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Blunt, Clay commit to bipartisan cooperation in Missouri's delegation

In Washington

3:43 pm on Thu, 12.06.12

WASHINGTON – They are far apart on the political spectrum, but Missouri’s U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay said Thursday that they would push for bipartisan cooperation – and regular meetings – of the state’s delegation in Congress.

Blunt
Blunt

“We have a good delegation. We find the things we can work on together,” said Blunt, R-Mo., who will become the longest-serving member of Missouri’s delegation when the current “dean,” U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, departs in February.

Blunt started in the House in 1997 --  four years before Clay arrived in 2001. But Blunt moved to the Senate two years ago, so the St. Louis Democrat can lay claim as “dean” of the House delegation.

While Blunt plans to stay active in the delegation’s monthly meetings – which he started when he was in the House GOP leadership a decade ago – he said he’d talk soon with Clay about coordinating the sessions, which Emerson has coordinated for the last two years.

“We will have a monthly meeting, and I’m probably going to leave it to our friends in the House to call that meeting, since more of them are over on that side of the [Capitol]. But I intend to attend that meeting,” said Blunt, the fifth-ranking Senate GOP leader. “Congressman Clay and I will work on it, and I suspect one of the two of us will host it.”

Clay
Clay

Separately, Clay said he also planned to work with Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio – the House Republican with the most seniority – to coordinate delegation meetings starting early next year. Graves is chairman of the House Small Business Committee.

"As the new dean of the Missouri congressional delegation in the 113th Congress, I'm looking forward to working with my colleagues from across the state,” Clay said in a statement to the Beacon. “I plan to work closely with the senior Republican member, Congressman Sam Graves, to lead our delegation in a bipartisan way.”

The state will be represented by one less House member in the new Congress that starts Jan. 3 as a result of the elimination of the 3rd congressional district, now represented by Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis. Carnahan and Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood, will depart at year’s end, with Rep.-elect Ann Wagner, a Republican from Ballwin entering.

In a recent interview, Wagner – a close ally of Blunt who chaired his Senate campaign – said she planned to work with Clay and become a strong advocate of St. Louis regional issues. “As someone who’s been involved in politics and public service for a number of years, I know Congressman Clay quite well and I look forward to a strong working relationship on behalf of our region,” she said.

Even though he said “Jo Ann [Emerson] will be missed” when she departs for a new job in February, Blunt said he was confident that the seven Republicans and three Democrats (Clay, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, and U.S Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City) “can work just like the old delegation has.”

Asked about his relationship with McCaskill – which had been somewhat strained at times during her re-election campaign this year – Blunt described it as “really good.”

While the two Missouri senators often disagree on national issues, Blunt said, “we absolutely agree” on many state and regional issues, such as the federal response to Mississippi River flooding and navigation problems, the Joplin tornado, and Ameren Missouri’s request for federal funds to help develop small nuclear reactors.

“We have found lots of things to work together on,” Blunt said, “and I’m sure we’re going to continue to find lots of things to work together on.”

Blunt to move up in Commerce Committee

Blunt said he was surprised at Thursday’s announcement that conservative Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., planned to resign next month to head the Heritage Foundation. He said that move would boost his committee status.

When he became a junior member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee in 2010, Blunt was expecting to wait for years until he could wield much influence. But the retirement of two senior GOP senators on the panel – plus the impending departure of DeMint – is clearing the way for Blunt to rise.

“That allows me to move up in that committee in a pretty rapid way,” said Blunt. Depending on the committee’s calculations, he figures be will become “the third or fourth ranking” GOP senator on the committee.

“It’ll be interesting to see how the subcommittee assignments work out,” added Blunt. He will likely become the ranking Republican on a more powerful subcommittee. He is now the ranking GOP member of the competitiveness, innovation and export promotion subcommittee.

The Commerce committee has wide-ranging jurisdiction, with subcommittees on aviation; communications; competitiveness and export promotion; consumer protection; science and space; oceans and atmosphere; and surface transportation.

Blunt: Normalizing Russia trade helps Missouri

Blunt hailed the Senate’s bipartisan vote Thursday to end Cold War-era trade restrictions on Russia, allowing the administration to normalize U.S.-Russian trade relations. (The official term is Permanent Normal Trade Relations.)

While the bill “graduated” Russia from the old Jackson-Vanik restrictions, it also criticized Russia for more recent human rights abuses. It was approved by the Senate 92 to 4, and earlier had gained House approval in a 365-43 vote.

“I applaud the passage of the bipartisan Russia trade bill, which builds on the progress we made last year with the passage of the three free trade agreements,” said Blunt.

“Normalizing trade relations between the United States and Russia will help generate jobs and economic opportunities for farmers, manufactures and other businesses in Missouri and across America.”

Blunt told reporters that “the Missouri numbers are really good” on Russia trade. Last year, Missouri sent about $86 million in exports to Russia, and this year’s export levels about about 6 percent higher so far.

“We have 32,000 Missouri jobs because of exports” worldwide, Blunt said.

In addition to normalizing U.S.-Russia trade relations, the bill includes a provision – opposed by the White House – to require that the government freeze assets of Russians implicated in human rights abuses and to deny them visas. That provision was named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was tortured and died in prison in 2009 after he blew the whistle on a fraudulent government scheme.

After the vote, President Barack Obama said the bill “will ensure that American businesses and workers are able to take full advantage of the WTO rules and market access commitments that the United States worked so hard to negotiate. We are also one step closer to realizing job-creating export opportunities and leveling the playing field for American workers, farmers, ranchers, and service providers.”

As for the human rights provisions of the bill, Obama said in the statement that his administration “will continue to work with Congress and our partners to support those seeking a free and democratic future for Russia and promote the rule of law and respect for human rights around the world.”

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