Poli Sci Pulse is pleased to welcome you back to our series on “The Unopposed.”This time, we are headed to Alabama’s 7th Congressional District with Democrat Terri Sewell.
The demographics of Alabama’s 7th Congressional District are that 35.5% residents are white, 61.7% are black, and 1.3% are Hispanic. Asians and Native Americans are also residents, but make up under 1% of the total population. The population is 667,721, 53.4% of those having white-collar occupations, 28.6% having blue-collar occupations, and 18% having grey-collar occupations.
In 2014, Terri Sewell ran unopposed. In 2016’s Presidential Election, the majority of Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, voted for Hillary Clinton (D).
The District itself is home to Selma, the keystone of the civil rights movements of the 1960s. Ms Sewell, the Congressional representative, is therefore concerned the most with civil rights, specifically voting rights.
Terri Sewell (D) is the 7th District’s Representative from Alabama. She is on two committees, the House Committee on Financial Services, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Within the House Committee on Financial Services, she sits on the Subcommittees on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises and on Domestic and International Monetary Policy and Trade. Within the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, she is the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on the Department of Defense Intelligence and Overhead Architecture, and is also on the Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligences (T & T).
She is also a member of twenty-one caucuses. The most notable of the twenty-one are the Congressional Black Caucus and the New Democrat Coalition. The Congressional Black Caucus’s aim is to be the “voice for people of color and vulnerable communities in Congress and has been committed to utilizing the full Constitutional power, statutory authority, and financial resources of the Government of the United States of America to ensure that everyone in the United States has an opportunity to achieve their version of the American Dream.” The New Democrat Coalition, on the other hand, is “dedicated to maintaining America’s standing in the world’s strongest, most successful nation,” and believe “firmly in the power of American ingenuity and innovation, and our work is focused on finding ways to foster and harness this creativity so it leads to new American jobs, greater economic prosperity, and a safer and more secure future for our country.”
On Agriculture, Representative Sewell is in favor of wastewater treatment plants and catfish farmers. She procured $1.6 million in “investments” for the 7th District of Alabama for just those things.
On the Appellate Court, Terri Sewell was in favor of President Barack Obama’s nomination of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama judge Abdul Kallon to be a judge on the Eleventh Circuit. He would be the first African-American judge from Alabama to serve on that post, and would also fill a position that was empty for over two years.
She urged her colleagues in the Senate, Senator Shelby and Senator Sessions of Alabama to support the confirmation because “the selection of this nation’s federal judges should not be a partisan issue, but rather we all benefit when candidates are considered based on their qualification, abilities, and character. For the same reasons they supported Judge Kallon’s confirmation in 2009, the Alabama senators should once again support this highly qualified jurist….without a doubt, Judge Kallon will make Alabama and this nation proud for entrusting him with this important judicial responsibility.
On the Budget, she voted in favor of the Fiscal Year 2017 Continuing Resolution (H.R. 5325), which would fund the government through December 9th, 2016, and prevent the need for a government shutdown. On September 28th, 2016, in acknowledging the shortcomings of the bill, “while I had hoped for a long term funding solution, this bill provides vital funding for our military infrastructure, housing, and services for men and women in our Armed Forces and their families. Additionally, this legislation finally answers the call to address the Zika virus health crisis…by better controlling the mosquitoes that spread the Zika virus, developing new prevention tools, including vaccines and better diagnostics to protect Americans from the virus, and conducting crucial research projects needed to better understand the virus’s impact on infants and children.”
In keeping with the philosophy that government shutdowns should be avoided she voted for the Omnibus Appropriations bill on December 18th, 2015 because she believed “That the good contained in this bill outweighs the bad. My vote was case in favor of keeping the government operating…we cannot afford another shutdown and this bill provides the Federal Government with funding through September 30th, 2016.” The Omnibus Appropriations bill provided educational funding for Head Start, aid to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, funding for the Department of the Interior, an increase in funding of the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, and also funded the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program. However, she cautioned, “This is not a perfect bill, but I am proud that both sides f the aisle were able to work out a compromise that benefits our nation and helps us continue to grow.”
Her philosophy has been consistent throughout her career. She voted in favor of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 on October 28th, 2015 and she stated, “Congress cannot continue to govern crisis-by-crisis. Few in Congress want to repeat the costly 2013 government shutdown, and thankfully today’s vote reflected that…while this bill is not a perfect one, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 breaks the sequester stronghold that has stifled our domestic and defense spending priorities.”
However, Ms Sewell believes that such compromises that avoid shutdowns should favor one defense spending over domestic spending. She also voted against the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2016 on October 1st, 2015 because the there was a measure in the NDAA that “circumvents sequestration funding caps by authorizing billions more than requested to the Defense overseas contingency operations account, and ten using this surplus as a slush fund. This approach to budgeting overcompensates defense spending at the expense of essential domestic programs that are the lifeline for the people I represent,” and further noted that the bill would likely be vetoed by President Obama.
She also believes that tax extensions should not be permanent at the expense of her constituents. She voted against the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 on December 17, 2015. She stated, “while I support a strong tax policy that provides certainty to individuals and American businesses, the permanency of many of these provisions without any offsets to fund their costs is up deep concern. This legislation includes several provisions that I strong support like the earned income tax credit, the child tax credit, and the American opportunity tax credit…however, I am deeply concerned that passing this tax extenders packages without offsetting its cost would greatly undermine our ability to make key discretionary investments in the future, hurt job creation, and lessen opportunities that make the American dream possible for millions of families across our great nation…we know that every dollar in lost revenue must be made up somewhere else in the budget. Far too often my Republican colleagues have sought to do this by reducing spending in critically important domestic spending programs such as infrastructure, education, social security, and healthcare.”
