Delegation at the forefront of gun control debate
Members of the Florida delegation are taking a lead role in the most recent discussion on gun control following the tragedy in Las Vegas. While pleas for “reasonable” gun control measures are always part of the discussion, the specific targeting of devices such as “bump stocks,” which turn semi-automatic weapons basically into automatic rifles, is gaining steam.
Bill Nelson joined fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein from California and others, to launch a Senate bill that would make it unlawful to add devices which “functions to accelerate the rate of fire of a semi-automatic rifle, but not convert the semi-automatic rifle into a machine gun.”
The bill has a military and National Guard carve-out.
“I’m a hunter and have owned guns my whole life,” Nelson said in a news release. “But these automatic weapons are not for hunting; they’re for killing.”
Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo is teaming with Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton to craft a House bill, but with a twist. While developing the proposal, the duo is seeking co-sponsors to make it a “perfectly bipartisan effort.”
To join this bill, co-sponsors must sign on in tandem with a member of the other party. Curbelo and Moulton describe this as the “Noah’s Ark” approach.
“For the first time, there is growing bipartisan consensus for firearm reform, a polarizing issue that has deeply divided Republicans and Democrats,” Curbelo said in a news release. “Common sense legislation that does not restrict Second Amendment rights is an important step in addressing gun violence in our country.”
“It’s time for Members of Congress to find the courage to come together and finally do something to help stop the epidemic of mass shootings,” Moulton said. “As Members of Congress, it is our responsibility to protect the American people.”
This action appears to be an idea whose time has come. President Trump essentially gave his thumbs-up, while the National Rifle Association (NRA) said: “Devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”
It will be sometime in 2018, at the earliest, before any action would take effect. Even if the legislation somehow quickly moves through Congress, the Nelson/Feinstein bill states that the ban on any outlawed device takes place “180 days after the date of enactment.” The Curbelo/Moulton bill would likely have the same provision.
In other words, perhaps the time has almost come.
Rubio, commission to Trump: Engage China on human rights
With President Donald Trump set to go to Beijing in November, North Korea will undoubtedly be a significant topic of discussion between the president and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. The second-term Republican Senator wants to add human rights to the agenda.
Last week the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which Rubio chairs along with GOP Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, released its 2017 annual report. Among the detailed report’s recommendations (the executive summary alone is 65 pages), is for the Trump administration to embark on a policy “that challenges China to abide by its international commitments, adhere to universal standards and embrace the rule of law.”
Rubio, Smith and the committee detailed a regression on freedom of expression in China, as well as infringements on religious liberties. In an op-ed, they cited Xi’s continuing efforts to consolidate his power.
“Over the past year, Chinese authorities targeted labor and environmental activists; demanded loyalty from scholars and intellectuals; and clamped down on foreign nongovernmental organizations, media outlets, think tanks and internet companies,” they wrote.
They also offered a reminder to Trump.
“President Trump would do well to remember, even in the midst of heightened diplomacy on North Korea, that governments which trample the basic rights of their own citizens are unreliable international partners.”
Comprising the bipartisan Commission is nine senators and seven representatives. Also, five executive branch commissioners are provided, which have not yet been appointed.
Nelson proposes gasoline supply reserve in Florida
The three-term Democrat, who has seen numerous hurricanes come through Florida during his 17 years in the Senate, is calling on the federal government to make it easier for residents to evacuate. He is proposing a “Florida Gasoline Supply Reserve” that would store at least 1 million barrels of gasoline for distribution when disaster-related evacuations are required.
Stories of Florida residents remaining in place as Hurricane Irma approached due to limited fuel access, prompted the call for the reserve. He filed a bill last week that would require the U.S. Department of Energy to create the reserve.
“When a major storm is heading toward our state, we have to make sure people have access to the gas they need to get out of harm’s way, Nelson said. “A Florida gas reserve would not only help prevent some of the gas shortages we saw ahead of Hurricane Irma but would also help ensure that our first responders have the fuel they need to help people during and after the storm.”
Nelson will likely gain bipartisan support for his bill, especially within the delegation. Republican Richard Corcoran, Speaker of the Florida House, had recently made a similar suggestion.
Rubio: Told you so
As the U.S. military took over the Puerto Rico relief efforts, Florida’s junior senator pointed out that the federal government was doing what he called for almost two weeks ago. As some of the smaller-town mayors “stumble on the job” of getting relief to their constituents, the military is now charged with ensuring lifesaving supplies are distributed to those in need in the island’s more remote areas.
