Across Arkansas and America, the effects of COVID-19 on families and businesses have been dramatic and devastating. This virus that has swept across the globe since January has disproportionately impacted our smaller towns and rural communities. Further, our hospitals and healthcare providers have been whipsawed between shutting down their profit-making operations and preparing for enormous spikes in COVID-19 patients. Both led to huge financial burdens.
I was proud to support four bills – all now laws – to combat the coronavirus and provide much-needed financial resources across our state and nation. I have worked in a bipartisan fashion to help rural communities receive direct funding to local hospitals and public schools through the passage of the CARES Act. The CARES Act also provided $100 million for high-speed Internet expansion in small towns and rural communities to ensure access to educational resources and economic opportunity. We still have gaps in Arkansas. I've spoken to teachers and superintendents about those gaps and how federal resources can be combined with state leadership and funding to prepare our schools for this fall.
Additionally, the CARES Act allocated over $200 million for Arkansas’s support of healthcare providers and patients using telehealth, which is a lifeline for many in Arkansas's rural communities. To help even further, Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) and I introduced the emergency COVID-19 Telehealth Response Act to expand telehealth availability for Arkansans needing important therapeutic services during the pandemic. My priority is giving our healthcare providers serving on the front lines of this public health crisis the tools they need of Arkansas healthy and safe and ultimately back to work. I also led a letter seeking fair reimbursements for firefighters, emergency medical service providers (EMS) and other medical first responders who have been called upon much more during the pandemic.
For our small businesses, I ensured that our small businesses could access the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) which was passed as part of the CARES Act. To date, the PPP program has facilitated over 40,000 Arkansas businesses getting nearly $3.4 billion and badly needed funding to get through the first weeks of the economic shutdown. Now, I continue to work with the Federal Reserve and Treasury to enhance our ability to get America's economy back up to full speed.
Congress’ ultimate goal in our pandemic response is to keep American families safe, deliver outstanding public health, and learn to live with the virus until we get quality treatments and ultimately a vaccine all while preparing for the future.
In response to the pandemic, in late March, I introduced the Securing America’s Vaccines for Emergencies (SAVE) Act. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that the United States is too dependent upon other countries – including China – for the overwhelming portion of medical devices, ingredients for pharmaceuticals, and personal protective equipment – all of which the United States has desperately needed since the start of the year. This bill would amend the Defense Production Act to develop a presidential strategy diversify our supply chain to make the United States less dependent upon foreign manufacturers and bring key production capabilities back home to America.
I am working alongside my colleagues to support Governor Hutchinson and our Arkansas leaders in their response to the virus.
When I ran for Congress in 2014, I committed to seeking solutions that lead to job creation and rising income and wages for hard-working Arkansans and Americans. As a business person and entrepreneur, I wanted to be a voice for faster economic growth. I wanted to bring my experience as a former chamber of commerce volunteer to Congress to champion skilled and vocational job creation and expand good training and career opportunities for all Arkansans.
As a former local business owner and community banker, I knew the limitations of our old, complex tax code and the burden it placed on our local economic growth. I knew the need for significant change which is why one of my first act as Congressman was to cosponsor the Tax Code Termination Act, which would repeal most of the former tax code and required Congress to have a new federal tax system in place. Our families, businesses, and auto manufacturers all wanted – and deserved – a tax code that’s not only fair and simple, but that also will spur economic development and growth. My purpose in cosponsoring the Tax Code Termination act was to see who would defend the status quo!
So, it was refreshing that in 2016, House Republicans outlined an approach to tax reform that would cut taxes for most Arkansas families and let 90% of Arkansans have a simpler method of filing during tax time. Also, we proposed an overhaul of business taxation, closed loopholes, broadened the base, and made the U.S. tax system internationally competitive. Also, importantly for our families, our tax revisions doubled the child tax credit and provided needed funds for healthcare and other family needs. With hard work in the U.S. Senate and support from the President in his first year, this major tax reform and simplification was signed into law on in December 2017. This reform is a vast improvement over the old code – that status quo – and has resulted in higher wages, new job creation, and more career opportunities. Companies are investing millions in new plants and equipment and bringing jobs back from overseas. Over the last three years our economy added 7 million new jobs, prior to the Covid19 pandemic.
