Steny H. Hoyer
Marion Wright Edelman
Hoyer: Stripping Away the Rights of VA Employees Will Not Improve the Care That Our Veterans and Their Families Deserve
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05) gave remarks on the House Floor today in opposition to House Republicans’ bill that would strip the rights of Department of Veterans Affairs employees who serve veterans and their families. A video of his remarks and a transcript are available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f47gtXKGtAk&feature=youtu.be
“I rise in opposition to this bill and adopt many of the premises that my friend, Mr. Walz, adopted. I also adopt the premise of Dr. Roe, who is a really dear friend of mine, that Tim Walz is the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind riding across the country with. That’s because he’s honest, he’s knowledgeable, and he’s sincere. And frankly, I attribute all those same characteristics to Dr. Roe.
“But, Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to this bill. Everybody on this Floor agrees that our veterans deserve the best care possible. There’s no debate about that. All of us in this House are focused on that goal. But this bill does nothing to meet this goal, in my view.
“This bill is part of, and I do not ascribe it to Dr. Roe, but a significantly long history of a partisan effort to scapegoat federal civil servants. It has been going on for decades, long before Dr. Roe got in it or Mr. Walz got in it.
“It is a follow-on to the dangerous hiring freeze, frankly, the Trump Administration imposed in January, and the repeated attempts over the last several years to extract more and more cuts from federal employees’ pay and benefits, which contributed over 150 billion dollars in cuts in pay and benefits over the last six years.
“Stripping away the rights of VA employees to work in a nonpartisan professional environment will not improve the care of our veterans and their families deserve and expect from the VA medical system.
“This bill, in my view, would undermine the collective bargaining rights—I am a very strong supporter of collective bargaining rights—of employees serving as doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and others in critical jobs, and it will disrupt the collaborative relationship between VA managers and employees that is essential to a successful workplace environment.”
“Many years ago, almost 100 years ago, we adopted a civil service system. the premise of that system is we ought to have professional employees—not political employees, not political appointees, not subject to change because of the political winds that may be blowing one way or the other. This bill risks demoralizing those who have tirelessly been working to help our veterans reintegrate into civilian life across this country.
“Let me make it clear and I’m sure Dr. Roe is not surprised when I say this that I agree with Mr. Walz. If there’s an employee not performing well, that employee ought not to be kept on. But this bill removes the process that was negotiated or could be negotiated in a collective bargaining way and if, by the way, it takes 300-plus days, then perhaps this legislation could deal with that to shorten it. There are ways that this could be dealt with that, in my view, will not undermine the civil service protections that are important not only for the employees but for the system itself.
“I have no doubt that there are measures that can be adopted to improve VA performance and effectively and fairly discipline employees who are engage in misconduct. We ought not to tolerate that. But this bill does not include them. I have not read Senator Isakson’s bill, but perhaps that is closer, and I look forward to reviewing it with both the Chairman and the Ranking Member.
“This bill goes too far, shreds basic due process rights, in my view, and punishes even model employees. And let me say as an aside, when I say undermines basic due process rights, part of those rights are to have some time to get representation, to thoughtfully respond, to have some discovery as to what is going on here, what is being alleged, why is it being alleged, who is alleging it. This bill eviscerates that in some respects.
“I am proud to represent 62,000 federal employees in Maryland’s Fifth District, including many who work at the VA’s clinics in Charlotte Hall and in Camp Springs in the neighboring Fourth District.
“We ought to remember, Mr. Speaker, or Mr. Chairman, that when we undermine our federal workforce and our ability to recruit and retain the best and brightest, we undermine our government’s ability to serve the American people. So this is just not about present employees, it’s about those who might consider employment in the future.
“Mr. Chairman, I hope we don’t make the mistake of, in effect, throwing the baby out with the bath water. Let’s not take away the rights and protections of those who serve us so ably. But, yes, I agree with Dr. Roe and Ranking Member Walz. If there are those who are not serving us well, yes there ought to be a process, we ought to be fair, we ought to have time in which to respond. Not interminable time, so we can have an agency of which we can be proud and does what we all want, serve our veterans in a way that we would expect, demand, and that we are morally inclined to do. And I yield back the balance of my time.”
Viola Davis: A Historic Talent Earns a Historic Distinction
“In my mind I see a line, and over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.”
—Harriet Tubman, quoted by Viola Davis in her 2015 Emmy acceptance speech.
Acting’s triple crown—Oscar, Emmy and Tony—has been won by only 23 people in history. Now, the first African American has achieved that feat: Viola Davis.
It seems fitting that Davis’ history-making honor occurred directly at the crossroads of Black History Month and Women’s History Month, for she made history as a Black woman in more than one way: she also is the most-nominated Black actress in Oscar history, with three nominations. In addition to her role in Fences, for which she won, she earned nominations for The Help in 2012 and Doubt in 2009. She was nominated twice for an Emmy, winning in 2015 for her role in How To Get Away With Murder. She earned three Tony nominations, winning for King Hedley II in 2001 and Fences in 2010. She’s the first Black actress to win five Screen Actors Guild awards. She had also won three Drama Desk Awards, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe, and three Critics’ Choice Awards, among others.
