Jeff Fortenberry

Jeff Fortenberry


Fort Report: The Deep State


Underneath the dome of our nation’s Capitol hang eight large paintings representing scenes from America’s beginnings. One painting depicts George Washington resigning his commission before the Continental Congress. The painting occupies a pride of place in our Capitol because it shows an extraordinarily profound and historic shift in the understanding of power. Washington won the Revolutionary War. He enjoyed the support of his army. Yet, he was not tempted to use that power for his own glorification. Instead, he returned it to the people.

Power is a tricky thing. It can be absolutely corrupting or used for great good. Exceptional persons throughout history have used it to contribute to civilization. For others, power is a weapon to plunder, crush, and kill. America embraced the noble way at our founding. In our high school civics courses, we learn about our Constitution and three branches of government. In its deepest sense, the Constitution is about the proper positioning of power, the proper control of power, and the proper transfer of power.

Fast forward to this week when a prominent Washington political insider wrote that he prefers the “deep state.” Although not widely known, the term “deep state” refers to a group of career employees of the military, intelligence services, and other agencies of the United States government, who have inordinate, but often hidden, power to influence policy and society. It is posited that the deep state is particularly successful when it comes to halting or slowing implementation of governmental edicts deemed threatening to prudent stability or its own existence. The deep state turns sinister when it operates outside transparency and oversight. This concealed controlling force, unfettered, can create an entirely new, anti-democratic branch of government.

However, I propose that this discussion about the deep state is bigger than the government itself. A broader understanding of the deep state requires insight into the network of institutions that attempt to manage society. Some in the media, academia, and corporations orchestrate self-reinforcing narratives of technocratic, or expert, superiority. Frankly, this is why so many people feel forgotten and are suspicious of what might be called the government-corporate-cultural complex. The notion that elites supersede the decisions of voters and their elected representatives is contrary to our democratic traditions. It is also deeply offensive to the American understanding of the source of proper governance.

On the other hand, maintaining consistency for the sake of order has merit. Retaining career civil servants with strong institutional knowledge and experience is necessary for the uniquely smooth and peaceful transition of power. Those who have committed themselves to a career of government service and risen in the ranks, those in the media who have taken a long view of civic responsibility, those in business who have achieved outcomes and wish to share them for the betterment of society ensure the stability and proper functioning of our nation’s core operating systems during times of disruptive change.

Any analysis of the deep state is complex. A deep state that is mysterious and enigmatic, unidentified, that effectively triumphs over the will of the people marginalizes the voice of Americans. At the same time, political transitions without the backup of those who maintain a continuity of service can be volatile and destabilizing. There lies the tension.

President Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex. Perhaps the challenge of today’s government-corporate-cultural complex is broader: a self-affirming closed society that says there is only one way, “our way”—and you have to follow. Just plug into the technocracy and know your place.

It could easily be said that George Washington was an elite of his day. Nevertheless, on Monday, we celebrate Presidents' Day. We celebrate Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and others because they attained their status through selfless service to our country and its founding ideals—to the civic state.

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Fort Report: The Environment


Going through my mail this week, I read a publication from the Great Plains Trail Network, a dedicated group of people who enjoy, promote, and foster the growing network of hiking and biking trails in Lincoln. They provide an extraordinary service to our community. Most notably, the trail systems provide an alternate means of transportation, physically linking our community in creative ways along creek beds and underpasses, through open plains and wooded areas, beside the wooden fences between residential neighborhoods. The trails also link us to the value of healthy exercise, neighborliness—and the beauty of nature—even in the urban community.

I got an unusual media request recently. New York Magazine wished to speak to me. I took the meeting because I wanted to give a broader perspective on the issue of environmental stewardship, particularly in light of policy debates around energy and the environment. Since the topic can be so toxic, I thought it important to reframe the issues with some prairie perspective. Perhaps it’s time to spike the football and focus on solutions and activities that all of us can agree are beneficial.  

For the 21st century, we must harmonize environmental and economic security. As a different public policy approach, I am considering a new idea called the zero-emissions energy credit (ZEEC). The more we can do to stop waste and pollution through conservation and innovation gives us peace of mind in regard to the proper use of resources. The ZEEC concept would reward reduced emissions through a tax credit system. In this way, the government is not picking one technology over the other, or fighting over one regulation or another, but positively valuing the diminishing externality cost of pollution emissions. 

