially since the program is tied to “a much different worldview than ours.”

In response to the early success of the Confucius Institutes, the State Department launched its own American Cultural Center program in 2010, paying more than $5 million to set up 29 outposts at Chinese universities. But China has routinely interfered with the program and its activities, the Senate found.

But the program was ended in October 2018 after the State Department’s internal watchdog found that it was ineffective, the report revealed.

The panel encouraged colleges to continue partnering with Chinese universities in other ways. “Partnering with foreign universities offers students unique international learning experiences and enhances research opportunities,” it said. “U.S. schools, however, should never, under any circumstances, compromise academic freedom.”

(Colleges’ program with China comes under Senate’s crosshairs. Associated Press. February 27, 2019.) 

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