[Congressional Record Volume 164, Number 47 (Monday, March 19, 2018)]
[Pages S1773-S1780]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                           MOTION TO PROCEED

  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, the Senate will 
resume consideration of the motion to proceed to H.R. 1865, which the 
clerk will report.
  The legislative clerk read as follows:

       Motion to proceed to Calendar No. 339, H.R. 1865, a bill to 
     amend the Communications Act of 1934 to clarify that section 
     230 of such Act does not prohibit the enforcement against 
     providers and users of interactive computer services of 
     Federal and State criminal and civil law relating to sexual 
     exploitation of children or sex trafficking, and for other 

                   Recognition of the Majority Leader

  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The majority leader is recognized.

                             Senate Agenda

  Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, this is the start of another busy week 
in the Senate. We have a lot to accomplish for the American people.
  This week, we will take up an omnibus that builds on the bipartisan 
funding agreement we reached back in February. It will provide our 
Armed Forces with the stable funding they need to meet emerging 
  Among other important matters, it will also strengthen our fight 
against the scourge of opioid addiction--an issue the President has 
already declared a public health emergency and is continuing to address 
today up in New Hampshire.
  We have several concrete opportunities to make America safer and more 
secure. First, we will vote on the confirmation of Kevin McAleenan, the 
President's nominee for Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border 
Protection. Mr. McAleenan is a 16-year veteran of the CBP. He served 
under administrations of both parties. His nomination carries the 
unflinching support of a bipartisan group of leaders and was thoroughly 
vetted in committee. Ensuring our national security means steady 
control over what and who comes across our borders. I would urge 
everyone to join me in voting to confirm him later today.
  Later this week, the Senate will turn to another important matter 
relating to America's safety and security. We will take up legislation 
to combat the evil of sex trafficking. Keeping children safe from 
exploitation has been a key focus for several of us going back some 
years. In 1984, I advocated the passage of the Missing Children's 
Assistance Act. In the 1990s, I was proud to introduce measures that 
mandated centralized reporting for missing children's cases and created 
a national database and screening system to identify abusers. In 2003, 
I joined a number of colleagues as founding members of the Senate 
Caucus on Missing, Exploited and Runaway Children. As recently as 2015, 
the Senate passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. This 
week, it is time to build on those achievements and take another step.
  It is time to confront the reality that trafficking has largely moved 
from the street corner to the smartphone. From 2010 to 2015, the 
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children saw reports of 
suspected child sex trafficking increase more than eightfold. Last year 
alone, more than 8,500 cases were reported to the National Human 
Trafficking Hotline. Part of the problem is a 1996 communications law 
that is being misused to protect websites that knowingly facilitate sex 
trafficking. The legislation before the Senate will reform that law and 
ensure these institutions can be held accountable for facilitating 
these heinous crimes. Senator Portman has worked long and hard on this 
subject. He has helped assemble a broad, bipartisan coalition.
  I would urge everyone to join me in voting to advance this 
legislation later this afternoon.

                               Tax Reform

  Mr. President, now, on one final matter, the good news about tax 
reform keeps piling up. Here is one important headline from just a few 
days ago. ``U.S. consumer confidence hits 14-year high.'' That is 
right; tax reform is contributing to a dynamic, growing economy, and 
Americans are taking notice.

[[Page S1774]]

In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, ``Optimism improved 
markedly for households in the bottom third of income distribution.'' 
Remember that the next time my friends across the aisle claim tax 
reform is only helping the big guys. It is just a political talking 
  In the real world, businesses large and small are thriving. In my 
home State of Kentucky, Goodwood Brewing Company has crunched the 
numbers and expects a tax reform savings of $30,000. They are planning 
to use it to purchase new equipment and hire new employees. According 
to the CEO, Ted Mitzlaff, tax reform is offering ``a significant 
benefit--hardly crumbs.''
  Last Wednesday, President Trump visited a Boeing manufacturing 
facility in St. Louis to hear how tax reform is helping those 
Americans. For Boeing's workers, tax reform means a new $300 million 
investment in workforce development, training, philanthropy, and 
workplace improvements, but the President didn't just hear from the 
hometown crowd.
  Bonnie Brazzeal works in the cafeteria at the College of the Ozarks--
that is in Southwest Missouri, more than 250 miles away from St. Louis. 
Bonnie made the trip to tell President Trump: ``I work in the cafeteria 
at [the] College of the Ozarks alongside the hard-working students and 
I am grateful for the bonus. . . . I put mine in savings for my 
retirement.'' Renee Crooker, also at the College of the Ozarks, said: 
``This bonus could not have come at a better time.'' Her daughter was 
gravely ill but out of the country. Renee's tax reform bonus enabled 
her to fly to her daughter's bedside. Brandon Pister is a supervisor at 
Mid-Am Metal Forming. He received a tax bonus too. It helped him afford 
the deductible when his 2-year-old son needed surgery.
  These Americans' tax reform stories are amazing and so is the fact 
that only one Senator from Missouri voted to help all this good news 
happen. Their senior Senator joined Democrats in a party-line vote to 
block tax reform and keep Washington's foot on the brake of our 
economy. When Democratic leaders called these historic middle-class tax 
cuts crumbs, the senior Senator from Missouri followed suit and called 
them scraps.
  I am proud that Republicans, including Missouri's junior Senator, 
looked past this partisan rhetoric and stood up for the middle-class 
families who deserve to keep more of their own money. Because we did, 
Bonnie, Renee, Brandon, and millions more hard-working Americans are 
already reaping the benefits.
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for 
the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