Soon after his visit to the island shortly after Hurricane Maria had left, Rubio pledged the federal government would not forget them. Militarizing the relief effort was one of his recommendations.
“We need to push it directly to the barrio to ensure that everyone’s getting it,” Brig. Gen. Jose J. Reyes told the Miami Herald.
Between 10-20 soldiers will be placed in the communities with the responsibility of delivering supplies.
“They will have some vehicles. They will have radio communications, as well as logistics support … they are going to be living there,” said Reyes. “They are going to be operating 24/7.”
On Sunday, Rubio tweeted “12 days ago said @DeptofDefense must take over @PuertoRicoRelief appears they have finally reached same conclusion.”
Delegation calls for $27 billion in additional hurricane recovery funding
In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, both U.S. Senators from Florida, along with 26 delegation members from the House, submitted Friday a line-item list of budget requests totaling $26.945 billion worth of federal hurricane recovery funding.
In a letter penned to members of the House Committee on Appropriations, nearly the entire Florida delegation outlined specific recovery funding requests in addition to the $29 billion requested this week from the White House.
“Three hurricanes have hit U.S. soil in a short time, stretching our federal agencies, first responders and community resources thin,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “With more than a month left in the 2017 hurricane season and another storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, Americans need to know that the federal government is ready to respond.”
The letter stresses that additional funding will likely be needed once a more thorough damage assessment is complete and the funding sought will probably cover only part of the state’s overall recovery costs.
The largest of the requests include $10 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to help repair and sustain port and river functionality, along with repairing any damage to ongoing projects like the Herbert Hoover Dike. There is also $7 billion for the Community Development Block Grant to fund any unmet needs, including seawall restoration in South Florida; and $5 billion for the Department of Agriculture to assist with crop and livestock losses from Hurricanes Maria and Irma.
Congressman Daniel Webster, a Republican from Florida’s 11th District, was the only Florida delegation signature absent from the letter Friday.
Good news/bad news on GOP passing 2018 budget resolution
The good news, depending on one’s point of view, is the House passed a budget for the next fiscal year. The bad news, depending on one’s point of view, is the House passed a budget for the next fiscal year.
The vote of 219-206 represents complete unity against the resolution by Democrats with 18 Republicans crossing over to vote with them. Delegation members were only too happy to provide the good news and bad news for constituents and the media.
“It’s time to put Washington on a responsible fiscal path, and this budget is a step in the right direction,” said Panama City Republican Neal Dunn. Dunn pointed to estimates the budget would achieve $6.5 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years and produce a budget surplus of $9 billion in fiscal year 2027.
“Budgeting is about setting priorities, and the FY 2018 budget does just that,” said Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross. “From funding America’s defense to balancing the budget in 10 years, and rolling back regulations that hinder our economy, we are getting American back on track.”
Democrats had a different, but familiar reaction.
“I voted against the Republican budget resolution that includes $5.4 trillion in spending cuts to programs critically important to my constituents,” said Democrat Al Lawson of Tallahassee. “This devastating budget included cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security and education assistance, all while cutting taxes for the wealthy.”
For those expecting a fiery response from Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch, he did not disappoint.
“The House Republican budget is a callous proposal to shut down essential programs like Medicare, steal billions of dollars from middle-class Americans’ wallets and funnel it to billionaires, and undermine key national priorities by cutting infrastructure funding and wreaking havoc on our health care system,” he said.
In September, the national debt topped $20 trillion. At that time, Congress approved stopgap funding until Dec. 8, when the debt ceiling will again need to be raised.
Water Wars headed for U.S. Supreme Court
The legal fight between Florida and Georgia over water flow into the Apalachicola River (aka “Water Wars”) will move before the full U.S. Supreme Court.
The nation’s highest court announced Tuesday that it will set a date for oral arguments in the case during its current term, which runs through June.
“The exceptions to the special master’s report are set for oral argument in due course,” the court said in a one-sentence announcement.
“We are pleased the Supreme Court granted oral argument and look forward to presenting our arguments in court,” said Kylie Mason, the press secretary for Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Florida filed a lawsuit in 2013, alleging Georgia diverts too much water from the river system and that the diversions have damaged Apalachicola Bay and Franklin County’s seafood industry. Earlier this year, a special master appointed by the Court recommended that Georgia’s position prevail.
