Democrats see smoking gun in Flynn plea deal
Florida Democrats believe Friday’s news that the plea deal negotiated by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn points to bigger problems for President Donald Trump and his closest advisers. Several weighed in after the story broke.
“Flynn’s guilty plea is another significant step in making the case that there was collusion with the Russians,” declared Sen. Bill Nelson.
Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief, said the news tells her the Trump administration thinks it is above the law.
“As a 27-year law enforcement officer, it is deeply offensive to me that this administration has repeatedly hidden behind cries of ‘law and order’ while breaking the law themselves,” she stated in a release.
“Every American should be disturbed that the Trump administration considers themselves above the law,” she continued. “Before now, the question was whether this went all the way to the top. President Trump and his inner circle will have a sleepless night.”
Alcee Hastings of Miramar called Flynn’s deal “the latest step in uncovering the degree to which the Trump administration colluded with the Russian government.”
“Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has admitted to contacting the Russian Government, under instruction from President Trump’s transition team, and then lying about it to the FBI. Even though today’s guilty plea was not unexpected, it is still an outrageous and shameful admission of purposefully misleading the American people.”
Ted Deutch of Boca Raton said Flynn’s guilty plea only raises more questions about potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“As I have repeatedly said, Special Counsel [Robert] Mueller must be allowed to continue his work unobstructed by the White House, and the House Judiciary Committee must independently examine any possible obstruction of justice,” Deutch said.
Darren Soto of Orlando said, “Flynn has dodged this investigation from the start, so this perjury charge is not surprising. The information he may reveal could be, though.”
Florida Republicans mostly let the Democrats do the talking. They quietly pointed critics to the erroneous ABC News story that initially pointed to Trump directing associates to contact the Russians during the campaign.
ABC backed away from that assertion and suspended reporter Brian Ross for four weeks without pay. Trump supporters and Republicans say there is nothing wrong with a president-elect and his team communicating with any country’s representative.
To no one’s surprise, Trump was far from quiet on Twitter. Saying Flynn “did nothing wrong,” by contacting Russians, he left the impression he knew Flynn lied to the FBI, which veers into the obstruction of justice lane that Deutch discussed.
Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said on Sunday that Trump continues to “comment regarding ongoing criminal investigations at your own peril.”
A little criminal investigation is unlikely to stop the country’s most famous tweeter. If Mueller does not give Democrats plenty to comment on, Trump will likely fill any gap.
Correction: In Friday’s issue, the committee assignments for Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford were incorrectly stated. He is a member of the House Judiciary, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security Committee.
Shock poll: Nelson down 10 points to Scott in hypothetical matchup
In a shocking poll released Friday, the three-term Democrat seeking re-election in 2018 now trails the Republican governor by 10 points in a hypothetical matchup. According to the survey from the St. Leo University polling institute, Scott leads Nelson 41.8 percent to 31.6 percent.
Democrats will also be shocked by the poll showing Scott’s favorability, who has not announced a Senate run, has risen to 61 percent. The poll did not provide Nelson’s favorability rating.
“We’re still almost a year out from the 2018 elections, but Rick Scott is in the best position he’s been in yet against incumbent Bill Nelson,” said Frank Orlando, director of the polling institute. “It will be interesting to see if he can maintain the support while his party is hurting electorally throughout the country.”
Nelson’s team will point out the survey was conducted solely online with 500 respondents and between the dates of November 19 through 24. The last two days were Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
Still, St. Leo claims “a 95 percent confidence level” with a plus-or-minus 4.5 percent margin of error. They describe their process as “cutting-edge online methodology.”
Even if the margin of error is a bit larger, an incumbent sitting anywhere near the 30s has some work to do.
Trump’s sudden flexibility on tax rate irks Rubio
For months as the tax reform debate raged, Trump said time and again the drop in the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent was “non-negotiable.” On Friday, Florida’s junior senator sought an adjustment to 20.94 percent to enable “working families” to reap the full benefit of an increase in the Child Tax Credit.
