I recently read a news story about a mother who dashed into a store late at night, leaving her car engine running and her two young children sleeping in the back seat. Although this was an imprudent decision, neither she nor her children deserved what happened next.
A thief jumped in the car and began driving away with the children still inside. The mother saw the crime in progress, raced from the store, and threw herself onto the hood. She was tossed from the vehicle, but some helpful bystanders pursued until the car crashed. In the end, with the assistance of good citizens, the police apprehended the thief and saved the children. The officers then helped the mother change her tires so she could drive away. Faced with a terrible situation, the community and police worked together to prevent further harm. That’s the America I know.
Probably like you, I watched in stunned disbelief as reports documented the murder of police officers this month in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Earlier in July, a sniper opened fire on Dallas officers, killing five and wounding nine, including two civilians. In a grim replay just last Sunday, a Baton Rouge gunman shot to death three officers in a targeted ambush. These are further warning signs of societal fracture, the rise of lawlessness, and grotesque disaffection.
If we are to rebuild our shattered society, innocent people cannot keep falling prey to the grievances of others. The cases of excessive force by police—and there are some—are extreme and should not be generalized to indict the motives of all police officers. March and protest. Demand answers. That's a part of the American tradition of holding the powerful to account. But killing is not. Retaliation through shootings is a horrific response.
While still reeling and hurting from the shock of it all, the Dallas Police Chief spoke plainly and powerfully in the aftermath of the violence. "We're asking cops to do too much in this country. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve… I just ask for other parts of our democracy, along with the free press, to help us. To help us and not put that burden all on law enforcement… Become a part of the solution. Serve your communities. Don't be a part of the problem."
The Chief added: "We're hiring. We'll put you in your neighborhood, and we will help you resolve some of the problems you're protesting about… Give us a job to do, we’ll focus on accomplishing the mission.” All of this from the man whose own son shot and killed a police officer before being killed in turn several years ago.
Police officers are men and women who have dedicated their lives to upholding law and order. They train extensively to try and avoid the situations that can lead to snap decisions and mistakes. Their sacrifice—sometimes at the greatest of costs—helps uphold the good that is common to us all. Although they are now under great duress, they put themselves in danger time and again to protect your life and your rights.
Police officers cannot do everything for us, then be beaten down for everything gone wrong. Society needs a newfound solidarity, a sense of belonging, and a protective shield of shared community values. In this sense, the goal of law enforcement becomes everyone's job—to serve and protect.Read More
In an unusual turn of events for a person my age, I recently bested two much younger guys in a two on two pickup basketball game. Afterward, my opponents introduced themselves. They not only impressed me with their athletic skills as early high schoolers, but more importantly they impressed me with their conversational ease. As we talked about where they attended school and other mutual connections, one of the students said it was not clear how much longer he would remain in our community given some difficulties in his family. His friend also spoke openly about the loss of his father at a young age. In the meantime, the other young man who had been on my team came over to join us. We learned that he was a combat veteran in Afghanistan. He spoke openly about how the experience had impacted him, as well as the adjustments he had to make in life.
This was an astonishing conversation. At their ages I would not have been prepared to openly share such personal details about my life. Difficult topics were not readily discussed in my youth. When I was young, my father was killed in an accident. This happened on a Wednesday, and I was back in school on Monday. At school, not much was said, no support mechanism existed. No one was at fault; the structure and environment just didn’t accommodate this human need. It was not until much later that I recognized the depth of the scar from that trauma.
As confused as modern society is in so many ways, one area in which progress is being made is in the understanding of mental health. A dearth of family and community support is deeply harmful to individuals who might be struggling with trauma, grief, hopelessness, or even some underlying physiological imbalance. The issue of mental health is a spectrum that ranges from temporary needs to deep psychosis.
One of my good friends in Congress is a psychologist. He has worked for years to educate Congress and national leaders about a better way to address our society’s mental health infrastructure. Last week, after years of work, The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act passed the United States House of Representatives. I was an early supporter of the bill. The legislation overhauls the nation’s mental health system by better focusing federal funding to treat people with serious mental illness. The bill also enhances requirements for private insurers to cover mental health care on an equal footing with physical health. One in four Americans suffer from a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression, and one in eighteen suffers from more serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Persons with mental health issues are three times more likely to live in poverty. The impact on government is already significant. Twenty percent of all Medicaid patients have a significant mental health difficulty and account for about fifty percent of expenditures.
There is a TED talk on YouTube that has been viewed by more than 25 million people. In it a woman named Brené Brown speaks to the power of vulnerability. She says: “It doesn’t matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice, mental health and abuse and neglect, what we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is—neurobiologically that’s how we’re wired—it’s why we’re here.”