                             Fix NICS Bill

  Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, I am pleased to learn that Senator Cory 
Booker, our colleague from New Jersey, is the 73rd cosponsor of the Fix 
NICS bill, which I have introduced and which I hope will be passed out 
of the Senate soon. This bill is designed to fix the National Instant 
Criminal Background Check System, which, if it had been working the way 
it was designed to, would have caught the shooter at Sutherland 
Springs, perhaps saving the lives of 26 people who lost their lives in 
that little Baptist church outside of San Antonio; 20 more were shot 
and will suffer those wounds the rest of their lives.
  Today the news brought us the fact that apparently there had been a 
recommendation by mental health professionals that Nikolas Cruz, the 
shooter in Parkland, FL, be committed for involuntary treatment, but 
apparently that never materialized. That was the recommendation, but it 
never actually happened. If that had happened, under the current law, 
his name would have been included in the Florida upload of background 
check information, and that would have prevented him from legally 
buying a firearm.
  So we are starting to see the different data points that begin to 
paint a picture of the sorts of things that we could do here in 
Washington, DC, to save lives in these future mass shooting events. We 
know the President has said to the Department of Justice that he wants 
bump stocks banned. Of course, that was the instrument used to kill 
dozens of people in Las Vegas and injure 851 more.
  So by addressing things like the background check system, improving 
the mental health response, eliminating the bump stock--which takes a 
semiautomatic weapon and makes it operate essentially like an automatic 
weapon--and by providing assistance to our schools so that they can 
harden themselves against potential attacks, we can begin to see a 
picture of the sorts of things we ought to be doing to prevent future 
mass shootings like the one we saw most recently in Parkland, FL. It is 
simply our responsibility to make sure we do everything we humanly can.
  I know that after these horrific events, people throw up their hands 
and say: We need to do something. Well, we need to do something that 
matters and that will save lives in the future. I think we now begin to 
have a picture of the sorts of things we can do, starting with the 
passage of the Fix NICS background check system. It is the only piece 
of legislation I know of that now has 73 cosponsors, with Senator 
Booker of New Jersey being added as the 73rd today. It is the only bill 
I know of that has that kind of broad, widespread support and that will 
actually, if implemented, save lives.
  Mr. President, this week we will be discussing another important 
subject--one that perhaps people do not want to hear about; rather, 
they would prefer that it not exist at all because it is a 
manifestation of evil. The subject is online sex trafficking. 
Unfortunately, it happens in the shadows of our society. Today, the 
internet and other forms of technology have made certain forms of 
predatory, perverted behavior easier to engage in without getting 
  The legislation we are voting on this week aims to protect our 
children, provide justice to victims of human trafficking, and to make 
sure Federal laws do not protect profiteering web domains where sex 
trafficking occurs.
  The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, or SESTA, would allow sex 
trafficking victims to have their day in court by eliminating Federal 
liability protections for technology providers that knowingly--
knowingly--facilitate online sex trafficking. It would allow State and 
local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute providers that 
violate Federal sex trafficking laws.
  I am proud to be one of the original cosponsors of this legislation 
and to have been working on it with my colleagues to get it to this 
point today. The bill was introduced last summer after a 2-year inquiry 
by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which culminated in a 
report. The report found not only that sex trafficking has run rampant 
in certain online spaces but also that websites have tried to cover it 
up. Well, no longer. Last fall, the Senate Commerce Committee 
unanimously approved SESTA, and the House passed it last month. This 
week, it is our turn.
  Senator Portman, the junior Senator from Ohio, has been this bill's 
greatest champion since its inception. He has been informing us time 
and again of the ways in which sex trafficking has moved--as he likes 
to say it--from the street corner to the smartphone. He spoke on the 
floor earlier this year and reminded us that even as technology 
develops and gives us new opportunities to learn, to innovate, and to 
connect with one another, it is not an unalloyed good. In the wrong 
hands, by the wrong people, it can be misused. As Senator Portman urged 
us, we need to shine a light onto the ``dark side of the internet,'' an 
area he called a ``stain on our national character.'' He is absolutely 
right, of course. The buying and selling of young people for sex is a 
moral scourge, and how we respond is a measure of our national 
  In the committee's investigation, one website in particular came up 
over and over and over again; that is, backpage.com, which is 
responsible for perhaps three-quarters of all child trafficking 
reports--three-quarters. It eventually became clear that even though 
that site was actively helping to sell young women for sex and even 
though the victims and their families were suing backpage.com in 
response, none of the lawsuits were successful because of what some 
people are coming to believe is an outdated immunity for

[[Page S1775]]

technology providers under a Federal law known as the Communications 
Decency Act. Courts have repeatedly emphasized that the broad reach of 
one section of that statute protects websites that help to buy and sell 
underage girls for sex. Judges across the country have said it is up to 
Congress to change the law, and now it is our time to do just that.
  The original law was intended to protect free speech, which, of 
course, is important. I, of course, like all of our colleagues, am a 
firm believer in the First Amendment, but free speech is no license to 
engage in illegal activity. Free speech can't be used as an excuse to 
offer young people into sexual servitude. And the internet cannot be a 
safe place for terrorists and child sex traffickers.
  At last count, 67 Senators have joined this effort as cosponsors. We 
are joined by anti-human trafficking advocates, law enforcement 
organizations, State attorneys general, the civil rights community, 
faith-based groups, and tech companies like Facebook and Oracle. We 
have all made clear that we stand behind SESTA.
  I hope our colleagues will join me in voting for this important 
legislation this week and ensure that websites and online platforms can 
be held accountable for facilitating sex trafficking.