January 2020 dawned with the best U.S. economy in 50 years. We had the lowest unemployment rate since Richard Nixon was president. We had the lowest unemployment rate recorded for Hispanics and African Americans. America was looking forward to 1.5 years of economic expansion. It was that same month that we learned that China was the set by an expanding novel coronavirus known as COVID – 19. That would change the outlook for the U.S. job market and the economy. Fortunately, we entered the year with an outstanding economic growth rate, strong financial institutions a well-trained workforce and a talented team at the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve. It's that strong financial underpinning with actions taken by Congress that will beat the virus’s economic effect and return America to economic growth in the coming months.
Over the past three years, with the benefits of right-sized regulatory reforms, the tax cuts, and restructuring of our tax system in the 2017, jobs were being created and our economy was heavily in need of well-trained motivated workers. Record low unemployment in Arkansas resulted in the need for new strategies to enhance our workforce.
In 2015, I founded the Congressional Skilled American Workforce Caucus, for which I serve as Co-Chair. In my work with this Caucus, I have found that we need to encourage students to stay in school and graduate. I support skills-training initiatives that benefit high school students and high school graduates, who don't believe that a four-year college degree is right for them straight out of high school. Those students need to get more skills and the opportunity for training in order to fill the job openings in Arkansas.
We also need those mid-career men and women who feel stuck in their current opportunity to have the opportunity to learn new skills and successfully shift their career goals. For example, I met a former homebuilder who wanted a career restart following the 2008 recession. He is now a radiation technologist with a major healthcare system, and his two paid apprenticeships and additional training allowed him to make that change while earning important income for his family.
I support public assistance policies that encourage work during the transition from dependence to independence because it provides an income and it facilitates dignity through work. Solid work requirements for all able-bodied people on welfare will lift people out of poverty. This is been proven time and time again.
For those transitioning out of incarceration, it's not enough just to give them a change of clothes, a bus ticket, and some cash. Ex-offenders need transitional housing and skills development as well as support for any addiction-related challenges that they face. The President has lead in this area by signing the First Step Act into law. This important criminal justice reform law creates a process for every federal parolee to get the job skills and set transitional plans before they shift back to society.
Arkansas has had many leaders in this important work before I ran for Congress in 2014. I was inspired by the leadership of then-President Fitz Hill at the historically black college in central Arkansas, Arkansas Baptist College. Dr. Hill showed me the tremendous work he was doing to help those parolees plan for a better life. I continue to engage and support policies in Congress that enhance the ability of HBCUs to support training and education programs. In each Congress I've introduced the Shift Back to Society Act, which encourages the Justice Department to support our HBCUs to help provide transitional education for those returning to the community from incarceration, and, for the past four years, this provision has been included in the annual funding bills.
The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our federal budget and our economy. COVID-19 will leave America with the largest government debt-to-GDP ratio since the end of World War II. At the end of World War II, the U.S. represented a majority of global output and were the envy of the world for our manufacturing talent and our prowess in leading the allies effort to defeat fascism. Today, our economy faces headwinds of the virus with no vaccine, and our country faces an increase in our national debt and an increased annual national deficit.
As we deal with the pandemic and bring our economy back to full capacity, Americans need to develop a consensus that the federal government needs to quit trying to fix everything with a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach and instead shift power back to state and local governments. Both before the pandemic and probably long after, the federal government has grown too large and spends too much when compared to our national income.
Each month I monitor the cases of the most egregious examples of wasteful government spending or poor management at the federal level. I reintroduced the "Golden Fleece" award to expose those egregious examples. Over the past six years, I have "awarded" over 50 fleeces for waste and mismanagement. I use each instance as a lesson in how the federal bureaucracy can do a better job of protecting our hard-earned tax dollars.
Ultimately, upon the return to economic growth to really get our spending under control, the United States must reform its mandatory spending programs, cut low-priority spending, and stop performing functions best left to state and local governments – or to the private sector. It will require a cultural change, in which the federal government is smaller, more efficient, and effective as well as a much less expensive and intrusive part of our families’ lives. Getting such a collective action for cultural change by a majority of Congress and the president is difficult. With two thirds of all annual federal spending being mandatory and thereby not subject to the congressional appropriations process – meaning that it happens each year without a congressional vote – citizens need to be aware of and educated on this critically important goal.
