Congress returns facing monster agenda
Congress returns today following the Christmas recess. Whether the cold weather or a daunting agenda is the most depressing, some members may wish they could have stayed home longer.
A full “to-do” list confronts them as they resume arguing on any possible solutions those issues. With an election year looming, plays to the bases of both parties will be in vogue.
Heading the list — again — is funding the federal government. The continuing resolution passed during the final days of 2017 gives the government enough money to fully operate through December 19.
The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was also facing a deadline before a stopgap funding bill kept it going until March. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is also facing a March deadline imposed by President Donald Trump.
These are huge issues legislators like to put off, but certainly not tackle, in a short period — especially when nearly 88 percent of House and Senate seats are on the ballot in November.
“Some of these things they are talking about are huge, contentious issues,” Jane Calderwood, Chief of Staff to then-Maine GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe told The Washington Post. “I can’t imagine it’s doable, and certainly not doable in a thoughtful way.”
Things can deteriorate rapidly if election-year politics dominates the policy debates.
For example, Republicans will most likely want a “clean bill” for the government funding measure. Democrats, who are smarting from criticism by immigration activists over not forcing a DACA bill last month, may look to tie that issue to funding the government.
It doesn’t end there. Trump has said there would be no DACA fix unless there is funding for a border wall, an end to what is known as “chain migration” as well as terminating the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the “immigration lottery.”
Another issue of particular interest to Floridians is the disaster relief bill. The House passed the $81 billion measure on December 21, but the Senate took no action.
Some in the House fear the Senate will expand the price tag to such an extent that budget-conscious members in non-affected states could balk. Florida agriculture (as well as disaster victims in Texas and California) needs assistance quickly.
The legislative schedule is out, showing Congress takes one week off for each monthly holiday until June. Look for calls from those in tight re-election races to call for shorter breaks.
The fact that this is a pivotal election year will become clear in relatively short order.
Nelson claims Congress is hurting Puerto Rico
Democrats in the House and Senate have often said the Trump administration’s response to the plight of Puerto Ricans following Hurricane Maria. Florida’s senior senator has joined that criticism, but last week he took a shot at his colleagues in Congress.
Following a trip to the island after Christmas with Democratic Rep. Darren Soto from Orlando, Nelson lamented the fact that so many are still without power and some of the necessities to recover. More than three months after the storm hit, Nelson feels Puerto Ricans remain neglected.
“Puerto Rico is not being treated right,” Nelson said. “You can imagine here in Florida if we had gone 97 days without electricity people would be so hopping mad they would absolutely demand things.”
Nelson took it even further with some dramatic rhetoric. Not only is Congress not helping Puerto Rico, but their actions are actually hurting residents. According to Nelson, the recently enacted tax reform bill eliminated benefits previously enjoyed by Puerto Ricans.
“A knife was put to the neck of Puerto Rico,” Nelson said, adding: “This is not right. This is not fair.”
The current disaster relief bill pending in the Senate would require Puerto Rico to pay for 10 to 25 percent of its recovery dollars. The U.S. Commonwealth is tens of billions of dollars in debt.
“Puerto Ricans are Americans,” he said. “They are U.S. citizens, and a lot of my fellow members of Congress don’t understand that.”
Rubio: Maybe tax reform leans too far toward corporations
Even a week after Congress passed, and Trump signed, the controversial tax reform bill, it continued to be a source of news stories. The two-term Florida Republican made significant headlines with comments before and after the proposal cleared Congress.
After threatening to vote “no,” the two-term Republican won concessions for the Child Tax Credit, thereby earning his support. Now, he seems to agree with some of the Democratic criticism of the bill.
“I thought we probably went too far on (helping) corporations,” Rubio told a group of reporters. “By and large, you’re going to see a lot of these multinationals buy back shares to drive up the price. Some of them will be forced, because they’re sitting on historic levels of cash, to pay out dividends to shareholders. That isn’t going to create dramatic economic growth.”
Despite the analysis, Rubio remains pleased that the bill passed.
“There’s a lot of things in the bill that I have supported for a long time (such as) doubling the Child Tax Credit,” he said. “And it is better — significantly better — than the current code.”
Politics on DACA fix coming front and center
The House and Senate are getting ready to take up a legislative solution to address those younger undocumented immigrants who have been protected from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order. Trump canceled the order signed by former President Barack Obama and gave Congress 6 months to come up with a fix.
Democrats are trying to turn up the heat on Republicans with a series of videos highlighting individuals who are affected by what Congress either does or does not do. Part of the urgency comes from the fact Democrats were criticized by activists for not sticking with demands for a DACA fix before the year ended.
The videos are in the range of 1:30 to more than two minutes. The Democratic National Committee is distributing them to activists and media around the country.