The truth though is that legislation and the mental health system can only do so much. The young men who honestly discussed their situations on the basketball court demonstrate the power of vulnerability and social interaction in alleviating some of the burdens and pressures in lifeRead More
Whenever a serious issue impacts our nation, Congress usually gathers for briefings in what is called a classified setting. Sensitive information is then shared by Executive Branch officials. The topics range from national security issues to details about ongoing investigations of individuals, but at all times, we are reminded that the information discussed is to be considered classified. This is a legal way of protecting the general welfare of the United States. We also leave any electronic devices outside.
In other meetings or congressional hearings, conversations sometimes bump up against firewalls of classified information. The discussion then ceases, or the participants agree to meet at another time in a secure setting to more deeply explore areas of sensitivity. Even at my church, someone recently asked me about one of the more speculative aspects of the Orlando shooting. Instead of providing further details, I said, “I can’t talk about this because I received a classified briefing on the topic.”
I provide these examples to give you a window into how classified intelligence is integrated into responsible processes on Capitol Hill. I’m sure you are familiar by now with the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices during her tenure as Secretary of State. This week FBI Director James Comey, a dedicated public servant who is held in high regard on both sides of the political aisle, spoke to the American public about the results of that investigation. Unfortunately, after characterizing Hillary Clinton’s use of emails of private servers as “extremely careless,” he dismissed any consequences. This begs the question: would any other American be treated the same?
Take the case of a Marine who mistakenly took classified documents from his workplace. He was found guilty, busted in rank to the lowest enlisted grade, sentenced to confinement, and had to forfeit pay for three years. The Marine was convicted of “gross negligence," the standard under the law. The distinction between Director Comey’s chastisement of Secretary Clinton for "extreme carelessness" and “gross negligence” remains murky.
Although avoiding politicizing the issue will be difficult, especially during an election season, the heart of the matter now before us is one of fairness, equal treatment, and institutional trust. When there is a perception that position, power, and politics overcome the demands of justice, we have lost a sacred space in America.
There is an ancient Russian expression: “riba gnyote s'golovey,” which means “the fish rots from the head.” We rightly expect our leaders to be held to very high standards—and this is weighty for those of us entrusted to lead. When there is slippage, the implications go way beyond individual failing—it tears at our sense of unity, fosters distrust of institutions, and robs of us of collective dignity. Recall that scene in the movie Braveheart when William Wallace discovers that he is betrayed by the leader of the Scottish. He can’t breathe.
The source of America's strength is the lived reality that everyone has rights, everyone has a chance, and everyone must take their share of responsibility. We do not tolerate double standards well and perhaps our sensitivity to these values is a cause for hope in our country. Remember Nebraska's motto? Equality Before the Law.
I addressed the problem this week on Lincoln radio, and I invite you to listen by clicking here.Read More
Fortenberry discusses Secretary Hillary Clinton and the FBI with Kevin Thomas on DriveTime Lincoln.
Click here to listen to the radio interview.Read More
A friend of mine works part-time at a hardware store. He is retired from several other careers, but continues to enjoy helping people with retail service. Recently, he kindly offered to give me some hosta plants from his home. As I drove through his neighborhood looking for his address, I suspected his house was the one flying the large American flag. I knew Mike had served in Vietnam, but as we spent some time digging and visiting around his garden, I learned a lot more about his harrowing service as a Marine.
Mike’s squad was assigned to protect an area in the northern part of South Vietnam. They were a pesky bunch as Mike put it, and the North Vietnamese, tiring of the constant haranguing, launched an aggressive counterassault. Outnumbered 10 to 1, Mike’s squad was hit hard. A call for help went out, but the first helicopter to arrive was blown apart. Mike sustained severe wounds: a bullet to the chest that collapsed a lung, shrapnel that tore through a foot and a leg, and another bullet that grazed his head. To breathe he had to keep clearing his throat with his finger from the gurgling blood. At the point when he could no longer physically fight, he crawled to a slightly more secure place and propped himself up on his sack. He said he remembered two things: the wind blowing through his hair, and his mother. Who would tell her how he died? Only three Americans survived the battle.
Fortunately, another helicopter quickly landed and a Corpsman came to Mike’s rescue, stabilized him, and helped return him to safety. A doctor performed precision surgery, and the medical personnel nursed him back to health, for which Mike was very grateful. But something always nagged him. He never had the chance to thank the Corpsman who risked his own life to save him. Finally, in 2001, he went online, did some research, and found the man thirty years later. Mike told him: “I’ve not forgotten you.”