I have cosponsored two versions of balanced budget amendments to the U.S. Constitution to bring our spending in line. We must take the necessary steps to ensure that all taxpayer dollars are being used wisely, and we can no longer kick the can down the road on mandatory spending. The pandemic has driven this message home even more intensely. Our children and grandchildren depend on us to solve this growing debt problem and provide them a brighter future.
Social Security is a promise that the federal government has made to hard-working Arkansans, who have paid into the program and have earned these benefits. I am committed to strengthening Social Security for today's seniors and future beneficiaries. Further, I believe we must protect and strengthen Social Security, while eliminating fraud and abuse in this program
The 2020 annual report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds estimated that Social Security Retirement Trust Fund will be exhausted by 2035. Congress must do more to effectively reform Social Security, prevent unprecedented cuts to benefits and ensure that Social Security beneficiaries receive the benefits they have earned and paid in.
I have introduced the Social Security Disability Insurance Return to Work Act, which would modernize the Social Security Administration's classification of disability beneficiaries. The bill incentivizes returning to work for beneficiaries who have recovered from their disability such as an illness. According to the Congressional Research Service, the unemployment rate among working-age individuals with work-limiting disabilities has fallen from 24.4% in 1981 to 14.4% in 2013. In other words, compared to 30 years ago, a disability beneficiary is half as likely to return to work even if they have recovered and are able to go back to work. Likewise, in 2013, a fraction -- only 0.4% -- of all disability beneficiaries stopped receiving benefits because they returned to work. Due to the low return to work rate, it is essential that Congress act to implement an efficient, consistent and accurate disability determination in order to encourage return to work and save taxpayer dollars. I am committed to looking for other long-term solutions, and I will work with my colleagues to institute common sense, bipartisan solutions to ensure the availability of the central Social Security benefit for seniors and disabled individuals both now and in the future.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare,” that passed in 2011 was more than just a malfunctioning website. Big government, "one size fits all" $2.2 trillion solutions simply do not work in our large, complex country. Overly broad statutes have way too many unintended consequences. The ACA harmed and continues to harm Americans by limiting their choices, increasing healthcare costs and raising taxes on hard-working families and businesses. It also chipped away at the critical physician / patient relationship. During my years in Congress, I have consistently argued to replace the ACA with badly needed reforms that will increase choice and lower healthcare costs for all Arkansans while preserving access to full coverage for those Arkansans with pre-existing conditions.
President Obama promised us that “if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it” and that our insurance premiums would fall and healthcare access would improve. None of this was true, and in fact, the opposite happened. Time and time again over the past six years I've heard your complaints about plans that disappeared, increases in premiums, shockingly high deductibles leading to loss of healthcare coverage, and out-of-pocket costs that are out of reach for many families across the nation and especially in Arkansas.
For years, the Democrats led by now Speaker Nancy Pelosi have refused to work with Republicans to generate bipartisan solutions to these challenges. Our healthcare system faces serious problems; we need targeted, surgical, and carefully considered reforms that acknowledge the complexity of our healthcare system. I have repeatedly voted to repeal this broken healthcare law and start over with those reforms that actually lower healthcare costs, protect pre-existing conditions, and improve access for Arkansas families. Despite Nancy Pelosi's opposition, I will not defend the status quo. Our families deserve better.
Now, Speaker Pelosi and the Washington Democrats aren’t even considering reforms or Republican ideas. Instead, many in their party are pushing for something called “Medicare for All” which will result in rising medical costs, fewer doctors, and longer wait times as we have seen in England and other nations that have implemented this system.
During my time in Congress I have worked hard to support healthcare particularly for our kids and in our rural areas and for our families that lack access to care. In 2018, Congress reauthorized the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years. As a former member of the Board of Directors of Arkansas Children's Hospital, I know the benefits of this important program for our families. CHIP is strongly supported by a bipartisan majority and by me. Likewise, access to care in our rural areas and for our families that have a hard time accessing care is greatly benefited by the community health centers. Arkansas has over 100 community health centers. They do a terrific job providing primary care particularly for moms including prenatal care. They have been at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic, and I have long supported their efforts and serve on the Congressional Community Health Center Caucus. We are all grateful for their staffs and efforts.
Like our healthcare system, changes are needed in the American education system. I believe the lack of equal access to a quality education is the civil rights issue of our day, and we must demand success, accountability, and results in every classroom. Some of these key approaches were included in the Every Student Succeeds Act that was signed into law in 2015.