His amendment failed by a vote of 71-29, but he went ahead and voted last week to pass the Senate’s version of tax reform.
“Tonight, the Senate missed an opportunity to help American working families by not expanding access to the Child Tax Credit,” Rubio said in a statement shortly after the bill’s passage. “By rejecting this amendment, the Senate failed to address the struggles facing American workers and their families.
“However, we did take a major step toward growing our economy,” he added. “This bill implements a series of reforms that will make our economy significantly more globally competitive.”
On Saturday, just hours after the bill passed, Trump signaled he would accept a rate of 22 percent if that is what “ultimately comes out.”
That disappointed the two-term senator, to say the least. On Saturday night, he tweeted his frustration.
“For days heard that anything more than 20% corp rate would be anti-growth & catastrophic. Less than 12 hours later 22% is now an option?”
A House and Senate conference committee will now work to craft a single bill to be voted upon in both chambers.
Assignment editors — Florida Republicans Matt Gaetz, Ted Yoho and Ron DeSantis will join several GOP colleagues for a news conference at 9 a.m. Wednesday on Capitol Hill. They will discuss their demands for answers from the FBI on the separate investigations involving Hillary Clinton and Trump. Location: The House Triangle (East Front). RSVP: Jillian.LaneWyant@mail.house.
Florida and Texas delegations tag-teaming to force more hurricane aid
Last week, the Florida delegation left no ambiguity: they were measurably upset by the Trump Administration’s latest proposal for disaster aid. At a delegation meeting, they threatened to withhold their support for the entire package unless substantial funding is included to help Florida’s citrus industry recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Irma.
Now we find out Texas is also unhappy with the proposal that they feel is insufficient to address damage caused by the massive flooding coming from Hurricane Harvey. There is now talk of members of the Texas delegation joining with Florida to gain leverage.
In a Miami Herald news story, Florida, Texas lawmakers threaten a government shutdown over hurricane relief funding; both states are talking about voting against the relief package as a bloc unless their concerns are addressed. The funding package could be tied to pending continuing resolution (CR) that raises the debt ceiling and keeps the government operating beyond December 8.
“Unless substantial changes are made, we are not going to support the CR,” said Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, “We will use the clout of both of our delegations. Without significant changes, this supplemental cannot be allowed to go through.”
Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents portions of flood-ravaged Houston, used the “s” word.
“We do not have the adequate resources and this is going to be on the verge of a government shutdown if Texas and all the other victims of these hurricanes do not have a compromise where we can work together,” she said at a Homeland Security hearing on Thursday.
The two delegations joined together to craft a letter to House leadership of both parties seeking the additional funding. Of the two delegations’ 63 members, 38 signed the letter — including 22 from Florida — while many of those not signing are supportive of the effort.
“Today I joined my colleagues from Florida and Texas in expressing our extreme disappointment in OMB’s [Office of Management and Budget’s] supplemental request,” said Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, who signed the letter, in a statement. “I have made it abundantly clear that any supplemental I vote for must provide adequate funding in disaster relief funds.”
Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross said, “Florida agriculture is in crisis, and Washington must not allow Florida citrus to get washed away by Hurricane Irma.”
As if that were not enough, moderate South Florida Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo indicate they would not sign on to a long-term spending bill unless there is an agreement to protect undocumented young adults who came to this country as children.
December will not be a quiet month on Capitol Hill.
President coming to Florida Friday
Trump plans to hold a re-election campaign rally in Pensacola on Friday, his fourth visit to the city since he first began campaigning for president in 2015. The Donald J. Trump for President campaign announced he would appear at a 7 p.m. rally at the Pensacola Bay Center.
“We are pleased to confirm that President Trump will be attending a campaign rally in Pensacola Friday evening,” Michael Glassner, executive director of the campaign said in a media advisory.