It is no secret that our country’s economic, political, and cultural settlement is straining under a number of harsh realities. Concentrations of economic and political power, coupled with signs of social collapse, are contributing to a growing sense of vulnerability and anxiety. Amid a divisive and often disorienting political season, terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando have reminded us of grave threats to life and our cherished liberties.
But take a moment to notice how many Nebraskans like Mike proudly fly our flag. It means something. The flag stands for an ideal, for a value, for the proposition that all persons have dignity, and when that dignity is safeguarded, a people can flourish. That’s America.
And to those who like Mike have sacrificed so much for our nation: We have not forgotten you.
I wish you all a happy and safe Independence Day!Read More
Military spending decisions are notoriously subject to political machinations that don’t always align properly with the public interest.
So it’s a relief that the Air Force has approved the expenditure of more than $50 million to make extensive repairs on the crumbling runway at the Offutt Air Force Base.
As Rep. Jeff Fortenberry put it, “This is a good decision…made after thorough analysis.”
The commitment means the Air Force can continue to benefit from the investment the military has already made in Offutt facilities, and from the existing community infrastructure that helps support the base.
There had been concern that the 55th Wing could be moved from Offutt if the runway was not repaired or replaced. The runway was in such poor condition that teams of military personnel searched it regularly on foot to pick up loose pieces of concrete before they were sucked into jet engines.
The funding committed to repairs is about half the amount it would take to replace the runway. Military officials said repairs would keep the runway operational for about 20 years and allow the rest of the money to be used elsewhere.
Congratulations are due to the teamwork that Nebraskans displayed in the effort to make sure that the military budget process stayed on track.
The Offutt Air Force Base Task Force founded by Fortenberry included Gov. Pete Ricketts and Rep. Adrian Smith, as well as Fortenberry and Ashford. Notably Nebraska’s most powerful Republicans worked shoulder to shoulder with Ashford, the lone Democrat in the state’s congressional delegations, and even credited him in celebratory press releases when the announcement was made.
Click here to read the entire editorial.Read More
I have an old scale in my bathroom. Every now and then I have to adjust it so that the needle sets directly on zero. Otherwise, I really don’t like what it says, and I have enough weighing on me.
One of the greatest challenges in the country is the deep, widespread feeling that we are out of balance. There is a need for recalibration, for slimming down the current institutions that are controlling outcomes and leaving so many dissatisfied. The current political, economic, and cultural settlement is under deep scrutiny as more and more Americans feel we are not achieving a vision of what we ought to be as a nation and as a people.
America’s governance system is supposed to operate according to a system of checks and balances. Unfortunately, we now have a system of overdrafts and imbalances. When political, economic, or cultural power concentrates, we stifle our ability to innovate, change for the better, and flourish as a society. This nagging sense that our institutional framework is not optimally serving us demands that we responsibly examine our options. I would like to explore three aspects of this problem and propose potential solutions for your consideration.
First, Government Debt. When a person can’t pay their bills, their options are limited: cut back, earn more, or start selling stuff. The credit card is merely a delay of the inevitable. You can’t borrow your way out – but our government does. While Congress and the President have to agree on tax and spending policy, deficit spending and debt is a way to avoid difficult choices and hide the consequences. Debt causes more and more borrowing, and borrowing is an unfair tax on the future generation. Borrowing also sells our country’s assets to foreign owners, and when combined with loose monetary policy, creates further economic dislocations. Who gets hurt the most? The poor who can’t adjust prices and those on fixed incomes who see no return on savings. The answer is a rightly crafted balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.
Second, the Supreme Court. Lifetime Supreme Court appointments give a few people an inordinate amount of power. America does not need to accept an elite group of judges for extremely long periods of time, especially when they have the capacity to enact multigenerational ideology with an outsized impact on nearly every sphere of life. Consider a constitutional amendment that would make justices subject to re-approval by the Senate every ten years. Recalibrating the scales of justice would temper the Court’s ability to radically alter time-honored precedents.
Third, the Presidency. It is no secret that we are in a turbulent presidential election season. A historic review of the last 100 years shows an increasing tendency to cede more governing power to the presidency. Presidents from both political parties have expanded the reach of the executive far beyond those originally prescribed for the office. Most Americans now believe that it is the job of Congress to implement a president’s policies. The power of the executive is so great that it impedes the legislative branch from operating another check on the balance of power. Conversely, a problem for presidents is that they spend their first two years governing, the next two campaigning, and the next four holding on.