I also believe that the COVID-19 has exposed our weak distribution of Internet and broadband capabilities for both students and teachers. I continue to support funding and policy changes to enhance Arkansas’s ability to expand access.
I believe strongly that all of our children – those college-bound and those that will begin their career directly after high school – need quality direction and curriculum that helps prepare them for their "pursuit of happiness". That's why I'm so pleased to promote policies that encourage concurrent credit and skilled workforce programs – two strategies that better prepare our young people, increase the affordability of education, and build the talent that we need for our state’s future economy.
Central Arkansas examples of terrific concurrent credit and workforce skills training provided in a great learning environment include schools in Conway, Greenbrier, and North Little Rock. I'm also delighted to see that all of the school districts in Pulaski County have banded together to rollout the Ford Next Generation Learning program. Saline County has a workforce education campus being built that will partner with of all the school districts in the county. These are great local initiatives. I'm pleased that federal education policies facilitate this kind of local leadership and creativity.
Many students and their families find that the traditional public school is not for them and they are attracted to a public charter school or homeschooling. This kind of school choice innovation is well-established in Arkansas and thousands of students, particularly low-income students are benefited by these important choices.
As Vice Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Caucus, I have worked to develop the necessary resources for our HBCU’s use to grow and prosper. We are blessed in central Arkansas to have three HBCUs helping train young people for the jobs of tomorrow, Philander Smith, Arkansas Baptist College and Shorter College. I organized the first HBCU Summit held in central Arkansas on April 13, 2019. Held at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, more than 75 participants attended the summit including Jonathan Holifield, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities; Dr. Michael Lomax, President and CEO, United Negro College Fund; Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr.; and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. In addition, representatives from Arkansas’s four HBCU’s attended the summit to discuss the long-term sustainability and growth of Arkansas’s HBCUs.
Protecting the people of Arkansas by ensuring we have a strong national security is one of my top priorities in Congress. The annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is one of the most bipartisan bills we ever consider in Congress. It has been signed into law for 59 straight years, and I have supported its passage every year I have been in Congress.
It is also an honor to represent the men and women of the U.S. Air Force who serve at Little Rock Air Force Base (LRAFB). Central Arkansas is also the headquarters of the Arkansas National Guard. In 2015, a National Guard intelligence unit on LRAFB was being moved to Ft. Smith. I helped secure the Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility (SCIF) building on LRAFB with the help of Arkansas’s Congressional Delegation, the Air National Guard, and the U.S. Air Force thereby retaining a mission and personnel at LRAFB. This 10,000 square foot facility is currently a cyber training squadron with room to grow into an operational unit. Reforming the facility for use as a training unit saved millions of taxpayer dollars and makes central Arkansas more competitive in a growing cyber world.
In 2019, I was honored to be named the Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on National Security, International Development and Monetary Policy. In this capacity, I have worked in a bipartisan fashion to help ensure that the U.S. and global banking systems remain safe from terrorists, drug cartels, and rogue states, like Iran, Russia, and North Korea. By better understanding how these bad actors move their money around the world, we give our law enforcement and intelligence agencies the tools they need to stop the financing of these nefarious actors.
Another top priority for me during my time in Congress is supporting our nation’s veterans to ensure they receive the benefits and healthcare they have earned and deserved. From day one, I have had combat veterans on my team in Arkansas to ensure that my work on behalf of Arkansas’s veterans is being done by another service member who has been in their shoes. I am proud to have four veterans on my team – including two currently serving with the Arkansas National Guard – and during my six years have proudly employed seven veterans, including two female veterans.
I have the largest veterans casework team in Arkansas, and our work on behalf of Arkansas’s veterans is second-to-none. My veterans team and I have closed more than two thousand cases for central Arkansas veterans and recovered over $20 million -- $5 million 2019 alone -- in back pay and earned benefits for Arkansas’s veterans from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Further, we have been able to obtain nearly 150 lost or missing military medals back service members and families, including four Silver Stars for a helicopter crew that had risked their life to rescue the crew of a downed C-130 during the Vietnam War.
I also was able to obtain for the family of Pvt. Leroy Johnston medals deserved but denied dating back to World War I. Because of racial inequities, Pvt. Johnston’s military records were doctored and he was not awarded the medals he had earned. After this success, I introduced a bill to require a review of the records of African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, Jewish American, and Native American war veterans who appeared to have been denied recognition due to discrimination. The World War I Valor Medals Review Act – now law – will have a tremendous impact on the lives of the descendants of service member wrongly denied their due recognition.