“The key finding in the special master’s decision is that Florida has suffered harm from low water flows upriver and that stopping implementation of the revised water manual is necessary to right this wrong,” Panama City Republican Neal Dunn said in a news release.
Dunn, “with support from several of my Florida colleagues in Congress,” sought to halt “implementation of the water control practices” laid out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Both Florida senators and Congressmen representing the Panhandle area have been fighting the uphill battle. Earlier this year, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson filed a bill in the Senate that would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers send more freshwater into Florida.
“The oystermen whose livelihood depends on having enough fresh water in the bay are relying on us to get this fixed,” he said.
Speaker appoints Gaetz to debt ceiling group
The first-term Republican from Fort Walton Beach will now be watching the nation’s debt ceiling much more closely. Last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan appointed Gaetz to the House Debt Ceiling Working Group.
He brings a history of fiscal conservatism with him to the post. In a release announcing his appointment, his office reminded those watching the issue that Gaetz “has never voted to raise the debt ceiling.”
That includes last month, when he was among 90 House Republicans voting against both raising the debt ceiling until December and emergency Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to deal with hurricanes. Gaetz later stood by that vote.
“I am honored to have been chosen by the Speaker to work in the debt ceiling group,” Gaetz said. “In the past month, our government debt finally exceeded 20 trillion dollars. This is not only generational theft, but morally repugnant.”
Though they were on the opposite sides of the September debt ceiling increase, Ryan praised Gaetz for his fiscal responsibility.
“This is exactly why we wanted Matt Gaetz on the Budget Committee; because of how serious he is about getting our fiscal house in order,” said Ryan in a statement. “He brings to this working group the kind of fresh approach and long-term thinking taxpayers deserve right now. I appreciate his willingness to take on this responsibility at this critical time.”
The group’s first meeting was Tuesday.
Murphy, Demings, Soto announce transportation grant
The three Central Florida Democrats announced the Federal Highway Administration will provide the region with a $12 million grant to develop “intelligent transportation technologies.” Recipients are the Florida Department of Transportation, MetroPlan Orlando, and the University of Central Florida.
The specific purpose is to use technology to make transportation safer and more accessible for drivers, transit riders, pedestrians, and bicyclists in the Orlando area. Generally, it is intended to help central Florida ease traffic congestion and promote traffic safety.
In March, the three Members of Congress wrote to White House Budget Director Nick Mulvaney, with a copy to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, providing a list of more than a dozen projects that would benefit from the funds. The letter respectfully reminded Mulvaney of President Trump’s repeated pledge to invest in infrastructure.
Murphy said the grant “will help make Orlando’s roads safer and less congested, and give residents a wider range of transportation options.” Soto called it “great news for Central Florida! We all know firsthand the problems of traffic congestion and lack of cyclist safety in the Orlando area.”
“This grant will help residents and our 68 million annual visitors get from place to place quicker, faster, safer and with less fuel usage and air pollution,” Demings said.
Soto: Congress has come to terms with Puerto Rico, USVI devastation
The Orlando Democrat spent the early part of the week touring Puerto Rico and then Thursday met with the House Natural Resources Committee, leaving convinced that the island is in desperate straits, that the Trump administration still has not come to terms, but that Congress has.
“We’ve had much better success in getting Congress to understand the devastation than we have in getting the Trump administration to do so,” Soto told Florida Politics.
“That’s the good news in all this,” Soto said, noting that he expects Congress to pass an emergency $29 billion Federal Emergency Management Agency package for hurricane relief to Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, with Puerto Rico getting $10 billion of that.
Soto also called attention to the U.S. Virgin Islands, which he did not visit, but about which, he said, has been briefed on numerous times. Soto said the Virgin Islands were in as bad of shape, with no schools or hospitals standing, and, he said, the additional burden of a local government that was not responding well.
“One of the big things we [on the Natural Resources Committee] all agreed to do is we need to stand united for both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on this because we’re worried that the Virgin Islands will be left out. But everything needs to be rebuilt,” Soto said.
Orlando Republican Daniel Webster is also a member of the Committee.
Het he said he remains convinced that the Trump administration does not understand the “damage or the heightened sense of the urgency of the need.”
“If President Trump said today, ‘Bring down 500 helicopters and get them out to all these towns immediately,’ it will happen,” Soto added. “But to the best of my knowledge, unless something has changed over the last day or so, it still hasn’t.”