What if we considered moving to a one-term six-year presidency? This would focus all of a president’s energy on governance, instead of a second campaign. Perhaps presidents would also be more eager to find common ground with the Congress, eliminating one source of a hyper-politicization in the country. Of course, with only one term, the opposite could be true, but would it be worse?
From attempting to micromanage education to homogenizing healthcare, Washington has now federalized almost every conceivable type of problem. The government is not designed to work this way. Washington has a role in creating the conditions for order and stability, including maintaining our security, certain infrastructure, and fair and proper regulation to ensure a level economic playing field. Ideally, the three branches of our government, the Congress, the President, and the Court hold the others in a delicate balance of accountability.
Change is always hard and demands great prudence. These ideas certainly have consequences and should be subjected to rigorous analysis and robust debate by the people. A balanced budget amendment, a Court that is subjected to mild Senate scrutiny, and a one-term six-year presidency might help our country shed some of what is weighing us down. Let me know what you think.Read More
As I drove to my Washington office earlier this week, I passed Arlington National Cemetery. I looked out over the white, orderly headstones that are so gently nestled within the green rolling hills, and I thought of the men and women who have given their lives in service to our country. My own grandfather, who was killed in World War II, is buried there. I then passed the Pentagon and saw the flags flying at half mast. They had been lowered for the victims of the Orlando, Florida terrorist attack.
Despite the horrors of war, there is a certain nobility of the sacrifice of the men and women who died in military service and who continue fighting to keep America safe. No such dignity exists in the atrocities ISIS is committing around the world with such subhuman savagery. The cowardly gunman in the Orlando nightclub, who found his dark inspiration in ISIS, is responsible for the deadliest mass public shooting in modern American history. Forty-nine innocent persons were slain and another 53 wounded. The terrifying strike is the latest in a series of domestic attacks—on our soldiers at Fort Hood, military recruiters in Tennessee, and on persons who worked with the disabled in San Bernardino.
When sworn into Congress, I took an oath of office to defend the constitution against enemies both foreign and domestic. The horror of Orlando starkly shows us that the enemy is here—not just in far off places like Afghanistan and Iraq—but here, domestically. Before Orlando, most Americans sensed this vulnerability, and now we must live with the devastating aftermath.
The reality is that we must all remain vigilant. Law enforcement cannot provide perfect protection at all times and in all places. We face a tension: living in a liberalized society with cherished freedoms, while also avoiding the constant monitoring of a police state. The goal is to protect civil liberties while creating the necessary tools to keep us safe. For the most part, through robust intelligence and law enforcement methodologies, America has avoided tragedies like the Orlando massacre. This time, however, the system was not a reliable predictor.
While courageous Muslims have decried the crimes of ISIS, including the Orlando shooting, many persons ask why more have not spoken out. One difficulty in the Islamic world is the lack of a hierarchical religious structure and centralized teaching. Entities like ISIS warp various strains of Islamic tradition for their own power and glorification. The situation is not helped by decades of oil wealth pouring into the hands of radicals.
There is a conflict within Islam, more than a thousand years old, to determine both its philosophical and religious structure. The centrifugal forces within Islam manifest themselves in various ways, but the future comes down to this: will a re-emergent perspective of reason and integration, including religious freedom and the rights of others, reestablish itself as an assertive source within Islam? Or will Islam be dominated by a tradition that, as a member of the Taliban put it, would “Throw reason to the dogs.”
Despite the various debates of cause in the media, the attack in Orlando is about one thing: the metastasizing cancer of ISIS. It has spread from the Middle East into Africa, and into Europe—and now here to America. It is depraved, irrational, and a growing domestic danger. We must fight back smartly and not just with bullets. We must fight against twisted ideology and the abuse of American freedoms. We must fight against those who abuse religion to harm others. We must make America safe againRead More
Washington, D.C. – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01) today made the following comment after the announcement of the Offutt Air Force Base runway repairs:
“This is a good decision. I am pleased that our military leaders, after thorough analysis, are committing the necessary resources to protect Offutt as an important part of our national security infrastructure. Offutt will receive the necessary funding to repair the aging runway with minimal disruption to the base and the Bellevue community.”
Today’s announcement by the Pentagon estimates the runway repair to cost approximately $50-55 million and put the existing runway offline for five to nine months. The repaired runway is expected to last 20 years.
Last year, Fortenberry founded the Offutt Air Force Base Task Force to conduct oversight of the runway replacement process. Governor Pete Ricketts, Congressman Adrian Smith, and Congressman Brad Ashford assisted Fortenberry in leading the task force.
Fortenberry is the Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
Last Sunday I heard a story from a Nebraska veteran who had been wounded in Vietnam and spent time recovering in a hospital along Vietnam’s coast. He didn’t give me many details, except to say that his injuries were not as severe as other persons there. Others had lost limbs or been immobilized from combat.