I also have supported numerous bills, including the VA Accountability Act and the VA MISSION Act, to improve care for veterans, provide the VA Secretary with sweeping new authority to fire corrupt or incompetent employees for cause, recoup bonuses, and hold employees accountable for their actions. We have also worked to enact into law important policies that reform construction project management at the VA and funding that will help to improve the appeals process for VA claims, offer more education opportunities for veterans, and address the backlog of disability claims for our nation’s heroes. Working with and for Arkansas’s veterans has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my work serving you in the People’s House.
Also, it has been an honor to vote for bills – now laws – long-fought for by our veterans community including fixing the Widow’s Tax, to ensure that the widows of veterans who died from service connected conditions do not have their survivor benefits taxed, and extending benefits to additional Blue Water Vietnam Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during their service in Vietnam.
Border security has always been an important issue for Arkansans, and I made it a priority from day one to see our southern border firsthand to learn about its complex challenges. This is why I have been to the border six times in my five years in Congress, and I have visited a different part of the border each time. I learned that because each sector along the border is unique in geography, economy, and traditions, we must design coordinated, effective physical security, including a wall, fencing, sophisticated technology, and combine that with robust customs and border patrol manpower. Together, we can have a successful long-term secure border.
Our immigration system is broken, and I will continue to support immigration proposals that include strong funding for border security; a merit-based immigration system; improving our visa system; and, establishing employment verification systems. America is a nation of immigrants, and many of our country’s most successful businesses are run by first- and second-generation immigrants. My happiest occasions as your Congressman are when I’ve spoken at U.S. naturalization ceremonies in Arkansas and have had the opportunity to welcome these new Americans to their country and congratulate their families. I am moved by the trials and tribulations of those new Americans who came to our country the right way, through a long and arduous legal process, and for them, I will continue to push for reform in our immigration system and support legal immigration.
For five decades I have been an avid outdoorsman and believe that we must protect our public lands, such as national parks and wilderness, so that her future generations can learn about our nation's history and see the beauty of our extraordinary country.
I had this in mind when I introduced H.R. 2611, the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Boundary Modification Act, which exemplifies my commitment to history, preservation, and conservation. I was joined in sponsoring this important measure by the House and Senate Arkansas delegation and my friend, civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis (D-GA). The bill passed by unanimous consent in the House and Senate and was signed into law by the president. This measure expands the National Historic Site designation to the houses across the street from Central High School because of the importance of the streetscape in the events that unfolded in September 1957. Already, this bill is helping to preserve these homes to ensure they will forever stand is a living monument to the Little Rock Nine’s brave actions to integrate Central High School.
In 2018, I successfully drafted and passed legislation that expanded the Flatside Wilderness Area located in Perry County. My goal was to make the area more accessible to visitors and to ensure the Flatside Wilderness remains an integral part of what makes Arkansas the “Natural State”. President Trump signed my Flatside Wilderness Act into law on January 10, 2019. In the act, I named the 640-acre addition for former second congressional district Congressman Ed Bethune, a distinguished conservationist and the legislative father of the original Flatside Wilderness Act, which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. The act also initiated a study by the U.S. Forest Service of approximately 2,000 acres adjoining the Flatside Wilderness to determine if these qualify for inclusion as well.
I was proud to be an original cosponsor on the land and water conservation fund (LWCF) legislation that improves public lands management, protects cherished landscapes, and increases public access for recreation while protecting private property rights. This bill also included a permanent reauthorization of the LWCF. It was signed into law on March 12, 2019.
Also, I was very pleased to be an original cosponsor of the Restore our Parks and Public Lands Act, which will reduce the maintenance backlog of the National Park Service and ensure our National Parks remain attractive places for all Americans to visit. This bill was included as a part of the Great American Outdoors Act, which has passed the Senate, and will come back to the House for approval in July.
China under the leadership of Communist party leader and authoritarian Xi Jinping has the goal of being the leading economic and military power in the world. We’ve seen this with its aggressive expansion in the South China Sea and East China Sea, and China has consistently increased its military budget since Xi took power in 2013. China’s history of intellectual property theft from American businesses and the American military has been well documented for several decades, and China’s “one belt, one road” initiative takes advantage of developing nations by offering financial opportunities with caveats that require the host nation to pledge or give up things like rights to critical natural resources or strategic locations. We’ve seen these “debt traps” in Africa, SE Asia, and even in our own backyard in South America.