She is, however, in favor of current tax provisions as they pertain to timberland forests. On June 3rd, 2015, she authored a letter with eighty other Representatives to the House Ways and Means chairman at the time, Paul Ryan (R-WI) as well as to Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI). Her accompanying statement, in part, was that “we urge the leadership of the House Ways and Means Committee to recognize the importance of our private forests by preserving existing timberland tax provisions in any tax reform package. These provisions are critical in order to help retain the 2.4 million jobs and $102 billion annually our forests contribute to the national economy.”
Ms Sewell’s ideal budget would contain provisions for workforce development. On April 14th, 2015, she, along with Representative Bradley Byrne (D-AL), reintroduced the Workforce Development Tax Credit Act. This Act would provide employers tax credits to employers that establishment “apprenticeship programs” at their enterprises. When introducing this bill, she stated, “A strong manufacturing sector is crucial for our nation’s economic growth and prosperity…emphasizing skills training will enable our country to maintain its competitive edge, and help bring more Americans into the middle class.” The Alabamian Representative also secured a $368,000 Grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to provide training, preparation, and recruitment of automotive industry workers from Alabama.
Working Families factor in her agenda as well, and she wants them to get as much help as they can get. On April 14th, 2015, she introduced the Helping Working Families Afford Child Care Act of 2015. The act would essentially increase the eligible child care expenses for tax deductions from $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more children to $8,000 and $16,000 respectively. She also wanted increase tax credits from $2,800 to $5,600, depending on how many children were in the family. On introducing the bill, Ms Sewell stated in part, “The Helping Working Families Afford Child Care Act would make child care more affordable for millions of working parents by increasing child care tax credits and making the credit fully refundable for low-income families. Expanding child care tax credits will boost our economy, and provide working parents with the security they need to care for their families.”
Ms Sewell liked the President’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget. The Representative from Alabama stated, “The President recognizes that prosperity must be shared, rather than concentrated in the hands of a select few. His Fiscal Year 2016 Budget reflects his commitment to helping the poor, protecting our national security, and preserving historical sites while reducing our deficit responsibly. I urge my colleagues in Congress to carefully consider the President’s Budget and to work with the Administration to implement the President’s initiatives to create ladders of opportunities.”
On Civil Rights, Ms Sewell wants to stop gun violence. She was in favor of President Obama’s executive actions on gun control as a result. On January 5th, 2016, following the his signing of a series of executive orders on gun control, she stated, “Effective policies should make it harder for criminals and those with a history of serious mental illness to obtain a gun, but such policies cannot restrict a law-abiding citizens right to bear arms. Unfortunately, Congress has repeatedly failed to pass gun safety measures that would protect our communities while defending responsible gun ownership. I am a strong defender of the Second Amendment, however, the status quo is not working and we cannot stand by and do nothing while mass killings continue to occur in America. In the face of Congressional inaction, President Obama has announced a series of common sense measure such as closing the gun show loophole, increasing mental health treatment, and mandatory dealer reporting on stolen firearms — all measures that will make our communities safer.”
After the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Ms. Sewell joined the sit-in on the House floor, hoping to force a vote on gun laws. On June 22, 2016, she stated, “Congress has repeatedly failed to pass gun safety measures that would protect our communities while preserving the rights of responsible gun owners…I believe that strengthening background checks, eliminating gun show loopholes, and preventing potential terrorists from acquiring assault weapons will not limit the rights of lawful gun owners to protect and defend themselves. Make no mistake; this is not an attempt to take guns away from law-abiding citizens – these are common sense gun safety measures….It’s time for Congress to act…We cannot continue to mourn these tragedies without doing all we can to prevent them.”
Following the shootings in Dallas, TX, Falcon Heights, MN, and Baton Rouge, LA, on July 8th, 2016, she stated in part, “In is unacceptable for police officers to have shot Alton Sterling, a subdued man, at point blank range. It is unacceptable for an officer to shoot Philando Castille in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, as he complied with the procedure for alerting the officers of his license to carry. It is also unacceptable for an armed man to use a peaceful protest to carry out his agenda and murder five innocent Dallas police officers and injuring seven others. It is more than frustrating to imagine a nation with individuals who have such little regard for the sanctity of human life…senseless killings are just that – senseless. Regardless of race or occupation, this must stop.”
The Congresswoman from Alabama also reacted strongly to the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. On June 18th, 2015, she stated in part, “I am deeply saddened by the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine innocent people lost their lives in an unspeakable hate crime, and I mourn for their loss alongside our nation…hatred and violence are never the answer…we must respect our differences, and promote love and understanding over hatred and violence.”
She also admires civil rights history. On March 22nd, 2016, she introduced H.R. 4817, which would designate Birmingham’s Historic Civil Rights District as a National Park. To mark the occasion, she stated, “I am proud to introduce this important, bi-partisan [sic] legislation that incorporates Birmingham’s Historic Civil Rights sites into the National Park System…The Historic Civil Rights District in Birmingham holds many stories of the journey from what was regarded as one of the most segregated cities in the South to what Birmingham is today…the Birmingham Civil Rights District will include 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, A.G. Gaston Motel and other historic landmarks.”