“Nothing inspires President Trump as much as connecting with hardworking Americans at campaign rallies across the country,” Glassner continued. “He especially enjoys meeting with our courageous veterans and their families at these patriotic events. As the President’s historic tax reform plan, which he has said will be like rocket fuel in our economy, gets closer to passage, the timing for our campaign rally in Pensacola could not be better.”
GOP Senate tax plan is either a ‘scam’ or will ‘boost economic growth’
Now that the Senate has passed its version of tax reform, the House will again resume their role in the process. A conference
Depending on members’ points of view, the tax reform bill Republican Senators passed on Friday will either be a big boost to the economy or is a scam that will harm entitlement programs.
“The American people should not be fooled,” said Boca Raton Democrat Deutch. “The Republican plan will trigger automatic $25 billion Medicare cuts at the end of the year and will set Republicans up for further cuts to hard-earned Medicare and Social Security benefits.”
Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz got personal.
“How do you spell #hypocrite?”, she tweeted. “R-E-P-U-B-L-I-C-A-N. Speaker Paul Ryan in his own words, ‘our debt is a threat to this country. The debt will weigh down the country like an anchor.’ CBO: Senate and House passed tax bill blow $1.5/$1.7 trillion hole in the deficit. #TaxScamBill”
Republicans talked jobs and growth. Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford summed it up for his party.
“I am encouraged that the Senate passed the much-needed tax relief bill,” said Republican John Rutherford of Jacksonville. “I look forward to negotiating with them to ensure tax reform focuses on middle-class families and spurs the creation of good jobs and economic growth.”
Republicans are attempting to get final legislation to the president’s desk before the end of the year.
In Friday’s issue, the committee memberships of Rep. Rutherford were incorrectly stated. He is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Veterans Affairs Committee, and Homeland Security Committee. We regret the error.
DeSantis introduces bipartisan slush fund bill
After it was revealed some Members of Congress were using taxpayer funds to settle claims of sexual harassment and other impropriety, the Ponte Vedra Republican vowed to pass legislation to stop it. Last week, DeSantis and a growing number of colleagues from both parties were making good on that promise.
Last week DeSantis introduced the Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act. Within two days, the legislation already had 65 co-sponsors.
“What does it say about the sincerity of Congress in combating harassment when members and staff can have taxpayers cover for their misconduct while keeping it all secret?” DeSantis said. “This legislation will protect taxpayers by making congressional settlement data public, barring tax dollars from being used to bail out congressional misconduct and requiring reimbursement of the treasury by members and staff who have had taxpayer-financed settlements paid on their behalf.”
One of the bill’s co-sponsors echoed the need for the legislation.
“For far too long, Members of Congress and staff who have committed egregious acts of sexual harassment and assault have hidden behind closed doors, anonymity, and forced nondisclosure agreements, while taxpayers paid millions in settlements for their misconduct. This is outrageous and must end now. Enough is enough,” said Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.
Among the bill’s co-sponsors are 43 Republicans and 22 Democrats. Signing on: Florida Republicans Francis Rooney of Naples, Tom Rooney of Okeechobee, Ted Yoho of Gainesville, Bill Posey of Rockledge and Vern Buchanan of Sarasota.
Sabato: Crist re-election now ‘likely’; Diaz-Balart ‘safe’
Despite being an early target of national Republicans, the freshman Democrat from St. Petersburg now appears on his way to winning re-election. In the latest Sabato Crystal Ball (the prediction newsletter named after University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato), managing editor Kyle Kondik now moves Crist’s 13th Congressional District from “leans Democratic” to “likely Democratic.”
“Both Crist and (New Jersey Democrat Josh) Gottheimer represent ‘swingy’ districts, but these freshmen members are also raising boatloads of cash and benefit from the environment,” Kondik writes. “Crist does not have a viable challenger at the moment.”
Former Rep. David Jolly, the Republican Crist defeated in 2016, has previously said that he would declare whether he would run again for his former seat in January, but the odds look less likely that will occur. Never a prolific fundraiser, there is still considerable doubt whether the National Republican Congressional Campaign (NRCC) would come to Jolly’s financial aid next year.