— The Democrats (@TheDemocrats) December 23, 2017
“In the time since the Trump Administration eliminated DACA, more than 13,000 DREAMers have lost their legal status to live, study and work in the United States of America,” the DNC email said. “As we enter 2018, the fate of nearly 800,000 DREAMers continues to remain in the balance. Trump’s reckless decision to end DACA without a proper legislative solution will not only harm DREAMers but also our nation’s economy.”
Trump has another take. In a tweet, he said “Democrats are doing nothing for DACA — just interested in politics. DACA activists and Hispanics will go hard against Dems, will start “falling in love” with Republicans and their President! We are about results.”
The president has said there will be no deal on DACA without funding for a border wall and the end to “chain migration” and the immigration lottery.
Gaetz casts only ‘no’ vote against human trafficking bill
Just before leaving for the Christmas recess, Congress passed and sent to the president a bill designed to have the federal government work more closely with states to combat human trafficking. That bill, the Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act, passed the Senate and the House with only one “no” vote.
The lone “nay” vote was cast by Ft. Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz. His primary opponent, Cris Dosev, was quick to blast the first-term representative.
“That Matt Gaetz could vote against a law to fight human trafficking and sex slave trade is beyond comprehension,” Dosev said in a release. “What was he thinking?”
Gaetz defended his action in a Facebook live posting, saying he voted no because, despite the best intentions of the bill, it represented “mission creep” at the federal level. He criticized the creation of a coordinator and a committee within the U.S. Dept. of Transportation to develop best practices for states and transportation groups to combat human trafficking.
“Unless there is an overwhelming, compelling reason that our existing agencies in the federal government can’t handle that problem, I vote no because voters in Northwest Florida did not send me to Washington to go and create more federal government,” Gaetz said. “If anything, we should be abolishing a lot of the agencies at the federal level like the Department of Education, like the EPA and sending that power back to our state governments.”
Gaetz also responded to Dosev without mentioning him by name.
“He apparently takes the view that we really do need to address our problems with more government,” he said. “And so, if that’s your view, if your view is we’ve got to grow government to solve our problems rather than prioritizing the entities that we already have, well I assure you there’s a candidate out there for you, but It’s not me.”
DeSantis inching toward run for governor
For anyone needing further proof the Ponte Vedra Republican is running for governor, his end-of-year actions point toward a departure from Congress. DeSantis, who has become a regular visitor to Fox News and other media outlets is already building a team.
On Friday, DeSantis announced several national big names, headed by Palm Beach billionaire Thomas Peterffy and Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, to a national finance team. Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus is also on board.
Another prominent name is David Bossie, Chairman of Citizens United, whose victory in the U.S. Supreme Court removed restrictions and unleashed unlimited campaign spending in political races.
While the signs point toward a run, DeSantis is still playing his cards close to the vest. He may have received his most significant national boost last week when President Trump weighed in with his support via Twitter.
Democrats believe they have a chance in Congressional District 6 if DeSantis leaves. Nancy Soderberg, who announced a run against DeSantis in July, had already raised $336,000 as of September 30.
So far the Republican side of the 2018 governor’s race has Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam running well ahead of anyone else. The only other major announced candidate, state Sen. Jack Latvala, is expected to withdraw soon, while the only other major expected candidate, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, has said he would wait until after the 2018 Legislative Session before deciding.
The Democratic field includes former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Winter Park businessman Chris King.
Murphy wins bet on Peach Bowl outcome
As she returns to Washington for the new year, the first-term Democrat from Winter Park will soon have a bucket full of Florida oranges in her office. Alabama Republican Mike Rogers will deliver them.
Murphy can thank the University of Central Florida Knights, who defeated Auburn 34-27 in Monday’s Peach Bowl, for the citrus. Before the game, Rogers — who represents the district where the Auburn campus is located — made a wager with Murphy on the outcome.
Rogers must now deliver the oranges to Murphy’s office in a UCF helmet. Murphy represents the area of Orlando hosting the UCF campus.
Had Auburn won, as most expected, Murphy would have been forced to “roll” the small oak tree from Toomer’s Corner oak lineage onto the lawn at the U.S. Capitol.
Former FBI agent to run against Bilirakis
When the calendar turns to an election year, candidates begin announcing their runs for re-election or challenges to incumbents. For the Palm Harbor Republican, the opposite has occurred.
A former FBI agent and federal prosecutor from Trinity announced on Tuesday his candidacy to challenge the six-term congressman.
“American service is an enduring promise that crosses generations, connects us to one another, and inspires hope,” said Democrat Chris Hunter, 44. “All of us are looking forward to renewing the American promise of service to our country and to one another.”
Expect the political commentary involving the FBI to be part of Hunter’s stump speeches.
Hunter is a political newcomer who applied to the FBI following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and as an agent focused on counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and international fugitive investigations. He most recently worked as a senior prosecutor with the United States Department of Justice concentrating on health care fraud.