Continuing with this philosophy, Representative Sewell had an amendment adopted into the 2016 House Appropriations bill that would provide an additional $7 million to rehabilitate historic buildings, document and preserve civil rights history, and will go to competitive grants under the Historic Preservation Fund. Her statement on this read in part, “it is our obligation to preserve these sites for future generations.”
Ms Sewell voiced her objection to the renaming of the Edmund Pettus Bridge on June 4th, 2015, believing that the “historical irony” – that a bridge named after a Klansman would host a civil rights march (the Selma bridge march) — must be preserved. As she said in a joint statement with State Representative Darrio Melton, “Changing the bridge would change the course of history and compromise the historical integrity of the voting rights movement. As inheritors of the legacy surrounding the historical events that took place in Selma, we must safeguard that history – good and bad and resist attempts to rewrite it.”
Terri Sewell’s admiration for the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement has been evident throughout her career. On March 18th, 2015, Ms Sewell was pleased that President Obama signed H.R. 431 into law, which awarded the Foot Soldiers of Civil Rights movement the Congressional Gold Medal. In congratulating President Obama for signing the law, Ms Sewell stated, “History was made in my hometown when 600 brave men and women first attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery in pursuit of equal voting rights. Blood Sunday shook the core of our national consciousness and forced our country to explore the depths of our own humanity….undeterred and undaunted, more marchers heeded Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to come to Selma and join the movement for voting equality…the Congressional Gold medal is a great reminder of the power of ordinary Americans to collectively achieve extraordinary social change. Their stories and courage should not be lost on the pages of American history.”
Additionally, partnership with Alabama State University, Miles College, and the University of Alabama, she launched an Oral History Project, whose goal was to “preserve the legacies of the brave men and women who took part in the marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965” and would “preserve the story of America’s Civil Rights District.”
Ms Sewell also recognizes that judges play a part in modern-day civil rights, On May 29th, 2015, Judge Mark Fuller, who had been in trouble for beating his wife in an Atlanta hotel room, finally resigned from the court. Ms Sewell lamented that “his resignation will be the culmination of a drawn out process that was woefully unnecessary. The public trust was violated the moment his wife phoned the police. Justice was not served. We sent the wrong message to victims of domestic violence by allowing a federal judge to collect a paycheck…and ultimately having his record expunged….perhaps the only consolation is that he has chosen to spare his family and our nation of the expense of a drawn out impeachment process.” Judge Fuller’s punishment for inflicting harm on the very citizens he promised to protect was much too light for the Alabamian’s tastes.
Ms. Sewell also recognizes the important part that police officers play in civil rights. She released a statement on July 14th, 2015. It stated that she was concerned by the death of Anthony Dewayne Ware, who died after being pepper sprayed as part of his arrest by Tuscaloosa police. The statement read in part, “I have been in contact with local authorities to ensure that this case receives a thorough review and investigation. I join the community’s call for transparency and swift communication as we seek to learn more about the details surrounding the case. It is my hope that the video footage of the arrest and the autopsy report will shed new light on this horrible tragedy. [I] will continue to monitor new developments.”
On March 2nd, 2016, she released a statement regarding Greg Gunn, who had recently been shot by a Montgomery Police Officer: “…I have been in contact with local authorities to ensure that this case receives a thorough review and investigation. Now that a murder warrant has been issued in Mr. Gunn’s death, and the officer has been arrested and charged, we seek to have justice be fair and swift for the family, the community and all those struggling with this tragic incident.” Ms Sewell reasons that if we cannot trust the very people who are sworn to protect Americans’ civil rights, then society has failed its citizens.
Gay rights are part of Ms Sewell’s civil rights agenda.She was pleased that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of “marriage equality” on June 26th, 2015. Her philosophy on this subject is that “marriage licenses are an instrument if the state, and every person should have the rights afforded to all unions sanctioned by the state. This decision positively upholds the equal dignity of all Americans to enter and have the same rights afforded to every union of marriage.”
Women’s rights also factor largely in her agenda. Congresswoman Sewell is in favor of Equal Pay for Women. To mark Equal Pay Day, she stated, “it is unacceptable that in this modern society, women do not receive equal pay for equal work. Women currently make 79 cents for every dollar men make for equal work…we are grateful for the progress of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act signed into law by President Obama which helped us to move towards the goal of fair wages for women; however, the current data reveals an ongoing problem. The wage gap is even more severe for women of color with African American women only earning 60 cents and Hispanic women 54 cents for every dollar men earn. If this social inequality continues, women will not receive fairness through equal pay until 2058….if a man works and earns a dollar, fairness requires a women to receive a dollar and not 79 cents for doing the same work.”
Prisoners’ rights are also part of her civil rights agenda. On May 5th, 2015, Ms Sewell wrote a letter to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the US Attorney General to advocate for the compassionate release from jail of former Birmingham Mayor Larry Lankford due to his failing health and that he “poses no threat to our community.” Larry Langford was currently serving a 15-year jail sentence for a guilty verdict on 60 counts of corruption.
Consumer Rights are also part of her civil rights agenda, As such, Ms Sewell voted against the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2017 because “ this legislation as drafted would not only undermine these efforts but would also seriously weaken critical consumer protections in Dodd-Frank, undercut the Affordable Care Act, and severely underfund critical financial regulatory agencies…my Republican colleagues have once again chosen to potentially place the stability of our financial markets at risk by pushing through legislation filled with harmful and unnecessary poison pill riders. Republicans refused to accept my common sense amendment which would have struck dangerous language from the underlying bill that prohibits funds from being used by the CFPB to enforce any regulations or rules with respect to payday loans, vehicle title loans, or other similar predatory loans”
Ms Sewell believes that payday lenders violate consumers’ rights. On June 2nd, 2016, she stated that she was in favor of proposed regulations on payday lenders to be imposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). “Today,” the statement said in part, “I joined with Southern Poverty Law Center and other Alabama stakeholders to support efforts by the CFPB to propose new federal rules to rein in payday lenders who prey on millions of Americans that fall victim to the cycle of debt…the CFPB’s proposed rules as announced today would require lenders to offer affordable loan payments based on income and personal expense….[and] require lower costs and reasonable duration of time to repay loans. The….rules have bipartisan support and empower consumers to make better financial decisions for themselves.”