Environmental initiatives can take many other forms. I was recently named co-chair of the International Conservation Caucus (ICC), one of the largest bi-partisan caucuses in Congress. The ICC works to ensure the sustainability of persons and wildlife, market innovation, as well as the proper stewardship of natural resources. As an example, not long ago in the African country of Mozambique, in the midst of a civil war, the Gorongosa National Park was stripped of wildlife and devoid of people. A once lush micro-ecosystem dead, due to political disagreement. Now, approximately ten years later, thanks to the work of a major philanthropist and a receptive government, a park system teams with wildlife, with indigenous people reintegrated into their homeland who are engaged in farming methodologies, park management, and conservation that creates an atmosphere in which the entire ecosystem once again thrives.

I do not know anyone that wants dirty air and dirty water. However, if you live in Beijing, polluted air alone costs you five and a half years off your life. Parts of India are worse. The Chinese government was infuriated when the USA created, at our embassy, a pollution-monitoring device, and then publicly released that data to the Chinese. It had a major effect. As one Chinese person said to me, "What's the point in all this economic development if it kills you?”  

Economic development without soul strips us of the capacity to fully prosper. On the other hand, one of the prime contributors to environmental desecration is economic underdevelopment. Persons who have diminished economic options will use the resources at hand. The tragedy of the commons occurs when there are fractured social linkages, lack of access to technology and information to feed, clothe, and house in a more sustainable way.

As new technologies emerge, we may see exciting opportunities to build our own sustainably sourced micro energy economy. One that harmonizes with the environment and creates new economic linkages. This doesn’t mean we all live on game preserves, but through proper policy and innovation we may be on the trail to environmental, economic, and community security—a new type of Great Plains Energy Network.

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Fort Report: Security and Generosity


On the wall outside my office hangs a framed copy of one of the first pieces of legislation I worked on. The bill increased the number of Iraqi translators who could come to the United States. Serving alongside our troops, these translators had put themselves and their families at grave risk in service to our country. Among those who have benefited from the policy were members of the Yezidi tradition, a peaceful, ancient faith that ISIS has targeted as part of their extermination campaign against Christians and other religious minorities, including innocent Muslim communities.

America has long opened her arms to persons fleeing persecution who wish to rebuild their lives and become good citizens. My hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska is a diverse and welcoming community with a number of first-generation Americans, and we are the better for it. However, when there is chaos and disorder at the border, or uncertainty in immigration policy and procedures, this undermines the ability of our country to be generous—or worse, affects our safety.

President Trump’s Executive Order, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry to the United States, suspended all new-refugee admissions into the United States for 120 days. In addition, it blocks all travelers for 90 days from seven "countries of concern"—Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen (a list created by the Obama Administration in 2015). Refugees from Syria are banned indefinitely. Travelers from these countries with a green card will be allowed to enter since they are permanent United States residents.

From my perspective, I believe it is reasonable to pause and review our refugee policy from dangerous parts of the world. But the implementation of the policy has caused confusion, difficulty, and concern—some of which was clarified throughout last week.

As an example, a Yezidi man named Nawaf, who translated for our military, visited my office last Monday night requesting help for his wife Laila. Two of his brothers live in Lincoln. Although I did not recognize him at first, I remembered that a president of a university in Iraq once told me about a Yezidi student who had become the class valedictorian of an Iraqi university, and I began to piece the story together. Nawaf arrived in America last year. Following 18 months of vetting, his wife was awarded a special visa a week and a half ago, but as Nawaf, with great composure, told me, Laila was barred from entry.

Immigration and refugee policy always involves difficult choices. A country has to consider absorption capacity, the possibilities of assimilation, and the necessity of accepting the values of the host country. A review of policy in Europe sheds some light. Germany recklessly threw open its border recently. Waves of persons—many young single men—entered the country, sparking an uptick in crime and violence, and possibly the conditions for more terrorist attacks. Confusion still continues as to who is where. Germany’s rapidly considered and naïve refugee policy has unwittingly created an anti-immigrant backlash, as well as political turmoil.

Immigration and refugee movement should always be a matter of last resort. Everyone can't come to the West. Rather, it is the responsibility of governments around the world to create the conditions in which persons can live securely. If this breaks down, robust humanitarian assistance and repositioning persons in nearby safe zones creates the possibility of a right of return—avoiding the trauma of uprooting from one's home and culture.