Congressional District 12, which covers all of Pasco County and part of north Pinellas, is a heavily Republican district that Donald Trump won by nearly 19 percentage points. Bilirakis’s father, Mike Bilirakis, held the seat for more than two decades before Gus, 54, succeeded him.
“Public service is a privilege,” said Hunter, 44. “It is not an entitlement program for career politicians. Career politicians who sell out to the highest bidder or to political power brokers violate the trust we all place in our government. What’s worse, they turn their backs on our shared values and the true meaning of American service.”
F. Rooney livens up holidays with ‘purge’ comments
The Christmas holidays are often fairly quiet as far as news headlines go, but the Naples Republican shook up the post-Christmas holidays with a comment that generated big headlines. When he said last week the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice needed a “purge,” the country noticed.
Rooney, being interviewed by MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson, explained that he “would like to see the directors of those agencies purge it,” he replied. He added that “we’ve got a lot of great agents, a lot of great lawyers here, those are the people that I want the American people to see and know the good works being done, not these people who are kind of the deep state.”
Rooney’s specific agitation was with some involved in the ongoing investigation of alleged ties between agents of Russian influence and the Presidential campaign of Trump.
“That investigation is totally off the rails … I’m very concerned that the DOJ and the FBI, whether you want to call it ‘deep state’ or what, are kind of off the rails,” Rooney asserted, adding that the DOJ and FBI don’t “respect the Constitution.”
After some reflection, Rooney, the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, reconsidered his use of the word “purge.”
“It might be a pretty strong word. I’m not maybe the most nuanced political person in the world,” Rooney said in a Wednesday interview with CNN’s Brianna Keilar.
At the same time, he said he was “pretty frustrated” with bias among FBI and DOJ officials on the investigation into the Trump campaign.
Poll: Mast in statistical tie with hypothetical Democrat
An end-of-year survey found the Palm City Republican nearly even with a hypothetical 2018 Democrat opponent. The survey conducted by the Democrat-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP), showed Mast leading the generic candidate by a point, but trailing 47-45 when respondents were given additional information on the recent tax reform bill.
The survey results likely gave some encouragement to the two Democrats running against Mast: Lauren Baer and Pam Keith.
Baer, a former U.S. State Department official under President Obama, leads her primary rival with $250,000 raised through the end of the third quarter and had about $236,000 on hand. She has also picked up an endorsement from the Victory Fund gay rights advocacy group and, if elected, would be the Sunshine State’s first openly gay member of Congress.
Keith, who lost her bid for U.S. Senate in 2016, had raised $150,000 for her campaign through the end of September and had just under $64,000 in the bank. The Navy veteran and labor lawyer from Palm Beach Gardens picked up an endorsement from VoteVets, a progressive-politics organization dedicated to getting military veterans elected to public office.
Both Democrats trail Mast, also a military veteran. He has raised $1.58 million through September 30 and had about $921,000 on hand, with no Republican Primary challenger in sight. Despite the money advantage, the district remains a priority for Democrats as they seek to retake the House in 2018.
Hispanic Caucus leaders endorse Curbelo opponent
Democrats believe that if they are to retake the House of Representatives in 2018, they must defeat the two-term Republican from Kendall. Curbelo’s main competitor, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, picked up two Christmastime endorsements from House Hispanic leaders.
California Democrats Pete Aguilar and Linda Sanchez both endorsed Mucarsel-Powell, her campaign announced. Aguilar is whip of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Sanchez is the past chair.
The Democratic-dominated caucus last month rejected caucus membership for Curbelo, based on his positions and activities regarding the DREAM Act, the Affordable Care Act, and the Republican tax bill that was approved in late December.
“I am proud to support Debbie in her run for Congress,” Aguilar said in a news release. “Like so many immigrants, Debbie and her family came to America in search of a better life for their children — and by working two and three jobs, learning English at night, and by never giving up, Debbie was able to achieve the American Dream.”
Sanchez added, “As an immigrant and a Latina, Debbie is the champion Miami families deserve in Washington to advocate for this community. Debbie has spent her career expanding health care access to underserved communities in South Florida, predominantly serving communities of color.”
Earlier in December, Mucarsel-Powell announced endorsements from South Florida Democratic U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Lois Frankel.
“Congressman Aguilar and Congresswoman Sanchez want a colleague they count on and the families of FL-26 want a representative they can depend on, unlike my opponent who says one thing at home and does another in DC.”
Curbelo is unapologetic for his votes. In a Twitter exchange with former WIOD radio talk show host Fernand Amandi, Curbelo makes his case for re-election in a Democrat-leaning district.
“I campaigned on repeal and replace and tax reform,” he tweeted. “My constituents elected me by a wide margin. I kept my word and voted accordingly and in your tribal world that disqualifies me.”