She also spoke from the House floor about the need to reform and regulate the payday lending industries on April 16th, 2015. Spurred on by the President’s visit to Birmingham, Ms Sewell noted that he had said that there were “more payday lenders than there were McDonald’s.” She went on to so that payday lenders disproportionately affect African Americans or Latinos, and often left their borrowers “trapped in a cycle of debt.” She said that she had plans to lay out regulations to protect consumers from the predatory practices of payday lenders. After all, she said, those trapped in cycles of debt are her “constituents, and not this industry’s prey.”
The Representative from Alabama wants more people to be able to buy homes. She is favor of The Credit Score Competition Act of 2015. This Act would enable Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to use alternative credit scoring models, such as whether a borrower has made payments on time in the past, in determining consumer worthiness for loans. On December 10th, 2015, she stated in support of her bill that, “it is my hope that this critically important legislation will help make homeownership a reality for many of the hard-working men and women living in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.”
On Defense, Ms Sewell values the intelligence community. The House Intelligence Committee unanimously passed the Fiscal Year 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA). She voted for it because “our national security is truly a bipartisan issue, and this legislation is a reflection of both parties’ shared commitment to the safety and security of all Americans…additionally, this legislation takes important steps toward enhancing thorough oversight of our surveillance capabilities while continuing to make calculated investments to critically important strategic efforts…in the IAA we invested in our greatest national security resource — our people. By accepting provisions that I drafted to promote diversity in the IC workforce, we are now able to provide a summer internship program to students from the existing Centers of academic excellence….I was also successful in including bipartisan language that promotes accountability and transparency in all IC federally-funding academic programs by requiring agencies to report on their recruitment and retention efforts.”
Ms Sewell also believes that the United States of America’s intelligence community is lacking in diversity. In response to President Obama’s plan, which would promote racial diversity in the National Security intelligence community, on October 5, 2016, Representative Sewell stated, “as the only African American female Member of the House Intelligence Committee, increasing diversity in the intelligence community is quite personal to me…I applaud President Obama’s White House initiative in providing critically important guidance and policies than can help promote and encourage diversity and inclusion in the national security workforce… the reality is that minorities make up only about 35% of the total federal workforce while in the Intelligence Community – minorities total a mere 25%…America’s workforce should look like America, and this includes the National Security Community.”
She is also very much in favor of cyber security. The Representative from Alabama voted for the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, which subsequently passed out of the House. The bill called for, among other provisions, a requirement that required both the private sector and the government to eliminate all personal information before sharing it. She is concerned about cyber security because “there has been a sharp increase in the number of cyberattacks that jeopardize our sensitive personal and financial information, hurt our economy, or threaten our national security. This bill addresses this emerging threat by creating an environment where companies voluntarily share information with each other and the federal government without compromising the privacy of American citizens…increasing coordination with federal agencies helps improve the government’s ability to protect our nation against foreign cyber threats.”
The Alabamian Representative believes that military members should be treated with the respect and dignity she feels they deserve. In following this philosophy, she voted against the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2017. This was because “while I am very supportive of the bill’s 2.1% pay increase for military personnel and new protections for victims of military sexual assaults, unfortunately the legislation also contains a provision which would remove overtime wage protection, making these military employees susceptible to gender or age discrimination, and put those same employees’ health and safety at risk. Additionally, the bill as drafted significantly reduces funding efforts to serve our frontline troops fighting against terrorist groups such as ISIS by nearly $18 billion and redirects these funds to non-war related “base budget” [sic] that have not been requested by the Pentagon.” She further noted that President Obama stated that he would veto the bill.
On the Economy, Ms Sewell acknowledges that small businesses are a key part of America’s economy. She re-introduced the Small Business Start-Up Savings Account Act of 2016, which would allow entrepreneurs to contribute up to $10,000 per year to a tax-free account, limited to $150,000 in tax-free dollars. She was in favor of this bill because “small businesses are the strongest economic engine in this country and the backbone of our economy. It is critically important that as our economy continues to recover, we encourage and promote entrepreneurship and the creation of jobs for millions of Americans….once an individual decides to open a small business, funds in the account can be used for qualified expenses, such as equipment, facilities, marketing, legal fees, and other capital and operating expenses.”
Ms Sewell believes that U.S. Steel is key to the Alabamian economy. In January of 2015, U.S. Steel temporarily laid off workers at a factory in her district. On January 26th, 2015, she stated, in part, “I am concerned about the workers and families who depend on these critically important jobs to make ends meet….U.S. Steel is an integral part of our local and regional economy, and I am proud to stand with members of the United Steelworkers. Congress must do more to help companies like U.S. Steel and others in the manufacturing sector grow and create more jobs for Americans.