Upon his return from Puerto Rico, Soto filed a report of his findings.
Bilirakis bill clears committee
The Republican from Palm Harbor is working his legislation, named the Community CARE Act, through the House of Representatives. The bill, co-sponsored by New York Republican Elise Stefanik, reauthorizes funding for community health centers for the next two years.
Bilirakis announced the bill passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The centers provided health and dental care for underserved populations.
“This important bill reauthorizes funding for community health centers for the next two years at a level of $3.6 billion per year,” Bilirakis said in a newsletter to constituents. “Community health centers provide high quality, comprehensive health care to over 25 million Americans, including 7 million children and 300,000 veterans.”
Democrat Kathy Castor of Tampa also serves on the committee with Bilirakis.
Buchanan calls out California “Governor Moonbeam”
It is safe to say the Sarasota Republican is not a fan of California in general, and their governor, in particular. In an email message titled “Governor Moonbeam Strikes Again,” Buchanan lamented to his district that California is now a “sanctuary state.”
“There’s a reason I’m leading the fight in Congress to crack down on sanctuary cities,” Buchanan wrote. “It’s because of people like (Gov.) Jerry Brown.
Brown was given that moniker in the 1970s by Chicago columnist Mike Royko.
Buchanan was responding to Brown signing a bill which will “vastly limit local law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.” The U.S. Department of Justice agrees with Buchanan.
“The state of California has now codified a commitment to returning criminal aliens back onto our streets, which undermines public safety, national security and law enforcement,” said department spokesman Devin O’Malley.
In response, California Senate President Kevin de León said the bill “will not provide full sanctuary,” but would prevent local police from being “commandeered” into doing immigration enforcement.
Buchanan called on U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Senate to approve two bills Congressional Republicans support, Kate’s Law and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act, immediately. Both bills, co-sponsored by Buchanan and GOP colleague Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, passed the House in July.
Deutch leads 180+ Democrats asking Trump not to nix Iran deal
The Democrat from Boca Raton has joined with his Democratic colleague from North Carolina, David Price, in writing to President Trump asking him not to decertify the nuclear materials agreement with Iran negotiated by the Obama administration. Reports are circulating Trump may do just that as early as Thursday or Friday.
“The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act requires the president to provide to Congress credible evidence of Iranian noncompliance should violations of (the agreement) occur,” they wrote. “We have received no such information to date.”
Decertifying the agreement would not come as a total surprise. Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump pledged to “get rid” of it or “tear it up.” According to POLITICO, he may decertify it, but not reimpose sanctions on Iran, thereby preserving the opportunity to “save” it.
“If President Trump decertifies Iranian compliance without clear evidence of Iranian violations, it will jeopardize this united front against Iran,” Deutch said in a news release. “The (agreement) is an imperfect agreement, but to address the problematic provisions, including the sunset clauses, we will need to stay in lockstep with our global partners.”
Joining the U.S. in negotiating the agreement was China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany.
According to the list provided by Deutch, all Florida Democrats signed on to the letter except Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park.
DCCC launches Spanish-language ads targeting “vulnerable” Republicans
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is stepping up its attacks in three South Florida congressional districts. Digital advertisements, focusing on Medicare, targets Mario Diaz-Balart from the 25th District and Carlos Curbelo in the 26th. They will also run in the 27th District, currently held by the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
The boogeyman in these ads is House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republicans for their attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. Democrats say the GOP legislation would take $500 billion from Medicare.
“Ryan and the Republicans in Washington,” the ad says. “Medicare is yours, not theirs.”
“Medicare has allowed millions of hardworking Latino families across the country to receive quality and affordable health care coverage,” said DCCC spokesman Javier Gamboa. “House Republicans will stop at nothing to rip away affordable health care coverage from their constituents, and we are all at risk as long as they’re in office.”
The ad, “No Pueden Parar,” (They Can’t Stop), is the first Spanish-language digital ad of the 2018 election cycle from the DCCC. The 15-second advertisement is targeted through Facebook and Google to those living in the three districts that have set their computer and phone settings to Spanish.
In addition to the three districts in Florida, another 16 heavily Latino areas in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas will see the ads. No dollar figure on the cost of the ad buy was provided.
Floridians honored in Washington for work on mental illness
This week, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) recognized two Florida advocates for their work. Judge Steven Leifman and Peggy Symons of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Orlando were presented with two of PhRMA’s 2017 Research & Hope Awards.