                            Yemen Resolution

  On another matter, Mr. President, this week, the Senate may vote on a 
privileged resolution offered by three of our colleagues--the junior 
Senators from Utah, Vermont, and Connecticut--which would direct the 
President to cut off financial support and other support for the Saudi-
led coalition in Yemen. This, of course, is a proxy war, in many ways, 
between Iran, which has intervened in the civil war in Yemen, and--not 
only to allow the Saudis the means to defend themselves against 
incursions and attacks by the Houthis, Iranian-backed rebels, but also 
to facilitate our relationship with the Saudis and the Emirates, which 
is very important in terms of our anti-ISIS and anti-al-Qaida effort, 
with cells of these organizations located in Yemen too.
  Our support, of course, is already narrowly circumscribed--our 
support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. General Mattis, our 
Secretary of Defense, has described this as our alternative to putting 
American boots on the ground. We operate by, with, and through our 
allies by providing logistical support, intelligence, and some 
technical advice. Currently, in Yemen it takes the forms intelligence-
sharing, military advice, and logistical support, such as air-to-air 
refueling. This is very clearly noncombatant support, at least as 
traditionally defined and historically known, and it is meant to 
improve processes and procedures and increase compliance with the 
international law of armed conflict.
  The very support we are providing aids in mitigating civilian 
casualties and the deteriorating humanitarian crisis brought on by the 
Iranian-backed Houthis. I know the Presiding Officer has been leading 
the charge on addressing the humanitarian crisis there, which is mind-
boggling, to be sure.
  Contrary to the resolution's sponsors' claims, though, the U.S. 
military is not engaged in hostilities in Yemen, as that term has 
historically been understood and applied, since it is not in direct 
conflict or exchanging fire with Houthi forces. Of course, we all share 
a concern with what is at stake in Yemen and in Saudi Arabia and in the 
gulf region but also civilian casualties, which this resolution creates 
problems with. Almost everyone is aware that Yemen has been suffering 
from a severe humanitarian crisis for years. Were we to remove U.S. 
targeting and logistical support from the Saudi coalition, then the 
humanitarian situation could get even worse than it has been.
  Both political parties recognize the important role the United States 
plays in support of our partners' efforts to push back against the 
malign forces that have been coalescing in Yemen. In fact, President 
Obama was the one who first implemented the refueling and logistical 
support policy that remains in effect today.
  In 2016, Senator Menendez--now the ranking member of the Senate 
Foreign Relations Committee--criticized the international community's 
failure to address the Iranian-fueled conflicts that included support 
to a Houthi insurgency that helped topple the internationally 
recognized Government of Yemen. Senator Menendez went on to say: ``I 
have a sense we are creating a permissive environment.''
  I agree with Senator Menendez that we should not abandon our partners 
and leave a ``permissive environment''--a vacuum, a void--for bad 
actors to fill.
  If there is one lesson that I thought we learned after 9/11, when 
3,000 Americans were killed when two planes were hijacked--actually, 
four were hijacked; two went into the World Trade Center, one into the 
Pentagon, and one landed in Pennsylvania because passengers on the 
plane overwhelmed the hijackers--what we learned is that what happens 
in the Middle East does not stay in the Middle East. What happened in 
Afghanistan is that the Taliban provided a safe haven for Osama bin 
Laden and al-Qaida, and they used that safe haven to train and export 
their terrorist attacks against countries around the world but 
primarily against the United States. That is what happened on 9/11/
  That is why we can't allow a safe haven, a void, in Yemen, not to 
mention the fact that Iran continues to use proxies in places like 
Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, among others, to try to fight the United 
States in a low-grade war that has been going on literally since 1979. 
I should mention Iraq as one of those countries as well.
  It is precisely because of the delicate and desperate situation in 
Yemen that I am making the argument that any consideration to withdraw 
U.S. troops from fulfilling their limited auxiliary role in this 
conflict would have broad impacts on our global partnerships and 
counterterrorism efforts. It is not a decision to be made in haste or a 
decision to be made lightly; therefore, I believe the idea deserves the 
careful consideration of the committee of jurisdiction, the Senate 
Foreign Relations Committee. If the Senate takes this vote without 
adequate preparation and deliberation and passes this resolution, we 
lose that chance for careful consideration. We lose the chance to have 
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issue a thoroughly researched 
and deliberated recommendation to the entire Senate.
  Even more troubling is the prospect that this resolution could set a 
precedent--one in which a few Members' preferred policies are 
prioritized over the normal Senate procedures and more thoughtful 
committee deliberation, with unintended global impacts. Yemen is not 
the only place where we are addressing challenges to peace and to our 
country by, with, and through allies, without Americans engaging in 
direct hostilities. So this would have unintended global impact.
  Secretary of Defense James Mattis has voiced his concerns over this 
resolution. In a letter to congressional leadership, he said that new 
restrictions on the U.S. military could increase civilian casualties 
and jeopardize our partners' cooperation on counterterrorism efforts. 
On top of that list would be the Saudis and the Emirates, among others, 
and other people are watching as well. And it will reduce our influence 
in the key region.
  He warned that a withdrawal of our noncombat support in Yemen could 
embolden rebels in the area, enable further missile strikes on Saudi 
Arabia, and threaten shipping lanes in the Red Sea--one of the key 
chokepoints for international commerce--right there on the western 
border of Yemen. All this combined could stoke the embers of an even 
greater regional conflict in the Middle East with unknown consequences. 
More importantly, it would damage U.S. credibility and strengthen 
Iran's position in Yemen and throughout the Middle East more broadly.
  I hope our colleagues will think soberly and thoughtfully about this 
resolution and insist that a fulsome debate take place where it 
belongs, initially, and that is within the Senate Foreign Relations 
Committee. I have talked to Senator Corker, the chairman of that 
committee. He will speak for himself, but I think he certainly believes 
that the committee can help the Senate make a good decision after 
giving the committee an opportunity to have hearings and to consider 
all the intended and unintended consequences of this resolution.
  I know our colleagues who have offered the resolution mean well and 
their intentions are good, but sometimes--particularly in the area of

