While his two Washington, D.C. counterparts criss-cross Vermont during the one-week congressional recess, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has been visiting Vietnam.
Sanders is part of a delegation led by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) who chairs the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, of which Sanders is a member. Joining Sanders and Harkin on the trip is U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN).
The delegation returns to the United States tonight.
One focus of this week's trip has been the lingering health effects of Agent Orange, the mix of herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military in southeast Asia.
In a meeting late Wednesday, Vietnamese officials urged the delegation to provide more help to the country as part of their ongoing effort to combat the chemical's effects on its people.
Congress recently extended benefits to veterans whose exposure to Agent Orange has led to heart disease, leukemia and Parkinson’s disease.
The trip to Vietnam includes a stop at Da Nang, one of the so-called hot spots where chemical defoliants were heavily used in the rain forest jungle area around a busy U.S. military airfield. In 2006, the United States agreed to support a cleanup fund.
Harkin also took part in a "Tiger Cage" reunion. As a congressional aide, Harkin published photos of so-called "Tiger Cage", or underground prison cells where dissidents were tortured and held without food and water. Prior to the publishing of the photos, U.S. and Vietnmese officials denied the existence of the cells.
Trade policies and their impact on American workers is another issue the delegation has been exploring on the trip.
Harkin urged the nation's leaders to allow workers to join independent unions as the nation expands its economy, rather than just unions governed by the Communist Party.
Sanders said he also will focus in Vietnam on his long-standing interest in trade policies during meetings with Vietnamese government officials and others.
Since Congress passed Permanent Normal Trade Relations with Vietnam in 2006, the U.S. has lost thousands of jobs in the apparel and textile industries, while the U.S. trade deficit has increased, Sanders noted. Discussions are underway on whether to include Vietnam in a new Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
“We need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to prevent even more American workers from losing their jobs,” Sanders said. “With the average worker in Vietnam making less than someone in China, I simply don’t think it is fair to ask Americans to compete against some of the lowest paid workers in the world.”
This is the third overseas trip Sanders has taken since becoming a senator in 2006. He's traveled to Greenland to examine melting glaciers and to Great Britain as part of a parliamentary exchange that also saw several British MP's visit Burlington.