Yet, with all of the complex considerations surrounding immigration, it is always important to remember that we are dealing not with statistics, not with remote policy, but with the lives of real persons. Happily, last Friday morning, after my office worked successfully on her case, Laila arrived. With open arms and flowers, Nawaf greeted her at the airport—and welcomed her to America.

If you would like to hear me engage with this conversation further, please click here to visit my speech made on the house floor.

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Lincoln Journal Star: Yazidis ensnared in Trump's Muslim ban


Tuesday was supposed to be a joyful day overflowing with happiness, a day for one Yazidi family to reunite after five long years overcoming indescribable danger and improbable odds.

Haji Hameka was expecting to reunite with his sister, Naam, her husband, and the couple’s three teenage sons as the family joined the more than 1,300 Yazidis living in Lincoln.

But an executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Friday effectively banning refugees and immigrants arriving to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority nations ensnared his sister's family, penning them in a refugee camp in the Kurdistan region with an estimated 200,000 Yazidis.

“It was kind of a shock to my mom, my wife and to all of our family,” Hameka said Monday. “(My mom) was thinking America will be the Yazidi country, the only country that will save the Yazidis who are suffering under this genocide and hardship.

“Even they stopped them.”

The Trump administration's action last weekend was to "prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality."

However the Yazidis, whose ancestral homelands are in the northern region of Iraq, were not exempted from the ban.

As army interpreters from 2005 to 2011, Hameka and his brother received special immigrant visas to begin new lives in America, settling in Lincoln in 2012.

Hameka, now an interpreter with Lincoln Public Schools and LanguageLinc Interpretation Services, said his sister's family eluded the $50,000 bounties placed on them by Islamic fighters and fled Sinjar ahead of IS before starting the refugee process reserved for Yazidis whose family members aided U.S. armed forces during the war in Iraq.

Although many Yazidis have resettled in Nebraska through the program, it can be a frustrating process to complete, according to Max Graves, executive director for the Center of Legal Immigration Assistance.

“(Trump’s order) is going to make it more difficult,” Graves said. “There is a special refugee status available for Yazidis, but it’s a very rigorous process where people are thoroughly vetted.”

According to Hameka, his sister’s family completed each of the steps -- including obtaining passports and identification papers from the Iraqi government in Baghdad, where they braved an environment unfriendly to Yazidis, and undergoing a medical examination.

The family was set to leave once before, but a delay caused the examination results to expire, forcing them to travel once more and complete an additional step.

Believing they would soon be in the U.S., Hameka said his family quit their jobs and sold belongings. They are running out of money and time, he said, as they wait for word on whether they can join family in America.

The situation has rehashed feelings of disappointment and resentment by Yazidis, who became disillusioned with the Obama administration’s reluctance to offer military and humanitarian support to Yazidis, minority Christians and others in the region who came under the crosshairs of IS when the group invaded the Sinjar region in 2014.

Yazidis in America latched onto Trump’s campaign promises that he would defeat IS, and potentially liberate their homelands and end what they count as the 74th genocide of their people.

“I hope they will do something, but the beginning is not promising,” Hameka said.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry said Monday his office was working to untangle the situation caused by a policy implementation “that has caused confusion, difficulty and concern.”

“I’m readying a letter to the administration as we speak asking for clarification as to what their exemption process will be,” Fortenberry said in a phone interview.

The congressman has led efforts on behalf of Yazidis and minority Christians before, securing a resolution declaring acts against those groups as genocide.

Beyond the label, which attached the "full weight of the government" to the declaration, Fortenberry said it helped create hope for “beleaguered people who have a right to their homeland” and created a framework for international policy to be created.

But Fortenberry said any immigration and refugee action must focus on two principals: "keeping America generous while keeping America safe."

Sen. Deb Fischer issued a similar statement Monday afternoon, saying she agrees with Trump's position on strengthening the vetting process while also working to create an "orderly, careful and clear" policy that keeps out dangerous individuals while remaining a "welcoming country to people of all faiths."

Hameka, who hopes to one day create a rescue organization for minority Yazidis and Christians, said Yazidis were thankful for the declaration, but feel without action, it is useless.

He added little has changed for them in the Middle East in the meantime.

“We are a persecuted religious minority prevented from having basic human rights by our own government,” Hameka said. “We were wishing the U.S. would do something for Yazidis -- mass immigration for them, providing them with protection -- the Yazidis believe the only hope is the U.S.

