WASHINGTON – On July 5, 2022, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Vice-Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to formally investigate TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance. The call comes in response to recent reports that the social media platform has permitted TikTok engineers and executives in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to repeatedly access private data of US users despite repeated claims to lawmakers and users that this data was protected. This includes instances where staff based in the United States had to consult with their China-based colleagues for information about U.S. user data as they did not have access to the data on their own. These revelations undermine longstanding claims by TikTok’s management that the company’s operations were firewalled from demands of the Chinese Communist Party.
“We write in response to public reports that individuals in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have been accessing data on U.S. users, in contravention of several public representations, including sworn testimony in October 2021,” the senators wrote in a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan. “In light of this new report, we ask that your agency immediately initiate a Section 5 investigation on the basis of apparent deception by TikTok, and coordinate this work with any national security or counterintelligence investigation that may be initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice.”
The report also highlights TikTok’s misrepresentation of the company’s relationship to ByteDance and its subsidiaries, including Beijing-based ByteDance Technology, which is partially owned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
As Chairman and Vice-Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sens. Warner and Rubio have been vocal about the cyber and national security threats posed by the CCP. In 2019, the senators introduced legislation to combat tech-specific threats to national security posed by foreign actors like China.
A copy of the letter is below.
Dear Chairwoman Khan:
We write in response to public reports that individuals in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have been accessing data on U.S. users, in contravention of several public representations, including sworn testimony in October 2021. In an interview with the online publication Cyberscoop, the Global Chief Security Officer for TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, made a number of public representations on the data security practices of TikTok, including unequivocal claims that the data of American users is not accessible to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the government of the PRC. As you know, TikTok’s privacy practices are already subject to a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission, based on its improper collection and processing of personal information from children. In light of this new report, we ask that your agency immediately initiate a Section 5 investigation on the basis of apparent deception by TikTok, and coordinate this work with any national security or counterintelligence investigation that may be initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Additionally, these recent reports suggest that TikTok has also misrepresented its corporate governance practices, including to Congressional committees such as ours. In October 2021, TikTok’s head of public policy, Michael Beckerman, testified that TikTok has “no affiliation” with another ByteDance subsidiary, Beijing-based ByteDance Technology, of which the CCP owns a partial stake. Meanwhile, as recently as March of this year, TikTok officials reiterated to our Committee representations they have previously made that all corporate governance decisions are wholly firewalled from their PRC-based parent, ByteDance. Yet according to a recent report from Buzzfeed News, TikTok’s engineering teams ultimately report to ByteDance leadership in the PRC.
A series of national security laws imposed by the CCP, including the 2017 National Intelligence Law and the 2014 Counter-Espionage Law provide extensive and extra-judicial access opportunities for CCP-controlled security services. Under these authorities, the CCP may compel access, regardless of where data is ultimately stored. While TikTok has suggested that migrating to U.S.-based storage from a U.S. cloud service provider alleviates any risk of unauthorized access, these latest revelations raise concerns about the reliability of TikTok representations: since TikTok will ultimately control all access to the cloud-hosted systems, the risk of access to that data by PRC-based engineers (or CCP security services) remains significant in light of the corporate governance irregularities revealed by BuzzFeed News. Moreover, as the recent report makes clear, the majority of TikTok data – including content posted by users as well as their unique IDs– will remain freely accessible to PRC-based ByteDance employees.
In light of repeated misrepresentations by TikTok concerning its data security, data processing, and corporate governance practices, we urge you to act promptly on this matter.
Rep. Ben Cline demands answers from Secretary Buttigieg, Federal Highway Admin on preventing use of infrastructure funds for highway expansion
WASHINGTON – On October 4, 2022, Congressman Ben Cline (R-VA-06) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Acting Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Stephanie Pollack demanding a complete breakdown of how funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) has been used, following reports that FHWA issued guidance that would put projects designated to expand highway capacity at the back of the line for approval.
The letter was co-signed by Congressman Jim Banks (R-IN-03), who is Chairman of the Republican Study Committee, Congressman Cliff Bentz (R-OR-02), Congressman Van Taylor (R-TX-03), Congressman Dan Crenshaw (R-TX-02), Congressman Brian Mast (R-FL-18), and Congressman Randy Weber (R-TX-14).
“During a time of 40-year high inflation, a crippling supply chain, and higher prices of goods and services, the Biden administration is prioritizing infrastructure funds for Green New Deal projects over highway expansion,” said Congressman Cline. “Americans need transparency from this administration to ensure their tax dollars are being properly used.”
