Hatch, Stewart bill to create national 3-digit suicide prevention hotline goes to president

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill two Utah Republicans pushed to create a three-digit telephone number — similar to 911 — for the national suicide prevention hotline passed the U.S. House on Monday.

Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Stewart were among lawmakers who introduced the bipartisan legislation in May 2017. It passed the Senate last November and sailed through the House on Monday, 379-1.

“There are many tools available for people who are struggling with mental illness or thoughts of suicide, but tragically some of these resources are too difficult to find in a time of urgent need,” Stewart said on the House floor.

The national suicide prevention hotline number — 800-273-TALK — is cumbersome and hard to remember, he said, adding most people have never heard of it.

Since handbag designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain took their own lives earlier this year, calls to the national hotline jumped 25 percent, he said.

“While the hotline number has increased access, I know we can do better and that’s the purpose of this bill,” Stewart said.

The bill aims to reform the suicide prevention lifeline system and Veterans Crisis Line by requiring the Federal Communications Commission — working with the Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Veterans Affairs — to study the system and make recommendations to Congress on how to improve it.

Hatch said making the hotline more user-friendly would help save thousands of lives.

House Backs Suicide Hotline Bill; Could Lead to 3-Digit Dial Code

Rep. Chris Stewart is sponsoring legislation to streamline the suicide prevention hotline. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo.)

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is headed for an overhaul, with passage of a House bill Monday. The bipartisan proposal would move towards creating a new national three-digit dialing code — similar to 911 — to be used for a mental health crisis and suicide prevention hotline.

The House passed the bill by an overwhelming, 379-1, margin. Michigan Republican Justin Amash cast the lone nay vote against the bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah.

The proposal would prompt the Federal Communications Commission to study and report on the feasibility of designating a new three-digit dialing code, in coordination with the Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services Departments. A National Suicide Prevention Lifeline currently exists, but supporters of the bill say that the long 1-800 number is difficult to remember in times of crisis.

“We all know by heart to dial 9-1-1 during an emergency. We have fate and confidence that somebody who can help will be on the line. It shouldn’t be any different for someone in a mental health crisis,” said Leonard Lance, R-N.J. in support of the bill.

The Senate passed a companion bill in November 2017, sponsored by Utah Republican Orrin G. Hatch.

“There are literally lives on the line here and leaving them on hold is not an option,” said Hatch in June, calling on the House to move quickly on their version of the bill.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In Stewart and Hatch’s home state of Utah, young people are particularly vulnerable, and suicide is the leading cause of death among teens.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. The program was last authorized at $7.2 million a year through fiscal year 2021.

“This legislation will build upon the success of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to increase access to life-saving service while evaluating new and innovative ways to improve the current system,” said bill cosponsor Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas.

Trump allegedly moved to fire Mueller, a move that would worry Utah’s Stewart

Washington • President Donald Trump sought the firing of Robert Mueller III last June, shortly after the special counsel took over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and he backed off only after White House Counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign over the move — a situation Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said put him in an “uncomfortable position.”

The extraordinary showdown was confirmed by two people familiar with the episode, which was first reported by The New York Times.

McGahn did not deliver his resignation threat directly to Trump, but he was serious about his threat to leave, according to a person familiar with the episode.

The incident could now become part of Mueller’s examination of whether Trump has taken steps to try to stymie the investigation.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, declined to comment. McGahn did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A White House spokesman referred questions to Ty Cobb, the attorney coordinating the administration’s response to the Russia investigations, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment. John Dowd, an attorney for the president, declined to comment.

Stewart told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Thursday night that the report needs to be substantiated, but if it were true, it would be concerning.

“If he did, his instincts were wrong, but the people around him protected from those instincts,” Stewart said.

Sen. Mark Warner, Va., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own investigation of Russian interference, said in a statement that “firing the Special Counsel is a red line that the President cannot cross. Any attempt to remove the Special Counsel, pardon key witnesses, or otherwise interfere in the investigation, would be a gross abuse of power, and all members of Congress, from both parties, have a responsibility to our Constitution and to our country to make that clear immediately.”

Trump was initially calm when Mueller was appointed, surprising White House aides, according to a senior administration official.

But in the weeks that followed, the president spoke with a number of friends and advisers who convinced him that Mueller would dig through his private finances and look beyond questions of collusion with Russians. They warned that the probe could last years and would ruin his first term in office.

At the time, his legal team was urging him to aggressive action against the special counsel and compiling arguments about why he could not be impartial, raising questions about whether Mueller had gotten into a dispute over membership fees at a Trump-owned golf course in northern Virginia.