[[Page S1776]]

international conflict and global interactions with different 
countries--our actions beget an unintended consequence. I think it is 
good to be safe in the first place and to take this matter through the 
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where I have every confidence that 
Senator Corker, as the chairman, and Ranking Member Menendez can guide 
the members of that committee through a process that will help us in 
the end to make a better decision.
  I yield the floor.
  I suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. MURPHY. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mrs. Ernst). Without objection, it is so 

                              Gun Violence

  Mr. MURPHY. Madam President, it has been 32 days since the tragedy in 
Parkland. I think Senator Nelson may be coming to the floor very soon. 
Frankly, every day since then, there has been a series of tragedies all 
across this country. On average, 90 people lose their lives every 
single day to gun violence. There has been, over the course of the last 
year, a mass shooting, on average, every single day. Most of them 
aren't covered in the newspaper, but there is an incident in which four 
or more people are shot, on average, more than once per day in this 
  Of course, it has now been more than 5 years since the devastating 
tragedy in my State, where 20 first graders lost their lives. This is 
deeply personal to all of us here in this Chamber.
  It became very personal to me last week when my 6-year old came home 
from school to tell me about his active shooter drill. He is 6, and he 
is in kindergarten. In his kindergarten class, they have a small 
bathroom that all of the kids in the class use. He explained to me that 
for their active shooter drill, all 25 kids in his classroom--a whole 
bunch of 5- and 6-year-olds--were shoved inside this tiny, little 
bathroom together, crunched together, shoulder to shoulder, with the 
door locked. Imagine how frightening that would be to a 6-year-old 
child, even if they didn't completely understand why they were there.
  He said to me when he got home that night: Daddy, I didn't like it. 
In the most powerful, most affluent country in the world, our children 
should not have to go through that; never mind those who have actually 
had to face down someone with a gun inside their classroom or inside 
their school.
  What is devastating to the parents in Parkland and Sandy Hook, what 
is devastating to the parents in Baltimore, in New Haven, and in 
Chicago is that we refuse to have a debate on the Senate floor about 
how we can help address this epic mass slaughter, this gun violence 
epidemic in this country.
  I have been taking pains over the course of the last 6 months to try 
to reach out across the aisle and find common ground with my colleagues 
on some commonsense legislation about changes to our gun laws. I am 
proud to have worked with Senator Cornyn on a small bill that would 
encourage States to comply with existing law--the Fix NICS Act. It now 
has over 60 Republican and Democratic cosponsors, enough that it could 
overcome a cloture motion.
  I have come to the floor today to ask that we come to an agreement--
Republicans and Democrats--by which we can have an open debate on the 
issue of gun violence for the American public before we break for a 2-
week Easter recess. We are going to go back to our States and have a 
wonderful time with our friends and families, while many others 
continue to grieve all across this country and many others will enter 
the ranks of those who grieve because, during the 14 days that we will 
be away, thousands of people will die from gunshot wounds. I just can't 
imagine that we would make a decision to go home at the end of this 
week without having had a debate on the Senate floor for the American 
people to see how we can try to respond to this cry, this call from the 
American public to do something.
  These kids have been amazing. Literally hundreds of thousands of 
children walked out of school last week, and hundreds of thousands more 
students and their parents will be here in Washington for marches and 
at 600 other marches all around the country this weekend.
  The polls tell us over and over again that 9 out of 10 Americans want 
us to take bold steps forward. Record numbers of American citizens 
believe the laws that exist today are not sufficient. This isn't a 
controversial issue outside of Washington. It is controversial only 
here, inside this Chamber. If we remain silent, if we refuse to have a 
debate on the Senate floor, we are failing the people who sent us here.

  I have come to the floor today to propose a very reasonable path 
forward so that we can have a debate and some up-or-down votes on 
proposals this week. From what I understand, there is still a lot of 
discussion happening with respect to the budget. Obviously, we have to 
get that done by the end of the week, but it is not ready yet, so we 
have time this week to have a short but meaningful debate on the issue 
of guns.
  Here is what I am proposing. I am proposing that we have a unanimous 
consent agreement whereby we can have a time-limited debate--I would 
suggest perhaps not more than 6 hours--and at the end of that period of 
time, we have six votes, three votes propounded by the Democratic side 
and three votes on measures propounded by the Republican side.
  I think it is no secret the amendments that Senate Democrats would 
offer. We would want to see a vote on universal commercial background 
checks to make sure that commercial sales of guns are subject to 
background checks. That is something President Trump said he was for at 
the White House, and he has encouraged the Congress to work on it. 
Let's have an up-or-down vote on background checks.
  I think Democrats would clearly want to see the bipartisan 
compromise, which has been worked out by Senator Blumenthal and Senator 
Graham with respect to protective orders, red flag orders, come before 
the Chamber. It simply makes sense that we do what Florida is doing: 
Pass a law that allows for law enforcement, after a viable court 
process, to take away weapons temporarily from someone who poses a 
threat. The problem in Florida was, even if they had done something 
about this young man, they didn't have the legal ability to take his 
weapons away, even if he had made those kinds of threats in public. 
Florida is correcting that with their new law. We should do the same at 
the Federal level.
  On our side, there is also interest in talking about the kinds of 
weapons that are legal and the kinds of weapons that are not. I am a 
believer, of course, that there is a class of military-style tactical 
semiautomatic weapons that are best if they are not in the hands of 
civilians. Obviously, that issue divides our side too. So if that were 
to come up for a vote, there will be Democrats for it and Democrats 
against it.
  On the other two measures, there will be Republicans for them and 
Republicans against them. Some Republicans are for universal background 
checks; some aren't. There are many Republicans on record as being for 
protective orders, and there are others who will not vote for them.
  We will have no idea, the American public will have no idea, and our 
constituents will have no idea what we are really willing to do and 
what we are not willing to do unless we have a debate. This is our last 
chance before we go home.
  What I am proposing, I think, is reasonable, practical, and viable. 
We can get it done--six total amendments to the Fix NICS Act, time 
limited, perhaps only 6 hours. We could be in and out of that debate in 
a day. I have talked with my leadership about it. I am confident that 
Democratic leadership would support that path forward, and I propose it 
to Republican leadership tonight, as we enter this week, as a means of 
having this debate that the American public so badly needs. The 
alternative is unthinkable--going home, letting over a month pass since 
Parkland, since this outcry for action from kids across America, and 
not even attempting to get something done here.
  I understand this issue is still difficult. I don't understand why my 
Republican colleagues will not support