The district was also substantially redistricted in 2015, making it much more Democratic in voter registration, as well as much harder for any Republican to win.
Add to the fact that Crist had more than $1.4 million cash on hand, and it does seem a safe bet to move the St. Petersburg Democrat into the “likely Democratic” category.
Other Sabato predictions include Republican Mario Diaz-Balart moving from “likely Republican” to “safe Republican” in District 25; Republican Brian Mast in District 18 staying “likely Republican;” Curbelo‘s District 26 seat being a “tossup” against an eventual Democratic nominee and Florida’s 27th Congressional seat — vacated after 30 years by Republican Illeana Ros-Lehtinen — leaning Democratic.
Buchanan touts veteran’s ID cards; VA system crashes
The Sarasota Republican was making sure his constituents who served in the military were aware they could order new identification cards through Veterans Affairs. Buchanan announced veterans could go to the VA website to order the cards.
“Every veteran — past, present, and future — can now prove their military service without the added risk of identity theft,” Buchanan said in a news release. “These ID cards will make life a little bit easier for our veterans and serve as a constant reminder that our brave men and women in uniform deserve all the care and respect a grateful nation can offer.”
Buchanan was the author of the Veterans Identification Card Act which passed Congress more than two years ago. While it took this long to get everything ready to accept and process the applications, perhaps the VA was not quite prepared.
The early popularity of the card is both a good thing and a bad thing. As of Monday, the system had crashed, and visitors to the site received the following message:
“Thank you for your interest in the Veteran Identification Card! Currently, we are experiencing a high volume of traffic. We apologize, and want you to know we’re working to fix the problem.”
Apparently, Buchanan’s House colleagues were touting the cards as well.
Former Rep. Corrine Brown receives 5-year prison sentence
The slogan of purported educational charity One Door for Education was “we make your educational dreams a reality.” On Monday, the former Democratic Congresswoman from Jacksonville and her co-conspirators in the yearslong scheme learned their fate.
After a legal ordeal lasting the better part of two years, Corrine Brown and her two co-conspirators in the One Door for Education case — former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and the former CEO of the charity, Carla Wiley — faced sentencing Monday morning in a Jacksonville courthouse.
The sentencing essentially gave voice to the jury’s verdict, with Judge Timothy Corrigan noting that Brown’s comments were “reprehensible” at times, such as when she said the Pulse massacre happened because the FBI was too busy investigating her.
Brown got a sentence that reflected a spirit of “general deterrence,” a sentence “in the mainstream” of public corruption cases in recent years. In other words, the judge did not go easy on her.
“A sentence of probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts would not be sufficient,” Corrigan said.
Brown got 60 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $62,650 to the IRS, and $452,000 of additional restitution, and $664,000 of forfeiture. She will appeal, though attorney James Smith has yet to determine if he will see that appeal through.
Brown was found guilty earlier this year of a laundry list of 18 charges. Among them: conspiracy to defraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, tax fraud, and fraudulent financial disclosures.
She has never admitted guilt, except for saying she trusted without “verifying,” in a November plea for “mercy and compassion.”
Southerland’s heads new group advocating North Florida water issues
Former Republican Congressman Steve Southerland of Panama City was in Tallahassee on Monday to announce the official launch of a North Florida regional conservation group and to challenge South Florida. Southerland is the chairman of Stand Up For North Florida, an advocacy organization dedicated to addressing the water and conservation needs of North and Central Florida.
“Stand Up For North Florida exists to ensure that the volume of our voices in Tallahassee is just as loud as those from the rest of the state,” said Southerland. “Florida is a big state with a lot of interests competing for attention here in the capitol, and we believe that the time has come for an organized, united effort to protect the vital natural resources and the best interests of the citizens of North Florida.”
Southerland and his organization are concerned with the region getting its share of budget dollars for water and conservation projects in the current and future state budgets.
