By U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (AL-1)
All eyes were on Washington last week as Pope Francis became the first pope to address a joint session of Congress in our nation’s history. As one of the most influential moral leaders in the world, it was an honor to welcome Pope Francis to the Capitol for his historic address.
While I am not a Catholic, I was very impressed by what the Pope had to say on important issues like the need to stand up for human life and the importance of traditional families. Pope Francis also urged Congress to never lose focus on our ultimate responsibility: to improve the lives of our neighbors and fellow Americans.
Joint sessions of Congress are actually a pretty rare occurrence in Washington. During a joint session, members of the House and the Senate come together in the House chamber to hear from a guest speaker. The meetings are traditionally held in the House chamber because the room is larger and can seat more people.
The Vice President, who serves as the president of the Senate, is often present for joint sessions, and he sits on the dais next to the Speaker of the House. Members of the President’s cabinet, Supreme Court justices, and our nation’s top-ranking military officials are also invited to attend.
The most well-known joint sessions of Congress are State of the Union addresses. Article II, Section 3 says that the President “shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union.” Many of our early presidents would submit the State of the Union through a written report, but State of the Union addresses have been a common practice since President Woodrow Wilson in 1913.
Presidential inaugurations are also technically joint sessions of Congress, even though they often take place outside the Capitol building. A joint session of Congress is also convened to count the electoral votes from Presidential elections and to certify the results.
Joint sessions of Congress must be called by leaders of the House or the Senate, and the President cannot unilaterally call for a joint session. That said, it is not uncommon for a president to work with Congressional leaders to arrange special joint sessions if the President would like to speak out on an important issue or a major world event. For example, in September 2001, a joint session of Congress was held for President George W. Bush to outline his strategy for defeating terrorism around the globe.
Another common reason for a joint session of Congress would be to hear from a foreign leader or dignitary, as was the case with Pope Francis. The first foreign leader to address a joint meeting of Congress was King Kalakaua of Hawaii in 1874. Since then, there have been 117 foreign leaders to address a joint session of Congress.
Since I entered Congress in 2014, we have had four joint sessions of Congress to hear from foreign leaders. In September 2014, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko came before Congress to discuss the threats his country was facing from Russia. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, addressed a joint session in March of this year to discuss the dangers of a nuclear agreement with Iran.
Also in March, Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan, spoke to Congress about the progress his country has made and the challenges that remain. In April, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used a joint session to call for closer ties between Japan and the United States.
So as you can probably tell, joint sessions of Congress are a relatively uncommon event, but they almost always carry significance. That was certainly the case last week as Pope Francis stood before Congress for his historic address.
Opinion | The “United” States of America. Really?
We’ve all had it pounded in our heads virtually from birth that we live in a united country of 50 different states. Truth is, few things could be farther from the truth. If it were, we would all be pulling in the same direction at the same time, striving for common goals. This has seldom been the case. Even the original 13 colonies had great differences and some were much more interested in pulling away from England than others.
The reason for much of this is pointed out to us in American Nations by Colin Woodard as he paints graphic pictures of the 11 nations that actually comprise the U.S .and how they were settled at different times by different people from different backgrounds.
Certainly, there is no greater indicator of our lack of unity than the current highly fractured and divided response to COVID-19. Unfortunately, there is no coordinated, 50-state effort to get this pandemic under control. Instead, our national leaders have sent one mixed message after another and left states to individually flop and flounder.
One thousand deaths a day across this land.
Imagine we were presently losing 1,000 people a day in some foreign war. That each day we were shipping 1,000 caskets back to this country from some distant land.
Would we be as tolerant of ineptitude in such a crisis as we are right now?
Vanity Fair has just reported on how the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, inserted himself into the war against COVID-19. It is not a pretty picture. Nor a useful one.
Back in March Kushner set out to solve the on-going disaster of lack of diagnostic testing. So he brought together a group of largely bankers and billionaires — not public health experts. In spite of their lack of knowledge and willingness to work with others, the group developed a fairly comprehensive plan, that got good reviews from health professionals who saw it. But then the plan, according to someone involved with it, “just went poof into thin air.”