“I don’t know why we are being neglected.”

Click here to read the entire article.

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SAT Press Releases: Inaugural Class of GW Congressional Nuclear Security Fellows Selected


Washington, DC, January 31, 2017 –– The George Washington University Nuclear Security Working Group today announced the selection of two nuclear policy professionals to serve as inaugural Congressional Nuclear Security Fellows. Fellows will work collaboratively to cultivate and expand bipartisan discourse in Congress on nuclear security issues. They will also work to establish the Congressional Nuclear Security Working Group (CNSWG) as a non-partisan clearinghouse for nuclear security expertise and engagement on Capitol Hill. Fellows will serve a one-year term during the first session of the 115th Congress.

Minsu Crowder-Han will serve in the office of Congressman Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), a principal member of the CNSWG. Crowder-Han most recently managed Federally-funded nuclear security projects at CRDF Global, an independent nonprofit organization that promotes international scientific and technical collaboration. She also served as a nuclear security consultant to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. She holds two Masters of Arts, from Georgetown University and King’s College London.

Nate Sans will serve in the office of CNSWG Co-Chair Congressman Pete Visclosky (D-IN). Sans previously managed a major study of the International Atomic Energy Agency at the Partnership for a Secure America, a nonprofit organization founded by former Congressman Lee Hamilton and Senator Warren Rudman to advance bipartisanship on critical national security and foreign policy challenges. Sans is a former non-resident junior fellow at the Center for the National Interest and a graduate of Middlebury College.

Fellows will also work with Brett Broderick, a staff member of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board on temporary assignment to the office of CNSWG founding co-chair Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE).

“I am pleased to be working with such an impressive group of fellows to continue to raise the level of focus and engagement on nuclear security issues in Congress,” said Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), co-chair and founder of the Congressional Nuclear Security Working Group. “The spread of nuclear materials and technology to malevolent actors continues to be one of the principal threats to American national security. This fellowship will provide much needed expertise and support the Congressional Nuclear Security Working Group’s goal of developing effective responses to the nuclear security challenges facing our nation.”

Fellows were selected through a competitive application process that evaluated professional and academic excellence, especially policy experience, familiarity with the legislative and executive branches, and nuclear security, demonstrated interpersonal, organizational, and communications skills, and strength of references/recommendations. Applications were reviewed by a committee comprising senior Elliott School of International Affairs faculty and representatives from CNSWG member offices.

“National security challenges are increasingly complex and place high demands on the attention and expertise of decision makers,” said Christopher Kojm, Visiting Professor of the Practice of International Affairs at the Elliott School, former Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, and a participant on the Fellowship Selection Committee. “Minsu and Nate’s combination of nuclear policy expertise, communications acumen, and interpersonal skills will help fill an important gap in nuclear know-how on Capitol Hill.”

Describing the impetus for this fellowship, Elliot School Professor and GW Nuclear Security Working Group Chair Janne Nolan said, “This fellowship advances multiple overlapping goals. First, we wanted to bring in emerging experts and professionals who could stand to benefit a great deal from being on the Hill, working for Members of Congress and learning about the legislative process. Second, we wanted to elevate the profile of the Congressional Nuclear Security Working Group, to provide a mechanism for bipartisan engagement on nuclear issues in Congress away from the politics and posturing that characterizes so much public discourse on foreign affairs.”

The Congressional Nuclear Security Fellowship is administered by the Nuclear Security Working Group at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs (GW-NSWG), with grant support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

About the GW Nuclear Security Working Group

The Nuclear Security Working Group at the GWU Elliott School of International Affairs (GW-NSWG) is a bipartisan group of senior foreign policy experts working behind the scenes to build consensus on pressing nuclear security issues and promote bipartisan discourse about the benefits of nuclear diplomacy. Chaired by Dr. Janne Nolan and with membership drawn from a wide variety of professional backgrounds, the GW-NSWG enables the nation’s leading experts in international security and nuclear issues to share information and collaborate.

About the Congressional Nuclear Security Working Group

The CNSWG draws on leading congressional, executive branch, and private sector expertise on nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and homeland security to identify significant vulnerabilities and develop effective responses to improve nuclear safeguards, secure fissile materials, and prevent the misuse of sensitive nuclear materials and technologies.

About GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs

The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs is one of the world’s leading schools of international affairs. Located in the heart of Washington, D.C., its mission is to educate the next generation of international leaders, conduct research that advances understanding of important global issues and engage the policy community in the United States and around the world.

