• 50°

Sanctions, human trafficking dominate Portman call

Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, avoided focusing heavily on healthcare talk during his conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. Instead the senator, who had previously said he wouldn’t support a repeal-only plan, or any legislation that cut expanded Medicaid, before voting last week with his party in a failed attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act with a bill that Portman conceded “was not perfect,” chose to focus on Russian sanctions and efforts to curb human sex trafficking.

“I’m disappointed the Senate didn’t come together (on the replacement plan),” Portman said. “No one can be happy with the status quo.”

He noted that, though the plan “was not perfect,” his Portman amendment would have benefited low-income families by helping them with healthcare needs that were not included in the bill as written. He also said that he hoped that the Senate “can revisit” issues of funding for opioid treatment.

On the human trafficking front, Portman discussed his involvement in efforts to hold web services like Backpage.com accountable for their role in facilitating human trafficking. Human trafficking, especially for sexual exploitation, has “increased substantially because of the internet,” Portman said.

Portman touted his new proposed legislation, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, as an attempt to hold web sites that host ads for sex traffickers liable for their involvement. In the past, he explained, courts have sided with companies like Backpage who claimed they have no responsibility over what users and advertisers do.

Lawyers for these sites, Portman said, often cite the Communications Decency Act as providing immunity from seeking damages from the company for activities that users of their site engage in. Portman’s act would make a distinction between third party speech published by a site, and knowingly facilitating illegal action through providing a platform.

“This could make the difference in successful lawsuits against Backpage,” Portman said.

He also said that a recently passed resolution would provide documentation to the Department of Justice related to their investigation of Backpage’s culpability.

The Russia, Iran, and North Korea sanctions signed into law by President Donald Trump on Wednesday were another focus for Portman. He noted that the sanctions bill contains provisions that, “counter Russian propaganda.”

“Russian propaganda is undermining democracy around the world,” Portman said. “Including meddling in our own election process.”

He said that the new sanctions law, “includes efforts to push back against misinformation and propaganda.”

In response to questions about Russia’s response, in cutting consulate numbers, Portman said it was, “too bad.”

“We want to have good communications,” Portman said. “We do share a strong interest in combatting Islamic extremism.”

But, he added, “they know what they did… particularly in Ukraine.”

While he said that he, “didn’t want to cut off communications,” the Russians need to know that their actions “have to have consequences.”