In March of 2016, U.S. Steel announced that it was downsizing the U.S. Steel Tubular Operations and Fairfield Works Plan. On March 19th, 2016, she stated in response, “I am very disheartened by U.S. Steel’s announcement that the Tubular Operations and Fairfield Works plan will see furth layoffs at its Fairfield, Alabama facility… while my hope is that this reduction will only be temporary, it is imperative that we work together to minimize the impact of these layoffs on the lives of this hardworking men and women. U.S. Steel is an integral part of our local and regional economy, and I am proud to stand with union members of the United Steelworkers as we work to assist workers affected by this announcement…I pledge to continue to do my part to sponsor legislation that will make it easier for the American Steel industry to enforce anti-dumping efforts by foreign steel companies.”
On Education, Ms. Sewell is against the Student Success Act. On July 8th, 2015, she released a statement in which she denounced the Act, calling it a “Reverse-Robin Hood Approach to Educational Funding.” The argument that she made was that the Act would divert Title I funds away from poor districts, which is where 70% of the students in Ms Sewell’s district lived, and send funds from those schools to those in wealthier communities. She concluded her statement by saying that the Act “neglects our sacred responsibility to ensure all children – regardless of race, socioeconomic class, or disability – are given the same opportunity to obtain a high-quality, public education. This [sic] methodology contained in this bill is backwards, and our children deserve so much better.”
She was also named the Vice Chair of the Congressional Historical Black Colleges and Universities Caucus on April 29th, 2015. She believes that these learning institution have “fostered a generation of African American professionals who would have otherwise be denied and education due to segregation.” The stated goal of the caucus is to “promote and protect the interests of HBCUs by creating a national dialogue, educating Member of Congress and their staffs about the issues impacting HBCUs, drafting meaningful bipartisan legislation to address the needs of HBCUs, and supporting students and graduates of HBCUs by increasing access and career opportunities.” There were 8 Republicans and 21 Democrats on this caucus as of April 29th, 2015.
She voted for the Every Student Succeeds Act, which would reduce standardized testing and give teachers more flexibility in their teaching methods. To support her decision, on December 2nd, 2015, she stated, “The Every Student Succeeds Act is a promising improvement over current law as this bill protects the millions of minority, disabled, and disadvantaged students we were sent here to represent.”
On Energy, Ms Sewell voted to approve the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. In a statement, she said in part, “After much deliberation, I voted in favor of constructing the Keystone XL Pipeline to strengthen our economy and create more jobs in Alabama and across this nation. Keystone XL will create thousands of constructions jobs…I am confident that the hardworking men and women in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District and their families will enthusiastically welcome these skilled and well-paying construction and manufacturing jobs. My vote for Keystone does not…undermine my commitment to protecting our environment, but rather affirms my belief that a responsible, all of the above energy strategy is the best approach to achieving true energy independence while spurring critical job creation.” She also mentioned that there were various organizations that supported Keystone XL, which included U.S. Steel Fairfield Works and Fairfield Tubular Operations, Vulcan Materials Company, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the North America Building Trades Unions, the National Electrical Contractors Association, and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.
On Foreign Policy, Ms Sewell was appalled by the terrorist attack in Turkey’s Istanbul Airport. On June 29th, 2016, she stated, “I offer my deepest sympathy to the victims of the horrific terror attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport. Americans stands [sic] together with the people of Turkey and share in the sorrows of, yet stand steadfastly by, the families of those who lost loved ones and pray for all those injured in this heinous attack…incidents like these remind us that we must remain ever vigilant in defeating terrorism and protecting Americans from threats and attacks both domestically and abroad.”
She was also in favor of the Iranian nuclear deal. She released a statement on the Nuclear Agreement with Iran on July 14, 2015. It read in part, “I commend the efforts of President Obama, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Moritz and their team in securing a diplomatic agreement with Iran on its nuclear program.” However, she was cautious as to how she would proceed. The statement further notes, “to be sure, it is not in the interest of the United States or its allies for Iran to ever develop a nuclear weapon. I agree with President Obama that no deal is better than a bad deal and it is through this prism that I will thoroughly review and evaluate this agreement…we must remain ever vigilant in our just insistence that Iran never reaches nuclear capability.”
Ms Sewell also “strongly disagreed” with John Boehner’s unilateral invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to both chambers of Congress. Despite this, she still intended to attend because she was on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and it was relevant to her job. She did, however, hope that “today’s speech does not set a precedent, and that the Speaker works more closely with the Administration to ensure” that unilateral invitations, such as this one, “does not happen again.”
On Health Care, she recognizes the importance of rural hospitals. along with Representative Cresent Hardy of Nevada, Ms. Sewell introduced the bipartisan Rural Hospital and Long Term Health (HEALTH) Act. According to her press release on April 29th, 2016, the bill is “designed to reauthorize the State Office of Rural Health Program, adjust the USDA Communities Facilities Grant Program to increase the maximum grant award to hospitals, and direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to submit an annual report to Congress on the state of our nation’s rural health service.” To support the bill, she stated, “ The Alabama State Office of Rural Health (ASORH) provides critical State and Federal resources to develop long-term solutions for residents of our most rural and vulnerable communities. ASORH’s recent collaboration with the Veterans Administration to provide mental health care to rural Veterans through telehealth is just one example of our our state reorganization is an outstanding steward f the federal funding provided through the State Offices of Rural Health Program. As more rural hospitals are being forced to shut their doors and rural health services are being cut, it is my hope Congress will respond by making the revitalization of America’s rural health care infrastructure a top priority and pass the Rural HEALTH Act.”
