On Tuesday night, after the business of the day was finished, my staff and I remained in vigorous debate with Senator Specter and his staff. However, this debate was not about upcoming votes, key pieces of legislation, or committee mark-ups. It was about whose office has the better softball team.
It is a tradition that every summer the two senators from Pennsylvania, along with their teams from the Senate Softball League get together for a fun night of competition and camaraderie. The game proved to be exciting, and our teams were well-matched. Our team, Scrantonicity, held the lead for the better part of the game, but then in the later innings, Senator Specter’s team, Pennsylmania, rallied and had a two run lead. Finally, in the bottom of the sixth inning, we took the lead back, and held on to it for a final score of 19-16. While it was great to win, it was even better to spend time with colleagues outside the walls of the Capitol and Senate Office Buildings, and engage in some fun, well-mannered competition.
Tomorrow is World Refugee Day, an annual event to celebrate the contribution of refugees throughout the world and draw attention to their continuing needs. I am proud that Pennsylvania has been a leader in welcoming refugees to the United States, with more than 100,000 refugees from over 30 nations making our state their home since the mid-1970s. As a United States Senator, I have sought to draw greater attention to the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons in Iraq, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. Large refugee populations pose not only a humanitarian crisis, but can impact the political and economic stability of states critical to our national interest.
Last year, I went to the Senate floor to deliver a floor statement recognizing the importance of World Refugee Day. This year, I was honored to attend a reception yesterday evening hosted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). At the reception, I enjoyed a chance to say hello to Angelina Jolie, the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador.
Like many Americans, I continue to watch the events in Iran very closely. This morning, I attended a private breakfast for leading Members of Congress hosted by Special Envoy George Mitchell to discuss recent developments in the Middle East. It should be no surprise that the aftermath of the disputed Iranian presidential elections will impact our overall efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.
Earlier this week, I took to the Senate floor to discuss the situation in Iran and offer my views on how the United States should address Iran’s nuclear program in the coming months. You can see my statement here.
Earlier this month, I received news that Harley may consider relocating its York, PA plant. At this time, I told Keith Wandell, the CEO of Harley-Davidson, that I would work with him and the employees at the York plant to keep Harley in business in PA. As part of my on-going effort to keep Harley jobs in PA, earlier today I introduced the Green Transportation Efficiency Act (GreenTEA) of 2009. GreenTEA gives American consumers vouchers to encourage them to trade in their older, less fuel efficient vehicles for new, more fuel-efficient vehicles, including motorcycles. Motorcycles are inherently fuel efficient, averaging 40-50 miles per gallon, even higher for smaller bikes. Harley-Davidson, like the auto makers and other manufacturing sectors, is fighting hard to maintain its workforce and to continue to produce a high quality, American-made product during these tough economic times. GreenTEA will help stimulate consumer demand for this great American brand. In addition to stimulating the economy, GreenTEA will help achieve the dual goals of reducing our demand for imported oil and reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases.
Last week, President Obama reiterated the need for nations not to cling to stereotypes of one another, but to talk openly and honestly and to engage those unlike themselves. Student exchange programs and other culture-to-culture programs help break down these stereotypes. For this reason, I have been deeply saddened to hear multiple accounts of neglect and abuse of foreign exchange students residing in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.
I have been told repeatedly that cases like these are rare and are caused by a few bad actors. However, I do not believe that a few bad apples are the only problems. After I and my staff participated in meetings with the Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the Department of State, the Executive Director of the foundation responsible for placing these students, and the individual students involved and then reading Secretary Clinton’s response to my initial questions about youth exchange programs, I have concluded that aspects of the foreign exchange system are deeply flawed. Exchange organizations should not have the discretion to determine whether someone with a drug conviction can host a student. Crimes such as this should automatically disqualify the ability to host a student.
In the coming weeks, my office will work to ensure that protections within the industry are strengthened. When overseas families place their children in our care, they should have confidence that we will do our utmost to protect them.