Over the past three decades, the United States and our allies around the world have given the Communists in China plenty of opportunities to be a constructive participant in the world order, but frankly, we’ve seen that China has no desire to follow these norms. This was proven true with the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus. We will never know how many lives would have not been lost around the world had China taken the outbreak of Coronavirus seriously from the beginning.
I have used my position as the Lead Republican on the House Financial Services Subcommittee for National Security, International Development and Monetary Policy, to reign in some of China’s economic levers. The House passed my bill, the Ensuring Chinese Debt Transparency Act, which pushes for greater transparency of financing provided by China to another country through our international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund. This bill will allow developing countries greater transparency about the costs of doing business with China before they agree to financial help from the Communist government. Further, in response to the current pandemic, I have introduced the Securing America’s Vaccines for Emergencies (SAVE) Act, which would require the president to develop a strategy under the Defense Production Act to better secure the critical supply chains for our medicines, vaccines, personal protective equipment, and medical devices.
Finally, it’s becoming more apparent to the world that China is a pervasive abuser of human rights and religious freedom, the protection of which is a foundational principle of American foreign policy. It is in that regard that President Trump recently signed two bills into law related to this issue. The first, is the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which imposes sanctions on individuals responsible for human rights abuses against China’s Muslim Uyghur population. The video evidence of China putting Muslim Uyghurs on trains is shocking and the comparison to Nazi Germany putting Jews on trains during the Holocaust is undeniable. The second bill President Trump has signed into law is the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which imposes sanctions on those responsible for failing to preserve Hong Kong’s autonomy. President Trump has already used the power he was given in these bills to sanction Chinese companies and members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
It is important that now, more than ever, that we continue to work with our allies to hold the CCP accountable for its aggressive conduct while at the same time recognizing the critical need to engage the people of China.
Over the past four years, Americans have read much about Vladimir Putin and Russia and the threat to American elections. Putin is a bad actor, and Russia as a nuclear power is a distinct and destabilizing force in Western Europe and the Middle East. We've certainly witnessed that in the catastrophic Obama foreign policy errors of allowing Russian to invade the Ukraine, take over and occupy Crimea, and become an essential co-conspirator in the murder and mayhem occurring in Syria.
For our part, the United States has passed significant sanctions legislation including the Sergei Magninsky Act, which is named for a Moscow accountant killed by Putin in a corruption scandal. More than 50 individuals are designated under this law for human rights abuses and corruption. The success of this law being used against Russia is one reason I supported the Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability Act in the 114th Congress. This bill applied the same sanctions penalties for human rights abuses and corruption across the globe.
Further, the Trump administration has levied sanctions against sectors of the Russian economy and key Russians in the Russian Federation. The United States has imposed sanctions related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine to nearly 700 individuals through the Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act, which I supported in 2017. We have also sanctioned Russian officials and the Russian intelligence agency for its malicious cyber activities, including interference in U.S. elections. We also have sanctioned Russia for propping up illegitimate and dictatorial regimes in Syria and Venezuela. The economic pressure that the United States is putting on Russia today is significant.
Given all that, it's essential that you understand that although Russia is one of the largest physical countries in the world occupying some 6.6 square million miles of territory, it remains a commodity-dependent, vulnerable country. Likewise Russia has a GDP that is roughly the same as Spain, which has a third the population, and a per capita GDP a quarter of Germany, which has half the population.
Moreover, the country is a demographic basket case with low life expectancy of age 66 for men and low birth rates.1 And, analysts expect that by 2040 the Russian national population will shrink below 120 million (compared to 141.7 million today) with ethnic Russians actually being only a tiny majority. This economic insecurity, increased global isolation, and demographic chaos accounts for Putin’s extreme aggression and intimidation of the border states that made up the former Soviet Union.
I believe the goals for any future relationship between the United States and Russia should include:
- Allied unity within NATO
- Resolution of the Syrian civil war and political crisis
- Resolution of the conflict of the Donbass region of Ukraine
- Honest engagement with the United States and China on arms-control issues
- Increased pressure on Putin and his regime through use of financial and economic sanctions