116th Congress: House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health gets four new Democrats, two new Republicans

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The 116th Congress began on January 3rd, 2019, 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.

With regional oversight of political relations with Africa, as well as oversight of international health and human rights issues and responses, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations is pivotal to informing Congress, policies and funding supporting action to control, contain and end the impacts of HIV, TB and pandemic threats worldwide. With oversight as well on policies pertaining to internationally recognized human rights, the committee also examines issues crucial to the successful implementation of health programs.

With Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) switching leadership seats in the Democrat-majority 116th Congress, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) the only other subcommittee member carrying over from the 115th Congress, the subcommittee gets six freshman House members —  four Democrats and two Republicans. From three members taking their first turn in any elected office, to a couple of nationally known former state legislators, to a local politician and former congressional staffer taking his the seat of his former boss, they bring a new array of endorsements, perspectives — and a few fun facts —  to their roles on the committee.

Rep. Susan Wild

Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA) – A former practicing attorney and city solicitor, Rep. Wild’s endorsements include one from the Human Rights Campaign, that called her a “proven champion of working families” who could be counted on to fight discrimination, and which she welcomed citing a “deep commitment to the rights of the LGBTQ+ Community.” Announcing her appointment to the subcommittee, Rep. Wilds added “From global health to tackling climate change, what happens abroad affects us all — especially in today’s interconnected world. I intend to use my platform to advocate for diplomacy, our national security, and global human rights – including the rights of women and girls to receive health care and education.” The granddaughter of one of the first female broadcasters, and daughter of a journalist, Rep. Wild joined her mother on a picket line when Los Angeles Herald Examiner workers went on strike, according to a profile in the Allentown Morning Call. The same profile notes the start of her political involvement — “grunt” work on then Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign, and attending his victory party.

Rep. Dean Phillips

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) – A businessman who led his family’s distilling company before going on to build Talenti Gelato, according to his website biography, he was dubbed a “vodka and gelato tycoon” by Roll Call when running for his seat. Strongly endorsed by Planned Parenthood, which, in its endorsement, cited his “fierce belief” in the organization’s mission, Rep. Phillips also notes that global climate change will be among his areas of focus. “We’re not going to solve these twenty-first century problems with outdated isolationist thinking,” his statement announcing his appointment to the subcommittee adds. Rep. Phillips was 6 months old when his birth father was killed in the Vietnam war, was adopted by his stepfather, and is a step-grandson of “Pauline Esther “Popo” Phillips, also known as Dear Abby advice columnist Abigail Van Buren, according to this National Journal run-down on new Congressional members.

Rep. Ilhan Omar

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) – Recently under fire for remarks regarding support for Israel, Rep. Omar, who  was born in Mogadishu and spent her early childhood in Somalia, welcomed her appointment to the subcommittee “as someone who has seen firsthand the havoc wreaked by war.” Growing up in Minneapolis, according to her Congressional website, she served as her grandfather’s interpreter at caucus meetings. A former policy fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, Rep. Omar had previously worked as a community nutrition counselor, according to the National Journal Congressional freshmen site. Before joining the Minnesota House of Representatives she served as policy aid for a Minneapolis City Council member. During her Congressional race she was endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice America, which called her “a passionate fighter for reproductive freedom,” who had “centered her work to advance reproductive justice.”

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) – A third-generation military veteran who served in the Air Force, a former Teach for America chemistry teacher and a businesswoman with a graduate degree in policy and technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rep. Houlahan is a daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, according to her Congressional webpage. She has led nonprofits championing childhood literacy and socially conscious business practices according to the National Journal run-down, and referred to herself, on her campaign website, as “a true product of the American Dream.” Her endorsements include ones from the Human Rights Campaign and from NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Rep. Ron Wright

Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX) – A former district director and then chief of staff for retired Rep. Joe Barton, Rep. Wright succeeds his former boss to his seat in Congress. A former weekly columnist for the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Wright, who also served as an Arlington, Texas City Council member and mayor pro-tem, and most recently as a county tax assessor has said he has a “passion” for nonpartisan as well as partisan politics. In his campaign for his Congressional seat, according to the National Journal introduction to freshman Congressional members, the future representative “emphasized local issues like his opposition to traffic cameras and the cancellation of a charity drive that he believed would benefit Planned Parenthood.”

Rep. Tim Burchett

Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) – “Dadgumit, I’m going to Congress,” the newly elected representative told his local television station upon his election night victory.  “America really is the land of opportunity.” A small businessman before launching a political career that led to eight years as Knox County mayor, followed by 16 years in his state’s legislature, Rep. Burchett announced his appointment to the House Foreign Affairs Committee noting that “much of the impact of the committee’s work can be found in thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic investment those relationships bring to our region.” As a state senator he earned national fame by proposing a bill that would legalize eating road kill without notifying local game wardens.

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