[[Page S1777]]

something like background checks, an issue supported by 97 percent of 
Americans. It is pretty hard to find anything in America that is 
supported by 97 percent of Americans. Apple pie and Grandma probably 
don't get 97 percent approval ratings in this country, but universal 
background checks do. So, yes, I am frustrated that my Republican 
colleagues don't just come to the floor and agree to pass something 
that has mind-blowing universal support in the public, but what is more 
offensive is that we don't even try.
  What is more offensive to me is that we don't even make an attempt to 
put these measures on the floor of the Senate and let them be voted up 
or down. I don't want the gun lobby to have veto power over the 
legislation that gets passed here, but even worse than that is for the 
gun lobby to have veto power over what we even debate.
  I propose a total of six amendments and a total of 6 hours of debate. 
I would argue that is insufficient to meet the moment, but I get it 
that time is running out, that there is not a lot of interest from some 
Members on the Republican side to enter into this debate. So we are 
very willing to have a short, time-limited debate to see what we can 
get consensus on and what we can't get consensus on, and whatever moves 
out of this building, whatever amendments get passed, then we live with 
it and live to fight another day.
  It has been 5 years since the tragedy in my State and now 32 days 
since Parkland. I don't think we should wait one day longer before we 
have an open debate on the Senate floor about how we, as those 
entrusted with the safety of our children, do something about the 
epidemic of gun violence in this country.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Montana.

    Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Bill

  Mr. TESTER. Madam President, I rise today to reflect on the landmark 
legislation that this body passed with overwhelming bipartisan support 
last week. It isn't every day that folks in Congress can work together 
in a bipartisan way to get something done that will benefit Main 
Streets across rural America, but that is exactly what we did last 
week. I am very proud of that effort.
  I say a big thank-you to the chairman of the Banking Committee, 
Chairman Crapo, for the work he has done, his ability to listen, his 
commonsense perspective, and his patience. It would not have happened 
without those qualities that Chairman Crapo exhibited.
  I also want to single out three Senators who worked very hard on this 
bill. There are a number of others who did, too, but I am just going to 
mention Senators Heitkamp, Donnelly, and Warner. Those folks did 
yeoman's work in bringing into view the challenges that our banking 
industry has out there, coming up with solutions for those challenges, 
and coming up with consumer protections to put into this bill to move 
it forward. There were many others. I think there were 17 or 18 
cosponsors on the Democratic side of the aisle, but I say a special 
thank you to Senators Heitkamp, Donnelly, and Warner for their 
advocacy, input, knowledge, expertise, and their ability to work to get 
things done.
  People ask me: Senator Tester, why did you write this bill? Well, I 
was a part of the folks who wrote this bill for good reason. I remember 
very well that during the financial crisis, then-Secretary of the 
Treasury Henry Paulson came in--it was in 2008, I believe--and said 
that we were on the cusp of a financial meltdown in this country. I 
remember some of the free and irresponsible activities that were done 
in the financial system. I remember bringing regulators in front of the 
Banking Committee and ripping them up one side and down the other as to 
why we had gotten into this situation. In the end, we came up with a 
bill called Dodd-Frank.
  Dodd-Frank was put together after a lot of public input and a lot of 
hearings, and it was put into effect really to regulate the folks who 
got us into the situation we were in. At that moment in time, we had 
banks that were too big to fail, folks who were doing no-doc or low-doc 
loans, and foreclosures happening everywhere. We put in the regulation.
  One of the things we heard when we put in the Dodd-Frank regulation 
was that it was a big bill and that it was going to need to be changed, 
adapted--however you want to put it--moving forward. I believe that 
bill was passed in 2009. Here we are 8 or 9 years later, and we look at 
Dodd-Frank and see that in some cases, it has done exactly as was 
intended, especially for the larger banks. Some could argue that there 
is more work to be done there.
  One of the negative things that resulted from the Dodd-Frank 
regulation was that some of that regulation bled down onto our local 
community banks and credit unions. This is particularly concerning to 
me because I come from a very rural part of this country. It is a small 
town where, when my grandfather homesteaded, they had all sorts of 
options when they marketed their grain. In the 1940s and 1950s, when my 
folks took over in my small town, I believe there were five grain 
elevators there. When Sharla and I took over in the late 1970s, there 
were three. Today, there is one.
  You ask, why does that have anything to do with the banking industry, 
Jon? Well, it is consolidation. And the consolidation didn't happen 
overnight; it took decades. You end up with less competition in the 
marketplace when it comes to selling your grains.
  That same thing could be adapted to what has gone on in our community 
banks over the last 8 or 9 years, where they have been bought up by 
bigger banks. The bigger banks will tell you that they have to get 
bigger to be able to compete with the regulations put on them. So they 
were bought up, and the same thing will extrapolate out over time.
  Those folks who say: Well, this isn't necessary because banks are 
making a lot of money--look, banks may be operating today, but they are 
looking into the future, as any good business does, and they are saying 
to themselves: Do I really have what it takes to stick around? They can 
see the writing on the wall, and they are selling out because of it. 
There are no ifs, ands, or buts about this--this will result in less 
consumer choice and more consolidation, making the bigger banks even 
bigger and really helping the folks who caused the crisis back in 
2008--ultimately, the biggest of the big banks.
  We have seen the consolidation at grocery stores, grain elevators, 
and even bars. The truth is that it isn't all due to one single thing. 
The consolidation in the financial industry and on the ground isn't due 
to just regulations. Technology has its impact, and a moving population 
also has its impact.
  As I looked at this 5 years ago, I said: If we don't do something to 
tweak Dodd-Frank, we are going to end up in a situation where we don't 
have consumer choice to buy that house or expand that business or start 
that new business--what entrepreneurs do. So as a policymaker, I 
thought it was my job to look ahead to the next generation of people 
who are going to be out there in rural America, whether it is a Main 
Street small business or a farm or a family who is working for a 
business. That is why I helped write this bill, because from a rural 
America perspective, it was the right thing to do, and it was time to 
do something for the next generation, for our kids and our grandkids, 
so that they could have the kind of opportunity that, quite frankly, my 
folks and my grandparents had given to my generation.
  I am not the kind of person who will sit back on the sidelines and 
complain about stuff over a cup of coffee. When we see a problem, my 
folks taught me to work and try to fix it. I see a problem, and there 
is little doubt in my mind that if we had not done what we did last 
week to give some regulatory relief to community banks and credit 
unions, things would have continued to get worse in rural America. They 
still may get worse in rural America, but at least we have done what we 
needed to do in this body to try to change that.
  There are some out there who, for whatever reason--and I haven't 
quite been able to figure it out yet--are spreading misinformation 
about this bill. Maybe it is just the day we live in. So let me set the 
record straight about this bill.
  This bill does not help the Wall Street banks. It does not. Those who 
say it does are not correct. This bill does not set us up for another 
financial crisis. In fact, the authors of the original Dodd-Frank bill, 
Chris Dodd and