One day on the hospital ward some special visitors appeared. Many of you might remember the actor, musician, and comedian Bob Hope, who made heroic efforts to visit troops in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and later combat areas. His entourage that day included the actress Ann-Margret. You would have expected that her presence would have created quite a stir, but among the severely wounded, there was not much of a reaction. When Bob Hope entered, however, the severely wounded struggled from their prone positions to sit up, or make some type of gesture out of respect for this man.
This past Sunday I had the great privilege of joining the veteran who told me this story and hundreds of others from across Nebraska for the sendoff dinner for this week’s Honor Flight. The dinner included a talented Bob Hope impersonator. He did a pretty good job of reenacting the 60s and early 70s for the veterans there, concluding with the song, “Thanks for the Memories.” The veterans seemed to enjoy this step back in time.
Honor Flights are an altruistic nonprofit initiative to fly veterans to Washington to see their respective memorials. I have been blessed to interact with Honor Flights for veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and now the Vietnam War. I am deeply grateful to everyone involved in planning the pre-flight evening and the most recent Honor Flight. As I learned, this trip cost about $500,000. The money was raised through generous contributions from many Nebraska individuals and businesses. Even little schoolchildren got in on the effort. Tremendous credit is due to Bill and Evonne Williams, who organize the Honor Flights.
I had the special opportunity to see my two young friends again, Julia and Eva Yllescas. Their father, Rob, died from injuries he received in Afghanistan. President Bush awarded Rob the Purple Heart before he passed away. The Yllescas girls were not present then, but Julia asked her mother if perhaps she could one day meet President Bush. About one year ago I had the privilege of joining the Yllescas family, including both girls, in a meeting with President Bush. On Sunday evening, Eva and Julia sang beautifully for the veterans during the dinner. Having given their father in combat, the family continues to generously give to those who so dutifully served.
One of the speakers was former Governor Heineman. As the Governor pointed out, America learned an important lesson after Vietnam: our veterans deserve the highest honor and respect when they come home. The political debates over war should not be projected on those who fight for our safety and our freedoms. Fortunately, tributes and welcome home ceremonies now are an important part of America’s cultural fabric. I once witnessed a group of troops make their way off a plane into the airport. As the soldiers entered, the busy terminal turned, people stopped what they were doing, and then began to spontaneously applaud.
Having paused last week on Memorial Day to reflect on the sacrifice of war and remember our war dead, it was so fitting that Nebraska had the chance to give our Vietnam veterans their proper salute with an Honor Flight—and a big thank you for the memories.Read More
1514 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Jeff Fortenberry was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2004 to serve Nebraska’s First Congressional District. His work in Congress is rooted in the belief that the strength of our nation depends on the strength of our families and communities. Jeff is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which appropriates United States government expenditures. He serves on three subcommittees with importance for Nebraska: Agriculture, Energy and Water, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
Jeff previously served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee where he placed particular focus on human rights concerns, Middle Eastern affairs, and nuclear weapons non-proliferation. He also represented Nebraska on the Agriculture Committee, where his work on two Farm Bills advanced opportunities for young and beginning farmers and promoted agricultural entrepreneurship.
Prior to serving in Congress, Jeff worked as a publishing industry executive in Lincoln, where he also served on the Lincoln City Council from 1997-2001. Jeff also has significant personal experience in small business, and early in his career he worked as a policy analyst for the United States Senate Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations. Jeff earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and two master’s degrees, one in public policy. He and his wife Celeste live in Lincoln and have five daughters.
Retweeted by jefffortenberry
Retweeted by jefffortenberry
Police officers cannot do everything for us, then be beaten down for everything gone wrong. https://t.co/bEuQlEynzl
Retweeted by jefffortenberry
If we are to rebuild our shattered society, innocent people cannot keep falling prey to the grievances of others. https://t.co/bEuQlEPYXV
Retweeted by jefffortenberry
Thanks to our great Washington office interns for their hard work this summer https://t.co/0M6aMaFBtF
Retweeted by jefffortenberry
As confused as modern society is in so many ways, progress is being made is in understanding of mental health. https://t.co/7LHX5cK6rC
Good to see Admiral Haney today before giving a keynote address at the U.S. Strategic Command Deterrence Symposium.
Probably like you, I watched in stunned disbelief as reports documented the murder of police officers this month in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Earlier
Thanks to our great Washington office interns for their hard work this summer!
As confused as modern society is in so many ways, one area in which progress is being made is in the understanding of mental health. A dearth
Honor our police.