Terri Sewell also co-introduced the Medicare Hospital Payments Act of 2016 (H.R. 4428) along with Representative Diane Black (R-TN), which would increase Medical reimbursements for rural hospital in states with large rural populations. “When rural hospitals struggle,” the Alabamian Representative said, “entire communities suffer…the current reimbursement system is skewed in favor of hospitals serving the healthiest and wealthiest parts of our country. Whenever I visit hospitals in the district, hospital administrators cite reimbursement disparities as one of their top concerns. [This bill] would reverse this trend and increase reimbursements for hospitals in 158 Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) nationwide.” All Representatives from Alabama, Tennessee, and Arkansas already had signed on to the bill as of when she made that statement.
Ms. Sewell secured a $2.7 million grant for the Baptist Health System as well as a $834,000 grant for the University of Alabama at Birmingham October 2nd, 2015. The grant for the Baptist Health System was part of the Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative, and will “assist physicians in transitioning from a volume based model of care to a more patient-centered approach…improving the quality of care will empower patients to make stronger choices for themselves and their families.” The grant to the University of Alabama at Birmingham came from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and would go to “research related to high blood pressure in low-income, minority and rural communities.”
She is also a staunch supporter of Medicaid. Ms. Sewell expressed “disappointment” with Alabama State’s House for voting to cut Medicaid. Disappointment was an understatement. In her reaction on August 6th, 2015, she stated, “I am outraged that the Alabama State House of Representative cut $156 million from the Alabama Medicaid Agency…the impact on Children’s Hospital, rural hospitals and nursing homes would be devastating, if not fatal…lawmakers should urge the governor to expand Medicaid. The decision not to…will cost the state $3.63 billion in federal funding, 15,100 jobs, and $2.6 billion in increased economic activity through 2017….I am hopeful that…both chambers will come to an agreement on a budget that isn’t balanced on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.”
She voted for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act. Once it passed the House with 392 votes, Ms Sewell stated that “this bipartisan agreement is a permanent fix to Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), which determines physician reimbursement rates, and ensures that our nation’s most vulnerable populations continue to have access to quality, essential healthcare and medical services….while I had hoped for a longer extension, the bill does include a two-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), providing continued affordable coverage for the families who depend on this vital program.”
She is a supporter of the ACA/Obamacare. Ms. Sewell also lauded the Supreme Court’s decision that upheld Obamacare’s subsidies. To mark the decision, on June 25th, 2015, she stated in part, “this lawsuit was just another costly attempt to unravel the ACA, and to deny health coverage to the people who most need it…It’s time to put an end to these pointless lawsuits that undermine this monumental law,”
On Hillary Clinton, Ms Sewell commended FBI director James Comey’s initial investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) private email server. On July 5th, 2016, she stated, “I commend the FBI on the thoroughness of its investigation, which concluded that the actions of Secretary Clinton and hr staff were careless but not criminal – and recommended that no charges should be filed…today’s announcement underscores that, although the mistake was serious, it was no more than that. Director Comey said that no reasonable prosecutor would bring a case under the circumstances…though it wasn’t the Bureau’s focus, its review of nevertheless did reveal deficiencies in the State Department’s culture regarding the communication of sensitive information”
Ms Sewell was also outraged by the House Benghazi Committee’s findings and its overall conduct. On June 28th, 2016, she stated, “After 2 years and spending nearly $7 million in taxpayer dollars, the Republican’s Benghazi report confirmed what we already knew, that our brave men and women in Benghazi did their jobs to the best of their ability and there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by the [Obama] Administration. The report of the Republican-led House select committee on Benghazi, like the 8 other comprehensive investigations…ultimately proved to be a misguided attempt by Republicans to use this national tragedy as a political attack…As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I was particularly concerned by the characterization in the Benghazi report of certain early intelligence assessments of the attack as ‘new revelations…’ I now call upon my Republican colleagues to accept the facts and disband this partisan attack committee so this nation and the families impacted can heal.”
On Housing, she”s secured building revitalization funds. On June 30th, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a $3.7 million loan award to the City of Birmingham’s Powell School Building to revitalize it by converting the vacant building into apartments. To mark the occasion, the Representative stated, “this project will create opportunities for economic development and much need attention to the area.” In short, the purpose of this loan was to cure a blighted structure in the area.
Ms Sewell was very pleased that the Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act passed the House on April 14th, 2015. This bill, if signed into law, would “preserve critical access to financing for manufactured homes for low-income and rural families.” The bill corrected a provision in the Dodd Frank Act that opened up the ability for “lenders to meet the demand for affordable, responsible mortgage loans for manufactured homes while preserving important consumer protections…without this bill, working families and retirees with limited credit or fixed incomes will be forced into more expensive housing options.”
On Immigration, Ms Sewell was dismayed at the Supreme Court 4-4 ruling on then-President Obama’s executive action, referred to by Republicans as the “illegal amnesty” order. On June 25, 2016, she stated, “I am deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court was unable to resolve the United States vs. Texas case on the President’s Immigration Executive Actions… everyday [sic] Congress fails to pass immigration reform, the lives of millions of Americans, including thousands of Alabamians, hang in the balance…We are failing the American people by not doing our job!”
Representative Sewell has voted in favor of the American SAFE Act of 2015 on November 19th, 2015. This bill, should it pass into law, would reform the Syrian and Iraqi refugee screening process by “prohibiting refugees from Syria and Iraq from being admitted into the United States without a more comprehensive background check and by adding government certification to our already robust security screening protocol.” She said further adding, “my vote today is reflective of the fact that there are no perfect or easy solutions to the challenges we face in fighting terrorism and combating ISIS.”