[[Page S1778]]

Barney Frank--both smart guys whom I admire--wrote:

       As the authors of the original Dodd-Frank reform law, we 
     want all Montanans to know that the banking bill Senator 
     Tester helped write does not dismantle Dodd-Frank as some 
     people claim. Jon knows Montana and challenges facing rural 
     America. While we did not agree with every part of this bill, 
     it helps local credit unions and community banks across 
     Montana while keeping protections in place that are designed 
     to prevent another financial crisis.

  Those are the original authors. That is why it is called Dodd-Frank--
because it is from Chris Dodd and Representative Barney Frank.
  The other thing the bill does not do is it does not leave banks 
unregulated. There is implication by some out there that this bill 
deregulates 25 of the 40 largest banks. To me, that implication is that 
now they are no longer regulated. The fact is, all the banks are highly 
regulated for safety and soundness. Quite frankly, this does not leave 
banks unregulated. They still have plenty of regulation to go through.
  In conclusion, the bill we passed last week does several things. I 
believe it is going to increase access to capital, particularly in 
rural America. I think it makes the regulation fit the risk, while 
still continuing to crack down on risky behavior. It has great consumer 
protection components to it. Last and certainly not least, from my 
perspective, it is good for rural America.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Iowa.

                      EB-5 Regional Center Program

  Mr. GRASSLEY. Madam President, I rise today to bring to my 
colleagues' attention an issue that is important to millions of 
individuals who understand that American citizenship is something that 
ought to be treasured.
  The American people understand that our citizenship is a blessing and 
shouldn't be given away cheaply. Unfortunately, for too many years, 
this body has witnessed the perversion and degradation of a program 
that sells--yes, we sell citizenship to some people.
  This program originally had a good purpose. In return for investing 
money in underserved areas and creating good-paying American jobs, 
immigrant entrepreneurs could eventually become U.S. citizens. Sadly, 
in the last decade, this program has been hijacked by big-moneyed New 
York City real estate interests--to be specific, the Real Estate 
Roundtable. These developers now take almost all the foreign investment 
from this program, and for the last few years, they have actively 
prevented this body from enacting any reforms and needed reforms.
  For those who are not aware, I am talking about the EB-5 Regional 
Center Program. I have been fighting in a bipartisan way for years to 
reform this corrupt and scandal-clad program. I have been fighting to 
protect our national security, to ensure foreign investment is going to 
the most deserving areas, and to make sure that American citizenship 
isn't sold at rock-bottom prices in order to feed the addiction of New 
York interests to cheap money. But no matter how hard I fought, each 
and every time we tried to reform this program, these same moneyed 
interests have used their political influence and political connections 
to block any meaningful reforms. This is sickening and is exactly why 
most American people sometimes question what we do here in Washington, 
  After more than 3 years of trying to fix this broken and scandal-
plagued program, I have finally come to the conclusion that it can't be 
fixed, and since it can't be fixed, the EB-5 Regional Center Program 
needs to be terminated. Let me explain to my colleagues and directly to 
the American people exactly how I have reached that conclusion.
  Several years ago, I started working with then-Ranking Member Leahy 
of the Judiciary Committee on reforms to the EB-5 Regional Center 
Program. Through the hard work and dedication of our staffers, we 
discovered the program is riddled with fraud and corruption and poses a 
real and serious threat to our national security. I will explain some 
of those things we discovered.