What happened? Politics.
According to Vanity Fair, “Most troubling ….was a sentiment ….a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. The political folks believed that because it (the virus) was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy.”
“United” States of America? Don’t kid yourself.
Opinion | Alabama’s teachers are standing tall with return to classroom instruction
All of the personality traits, values, and life lessons that we carry with us as adults were shaped and instilled in us by the people we encountered in childhood. For many, the strongest influences can from our schoolteachers, who opened new worlds of knowledge and taught us skills that remain with us today.
Consider for a moment the music teacher who taught you to play an instrument, the math teacher who led you to a love of numbers, the history teacher who brought to life the stories of our nation’s past, or the English teacher who inspired you to love great literature.
Teaching is one of the few professions whose impact continues to last for decades after the individual who does the job retires.
As many children across Alabama are preparing to return to school even while the Coronavirus pandemic continues, teachers have never been more important or vital or deserving of our deepest appreciation.
Returning to brick-and-mortar school instruction will, hopefully, restore a sense of normalcy to our children’s lives in these decidedly abnormal times.
A return to the classroom and even resuming the online instruction that some are adopting will also help our students maintain their education progress and continue the important social and emotional development that interaction with their peers and instructors allows.
Our English second language learners will receive the communication skills they need in order to better assimilate, and many low-income students will receive the healthy nourishment from the school lunch program that might be denied them at home.
Given the current circumstances and environment, I recognize that some of our public school employees may have a sense of trepidation about returning to school, and that is certainly understandable. Wearing a face mask to do something as simple as shopping for groceries, paying for gas, or walking into a restaurant offers all of us a constant reminder that COVID-19 is a very contagious virus.
But our teachers and educators are setting their concerns aside and answering the call to duty.
I know that Gov. Kay Ivey, State Superintendent Eric Mackey, and the staff of the Alabama Department of Education took great care in developing the “Roadmap to Reopening Alabama Schools,” and local school boards are being equally diligent in creating and implementing their own safety guidelines.
The importance of sanitization will be stressed more than ever before, and billions of dollars made available to Alabama through the federal CARES Act will help ensure that any resources that are needed to reopen schools safely will be readily available.
As the majority leader of the Alabama House, I can also offer assurances that the Legislature stands ready to pass legislation or make appropriations that are necessary to ease the return to classroom instruction once we are in session.
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an even deeper appreciation of the frontline heroes who have remained on the job and provided the most essential services throughout the crisis.
Doctors and nurses in our hospitals and health clinics; grocery store and other retail employees; law enforcement officers, emergency workers and firefighters; postal workers; sanitation workers; restaurant personnel; and those in dozens of other professions are among those who continued working even when times were their toughest.
I am proud to say that the teachers, school nurses, administrators, and support personnel in Alabama’s schools also rank high upon the list of those who have stood tall, and their already invaluable service to our state is even more important to students and parents in each of our cities, towns, and crossroads today.
Helen Keller, one of Alabama’s most inspirational figures, once said, “It was my teacher’s genius, her quick sympathy, her loving tact which made the first years of my education so beautiful. It was because she seized the right moment to impart knowledge that made it so pleasant and acceptable to me.”
As I close by wishing everyone a safe, happy, and healthy school year, we would all do well to keep Helen Keller’s words in mind.
Opinion | There’s still work to be done
Last weekend should have been a shining moment for the state of Alabama, a celebration of the life and efforts of Congressman John Lewis — a true freedom fighter and hero for civil rights and equality in our nation.
It was also an opportunity to reflect on our past and be proud of how far we Alabamians have come. Republicans and Democrats, blacks and whites — all came together to honor and remember the life of Alabama’s courageous and remarkable son.
Well, not all, apparently.
What possible reason could a public official have to attend a 199th birthday party for the founder of the Ku Klux Klan while you’re in the same city as the funeral procession of a venerated civil rights hero who was literally beaten by that same Klan?