On the Supreme Court, Ms Sewell believed that Congress should have considered Merrick Garland to be the Supreme Court Justice replacement for Antonin Scalia. On March 16, 2016, she stated, “…President Obama has nominated a qualified jurist to the United States Supreme Court Merrick Garland is a highly qualified jurist on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and is deserving of a confirmation hearing from the Senate. America expects the United States Senate to do its job and give the President’s nominee fair consideration and a timely vote. Our democracy demands that our leaders lead and do their jobs — the American people deserve no less.”
When Justice Antonin Scalia died, on February 23rd, 2016, she stated, “I join with my congressional colleagues and President Obama in expressing my condolences on the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends and this time of mourning. While I have not agreed with his legal philosophy and rationale in many cases, there is no denying that Justice Scalia is one of the most consequential legal scholars of our generation…Scalia’s love for for the law and fundamental belief in the Constitution was well known. This is why it was so disheartening that Senate Republicans have already stated their unwillingness to carry out their Constitutional duties of vetting and confirming ‘any’ nominee offered by President Obama.”
On Trade, Ms Sewell acknowledges that American companies need to be protected from unfair trade practices. The Alabamian Congresswoman voted for the conference report of the Trade Facilitation and and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015o n December 11, 2015. On that day, she stated, “The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act will help protect American industries, particularly steel, from unfair trade practices and give them the necessary tools to seek timely and effective remedies….today’s vote sends a clear message to our foreign trading partners that the United States will no longer tolerate the evasion of lawfully owed duties. In addition, this bill ends the import of goods made from child and forced labor, increases de minimis customs thresholds, establishes and funds the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center while will assist agencies in coordinating efforts to eliminates [sic] trade loopholes, strengthens the Treasury’s evaluation of currency manipulators, and creates the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) Program to help small businesses reach new markets.”
Ms Sewell also voted in favor of giving President Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), otherwise known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). In casting her vote, she stated, “President Obama has our backs, and we should have his,” and then added that she believed Congress should also reauthorize the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) provision, which she believed “went hand in hand” with the TPA.
On Transportation, on October 26, 2015, Ms Sewell secured a $20 million transit grant for the city of Birmingham. This money would be used for a “15-mile Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project which will connect 25 West and East Birmingham neighborhoods that are primarily low-income, communities of color.” To mark the day, Representative Sewell said, “this project will help us create more economic opportunity for underserved communities and contribute to the success of the Birmingham World Games in 2021.”
Representative Sewell wants to restore American infrastructure. She voted for passage of the DRIVE Act on November 5th, 2015. This Act would reauthorize the Highway Trust Fund and the Export Import Bank. To mark this occasion, Ms. Sewell said, “while this bill is not perfect, today’s vote for the DRIVE Act was certainly a step in the right direction towards providing critical investments in infrastructure maintenance and development…this bill contains important provisions that would promote minority- and women-owned small businesses [,] boost recruitment and training of transit workers…[and] promote the goal of improving transportation efficiency and safety by providing Congress with the critical information and data to enhance the safety…[of] vulnerable members of our community.”
The Representative finally got what she wanted she voted for the passage for the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act). She stated, “by making smart strategic investments in our aging infrastructure, Congress will create more good-paying jobs for Americans. In order to continue to compete in today’s global economy we must have a first class transportation system that creates jobs, attracts industry, and enables American companies to better transport goods….I am pleased that this bill provides $28 billion in much needed funding to repair and maintain our nation’s highway, transit, and transportation safety programs over the next five years. This bill also reauthorizes the critically important Export-Import Bank for four years.
On Voting Rights, Ms Sewell was in favor of the unanimous Supreme Court ruling in Evenwel v. Abbott that upheld the principle that all citizens must count towards the population when redistricting, and must include “ineligible voter.” According to the Representative from Alabama, “The Supreme Court’s refusal to change the way state and municipal districts are drawn and upholding representatives based on total population truly affirmed our nation’s brand as a democratic society. The Justices of the Supreme Court delivered a strong singular statement that being ineligible to vote doesn’t make one invisible…[the] decision makes it clear that all people matter and all people should be counted. We are always more powerful united than divided and we all must continue to support equal representation and full protection of voting rights for all Americans.”
She believes that the Supreme Court that struck down portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 can be revitalized. She has proposed a bill named the Voting Rights Amendment Act to rectify the 1965 Act decision and restore voting rights enforcement. The bill was introduced on June 24, 2015, and includes formulaic provisions “based on current conditions” that would subject the voting laws of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona, New York, and Virginia to detailed scrutiny. It would also allow provisions for states to be added to the list of scrutinization as well as for keeping voters informed. The Attorney General could could also request federal observers for an election. The most interesting provision, however, is one that allows courts to issue an injunction to halt the implementation of a law at the beginning of trial and before the decision was made, rather than after.
She also signed a discharge petition to force an immediate vote on the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015. In her statement, she noted that it had been three years since the “Shelby County v. Holder decision by the Supreme Court that struck down a key component of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that identified and attacked discrimination before it occurred.” She further noted that “actions speak louder than words. If House Republicans claim to support voting rights, their words must be manifested through their actions and votes. We must not continue to drag our feet on this serious issue….American represents the greatest democracy in the world. How can we claim that title when the the path to the ballot box continues to be obstructed by restrictive laws that make voting harder and not easier for eligible voters?…Congress has an obligation and the responsibility to address the threat to free and fair access to the polls through federal legislation to restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. I call on House Republican leadership to allow an immediate vote on the bipartisan Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015.” The bill passed the Senate, but stalled in the House
She has launched the #RestoreTheV.O.T.E., or the “Restore the Voices of the Excluded” movement. This movement is a national legislative effort to enhance support of the Voting Rights Amendment, which would completely restore, and further improve on, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. To commemorate this event, she stated, “to restrict the ability of any American to vote is an assault on the rights of all Americans to equally participate in the electoral process. My hope is that…we gain grassroots support for restoring the right of every American to vote.”