  First, investments can be spent before business plans are approved.
  Next, regional center operators can charge excessive fees of foreign 
nationals in addition to their required investments.
  Next, none of the jobs created have to be direct or verifiable jobs 
but rather are indirect and based on estimates of economic modeling; 
again, not knowing for sure if jobs are created.
  Next, investment funds from foreign sources are not adequately 
vetted. Gifts and loans from anyone are acceptable sources of funds 
from foreign nationals.
  Next, there is no prohibition against foreign governments owning or 
operating these regional centers or projects. So let me emphasize--that 
is right--foreign governments can own businesses that sell our 
citizenship. Now, think about that.
  Another problem is regional centers don't have to certify that they 
comply with security laws.
  Next, there are no required background checks on anyone associated 
with the regional centers.
  Just take this example: One need look no further than the indictment 
last September of two Chinese fraudsters who stole more than $50 
million in foreign investment and managed to sell U.S. citizenship to 
individuals on the Chinese Government's most wanted list.
  Next, gerrymandering continues in rural and urban distressed areas 
and, as a result, lose out.
  There is no transparency on how funds are spent and who is paid and 
what investors are told about the projects they invest in.
  The list can still go on and on and on, but I have given my 
colleagues just some examples. I could literally speak for hours about 
the corruption of the program.
  Faced with this appalling list of fraud, corruption, and national 
security loopholes, for 3 years, I have been working with Senator Leahy 
and our counterparts in the House of Representatives to produce real 
EB-5 reform. Our staffers have spent countless hours, nights, and 
weekends meeting with congressional colleagues and industry 
stakeholders to hammer out a compromise that is fair to all sides, but 
our offers have constantly been rejected by the Big Money industries, 
and related real estate roundtables, every single time--not just this 
time. We reached a compromise with the vast differences of views to 
start out but still ended up with a compromise. Somehow, these powerful 
interests are able step in and stop it. This time has been no different 
than at least three previous times we have gotten this far.
  Let me explain how we have been doing this. For the last year, my 
staff, along with Chairman Goodlatte of the House Judiciary Committee, 
Senator Cornyn, and Senator Flake--these teams have worked around the 
clock to produce an EB-5 reform package. Everyone made numerous 
concessions in order to reach a compromise. After more than 20 
meetings, and of course countless hours of drafting, we produced a 
reform package that was fair to all sides. Our reforms would 
reauthorize the Regional Center Program for 6 years, providing the 
certainty that industry has long said it craves.
  Our compromise would have permanently set aside 3,000 visas for rural 
and underserved urban areas and would have increased the minimum 
investment amount to $925,000. In recognition of longstanding industry 
concerns, we agreed to reduce the investment differential between 
nonpriority areas and priority areas to a mere $100,000.
  Finally, we would have implemented a host of badly needed integrity 
measures that would have cracked down on investment fraud, cracked down 
on foreign corruption, and cracked down on bad business practices.
  Our reforms had the unanimous support of Invest in the USA, the 
largest EB-5 trade association. Our reforms had the support of the EB-5 
Rural Alliance, a group working to ensure that rural America has a fair 
shake at attracting EB-5 money.
  Why are rural areas such a high concern? Because, quite frankly, way 
back in the 1990s, that was one of the goals of the EB-5 program--to 
help economic development in rural America, but these reforms weren't 
acceptable to the Big Money New York industry stakeholders that 
currently dominate the program. Because Big Money interests aren't 
happy with these reforms, we have been told they will not become law.
  I have laid out a lot here, letting it sink in for a minute. In spite 
of the fact that reforms were agreed to by

[[Page S1779]]

congressional offices and had the support of the largest EB-5 trade 
association, they will not become law because a few EB-5 businesses, 
with lots and lots of money and lots and lots of political power, have 
used their political connections and influence, once again--for the 
third time; maybe even the fourth time over a period of that many 
years--to reach some sort of reform on a program we have demonstrated--
I shouldn't say we have demonstrated--we have repeated what the FBI and 
national security people and people in the Justice Department have said 
about the shortcomings of this program.
  I said, at the beginning of my remarks, I finally realize this 
program cannot be reformed. I would have to say this for my present 
ranking member, Senator Feinstein, she has been telling me that for 
three or four years: Forget about reforming it; we ought to do away 
with it. The Regional Center Program is simply too corrupted to be 
saved, and it needs to be ended.
  The American people deserve better than what we are seeing as a 
result of hard-working Members of the House and Senate trying to reform 
this program and getting nothing done.
  So what happens here at the last minute? It will get stuck in an 
omnibus appropriations bill to extend it again for a period of time 
with the same bad practices that are going on. Why does that have to 
happen when it is so obvious what is wrong?
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Moran). The Senator from Florida.
  Mr. NELSON. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that Senator Wyden 
and I be permitted to speak for up to 5 minutes each prior to the vote.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?
  Without objection, it is so ordered.