It almost seems absurd that we should have to have these conversations here in 2020, but here we are.
It is especially disconcerting to see behavior like this coming from someone so young. Perhaps one could expect this sort of thing from a grandparent or great-grandparent, as they were products of an era that may still hold those problematic, antiquated views — but from a 30-year-old, someone who should exemplify how far we have come as a state? It is worrying, to say the least.
To lack the basic knowledge of history to know that the 199-year-old birthday boy at your party was the founder of the KKK seems incongruent with the career of this young House member, who continues to claim to be a student of Confederate history. Perhaps it’s willful ignorance — it’s tough to tell.
For all the progress our state has made in moving forward from our history of racial divisiveness and strife, incidents like the one involving this young State representative are an important lesson that while it is important for us to remember our past, our priority must be our continued journey to the better, brighter future that awaits us all and that, thanks to Will Dismukes, that journey is clearly not over yet.
Rep. Dismukes has, however, shone a bright light for those of us that thought racism was something we could put behind us. In the words of Congressman John Lewis from our own Edmund Pettus Bridge, “We must use this moment to recommit ourselves to do all we can to finish the work. There’s still work left to be done.”
Opinion | Dr. Wayne Reynolds should resign from the State Board of Education
Dear Dr. Wayne Reynolds, Thank you so very much for apologizing to our awesome Gov. Kay Ivey for your comments made recently. First, let’s talk honestly about the little girl with freckles from Camden, Alabama, who grew up to be our nation’s best governor.
In Alabama, the most trusted and powerful elected officials are Sen. Richard Shelby and Gov. Kay Ivey. The reasons are due to their core values, such as honesty, integrity, trust, accountability, responsibility, and prudent decision-making.
Dr. Reynolds, when I first read your comments concerning Gov. Kay Ivey, I was very upset. Although I’m a 63-year old African-American Republican, those comments hurt me, because I have worked with Gov. Ivey for years to solve problems. I was worried that she may be hurt.
Just for your information, due to the poorly performing state school superintendent, Alabama State Department of Education and State Board of Education, there is a lack of trust from the public.
Gov. Ivey has earned trust from the nation — from the president of the United States, vice president, secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff of the Air Force. Truthfully, she is the only person who can get things done. I personally know.
I have binders and documents stacked 6 feet high, concerning numerous issues and solutions Gov. Ivey has provided. Although I send emails to the state superintendent, State Department of Education and the State Board of Education. I can recall no solutions coming from any of these entities. Basically, all I see are people following parliamentary protocols, and raising their hands — but never solving any problems, including no solutions from Dr. Reynolds.
Due to these poor perceptions, many people are wondering if these entities are needed. In my view, since Gov. Ivey seems to be the only one solving all of the problems, and she is out-thinking all of us, why do we need a state school superintendent, State Department of Education or State Board of Education?
Dr. Reynolds, sir, we can’t be observing women’s bodies — looking at their rear ends and commenting on their weight. You claimed you were just making an observation. Sir, we have a mission to accomplish, and we have too much work to do. Education must be fixed. The state of Alabama is dead last in math, and we are at the bottom of all national lists.
Dr. Reynolds, sir, please spend more of your time providing solutions to the numerous problems facing our great state. If you can’t provide solutions, you should respectfully resign instead of discussing foolishness.
I was raised to compliment and help our leaders, especially our female leaders, by placing them on a pedestal and helping them to be successful.
Gov. Ivey has earned the respect from the highest levels of the federal government. She is one of our trusted wingmen, because she has been doing the jobs of the state superintendent, State Department of Education and the State School Board. She doesn’t have time to waste on craziness.
Respectfully, Dr. Reynolds, if you and the other board members resign, you can be easily replaced. We are in last place anyway. The lack of trust, and foolish comments by Dr. Reynolds, surely do not help the State Board of Education, which continues to be ineffective. No one is following you. Folks are running away from you.
Haven’t you recognized this yet? Gov. Ivey is basically doing your job anyway.