Ms Sewell opposes requiring proof of citizenship in order to be able to vote and other ID requirements. On July 1st, 2016, in response to Judge Richard Leon’s refusal to overturn the policy of allowing an elections official to change proof-of-citizenship requirement on voter registration forms, she stated, “Today’s ruling marks another example of restrictive efforts to suppress the vote of eligible voters under the guise of circumventing voter fraud….it is critically important that we recognize and defend against any attempts to create modern day barriers to the ballot box that disenfranchise the most vulnerable members of our community…we should be working to ensure that every American is able to exercise their constitutionally protected right.”
She was also against North Carolina’s “onerous voter ID law,” and was very pleased when the 4th Circuit Court decided to invalidate these laws. On July 30th, 2016, Ms Sewell stated, “as a strong advocate for equal access to the ballot box, I have been a vocal opponent of voter photo ID laws because of their discriminator impact on certain vulnerable communities. The court ruling expressly validates this concern by finding that the new provisions in the North Carolina voting law ‘target African Americans with almost surgical precision.’ Likewise, the court panel noted the state’s motivation of reducing fraud ‘impost cures for problems that did not exist.’ The 4th Circuit’s decision is consistent with other findings by courts in Texas and Wisconsin, which also note that voters, particularly in minority communities, would be adversely harmed by changes to voting rights laws in those states….as the 2016 Presidential Election cycle continues, it is critically important that we recognize and defend against any attempts to create modern day barriers to the ballot box that disenfranchise the most vulnerable members of our community. Instead of making voting more difficult…we should all strive to ensure that our right to vote is fair and inclusive for all citizens. As such, the recent ruling in North Carolina sets a very important precedent.”
In a reaction to the closure of several DMV offices in Alabama, which Representative Sewell saw as a violation of the National Voter Registration Act, on October 23rd, 2015, she stated, “Alabama’s noncompliance with the National Voter Registration Act coupled with the limited access to DMV offices is further proof of the dire need to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Shame on Alabama for not living up to the promise of equal access to the ballot box. We must make voter registration easier and protect the vote, rather than suppress it.” This was a reaction to the Department of Justice’s threat to the State of Alabama to sue it for noncompliance with the National Voter Registration Act.”
On December 2nd, 2015, Ms. Sewell stated that she was in favor of the Greater Birmingham Ministries and Alabama NAACP lawsuit against Alabama’s voter photo ID law, which she said was a reminder of the state’s “Jim Crow past.” She stated in part, “I have repeatedly argued that Alabama’s photo ID law is a renewed assault on voting rights…it restricts the voting rights of more than 250,000 Alabamians who do not have a photo ID. Many of the disenfranchised are African-Americans, low-income individuals, senior citizens, and the disabled…the photo ID law coupled with the DMV closures and the violations to the Mote Voter law further undermines our state’s ability to move beyond out painful past.”
On December 9th, 2015, Ms. Sewell stated that she supported the Department of Transportation’s investigation into the DMV closings. “I welcome the U.S. Department of Transportation’s decision to investigate the impact of Alabama lawmakers’ decision to reduce services at 34 DMV offices…reducing services at these DMV offices further compounds the discriminatory impact of Alabama’s pernicious photo ID law that excludes more that 250,000 Alabamians from the democratic process…[and] harkens us back to our Jim Crow past when federal intervention was required to enforce constitutionally protected rights….I am glad the Obama Administration recognizes the need to investigate the discriminatory impact of state action such as the DMV closures. I fully expect Alabama officials to comply with this investigation.
Ms Sewell opposes the at-large method of electing judges to the three highest courts in Alabama and other gerrymandering tactics. On September 12th, 2016, when the NAACP launched a lawsuit contesting this method, she stated, “This lawsuit marks another example of discriminatory voting practices in the state of Alabama….as a result of Alabama’s at-large method of election used for the Alabama Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Civil Appeals, African American voters have been denied the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice to these courts for more than 20 years…Alabama is one of only a handful of states that continues the old practice of elected appellate judges by statewide election. This practice has run its course and single member districts are needed now to ensure that African Americans and other minority voters have equal access to the voting process…I will continue to fight for legislation that restores the Voting Rights Act of 1965…our right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy and it must be protected at all costs.”
Ms Sewell also worked hard to correct voting injustice when she saw it. On March 25, 2015, the Representative spoke out in favor of the rejection of Alabama’s redistricting plan by the Supreme Court. “Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court honors King’s legacy by rejecting a discriminatory redistricting plan that denied black voters equal representation…by condensing black voters in large geographic districts, the State of Alabama unfairly diluted their influence in other parts of the state. Redistricting should never be used as a political tool that silences parts of our electorate…this case further highlights the need to restore Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and ensure that the State of Alabama is included under the new coverage formula…I urge my colleagues in Congress to work together to reinstate the federal voter protections afforded by the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
Ms Sewell has her finger on the pulse of her constituents. Unlike other politicians who talk a big game about issues important to their citizens, Ms Sewell has, and continues to, follow-through on those promises. This, coupled with being an African-American in Selma, led to her being unopposed for the 2016 election.