As of September 30, Curbelo had $1.35 million cash on hand while Mucarsel-Powell had $162,000.
Jamestown Associates names new partners, COO
Jamestown Associates has made some key personnel moves, with Barney Keller and Jon Kohan named partners, and Lisa Morrison promoted to chief operating officer. Jamestown is the award-winning Republican political consulting firm primarily responsible for advertising in Trump’s 2016 presidential victory.
CEO Larry Weitzner praises the changes in a statement: “Barney and Jon excel at everything they do, and they will make great partners as Jamestown Associates continues to grow. They work hard, think smart and, most importantly, always put the client first, which has been a core of our philosophy from the beginning. Lisa has been with Jamestown for over a decade. She is a proven leader and manager, and as we grow, Lisa will ensure our continued smooth operations.”
Combined, the trio brings more than 30 years of earned experience through some of the nation’s toughest political campaigns, the statement adds.
Delegation could grow by two seats after 2020 census
Florida continues to be an attractive location to live according to the most recent statistics. That means the state may be in line to pick up two additional seats in Congress.
The U.S. Census estimates Florida’s population is now 20.98 million, with the state growing at a 1.6 percent clip — tied with Arizona for the fifth-largest percentage population increase between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017.
Only Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Washington expanded at larger percentages, as the nation’s estimated population stands at 325.7 million, a 2.3 million increase.
The addition of 327,811 Floridians over the past year, and projection by Election Data Services for the state to hit 22.23 million in 2020, accounts for the likely expansion of the state’s congressional delegation.
If the 2020 Census confirms these trends, Florida could become an even more critical swing state in presidential elections. With two more House seats, the delegation would swell to 29 House districts, and when adding the two senators, the state would carry 31 electoral votes.
For every state that gains seats, there are others who lose. Election Data Services projects Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Oregon would each increase a seat, while Texas could grab three, after the 2020 Census.
Meanwhile, to keep the U.S. House at 435 members, Alabama, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia would each drop a seat. Illinois could lose one or two, having to battle Minnesota for the other seat.
California, 39.5 million, and Texas, 28.3 million, remain the only states ahead of Florida regarding population. California grew by 240,177, the third-largest increase. Texas topped the growth list by adding 399,734 people.
Paulson’s Politics: Florida’s Congressional Delegation will be bigger; will it be better?
In many respects, Florida’s congressional delegation reflects some of the best and worst aspects of a congressional delegation. On the positive side, Florida continues to have massive population growth which is reflected in a growing number of representatives in Congress.
On the negative side, even though Florida now has the third largest delegation in Congress, it has constantly been rated as one of the weakest state delegations in Congress.
A recent Roll Call study of state delegations found that Florida’s “ratio of clout to delegate size is the lowest of any state.”
Florida entered the union in 1845 and had a single representative for a quarter of a century. As late as 1899, Florida had only two representatives. Florida’s population growth and growth in the size of the congressional delegation did not occur until World War II.
During the war, Florida had over 20 military bases which trained hundreds of thousands of military personnel. Many of these soldiers would move to Florida after the war or after they retired.
This massive population growth in Florida would not have been possible without technological advancements such as the control of mosquitoes and other insects, the emergence of home air conditioning and the development of the interstate highway system.
It was not until after the 1960 census that Florida’s congressional delegation grew to 10 members. Each passing decade would add three to four new members to the delegation. By 2000, Florida had 25 members in its delegation. Two more members were added after the 2010 census and during that decade Florida passed New York to become the third largest state.
The most recent census numbers reflect state population as of July 1, 2017. From 2010 through 2017, Florida had the fifth fastest rate of growth and added 2,179,806 people to the state. Florida’s current population stands at 20,984,400.
If population growth continues at the current rate, by 2020 Texas will add two new members, and Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Oregon will each add one new member. With six new members going to the above-listed states, it means that Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will each lose one representative.
The final changes will take effect in 2022, after the 2020 census is completed.
Few states can come close to matching Florida’s post-World War II population and congressional growth. Unfortunately for Florida, no State has less political clout that Florida. Bigger is not always better.
In 172 years of statehood, no Floridian has been selected as Speaker of the House, majority or minority leader in either the House or Senate and only one Florida member of Congress, Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young of Pinellas County, has ever been chair of one of the three “power committees” of Congress. Young chaired the House Appropriations Committee from 1999 to 2005.
Florida’s massive population growth has not helped Florida in having more power in Congress. Florida now has 29 electoral votes in presidential elections, and will have at least 30 by the time of the 2024 election. As the only competitive mega-state, Florida will continue to receive massive attention in presidential campaigns.
The bad news for Florida is that our congressional delegation will continue to be the Rodney Dangerfield of congressional politics. Our representatives “get no respect.”