“With 85 percent of the money designated for regional-specific projects in the 2017-18 budget going to South Florida at the expense of the rest of the state, up from 75 percent the previous year, it is clear that’s not right, and we have had enough.”
The group has filed to become a 501(c)(4) organization.
Paulson’s Politics: Can Democrats turn Florida’s Congressional Districts blue?
Last week, I profiled Florida’s two most vulnerable congressional districts. Republican Hispanics in Miami hold both districts. Republican Ros-Lehtinen has held District 27 since 1989. Ros-Lehtinen was able to hold the district due to her personal popularity, her constituency service, her moderate views and her dislike of Trump.
As soon as Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement, the district flipped from “leans Republican” to “likely Democrat.” If Democrats blow this opportunity, they have no chance of taking control of the delegation.
The second most vulnerable district is District 26, held by Republican Curbelo. The district has a +6 Democratic advantage and was won by 16 percent by Clinton in 2016. This will be a tougher flip for Democrats, but one that they must flip if they want to win control of the Florida delegation.
Even if Democrats win Districts 26 and 27, they must flip one more district while holding on to all 11 districts they currently hold in order to win control of the Florida delegation. At this point, Florida Democratic congress members appear more secure than the Republicans.
Originally, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee targeted the seats of first-term incumbents Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy. First-term members are always more vulnerable than longtime incumbents. In my view, Crist has become a lock to win re-election. He has no announced opponent and has over $1.4 million in his treasury.
Murphy, who defeated longtime Republican John Mica 52-49 percent, with the help of $5 million from the DCCC and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, is facing a challenge from fellow Democrat Chardo Richardson who questions Murphy’s progressive credentials. Murphy has $700,000 in the bank compared to Richardson’s $12,000. Should Murphy survive the challenge, which is likely, she will face either Republican State Rep. Mike Miller or businessman Scott Sturgill in the general election. Political factors still favor the Democrat.
Vulnerable Republicans include the District 6 seat held by DeSantis. If DeSantis runs for governor, the seat becomes competitive with no incumbent. Republican John Ward, a Navy veteran and businessman, has already announced for the seat under the assumption DeSantis will run for governor.
On the Democratic side, former National Security Council member Nancy Soderberg is the Democrat’s preferred candidate. Soderberg now heads the Public Service Leadership Program at the University of North Florida and has raised $400,000 since announcing.
Vern Buchanan, the Republican in District 16, was second on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee “hit list” in April 2017. Buchanan has held his seat since 2006 when he defeated Democrat Christine Jennings by 369 votes.
Since his first election, Buchanan’s closest race was a 54-46 percent victory over Keith Fitzgerald in 2012. That campaign was dominated by ethical investigations of Buchanan including using campaign funds for personal expenses.
Buchanan’s $50 million net worth placed him ninth on Roll Call’s list of the wealthiest members of Congress. Buchanan has over $2 million in his campaign account, and that will scare away most Democrats.
Perhaps the most vulnerable Republican in the Florida congressional delegation, besides the District 27 and 28 seats, is the seat of Mast in District 18. This seat has flipped from Republican Allen West to Democrat Patrick Murphy to Republican Mast in the past three elections. Will “one and done” continue in District 18?
Mast, who lost both legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, is likely to face Lauren Baer, a former member of the Obama administration and an adviser to Secretaries of State Clinton and John Kerry.
Mast raised more money in the third quarter than any other Florida congressional candidate, $411,183, and now has $921,000 in his campaign account. The Cook Political Report downgraded its rating in July from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican.”
Bottom Line: Democrats must win District 27. There is no Republican incumbent in a district which is very Democratic. If they lose District 27, there is no chance for a wave election.
Democrats should win District 27 and have a better than even chance of picking up District 26. If all the stars align, Democrats could pick up between 2-5 seats. The conditions have never been better for Democrats. Will they capitalize on the opportunity?
NEXT WEEK: Unseen political factors that could impact congressional races.