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Omaha World Herald: Midlands lawmakers support security goal, see room to improve implementation


WASHINGTON — Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said Monday that President Donald Trump’s travel ban is a complicated issue and he’d prefer not to be put in the box of completely supporting or opposing it.

 “I’m trying to do two things at once, keep two principles working in tandem: keeping America generous, keeping America safe,” Fortenberry told The World-Herald. “I think it is reasonable to pause and review our refugee policies from dangerous areas of the world, but the implementation of this has caused many difficulties and a lot of concerns so I think we need a process — which I am starting to work on — that potentially allows for expedited exceptions.”

 The order Trump signed on Friday to suspend refugee resettlements and restrict travel for people from certain countries has created a firestorm — prompting demonstrations in the streets, court challenges and bipartisan criticism.

 On Monday, for example, congressional Democrats rallied in opposition at the Supreme Court and offered Senate legislation to rescind the order — an effort that was blocked by Republicans.

 Meanwhile, some Republicans representing Nebraska and western Iowa, including Fortenberry, were trying to walk a tightrope on Trump’s new immigration policy. They expressed support for the president’s stated goals, while also suggesting that his order could work better.

 For Fortenberry, refugee issues strike close to home.

 One of his early pieces of legislation — a copy of which still hangs in his office — raised the number of special visas available for Iraqi and Afghan translators who helped the U.S. military.

 Fortenberry also represents Nebraska’s 1st District, which includes Lincoln and one of the country’s largest communities of Yazidis — a small group that follows an ancient faith tradition. He successfully pushed to get the plight of Yazidis and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria designated as genocide in order to raise international attention.

 “You can’t sit idly by and watch people systematically targeted for extermination based upon their religion,” Fortenberry said.

 He met Monday with a Yazidi man whose two brothers are in Lincoln. The man earned his U.S. citizenship by being a translator for the military, and his wife was supposed to arrive over the weekend. Because of Trump’s order, she was not allowed to come.

 Fortenberry said he assumes that the administration will develop a process for exceptions while the travel ban is in effect.

 Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., was among those who kept a low profile through the weekend, declining opportunities to comment. She broke her silence Monday afternoon with a press release backing the purpose of the ban — but also noting the confusion and anxiety produced by the new policy.

 “Our number one responsibility is to protect our nation, and I agree that we need to strengthen and reform the vetting process,” Fischer said in the release. “The intention of this executive order is on point, but the implementation of it must be orderly, careful and clear. As we work to keep dangerous individuals out, we must also remain a welcoming country to people of all faiths.”

 Sen. Ben Sasse was one Midlands Republican who did not support Trump’s refugee policy. An outspoken critic of Trump during the presidential campaign, the Nebraskan was quick to say that while the president is right to focus on the importance of borders, his order is too broad.

 “If we send a signal to the Middle East that the U.S. sees all Muslims as jihadis, the terrorist recruiters win by telling kids that America is banning Muslims and that this is America versus one religion,” Sasse said in a press release.

 Democrats and a number of advocacy groups have been much harsher in their criticism, blasting the order as arbitrary, inhumane and un-American.

 Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, on the other hand, seemed very much in support of the move. He wrote on Twitter that Trump had “temporarily blocked Obama-led hijrah to the U.S. It may be too late for Europe ...”

 The word “hijrah” refers to Muslim immigration. King included a link to an article that characterized the flow of refugees into Europe from the Middle East as an attempt at Muslim colonization of that continent.

 Reps. Adrian Smith and Don Bacon, Nebraska Republicans, both sounded supportive of the ban in statements that touted the need to review vetting procedures.

 Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, said in a statement that the principal role of the federal government is to keep Americans safe. He compared the president’s action to a bill that overwhelmingly passed the House in 2015. It would have paused refugees from Iraq and Syria until more stringent vetting could be put in place. That legislation was supported by most House members from Nebraska and western Iowa, including former Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., who now criticizes Trump’s order. The one opponent was King, who said it didn’t go far enough.

 Young also echoed other Republicans’ assertion that President Barack Obama instituted a similar pause on refugees from Iraq in 2011. That claim is disputed by Obama officials who told the Washington Post that their stepped-up vetting procedures only slowed the process and still allowed people to come to America.