                              Gun Violence

  Mr. NELSON. Mr. President, this Saturday, students from Marjory 
Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, are going to lead 
hundreds of thousands of Americans all around the country in calling 
for commonsense gun control measures at the March For Our Lives.
  Since this terrible shooting in Parkland, FL, on Valentine's Day, we 
have seen students all across the country say: Enough. This is a 
movement that cannot be stopped, and, frankly, we owe it to the 
students--the next generation--to get this right in the policies and 
the laws we adopt.
  Just a few weeks ago, I went to one of the student's homes in 
Parkland--a group of them. We talked. Indeed, just last week, a number 
of the students came to my office here in Washington. It is amazing 
that at 15, 16, and 17 years old, these students are looking to us in 
this Congress to, at a minimum, consider legislation that could have 
prevented the slaughter that happened in Parkland just a month ago.
  In Florida, we have witnessed these students march on the State 
capitol and demand action. The legislature listened, in part. They made 
some changes in the law, like changing the age to 21 to buy an assault 
rifle. That is the same age in Florida law that says you can't buy a 
handgun until age 21. It was a small step, but it was a step in the 
right direction to address the problem we are confronting, but we need 
to do more.
  I am so grateful for the resilience of these students, the power of 
their voices, and the strength of their activism, moving the lawmakers 
in Washington and in State capitals all across this country to act.
  The students, the parents, the teachers, all of them we have asked: 
What do you want? And they say, obviously, we want commonsense things. 
We can start with universal background checks in the purchase of a 
weapon. That would then allow, universally, if you have a background 
check, you couldn't go to a gun show where there is not a federally 
licensed dealer and acquire a weapon without having a background check. 
Why is having a background check a commonsense thing to do? Because you 
not only pick up someone with a criminal record, you would pick up 
someone who had a restraining order for whatever reason--it could be 
mental, it could be domestic abuse. You would pick up somebody being on 
the terrorist watch list or you could pick up someone who had been on 
the terrorist watch list. That was the case with the killer in the 
Orlando Pulse Night Club shooting.
  Clearly, that is a commonsense thing to approach this problem.
  There is another commonsense thing; that is, these military assault 
rifles with the long--what I call the banana clips. These are clips 
that are shaped like a banana or even straight ones that hold 30 
rounds. You know, there are State laws in the country that if you are 
going to hunt wild game, there are certain restrictions on the number 
of shells or bullets you can put in your gun. My goodness, why wouldn't 
we want to say there is a limitation on the number of bullets in a clip 
instead of these long clips that have 30 rounds?
  It was used even in the shooting out in Arizona that our colleague 
Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was one of the victims of, and it was when 
the gunman was reloading with another clip that he was tackled to the 
ground; otherwise, there would have been more people who would have 
been harmed that day.
  So it is another commonsense thing that people are asking for and 
that these students are bringing to light as they argue this case; that 
they don't want to be in a school where they have this kind of violence 
that is threatened. The students, the teachers, the parents just want 
our schools and our communities to be safe. As we have seen across the 
country, we have had too much violence with these military-style 
weapons. Nightclubs, churches, movie theaters, outdoor concerts--it 
goes on and on. Students want to feel safe, and what some students have 
witnessed is unimaginable.

  Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent for 1 additional minute.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?
  Without objection, it is so ordered.
  Mr. NELSON. The velocity of a bullet fired from an assault weapon 
compared to the velocity of a handgun is three times the velocity or 
speed of the handgun bullet. As a result, when that bullet hits its 
target, the energy is nine times that hitting the target than what a 
handgun bullet does.
  They built a movement now that inspires student walks across the 
country. In just 5 days, they are inspiring marches across the country, 
and the future is bright because of these students. But it is up to us 
to make sure that what happened in Parkland never happens again.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Oregon.

                     Nomination of Kevin McAleenan

  Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, in a few minutes the Senate will vote on 
the nomination of Mr. Kevin McAleenan to serve as Commissioner of U.S. 
Customs and Border Protection.
  As the ranking Democrat on the committee with jurisdiction over trade 
policy, I am particularly interested in working with Mr. McAleenan on 
an issue that is of longstanding, bipartisan concern; and that is 
tougher, smarter enforcement of America's trade laws.
  Mr. McAleenan is a longtime public servant, and he has been aware 
that the Finance Committee has put in many hours over the last few 
years to guarantee that this agency has tough new tools to fight trade 
cheats and protect our workers. It is vital that those tools be put to 
good use because their trade-related mission--defending American jobs 
from trade rip-offs--has too often gotten short shrift. It doesn't 
matter what kind of trade deals you sign or what laws you put on the 
books if you aren't serious about enforcing them. That is where their 
trade mission comes in.
  In my discussions with this nominee, it is clear that he understands 
that when it comes to trade, this country has to do trade done right, 
and tougher trade enforcement is especially important.
  I will close with the mention of another issue that this agency has 
seen over the last few months, and that is the onslaught of Americans 
being stopped at the border and forced to unlock their personal 
electronic devices for inspection. It clearly invades their personal 
  Senator Paul and I have introduced bipartisan legislation on this--
there is bipartisan legislation in the other body--that recognizes that 
law enforcement should have to get a warrant before searching a device 
at the border, and it comes with strong protections to

[[Page S1780]]

let Americans know when and how they consent to having their devices 
  In my judgment, this is just common sense, particularly because the 
U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that digital is fundamentally 
different. They did that when they ruled that law enforcement needs a 
warrant to search a phone after an arrest.
  We are going to keep pushing for our bipartisan legislation. In the 
meantime, we need to work with this agency on this critical issue that 
ensures, once again, that this country recognizes that security and 
liberty are not mutually exclusive and that you can have policies that 
do both.
  I want to continue to engage with him, if confirmed, to make sure 
that the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans do not 
disappear at the border.
  As I indicated, he is a public servant with many, many years of 
experience. I support his nomination.
  I yield the floor.