In response, McGahn said he would not be at the White House if Trump went through with the move, according to a senior administration official.

The president, in turn, backed off.

Since then, Trump brought in a new legal team that has counseled cooperation with Mueller. He has continued to fume about the investigation, even as his lawyers have publicly pledged to work with the special counsel. On Thursday, one of the president’s attorneys distributed a memo outlining the number of voluntary staff interviews and documents they have produced.

— Tribune reporter Aubrey Wieber contributed to this story from Salt Lake City.

Utah Rep. Chris Stewart: The real scandal isn’t possible Russian meddling in election, it’s taint of politics in CIA and FBI

Utah Rep. Chris Stewart: The real scandal isn’t possible Russian meddling in election, it’s taint of politics in CIA and FBI

No one is talking about Russian collusion with the Donald Trump campaign anymore, says Utah’s only member of the House Intelligence Committee.

“We are unraveling or peeling back an onion there that is extraordinarily concerning to me,” Stewart, Utah’s only member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday on the Utah Senate floor. “When it comes to the politicalization of agencies like the FBI, the Department of Justice and frankly, in my opinion, worst of all, the CIA, where they’ve been turned into political operatives.

“Obviously, there are dedicated public servants that work there,” he added. “But a few individuals in very senior positions. We cannot allow that to go unanswered if that is true.”

“You don’t hear [collusion] anymore from either side of the aisle because the reality is there just simply isn’t evidence on it,” he said.

There is, however, an ongoing investigation into Russian election meddling led by special counsel Robert Mueller III, whose team interviewed Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week, according to press reports that were confirmed by the Department of Justice. Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, also was subpoenaed, The New York Times reported last week.

Praising President Trump’s achievements in his first year in office, Stewart began his speech by comparing the president to Rodney Dangerfield, the comedian who starred as the golfer with an unorthodox swing and loud behavior in the movie “Caddyshack.”

“Halfway up the swing he stops and he tweets something out,” Stewart said of Trump, who is an avid golfer. “Halfway down the swing he throws a toy out and the press goes running over there to look at the toy and then he swings, and it’s just as ugly as anything you’ve seen, but the ball goes down the middle of the fairway.

Stewart — who during the 2016 campaign called Trump “our Mussolini” — told the House Republican Caucus he now has become a “huge convert” to the president.

“He has really won my respect,” he added. “He has had an incredibly effective first year” despite “all the distractions, and all the diversions and all the media polls.”

He added, “It’s surprising to me that he has a 44 or 46 percent approval rating” while in the news media, “90 percent of the coverage is negative” that offers a “continuous beat-down.”

Stewart added that he keeps a list of where the news media “doesn’t just get it wrong, they actually deceive, actively lie.”

Reporter Lee Davidson contributed to this report.

Rep. Chris Stewart joins other Republicans in calling for Sessions to step down

Rep. Chris Stewart joins other Republicans in calling for Sessions to step down

Updated 5:18 AM ET, Sat January 6, 2018

Washington (CNN) GOP Rep. Chris Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, joined the growing list of Republicans calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign.

“This is hard for me, it really is, because I think Jeff Sessions is one of the most honorable men in Washington, D.C.,” Stewart told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Friday afternoon. “But we have been weakened in our investigation into very important concerns at the Department of Justice and the FBI. Jeff Sessions is not able to take the reins and direct that investigation.”
He continued: “We need the director there who can take the reins and be assertive in that. He can’t do that when he is recused. I believe it may be time for him to step aside.”
Because of his recusal, Sessions is unable to act on the department’s current Russia probe — spearheaded by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, appointed in May, and overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But a new attorney general, appointed by Trump, would not be bound by those restrictions, and could potentially fire Rosenstein and Mueller and reassert control over the investigation.
In the call, Stewart joined Mark Meadows, Freedom Caucus chair, and Jim Jordan, a member who sits on the oversight and judiciary committees in the US House of Representatives, who wrote an op-ed for the Washington Examiner and criticized Sessions’ handling of the department’s investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Russia investigation, but it would appear he has no control at all of the premier law enforcement agency in the world,” they wrote. “It is time for Sessions to start managing in a spirit of transparency to bring all of this improper behavior to light and stop further violations.”
The Republican congressmen wrote that “if Sessions can’t address this issue immediately, then we have one final question needing an answer: When is it time for a new attorney general? Sadly, it seems the answer is now.”