 Young said the U.S. “will continue to aid and be welcoming to those seeking refuge and asylum.” But he said the nation needs to be “extra cautious and vigilant,” saying that terrorists seek to exploit the refugee program to harm Americans.

 Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, also said it was prudent to reassess the vetting process but called for more clarity about its implementation. Ernst, who served in Iraq as a company commander with the Iowa Army National Guard, expressed support for those who helped the U.S. as translators.

“In our efforts to protect our nation from ISIS, we also must ensure we are not inadvertently penalizing our allies in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism — especially those who have supported U.S. military efforts in Iraq,” she said.

 Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said national security is the top responsibility of the federal government.

 “The goals of the executive order are commendable, and something President Trump promised during the campaign,” Grassley said in a statement. “But implementation will be key to ensuring the bad guys are kept out while remaining a welcoming nation to people of all backgrounds and religions.”

Click here to read the entire article.

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Fort Report: On Being American


Our soldiers know this feeling all too well. Perhaps you have experienced it too. You are in a far off place with no one familiar around you, and then you see it and experience an instant feeling of connection—an American flag. At that moment, the flag is more than a piece of cloth with colored stars and stripes. It is an enduring symbol that expresses a deep unspoken narrative about who we are as a people and about the ideals that unite us as a nation.

If you ask people what America means, most would say freedom. Yet this word freedom is so overused we have forgotten its essential meaning. Most properly understood, freedom is the ability to do what one ought, to take responsibility for oneself, one’s family, one’s community, and, by extension, one’s nation. Freedom is not a detachment from responsibility, to do whatever you want. That self-destructive idea erodes freedom, resulting in not only the loss of oneself but the degradation of community.

We often reflect on what it means to be an American when discussing immigration. America has long offered the hope of freedom for immigrants yearning to work for a better future for themselves and their families. To those “tempest-tossed,” to those “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” America lifted its lamp beside “the golden door.” Implicit in this “world-wide welcome,” was a basic compact that those who came here, however arduous their journey, must undertake the responsibilities of citizenship.

In fact, America’s very survival as a beacon-handed land requires those who immigrate to assimilate and adopt the values proposition that makes our country unique in the history of the world. Those values include respect for others, acceptance of law and order as a prerequisite for the orderly functioning of society, and the desire to participate constructively as a citizen. Those who refuse to assimilate or reject these time-honored values take advantage of the sacrifices and hard-fought gains of generations of Americans who have built, and often died for, what we cherish and share. This is fundamentally unfair and an abuse of freedom itself.

Individual freedom is achieved most fully in community. When the government and interest groups see freedom merely as the functional meeting of material needs, it undermines the social dimensions of freedom, which are rooted in authentic human relationship. Conversely, the proper amount of government provides protection and creates the guardrails for individuals to flourish together, generating meaning for persons and communities. The right political approach in America can restore that golden mean.

There is a story of a man talking to his young son. He said, “Son, see that beautiful home on the hill there? One day, if that’s your heart’s desire, if you work hard enough and are patient, if you do what is right, you could have such a home.” Another man in another country talking to his young son took a different approach. He said, “You see that big mansion on the hill there? If you work hard enough, if you stay focused, and if you position yourself right—one day you can get that guy.”

Our country is not based on envy. It is based on respect and responsibility. To make America flourish again—politically, economically, and culturally—a restoration of this ideal is necessary to create the conditions for a true and lasting freedom.


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Omaha World Herald: 'A voice for the voiceless': Iowans, Nebraskans join ranks of abortion opponents for annual March for Life


WASHINGTON — Like many of the abortion opponents marching Friday, Shanna Hoven savored the moment when she reached the top of Capitol Hill and was able to look back at the throngs of people still coming behind her.

“It’s just amazing to see how many people care,” Hoven said. “Every single year, the numbers grow. And every single year, the crowd gets younger and younger.”

The 17-year-old student from Bishop Neumann High School in Wahoo, Nebraska, was among the Nebraskans and Iowans in the nation’s capital for the annual March for Life.

No official crowd count was available, but the size of the demonstration seemed larger than in previous years, and the evidence of abortion opponents’ increased political might was easy to find.

Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the rally, making him the highest-ranking official to speak at the march in its 44-year history. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also spoke, which was a thrill for Hoven.

“I believe she is the true woman who broke the glass ceiling,” Hoven said. “She’s a mother, she’s pro-life, she is an adviser to Trump and she is a hardworking woman. She just inspires me. She’s my role model along with Ivanka Trump.”