“The American people deserve to know if President Biden is using taxpayer dollars to secretly implement liberal green new deal policies. I am glad to partner with Congressman Cline to protect taxpayers and demand transparency from this radical administration,” said Congressman Jim Banks, Republican Study Committee Chairman.
“With families across the country continuing to deal with a supply chain crisis that has kept everything from baby formula to appliances off the shelves, the Biden Administration needs to get their priorities straight by focusing on what matters to the American people instead of wasting more dollars on a radical, far-left agenda,” said Congressman Brian Mast.
“Not only is the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act ridden with Green New Deal priorities, but it does so at the expense of critical, traditional infrastructure such as highway capacity projects. As a result, rural communities dependent on surface transportation bear the brunt. The Biden Administration must be held accountable for this blatant effort to further the left’s climate agenda,” said Congressman Cliff Bentz.
Read the full letter below.
Dear Secretary Buttigieg and Acting Administrator Pollack,
We write today to request an immediate update regarding the impacts of Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) December 2021 guidance on the use of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funding.
The American public already knows that much of the IIJA’s $1 trillion are reserved for projects designed to advance a Green New Deal agenda instead of actual infrastructure, such as the $66 billion in taxpayer giveaways to bloated and incompetent public transit systems, $65 billion to add expensive green energy to the grid, $50 billion for loosely defined “climate resilience”, $21.5 billion for demonstration projects related to intermittent and expensive energy sources, and $7.5 billion for stations to charge expensive electric vehicles, among hundreds of billions in other wasteful spending. What they may not know is, according to the guidance, the Biden administration also intends to hamstring funding that is designated for traditional infrastructure, such as roads and highways, in the name of those liberal goals.
Specifically, the guidance states the FHWA “where permitted by law, [will] require…recipients of Federal highway funding to select projects that improve the condition and safety of existing transportation infrastructure within the right-of-way before advancing projects that add new general purpose travel lanes serving single occupancy vehicles.”1 This policy puts projects that would expand highway capacity at the back of the line for approval and discriminates against communities that rely on surface transportation—rural communities in particular. Further, while the guidance exempts projects favored by green special interests such as bicycle lanes from any further NEPA approvals, it singles out highway capacity projects for “…more scrutiny under NEPA.”
Perhaps most troubling is the fact the Biden administration is intentionally preventing the use of highway funds to expand highway capacity and promote economic growth when it has just driven our nation into a recession and caused record inflation.
We request that the FHWA provide a comprehensive breakdown of funding awarded to date under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Specifically, please provide the total awarded funding for projects that do not add general purpose travel lanes compared with total funding for projects that add general purpose travel lanes. Further, we request a comprehensive list detailing the status of project applications that would add new purpose travel lanes that have yet to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration. Please provide this information by October 20, 2022.
Warner cosponsors legislation to make adoption tax credit fully refundable
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), a member of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Caucus, joined U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and 23 of his Senate colleagues in sponsoring the Adoption Tax Credit Refundability Act – legislation to make the existing federal tax credit for adoption expenses fully refundable and ensure that more families can benefit from this critical support. This legislation aims to support lower-income families that are adopting as well as address the number of children “aging out” of the foster care system.
“Every child deserves a loving and supportive home,” said Sen. Warner. “This legislation will enable more families to claim the adoption tax credit and pave the way for more children to be adopted into safe, stable, caring homes.”
The adoption tax credit was made permanent in the American Taxpayer Relief Act in January 2013. However, that law did not extend the refundability provisions that applied to the adoption tax credit in 2010 and 2011. The Adoption Tax Credit Refundability Act will restore the refundable portion of this critical support for families wishing to adopt.
According to data, Virginia ranks near the bottom of states – 49 out of 50 – when it comes to the percentage of children who “age out” of the foster care system. Virginia also has a higher percentage of older youth in foster care than the nation as a whole. This bill aims to help families seeking to adopt by removing some of the financial constraints families considering adoption face.
Data indicate that a refundable adoption tax credit significantly affects lower-income families’ ability to adopt and support a child from foster care. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, one-third of all adopted children live in families with an annual household income at or below 200 percent of the poverty level. Despite the common misperception that only wealthy families adopt, nearly 46 percent of families adopting from foster care are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Many of these families’ tax burdens are so low that they cannot benefit from the adoption tax credit unless it is refundable.
Warner Weekly Wrap-Up: No Days Off
Happy Friday from the Warner press office! Sen. Warner embodied the “no days off” mentality as the Senate finished up its September business. This week, he traveled to Northern Virginia to make huge announcements for infrastructure projects, voted to keep the government funded, spoke on the Senate floor about his Joint Consolidated Loan Separation Act becoming law, and introduced bills to smooth the rollout of broadband funding, protect election workers, and improve the VA’s ability to invest in veterans facilities.