Leifman is a Miami-Dade County judge who spends considerable time outside the courtroom working on the issue of mental health. For more than seven years he has chaired the Florida Supreme Court Task Force on Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in the Court.
He tirelessly works to improve the broken system and has developed groundbreaking resources within the 11th Judicial Circuit.
Symons is a diagnosed schizophrenic with bipolar disorder. After failing for more than 30 years to find the right medication to control her disease, she discovered two that worked. After enduring the struggle dealing with insurance companies, she found herself on the right path and committed herself to work on behalf of others similarly afflicted.
“The award recipients are inspirational leaders in mental health research, support and advocacy,” said PhRMA President and CEO Stephen J. Ubl. “We are grateful for their extraordinary commitment to helping patients build better and healthier lives.”
Award recipients were honored at a Tuesday ceremony in Washington that featured keynote speaker Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in U.S. history.
Paulson’s Principles: The more things change, the more they stay the same
We are nine months into President Donald Trump’s first term, and many Republicans and Democrats are anxiously looking forward to the 2018 midterm elections.
As is often the case, both parties see a reason for optimism.
Republicans are optimistic because they hold the White House, they control 35 of the 50 governorships, 67 of the 98 partisan state legislative bodies, and they gained almost 1,000 new state legislators during the eight years of the Obama administration.
Democratic optimism is based on Trump’s abysmal approval ratings which they believe will help drag down Republican candidates. Democrats also believe that the special election victory of Democrat Annette Taddeo in a state senate race will help Democrats attract better candidates, raise more money and boost enthusiasm.
Democrats believe they have nowhere to go but up. After Republican control of the Florida congressional delegation since 1990, Democrats and believe they have the opportunity to flip three additional seats and take control of the congressional delegation for the first time in almost three decades.
Democratic optimism is based on Trump’s low approval ratings, the electorates desire for political change after three decades of Republican dominance in Florida, and based on demographic changes occurring in Florida.
Two hundred thousand Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida since 2012 and most reside in the Orlando metropolitan area. Because of hurricane Maria and its devastation of Puerto Rico, another 100,000 island residents could migrate to Florida. They would bring with them their strong ties to the Democratic Party. Orlando-area Hispanics are now 54 percent Democrat and only 14 percent Republican.
But, as Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times has recently noted, not all demographic changes favor the Democrats. The Villages, an area northwest of Orlando, has been the fastest growing metro area for the past four years. Its residents are overwhelmingly Republican and pro-Trump. Just as the in-migration of Puerto Ricans has benefited Democrats, the growth of the 98 percent white Villages will help Republican candidates.
The cleansing of voter rolls is another factor benefiting Republicans. Hillsborough County, which moved 46,264 voters to the inactive roll, more than twice the number of any other county, resulted in 18,514 Democrats and 9,140 Republicans being moved to inactive status.
Statewide, 114,000 voters were moved to the inactive status. 27,000 were Republicans, but 82,000 were Democrats.
As Tim Russert said on election night 2000, everything came down to “Florida, Florida, Florida.” As we know, it is almost impossible to predict anything in Florida other than close elections.
Statewide, Democrats now make up 37.6 percent of the electorate, Republicans are 35 percent and No Party Affiliation is 27 percent. This gives Democrats a lead of 275,330 voters out of 13 million registered voters.
As political guru Steve Schale has noted, since 1992, over 50 votes have been cast in Florida presidential elections and Republicans lead by 12,000 votes or 0.02 percent. It can’t get closer than that.
Who wins in Florida in 2018 will come down to candidate quality, money and political organization.
Double duty for Scalise?
Recently, Louisiana Republican Congressman Steve Scalise returned to Capitol Hill to resume his duties as he still recovers from his near-fatal shooting. In addition to representing his state’s 1st Congressional District, he also serves as the House Majority Whip; otherwise known as the guy responsible for rounding up votes on the side desired by leadership.
By most accounts, Scalise has been successful in his Whip post. With all of the division among House Republicans, that chamber was able to at least get a “repeal and replace” Obamacare bill across the finish line.
The Senate is a different story, where a GOP majority experienced multiple failures. This prompted first-term Republican Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach to joke about expanding Scalise’s duties.
“Maybe we’ll send him over to the Senate to whip them into shape,” he quipped.
While the Constitution does not permit that, a Senate run may be a part of Scalise’s future.