This year’s march had a higher profile in part because it followed an outpouring of demonstrators in the recent Women’s March on Washington, which had a mission statement that included support for abortion rights.

Hoven was among hundreds who came from Lincoln. In addition, the Archdiocese of Omaha organized six buses that ferried more than 300 adults and students to the event, which is typically held on or around the anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade case that made abortion legal nationwide.

Polls show that Americans remain deeply divided on abortion. Many believe that abortion should remain legal, at least in some circumstances.

That wasn’t the view at Friday’s rally, however. Midlands marchers took note of the many clever handmade signs and chants featuring anti-abortion themes. They talked about the connections forged with marchers from other parts of the country.

And the mood was bolstered by the fact that Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress for the first time in a decade.

At the rally, Sen. Joni Ernst, of Iowa pointed to her previous efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, calling the group the largest single provider of abortions.

Former President Barack Obama vetoed that measure, but Ernst said she plans to reintroduce similar legislation next week and hopes it will fare better with President Donald Trump.

“Back then we did not have a president that respected life and he stopped us,” Ernst said. “Thankfully, today is a different story.”

Indeed, Capitol Hill Republicans are eager to push proposals in the new political environment.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, recently introduced a bill that would ban abortion if the doctor can detect a heartbeat. The bill has seven co-sponsors thus far, including Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who appeared at a press conference this week to tout the legislation.

King said his bill would come close to effectively prohibiting all abortions because the heartbeat can be detected so early in a pregnancy, even before a woman realizes she’s pregnant.

King suggested the bill could be a vehicle to get the issue back before the Supreme Court after Trump has appointed one or more new justices.

“Any issue that has to do with life and abortion is going to be litigated to the Supreme Court level,” King said. “We’re doing a bit of a head start here, but by the time we would march this thing down to the Supreme Court, the faces on the Supreme Court will be different. We just don’t know how much different, but I’m optimistic.”

Meanwhile, other lawmakers have suggested it makes sense to pursue measures that could garner broader support.

Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska said she hasn’t reviewed King’s proposal, but said she favors legislation prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks because it has bipartisan backing in Nebraska.

Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said Congress should start with the most commonsense proposals, pointing to his own legislation that would require health providers to care for babies born alive during abortion procedures.

Trump is expected to name his first pick for the Supreme Court next week. His nominee’s record on abortion certainly will be an issue during the coming confirmation debate — a debate Sasse will be in the middle of as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sasse hosted a coffee reception Friday morning for Nebraskans attending the march.

After surveying the many students in the room, he said such marches include more young people than they did 20 years ago — a change he attributed in part to sonogram technology.

“There are so many young people in the movement because young people have seen babies in mommies’ tummies — and they understand that that’s a life and it’s precious and it has dignity and worth,” Sasse said.

During the Obama administration, abortion opponents felt like they were waging an uphill battle. But now they see opportunity, hailing Trump’s quick action to reinstate a policy banning U.S. aid to international groups that promote abortion.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska said it’s a matter of “fundamental justice” to see Roe v. Wade overturned.

“This is an absolute disaster for our country,” Fortenberry said. “Fifty million-plus lives lost, women scarred, families torn apart, an ongoing 40-year debate about this. It’s wounded the soul of the nation. We can do better.”

He said there are immediate steps that can be taken to shut down taxpayer funding used for abortions, but abortion opponents also have to make the case for more aggressive action.

“Parallel with that, though, has to be a cultural movement that sees abortion and the abortion industry for what it is: It is violence against women,” Fortenberry said. “Pro-life people like me have to do a much better job of saying we can all do better, no matter how hard the circumstances.”

They have their work cut out for them. A 2016 Pew Research Center poll showed that 57 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases — the highest percentage since 1996. Meanwhile, 39 percent favor making it illegal in all or most cases.

Several marchers said they saw Friday’s event as helping to make their case to the public.

“The march is so important to me because I feel like it’s our chance to be a voice for the voiceless,” said Alexa Krings, 22, of Lincoln. “Especially since a fourth of our generation is gone because of abortion, we want to stand up for all of those unborn children.”

She also said she understands that it will take time.

“The end goal is to overturn Roe, make abortion illegal,” Krings said. “But I think it’s going to be a whole bunch of steps.”