Let’s get into it:
BUILD (LONG) BRIDGES, NOT WALLS
The bipartisan infrastructure law is bringing major funding and exciting projects to Virginia. Sen. Warner spent the morning announcing $20 million for a Potomac-spanning pedestrian and bicycle bridge that will connect the Mt. Vernon bike trail in Virginia to downtown Washington. This new bridge is a crucial component of the broader Long Bridge project, which will relieve a major passenger and freight rail bottleneck by constructing a new two-track bridge upstream and expanding the existing railroad corridor, which is currently the only rail bridge connecting Virginia to Washington, D.C., from two tracks to four.
Sen. Warner has been a longtime advocate for the $1.9 billion Long Bridge project. In 2020, he passed legislation transferring four acres of land required for the project from the federal government to Virginia and the District of Columbia. Once complete, the rail expansion will double the capacity of the Potomac River crossing and is projected to bring an annual $6 billion in benefits to the region by 2040. Sen. Warner, a key author of the bipartisan infrastructure law, said about the project,
“I am thrilled to announce this new funding for the Long Bridge Pedestrian Crossing project. This $20 million was made possible by the bipartisan infrastructure law I was proud to help write and will help the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority complete a new span across the Potomac dedicated to cyclists and pedestrians. This project is a key component of the broader effort to fix a major rail chokepoint and expand commuter and passenger service over the Potomac River.”
New announcements for projects made possible by the bipartisan infrastructure law are ongoing and will continue for the next decade. In the past week, there have been major announcements for carbon capture projects and historic investments in water infrastructure. Learn more about the huge investments in Virginia through this page on Sen. Warner’s website.
After the Long Bridge event, Sen. Warner heard from more constituents across Northern Virginia at a suicide prevention roundtable, a Hispanic Heritage Month Gala, and several employers across the region.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
Congress voted to keep the lights on this week by passing a continuing resolution that will fund the government through December. This legislation also appropriates funding for several important priorities, including key aid to Ukraine as they fend off Russia’s brutal assault. After passing the bill, Sens. Warner and Kaine said,
“We’re relieved that this legislation will keep the government operating; allow the Food and Drug Administration to continue its review of innovative drugs and medical devices; deliver critical disaster relief funding to Puerto Rico; and send a strong message that the U.S. continues to stand with Ukraine as it defends its sovereignty against the brutal dictatorship of Vladimir Putin. It’s going to take some more time for Congress to finalize the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, and we are going to keep fighting to keep intact the nearly $135 million we secured for Virginia in that budget as the process continues.”
While a shutdown was averted this time, Sen. Warner continues to be an outspoken advocate for reforming the process through which government funding occurs:
RELIEF FOR VICTIMS OF CONSOLIDATED STUDENT LOANS
If you’ve been following this story for awhile now, you may have heard that Sen. Warner’s legislation to free borrowers trapped in exploitative consolidated loans has passed both the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis and is expected to be signed into law by President Biden next week!
Sen. Warner originally introduced this legislation after a constituent named Sara contacted him about a consolidated student loan she was trapped in with an ex-husband who refused to pay. Thousands of borrowers nationally are ensnared in these nightmarish loans, which leave borrowers victim to domestic or financial abuse and with no options for loan relief programs.
This week, Sen. Warner called several borrowers, including Sara, to discuss his progress on the legislation and hear more about their experiences. On Wednesday, he took to the Senate Floor to share the stories of impacted borrowers, celebrate the potential freedom for borrowers, and call for President Biden to sign this into law as quickly as possible.
During the speech, Sen. Warner said,
“I am hopeful that Pres. Biden will sign this into law as soon as possible so that these borrowers can finally experience freedom from financial and domestic abuse… freedom to control their own financial future… and freedom to enjoy the same benefits as other borrowers across the country.”
Sen. Warner is committed to hearing and telling the stories of impacted borrowers like Brigid and Chris to stress the importance of getting this legislation signed as soon as possible.
PROTECTING ELECTION WORKERS: Sen. Warner, a member of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration with oversight over federal elections, is cosponsoring comprehensive legislation to address the rise in threats targeting election workers.
AMPLIFYING BROADBAND: Sen. Warner introduced legislation to amend the Internal Revenue Code to ensure that funding directed for the implementation of broadband from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) will not be considered taxable income.
