Vela named to NATO group; Assembly of lawmakers discusses transatlantic policy

February 28, 2019

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, has been appointed a member of the U.S. delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, made up of 266 delegates from the 29 NATO member countries.

The assembly was formed in 1955 to keep legislatures from member countries informed about key issues affecting the Euro-Atlantic region, and to help strengthen the transatlantic relationship and values underpinning the alliance. It provides a forum for delegates from across the Atlantic alliance to discuss and steer policy regarding security.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada and several Western European countries to provide collective security against the Soviet Union.

Vela’s appointment to the body by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi comes soon after his appointment to the powerful House Armed Services Committee. He was with the U.S. delegation that traveled with Pelosi to Europe to attend the Munich Security Conference in Germany Feb. 15-17 and the parliamentary assembly meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 17-19.

“I got a lot of experience very quickly,” Vela said. “It was very fruitful.”

He said the assembly has plenty to absorb in terms of challenges facing NATO, including Russia’s expansionist aspirations, the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, chaos in Libya and the rise of authoritarianism in Turkey, a NATO member and longtime U.S. ally, and President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

“Things are shaky on a whole lot of fronts,” Vela said.

The U.S. delegation to Brussels had the unusual task of reassuring European allies that the U.S. remains steadfastly committed to NATO despite statements indicating otherwise — threats to pull out of the alliance, for instance — from the president of the United States.

“NATO has always been strong,” Vela said. “I think President Trump, with his rhetoric, has put the strength of that alliance at risk.”

Vela said the bipartisan delegation’s mission was to “make sure that our NATO allies knew that at least members of Congress are committed to the endurance of the NATO alliance.”

“I think we sent a very bipartisan signal, because we had a House and Senate presence. ... Our delegation was bipartisan. I haven’t heard from anybody in Congress, either Republican or Democrat, that agrees with the president’s rhetoric on NATO,” he said.

Trump has frequently accused European allies of “ripping us off” by not spending enough on defense and sticking the United States with the bill, and claiming inaccurately that other NATO nations owe the U.S. government “a tremendous amount of money.”

Vela said his appointment to the assembly complements his service on the Armed Services Committee, which he was appointed to in mid-January, and that most of the U.S. delegates also sit on either Armed Services or the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He vowed to bring to the assembly the concerns of the United States and his constituents in the 34th congressional district, which includes Brownsville and Cameron County.

“Frankly, I was kind of surprised when the speaker called me and advised me she was appointing me to the assembly,” he said. “It’s not anything I’d really asked for, but I’ve always kind of had an interest in it, and it was certainly very engaging and fulfilling. ... I would hope I have something to contribute.”