Sen. Jerry Moran speaks with an attendee at the Manhattan stop of his listening tour in the Flint Hills Discovery Center, Saturday, June 29, 2019. (Nick McNamara/ KMAN)

Speaking from a wheelchair with his foot in a boot following an ankle injury while hiking in Arizona, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of Manhattan addressed a multitude of topics and questions to an overflowing room in the Flint Hills Discovery Center Saturday morning as part of his listening tour.
Moran says the agricultural economy is “terrible” right now, adding that on-the-farm income in Kansas is down 50 percent since 2013.
Moran says Kansas needs its export markets back and that he supports the NAFTA-replacing USMCA. He told the full crowd he is working to get Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring it to the House floor — where it has to originate — and says that it’s “conceivable” that they will approve the deal and that he’s confident that the Senate will ratify it. Even so, he cautions that new trade deals may not lead to an immediate turnaround on the farms.

“Even if we got an agreement tomorrow, what does that mean the next day?” Moran says. ” I’m not sure it means any dramatic change in a short time. So once we lose markets and we’ve spent millions of dollars — taxpayer dollars, checkoff dollars — trying to acquire and keep markets, once we lose them, how do we get them back?”

He also expressed concern about what impact will be on rural agricultural communities in the long-term, saying that low incomes on farms could drive younger folks to cities to find work where they may stay for good.
“Whether or not we have future success in rural communities across Kansas, including Manhattan, is often determined by whether or not our sons and daughters can return home to a farm or at least to the community,” says Moran. “When we create that absence of income today, it has consequences generationally [for]the future of our communities.”
Moran says he’s hopeful that things will improve quickly. Currently, while the executives of the US, Canada and Mexico have all signed the deal, only Mexico’s legislature has officially ratified it.
Moran says while he believes the country needs greater border security at the Southern border and more control over who is allowed in, those coming to the US — particularly children — deserve humanitarian care and treatment.
Moran says that it was wrong of the U.S. Department of Justice to question in court whether the government should be required to provide personal hygiene materials or good sleeping accommodations to detained immigrant children. The Senator had plans to see border conditions first-hand later in the day before he broke his ankle hiking in Arizona in late May, and that he plans to return to see for himself what conditions are truly like.
“But in the meantime, I will speak out against what I saw and know to be true is the Department of Justice lawyer saying this is not inhumane,” Moran says.
Even so, that doesn’t make the issue simple for Moran. He says he’s heard official testimony that many minors arriving at the border are being brought by people that are not related to them — which makes the question of who they get released to difficult. Moran says the situation is a mess.
“A mess from people who want to get to the United States that we seem incapable so far to address,” Moran says. “And a mess at the border by — particularly, again — young people who deserve something more than what we apparently are providing today.”
He adds that the House and Senate recently approved $2.4 billion to provide better conditions for unaccompanied minors at the border, but that it doesn’t solve the problem overnight and the nation still needs to find a quicker and better immigration process that ensures security as well — though he says he prefers not to use the term wall, calling it divisive.
“That can be drones, it can be a fence, it can be a wall — however you want to describe it,” Moran says. “Whatever makes the most sense.”
He says the topic is both a labor issue, saying many rural communities in Kansas have grown due to migrant workers coming in to work on farms, as well as a law enforcement one.
Election Security
Moran was questioned on whether he thinks the U.S. is doing enough to address election security following the intelligence community’s findings on foreign interference in the 2016 election and what people can count on him to do to push for more action on that front.
Moran says following the Mueller Report, there is evidence that the Russians intruded in U.S. elections. He followed up saying that he thinks it’s broader than that, adding that other nations including China are also attempting to do the same.
“In my view, that’s a known fact.”
Moran says the interference comes in two parts: foreign actors trying to manipulate the vote count — which he says there is no evidence was successful — as well as social media manipulation, specifically referring to attempts to divide Americans through various attacks on candidates. He says that these efforts can undermine the republic.
“If you lose faith in the future of our country because congress isn’t doing its job, how much more damning is it that we lose faith because we can’t really know whether the person who won the election really won the election?” says Moran. “That undermines democracy in ways that I don’t know how you recover from.”
Moran says he chairs a subcommittee on the Commerce committee looking at what the nation can do to protect itself from such efforts. Moran adds that they have a briefing with the national security community coming up this week on past and potential foreign intrusions and after that he’ll be able to meet with other GOP leaders to discuss ways to address the situation once he hears what they have to say.
The U.S. Senate passed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act on Thursday, and Sen. Moran says it has positive implications for Manhattan, Fort Riley and the surrounding area.
He says the bill provided a 3.1 percent raise for military salaries — the largest raise they’ve seen since 2010. In addition to being a benefit to the soldiers and their families day-to-day, Moran says it also helps area cities and counties.
“From a Manhattan point of view, we are increasing the flow of income that comes to our region with salaries.”
Moran noted that how much of that can be expected to help the area economy is dependent on the number of deployed soldiers, and Fort Riley deployed 6,000 servicepeople this year.
He also commented on the current nominee to be the next Secretary of the Army, the current Under-Secretary Ryan McCarthy. Moran says he knows McCarthy well, who was involved in housing and education improvement efforts at Fort Riley in the past.
“I now have somebody that I know well that I think will be very much a supporter of better and more things happening in Fort Riley,” Moran says. “We’ve had some success in getting smaller units reassigned to Fort Riley to grow the numbers.”
Moran also talked his work on the Mission Act, passed in early June, which allows veterans to receive healthcare through community providers rather than the VA when it is desired by the veteran and verified that it is in their best interest by their VA doctor — rather than someone in the “bureaucracy” according to Moran. This replaces the Veterans Choice Program, which had similar provisions but only if a VA facility was 40 or more miles from the patient’s place of residence.
Moran says this won’t necessarily be an easy fix as the bureaucracy still exists, adding that the Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs testified at the time when Congress passed the VCA program that veterans wouldn’t want or need such a program. He called on residents and veterans to make their voices heard and to utilize the program to prove them wrong.
“We will go to bat to make sure that it works, we do not want the VA, who testified nobody wants this, doesn’t need it, to be true,” Moran says. “By statistics will prove that it is valuable, and over a long period of time I think it makes a significant difference in people’s lives.”
The Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Department of Agriculture have recently signed a memorandum of understanding to transfer ownership of the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility to the USDA — which will be official in 2021. DHS will continue to oversee the construction and commissioning of the facility, the USDA will oversee operational planning and operation once the transfer occurs.
Moran expressed concern about getting the necessary personnel in place, saying he’s worried that the USDA got a slow start. He says he met with USDA Sec. Sonny Perdue, who told Moran they are on track to have hires done in time to be on track to meet all benchmarks and time frames.
“We’ve worked to get additional funds to K-State for training and Manhattan Tech to see that we have people in place once it’s open,” says Moran, who also says there were 12 applicants for the head position at NBAF. “They have narrowed it to 2 and my understanding is that [DHS and USDA] were meeting with the two candidates this past week.”
Moran offered his sympathies to the farmers and residents experiencing any impacts from flooding around the area.
He says while Riley County has not received a federal emergency declaration, that is because “so much of what we have is underwater that the preliminary assessment that determines that designation has yet to be completed.”
Even so, Moran says he doesn’t think there is any doubt that Riley County will be placed under such a declaration once assessments can be made.

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