INVESTING IN VETS: Sen. Warner sponsored the Build, Utilize, Invest, Learn, and Deliver (BUILD) for Veterans Act of 2022 – legislation to strengthen the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) ability to carry out key infrastructure projects, including medical facilities, in order to better care for veterans across the country. Virginia has one of the country’s largest and fastest-growing concentrations of veterans, resulting in increased demand for the services and benefits provided by the VA.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The Senate will be in recess through the month of October. Sen. Warner will be using the time to meet with constituents across Virginia – including some open press events – and to travel internationally with a bipartisan congressional delegation to strengthen relationships with nations in Asia.
Fischer, Warner introduce bipartisan legislation to help Americans protect their savings from inflation
U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Mark Warner (D-VA.) introduced the Savings Security Act on September 27, 2022. The legislation would help the American people protect their savings from changes in inflation by increasing the public’s ability to utilize I Bonds, a type of savings bond created by the U.S. Treasury Department. Series I Savings Bonds were created so consumers could invest their hard-earned savings in something that isn’t hurt by inflation, earns a reasonable rate of return and is backed by the full faith and credit of the federal government.
“The American people are scrambling for ways to protect their earnings from rampant inflation. I Bonds are one option consumers should be able to leverage. Arbitrary purchasing caps on I Bonds, however, are shortchanging the public from better utilizing the program. Our bill would raise the annual purchasing cap to ensure working families can insulate a greater portion of their savings from the pain of sky-high inflation,” said Senator Fischer.
“We need to take an all-encompassing approach to help families facing high costs. In tandem with our inflation-fighting efforts, and intervention from the Federal Reserve, this legislation would allow Americans to better shield their finances from the unpredictability of inflation and offer peace of mind during difficult economic times,” said Senator Warner.
Currently, the Treasury Department caps annual purchases of I Bonds at $15,000 per person per year. The Savings Security Act would require the Treasury Secretary to raise the annual cap to $30,000 per person when the average six-month annual Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers (CPI-U) is above 3.5%. The new purchase limit only applies to families and individuals. Businesses and trusts would not be eligible for the increased cap.
Series I Bonds are a type of savings bond created by the U.S. Treasury. I Bonds earn monthly interest for 30 years, or until the saver cashes out of the bond.
I Bonds were created in 1998 during the Clinton Administration as a financial tool that families can utilize to protect their savings from the negative impacts of high inflation.
The Treasury Department currently caps annual I Bonds purchases at $15,000 per person. That includes $10,000 per person per year in electric I Bonds and an additional $5,000 per year in paper-issued I Bonds purchased through a federal income tax return. The Savings Security Act would require the Treasury Secretary to raise the annual cap to $30,000 per person when the CPI-U exceeds 3.5%. The Savings Security Act does not change the $5,000 per person paper I bond cap.
I-Bonds can only be purchased via Treasurydirect.gov or your federal income tax return.
The annual inflation rate in the United States is 8.3%
Warner & Kaine announce $2 million in federal funding to expand access to substance use prevention & treatment in Luray and Tappahannock
On September 26, 2022, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $2 million in federal funding for the Virginia Rural Health Association in Luray and the Bay Rivers Telehealth Alliance in Tappahannock to expand access to substance use disorder treatment and prevention services. The funding for Luray was awarded through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, and the funding for Tappahannock was awarded through HRSA’s Medication Assisted Treatment Access Program.
In a joint statement, Senator Warner and Kaine said, “The opioid and substance use crisis continues to have a devastating impact on Virginians across the Commonwealth, particularly in communities with limited access to treatment and preventive services. Every Virginian struggling with a substance use disorder deserves critical care and support, and we’re glad this funding will provide greater resources for them.”
The funding will be distributed as follows:
- $1,000,000 for the Virginia Rural Health Association to expand treatment and prevention services for substance use disorders
- $1,000,000 for the Bay Rivers Telehealth Alliance to establish a new medication-assisted treatment access point that will provide medications and support services for individuals with opioid and substance use disorders
Warner and Kaine have long worked to address the opioid and substance use crisis that has impacted communities across Virginia. Last month, Warner and Kaine pressed the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) for additional assistance to combat drug trafficking in the Appalachian region. In March 2021, Warner and Kaine voted to pass the American Rescue Plan, which provided Virginia with nearly $70 million in funding to bolster mental health and substance abuse programs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2018, Kaine was critical in passing a comprehensive bill to address opioid and substance use disorder treatment and prevention. Kaine recently held a roundtable with community leaders in Harrisonburg about the need to provide more support and treatment for Virginians with substance use disorders.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – September 21, 2022
As Congress returned to Washington last week, Americans faced the impacts of one-party rule. The White House resumed its attempts to deceive the American people that inflation is no big deal, that the border is “secure,” and that Green New Deal anti-energy policies are not responsible for rising energy costs. Additionally, my colleagues and I continue to hold the Biden Administration accountable for undermining our military’s readiness because of their failed, unconstitutional policies, such as COVID vaccine mandates and canceling student loan debt. And I was proud to receive an award for my support of small businesses and met with VFW legislative representatives to hear about their priorities in helping Veterans. Lastly, this past week we paid tribute to the more than 81,500 American troops who remain missing from WWII to the Global War on Terror and every American war for freedom in between. We humbly honored those whose debt we can never repay. As the flag outside my Washington office indicates, “You Are Not Forgotten”.
