115th Congress and Global Health: Senate Foreign Relations gets four new members

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The 115th Congress began on January 3rd, 2017, bringing new members to House and Senate committees addressing global health policies and funding. Science Speaks introduces you to those new members in this series.

Included in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s oversight is the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. On January 11, the Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be the next Secretary of State. The new members of the committee are:

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) – An attorney, former Congressman, and  Bush Administration Director of the Office of Management and Budget from 2006-2007, Sen. Portman was elected to the Senate in 2010, and re-elected in 2016. Initially a supporter of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign, Portman withdrew his support in October, saying he would instead vote for Vice Presidential candidate Governor Mike Pence. A proponent of same-sex marriage, the Senator is a co-sponsor of the domestic Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, and he has drawn attention to the impact of the U.S. opioid epidemic on rising rates of HIV and hepatitis C.

Sen.Jeff Merkley (D-Or.) – A member of the U.S. Senate since 2009, Sen. Merkley served previously on the Senate Appropriations State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee during the 114th Congress, which oversees annual funding decisions for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Global Fund and the USAID TB program. During that time he signed a letter urging the White House to increase spending to confront global tuberculosis, and letters to colleagues urging increased funding for PEPFAR and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Sen. Merkley was president of the World Affairs Council of Oregon, and has continued to serve on the organization’s board. His website notes that he has worked in Ghana, Mexico and India. When the President-elect announced his nomination of Rex Tillerson to be the next Secretary of State, Sen. Merkley released a statement saying “Donald Trump told us he would drain the swamp — he just didn’t tell us he would drain it directly into his own cabinet.” More on the Senator can be found at Science Speaks’ 114th Congress profile.

Sen. Todd Young (R -Ind) – An attorney and former Marine with an MBA, who has worked at the Heritage Foundation, Young comes to the Senate from the House of Representatives, where he served from 2011 to 2017. His U.S. Senate campaign web site explains his desire to run for public office “was prompted by the devastating passage of President Obama’s stimulus in 2009 and health care plan in 2010, coupled with President Obama’s weak leadership on the world stage.” (His campaign site also includes that “Todd is pro-life and supports the 2nd Amendment, and has earned a 100% score from National Right to Life and an “A” rating from the NRA.”) An editorial in the Indiana Star noted that Young’s Republican primary opponent for the Senate seat criticized him for (in the editorial’s words) choosing “pragmatism over symbolic votes,” in the Congress, adding, as an example, “Rather than support a full-scale shutdown of the government he has at times voted to raise the federal debt limit. He also has taken heat for bucking his party with smart bipartisan votes on issues such as housing assistance for people in need, including those with HIV/AIDS, and domestic violence programs.” The Washington Post, writing about the Republican candidates’ support of now-President-elect Donald Trump that “whatever qualms he may have about Trump, abandoning him is not a viable option,” while also quoting him saying, ““I’ll be a check and balance against whomever our next president is.”

Sen. Cory Booker  (D- NJ) – A former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Sen. Booker was elected to the Senate in 2013. He voices support for the National Institutes of Health and biomedical research on his Senate web site and has introduced legislation to provide comprehensive sexual education on college campuses. He has voiced criticism of Mr. Tillerson’s nomination, said all cabinet nominees should be thoroughly vetted and said he looks “forward to Mr. Tillerson’s hearing and a thorough vetting by the Senate.”

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