When she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame earlier this year, Davis marveled, “I can’t believe my life.” Indeed, her own story is worthy of the Hollywood treatment. She was raised in poverty by a mother who was maid and factory worker. She told the New York Times she stole food from the grocery store and garbage cans and wore the plastic clips from bread bags in her braids.
Davis credits a federal anti-poverty program, Upward Bound, with saving her life. She told Essence magazine, “They kind of picked up where public school left off because I had such enormous needs as a child of abject poverty. Coming from a background where I was first generation going to school, I had enormous challenges that needed to be met that were much deeper than academia.”
Upward Bound, a summer program where high school students take college prep classes and earn work experience at a college campus for six weeks, opened doors that eventually led to the Juilliard School, one of the nation’s leading performing arts programs.
Her success has not shielded her from challenges that she has said result from being “a woman of color, of a certain age, and a certain hue.”
Her 2015 Emmy win established her as a role model when she used her acceptance speech to make a welcome statement about diversity in the entertainment industry: “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” she said. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” She was the first Black woman to win the award for Best Lead Actress in a Drama. Only one other black actress has won an acting Emmy: Isabel Sanford, who won for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy in 1981.
Davis’ exemplarity extends beyond her stellar talent and bold outspokenness. She’s a benefactor for the Rhode Island city where she was raised, Central Falls. Her philanthropic projects include the city’s Adams Memorial Library, the Central Falls High School chess team and drama club, and the Segue Institute for Learning, a charter school. She’s also the spokeswoman for the Hunger Is campaign, to eradicate childhood hunger.
We at the National Urban League consider Viola Davis a true woman of power; we congratulate her on her historic achievements and her epic journey and are grateful for her generous spirit and sense of community.
A Time for Courage and Truth
After the new administration’s first Black History Month event included a general reference to 19th century lion Frederick Douglass as “somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more,” Frederick Douglass’s descendants jumped in with their own clarification:
“The President’s comments from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, about Frederick Douglass, were noted and appreciated by us, the Douglass family. In fact, we believe, if he had more time to elaborate, the President would have mentioned the following:
‘Frederick Douglass has done an amazing job …
• Enduring the inhumanity of slavery after being born heir to anguish and exploitation but still managing to become a force for solace and liberty when America needed it most,
• Recognizing that knowledge was his pathway to freedom at such a tender age,
• Teaching himself to read and write and becoming one of the country’s most eloquent spokespersons,
• Standing up to his overseer to say that ‘I am a man!’
• Risking life and limb by escaping the abhorrent institution,
• Composing the Narrative of his life and helping to expose slavery for the crime against humankind that it is,
• Persuading the American public and Abraham Lincoln that we are all equal and deserving of the right to live free,
• Establishing the North Star newspaper when there was very little in the way of navigation or hope for the millions of enslaved persons,
• Supporting the rights of women when few men of such importance endeavored to do so,
• Arguing against unfair U.S. immigration restrictions,
• Understanding that racism in America is part of our ‘diseased imagination,’
• Recruiting his sons—who were born free—to fight in the war to end the enslavement of other African Americans,
• Being appointed the first black U.S. Marshal by President Rutherford B. Hayes,
• Being appointed U.S. Minister to Haiti by President Benjamin Harrison,
• Serving as a compelling role model for all Americans for nearly two centuries.”
They concluded: “Like the President, we use the present tense when referencing Douglass’s accomplishments because his spirit and legacy are still very much alive, not just during Black History Month, but every month.”
A similar response could have been prepared just a few days later when the Department of Education shared a quote by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois that misspelled his name. We may not be able to react to every mistake or omission made about Black or Latino or Asian American or Native American or immigrant or women’s history. But we can certainly make sure our children know the correct and full truth. We can make sure they know W.E.B. DuBois was one of the first great Black Civil Rights and intellectual leaders. He was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University and a founding leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and founding editor of its journal The Crisis. He wrote many influential books and articles, including the classic The Souls of Black Folk, and remained a tireless crusader for the rights of Black people around the world until his death in Ghana at age 95 on August 28, 1963, the same day as the March on Washington. We can also make sure we know and teach our children not just who Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois are, but some of the lessons they taught us.
In a time when lies about non-existent widespread voter fraud threaten to reinforce and escalate a new era of targeted and pernicious voter suppression, we can reread this warning from The Souls of Black Folk: “Away with the black man’s ballot, by force or fraud,—and behold the suicide of a race! … The power of the ballot we need in sheer self-defense,—else what shall save us from a second slavery?”
In a time where fears about unprecedented abuses of power are being matched by record-setting mass displays of nonviolent resistance, we can remember what Frederick Douglass said in 1857: “The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims, have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.”
This is a time for struggle for the soul and future of our nation. It is not a time to be silenced by fear or deadly apathy. It is a time for truth and courage. Only the truth will set us free.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.
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