Inflation Rages On, White House Parties
All across the Sixth District, inflation has pummeled the budgets of hardworking Virginians, largely caused by President Biden and House Democrats’ multi-trillion-dollar spending spree. When President Biden took office in January ’21, inflation was 1.6%. Today, it is a shocking 8.3%. The result? Americans’ paychecks are shrinking as prices are rising: groceries +13.5%; electricity +15.8%; fuel oil +68.8%; gas +25.6.%; and rent +6.7%. Worse, a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) showed that under the “Inflation Acceleration Act,” the debt will increase through 2026.
To help address this crisis, I have worked to push numerous pieces of legislation through the House to address inflation and rising energy prices. One example of this legislation is the American Energy Independence from Russia Act. This important bill includes strategies to encourage increased domestic production of crude oil, petroleum products, and natural gas to offset Russian and foreign oil dependency, which would help bring down prices across the board and restore energy independence. In addition, my colleagues and I support a balanced budget that offers reasonable economic and fiscal policies, like keeping tax rates low, consolidating duplicate agencies, devolving responsibility over state programs, and implementing spending cuts to rescue this economy get our fiscal house in order.
“The Border is Secure,” Says VP Harris After 3.2 Million Illegal Crossings
The American people deserve the truth about President Biden’s historic border crisis. From day one, the Biden Administration’s disastrous open border and amnesty policies have made this crisis worse every single day, yet Biden is blind in seeing the chaos at our border. Americans should be outraged by his failed leadership. I’ve been to the southern border and one thing is clear – we need a border wall now. “Border Czar” Kamala Harris said, “the border is secure”. The only thing that’s secure is the cartels’ cash flow from Biden’s Border Crisis.
Fighting for Our Troops and Veterans
Our military is facing the lowest recruitment rates in history, and the Biden Administration is harming our military on multiple levels, from COVID vaccine mandates to student loan forgiveness.
Under Biden’s leadership, his military COVID vaccine mandate is set to kick out over 100,000 servicemembers, jeopardizing our military’s readiness. To address this threat to national security, my colleagues and I signed a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin demanding he ends this disastrous mandate and prioritize the readiness of America’s Armed Forces. Read more here.
Further, the promise of the GI Bill for military service is one of the top reasons individuals join the military. Ending this incentive, at a time when the Armed Services are failing to meet their recruiting goals, will potentially have a detrimental impact on military readiness, and on our Nation’s ability to fight wars and protect the homeland. That’s why I signed a letter with Congressman Pat Fallon (R-PA) and our colleagues to President Biden seeking answers on how cancelling student loan debt will impact military recruitment. Read more here.
Additionally, this week, I was proud to join my colleagues in supporting, in a bipartisan manner, legislation to care for our Veterans. The related bills that passed the House include:
-H.R. 7939 – Student Veteran Emergency Relief Act of 2022, enhances the portability of professional licenses of servicemembers and their spouses, which helps ease the unemployment rate of military spouses that is currently triple the national rate.
-H.R. 7846 – Veterans’ Compensation Cost of Living Adjustment Act of 2022, would increase the amounts paid for certain Veterans disability benefits by the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) used to determine changes to Social Security benefits.
-H.R. 7735 – Improving Access to the VA Home Loan Benefit Act of 2022, directs the VA to update regulations regarding appraisals for VA home loans with the goal of decreasing the time it takes for a VA home loan to be finalized.
-H.R. 5916 – Wounded Warrior Access Act, directs the VA to establish and maintain a website to enable a claimant or their representative to make records requests related to VA claims and benefits.
-H.R. 8260 – Faster Payments to Veterans’ Survivors Act of 2022, shortens the timeframe in which the VA must pay insurance benefits to an alternative beneficiary.
Source: Department of Defense
Pictures from Washington
Last week in Virginia there was an average of 21 daily cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents, up from 20 last week. This week’s COVID-19 test positivity rate was 17%, down from 22% last week. For more information, click here.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Congressman. If my office can ever be of assistance, please contact my Washington office at (202) 225-5431.