With oversight of funding for the State Department, and, with that, for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and for USAID, the House Appropriations subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations and related programs plays a pivotal role in American leadership of global infectious disease responses.
With the Democratic majority the subcommittee gets two new Democrats and a Republican from opposite ends of the political spectrum, and correspondingly different views on addressing international health issues that include reproductive healthcare as well as Zika and Ebola outbreak responses.
Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) – The sole new Republican member on this subcommittee, and the new member who has served the longest, Rep. Roby joined Congress in 2010. Her biographical statement refers to her “short tenure” in Congress, and calls her a “messenger for the conservative cause.” A former practicing attorney, she previously served on the Montgomery, Alabama City Council. The religion-based conservative nonprofit Family Research Council strongly endorsed her for “a perfect 100 percent for votes cast last year,” including on transgender, abortion access and reproductive healthcare issues. Rep. Roby includes among her priorities “an obligation to do everything I can to fight for the unborn.” In 2016, she opposed a Zika funding bill that would allow any resources to go to Planned Parenthood, writing: “It is simply not the job of the federal government to fund the nation’s largest abortion provider, and it is unconscionable that Senate Democrats would block funding aimed to help protect pregnant women and babies because their friends at Planned Parenthood don’t get a cut.”
During the 2014-2016 Ebola crisis in West Africa, she called for a travel ban barring people from the hardest hit countries from U.S. entry, enhanced screening at all U.S. airports, and mandatory quarantines for anyone who had contact with people with the virus, saying “This is very terrifying. We have to contain this disease in the U.S. but we also have to work with those African countries to make sure it is contained there as well.”
Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) – Rep. Frankel came to Congress in 2013 with a record of outspoken stances in support of reproductive healthcare and abortion access, as well as for rights-based responses to America’s HIV epidemic. An attorney, as a state legislator during the first decades of the HIV epidemic she authored legislation barring discrimination against people living with the virus. Her biographical statement calls her “a fierce defender of human rights and women’s reproductive freedom, fights she will never abandon, and believes we all need to participate in today.” While a Hill profile noted her days as a student protester against the Vietnam War and her self-described involvement of “everything that had an ‘ism'” it also notes a bipartisan bent, and willingness to work across party lines.
She greeted her appointment to the subcommittee saying “To me it’s very very important that we maintain our leadership role in the world,” adding “This administration has backtracked on that severely.” On the reinstatement of an expanded Mexico City Policy, also known as the “Global Gag Rule,” Rep. Frankel tweeted: “Wow, Trump just took the War on Women to a global level.” She opposed banning travel from West African countries during the 2014-2016 Ebola crisis saying, “Shutting down a few flights will give us false security and we’ve got to stop it where it is because the infrastructure in west Africa right now is almost nonexistent.” She argued strongly and repeatedly for early funding to fight the spread of Zika virus, and referred to Florida as “somewhat ground zero” for potential local outbreaks of the virus.
The mother of an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, Rep. Frankel told the Washington Post that the experience of seeing her only child serve “gives me an insight that is important in Congress, where you actually make war and peace decisions and have to decide whether to give foreign aid.” Rep. Frankel, who also served as Mayor of West Palm Beach before coming to Congress, added that she was proud that on her son’s completion of military service and of a graduate degree in foreign policy, he returned to his home town.
In 2015, Rep. Frankel joined a CARE-sponsored learning tour of health programs in Malawi and Kenya.
Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA) – Born in Guatemala, Rep. Torres came to the United States at the age of five, and describes the experience, as well as how it informed her policy perspective, here. As a 911 dispatcher she served as her union’s shop steward, before serving on the Pomona City Council, then as the city’s mayor, and becoming a state legislator before coming to Congress in 2015.
In 2016 she pushed for emergency Zika funding, including in a Marie Claire opinion piece co-written with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), saying “As women Members of Congress, and staunch advocates for a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, we urge the global community to join us in calling for improved access to family planning resources, including education and contraception,” adding “Women and men facing the risk of Zika infection need the resources and information to make voluntary, informed choices on family planning — not anti-women’s health policies that leave them without viable options.”
In a press release urging Zika funding she noted her area’s vulnerability to local transmission of the virus, and said she “was encouraged to learn about steps that organizations like the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control and Planned Parenthood have taken to begin to educate residents . . .”
In 2018 Rep. Torres traveled to Sierra Leone on a CARE-sponsored learning tour highlighting the role of U.S. investments in health services and infrastructure there.