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Fort Report: The Wind-swept Plains of Nebraska


When presidents give their inaugural addresses, we are accustomed to lofty narratives, to visionary ideals, to sweeping language. President Trump spoke differently. The only sweeping thing in his speech was his reference to the wind-swept plains of Nebraska. Of course I perked up in my seat.

President Trump’s speech was a striking and direct call for a new healthy nationalism. He spoke to the people, about the people, and for the people. A certain awkwardness marked the beginning. Not only was his style confrontational from the outset, but it began to rain right as he started, creating an uncomfortable moment. Then all of a sudden the rain stopped, and his speech gained momentum. He discussed in the harshest terms some of the stark realities we are facing and how they might be resolved.

Defining problems is always the easiest task. Finding solutions is much harder. While the President’s speech lacked specifics in that regard, nonetheless there was power in the attempt to articulate an America lost to globalized supply side elitism, an America lost to drugs and crime, an America lost to systems that no longer serve all persons. It just seems that no matter how hard people work, they just cannot get ahead.

Our new President’s speech was similar in theme to his campaign, with a matured sense of gravity. It was an authoritative call for a new national unity for all, for the forgotten. The idea that America can do better—and will do better for everyone—was clearly conveyed. I recognize that the tone of the speech will not have universal appeal. It was to the point, direct, and firm. It was not a delicate, textured speech. But he was clear: “The American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

We are witnessing a renewed focus on reviving America’s economy. The multinational corporations of the world are on notice: they cannot play both sides of the balance sheet, for us and against us, and that the benefits of exchange with us will have to be fair for all. Frankly, this creates the possibility for authentic relationship with peoples around the world, rather than a transactional one. If this objective can be achieved, it is a constructive change. A healthy American nationalism will lead to properly ordered international engagement: for our benefit and the benefit of others.

It should also be noted that the President spoke before the entirety of government, including the House of Representatives. The President’s authoritative style, communicating the desire to devolve power centers from Washington to Wall Street, interestingly repositions Congress to its appropriate role in governing society through the power of the people. It is statistically shown that the majority of Americans believe that it is the job of Congress to do whatever the President says. This is not true. Congress is an independent and coequal branch of government that makes the law, which is interpreted by the judiciary and enforced by the President. This balance of power has been out of balance for a hundred years—and perhaps now a realignment begins.

Whether you love President Trump or loath him, or whether you are some place in between with certain apprehensions but hoping your president succeeds, today was an extraordinary American day. We saw the successful and peaceful transfer of power.


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Lincoln Journal Star: Ricketts, Fortenberry hear focus on America


Gov. Pete Ricketts said Friday he believes President Donald Trump made it clear in his inaugural address that he's going to make "what's good for America" his guiding priority, while "paying attention to all those who have been left behind."

"But he reached out to everybody in America," the governor said during a pause in his two-day sweep through inaugural events in Washington.

Trump's message to the world was "we'll work with you in a peaceful way," Ricketts suggested during a telephone interview.

A surprise bonus for Nebraskans in the inaugural address was the new president's reference to "the windswept plains of Nebraska," the governor said.

Ricketts visited briefly with Trump at a candlelight dinner Thursday night and had an opportunity to "congratulate him and wish him well" hours before the inauguration.

"We chatted a little about the Cubs and the World Series," Ricketts said.

The conversation included Tom Ricketts, the governor's brother and chairman of the Chicago team owned by the Ricketts family headed by Joe Ricketts, the governor's billionaire father.

His trip provided "a good opportunity to talk to the new policymakers" in Washington, Ricketts said.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Lincoln described Trump's speech as "a striking, direct call for a new healthy nationalism."

It was a message "to the people, about the people and for the people," the 1st District congressman said during a telephone call.

And the message to the world is that there's "a new sheriff in town," Fortenberry said. That means "the notion (of) not negotiating the best deals possible, not seeking out authentic friendships rather than just political or economic transactions is over," he said.

"He will be a very authoritative president," Fortenberry said. "But he will be about the business of devolving power (with) more for the legislative branch."

Next week, Fortenberry said, the Republican House majority will gather at a retreat focused on health care reform legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Fortenberry also encountered a president during the inaugural festivities.

The congressman and his daughter, Christine, 14, were in the Capitol Rotunda on Friday when former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton passed through and they stopped to shake hands.

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Contact Information

1514 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Phone 202-225-4806
Fax 202-225-5686

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.

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Don Bacon


Adrian Smith


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