Budget deal provided a test of principles
With last Friday’s budget deal coming together in the wee hours of Friday morning, some delegation members had internal conflicts before deciding how they would vote. Some would have to seemingly vote against their principles in order to keep the government open and fund priorities.
Deficit hawks had to decide whether the bill’s massive price tag of hundreds of billions of dollars would force them to vote against help for disaster aid for Florida and Puerto Rico, or billions for the military. Those wanting a fix for DACA would face the same quandary on funding issues important to them.
In the end, the Senate first passed the measure by a 71-28 vote. Both Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and GOP Sen. Marco Rubio advocated for the budget deal on the Senate floor before the vote.
In the House, 240 voted in favor, while 186 cast “no” votes. It was truly a bipartisan vote. While 167 Republicans voted for it, 67 casted votes against the deal.
That left it to Democrats to make up the difference. They did, with 73 crossing over to vote in favor, while 119 voted against.
Among the Democrats voting with Republicans was Kathy Castor of Tampa, whose district contains members of the military. While the deal did not include a DACA fix, it also extended the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a major issue for Castor.
“Communities across Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will receive the resources to recover from a devastating hurricane season,” Castor said in a statement. “Significant new funds for veterans, children’s health care, community health centers and opioid addiction also are contained in the package.”
Her Democratic colleagues also voting in favor were Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Al Lawson of Tallahassee, Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, and Darren Soto of Orlando.
Four Republicans voted against it as too much spending. Those include Bill Posey of Rockledge, Ted Yoho of Gainesville, Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Daniel Webster of Orlando, who explained why.
“Voting for this bill today would be voting to do the opposite of what I pledged to my constituents and the American people,” he said in a statement. “For these reasons and more, I cannot support this bill.”
A fifth Republican, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, also voted no, but for a different reason.
“I voted NO on the #budget deal because it did not include a solution for our #DREAMers. #Congress must vote now on a legislative fix for these young men and women,” she said on Twitter.
Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo, also an advocate to pass the DACA protections for DREAMers, voted in favor of the deal due to a pledge from House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“Today the Speaker delivered his strongest commitment yet that (DACA) legislation will be considered on the floor of the House,” he said in a statement. “Paired with the certainty the Senate will be holding a fair and open debate on immigration legislation next week, I am now more hopeful than ever a solution on DACA is within reach.”
The next frontier, immigration, is now teed up in both chambers.
POTUS coming to Orlando on Friday
President Donald Trump will be spending another weekend at his Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach, but will make a stop in Central Florida first. He will be making a public appearance to extol the virtues of his $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan announced Monday.
Analysts indicate Trump will need to convince state and local authorities of the wisdom of the plan. A majority of the funding would come from them.
Conservative Republicans are cringing at the price tag while progressive Democrats believe the federal investment is not enough to make a difference.
While the official notice of Trump’s visit to Orlando was not yet released, flight restrictions were posted indicating it would happen. No rumors of a venue for the visit were offered as of Monday.
Nelson, Rubio seek budget agreement funds for Hoover Dike repairs
In yet another act of bipartisan agreement, both senators from Florida came together to urge funding for a long-talked-about issue. For years, politicians have spoken of the need to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, which surrounds Lake Okeechobee, but Rubio and Nelson are calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to fully fund the project.
The ink was barely dry on Trump’s signature of last week’s budget agreement before Nelson and Rubio fired off a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Army R.D. James asking for quick action to repair the dike. Overflows and water releases from Lake Okeechobee have been a constant menace to the surrounding region for years.
“As you prepare to allocate the $10.425 billion in disaster supplemental construction funding for 2017 hurricane-impacted states provided by Congress, we strongly urge you to use the necessary portion of those funds to expedite and complete construction of the Herbert Hoover Dike,” the senators wrote. “In the weeks after Hurricane Irma, Lake Okeechobee rose to nearly 17.3 feet, creating anxiety for residents and additional strain on Army Corps resources with the need to conduct daily inspections of the southern half of the dike and weekly inspections of the northern half.”
Under the expedited rehabilitation schedule for the dike, it has expressed funding needs of approximately $775 million spread over the next four years.
Rubio calls for coup in Venezuela
For years, Florida’s junior Senator has spoken out against the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro. His constant rhetorical bombs against the regime have focused on the dire plight of a nation nearly bankrupt with starving people.
The Maduro regime grew so weary of Rubio, intelligence sources detected a credible threat against the Senator’s life last year. Rubio only increased the criticism and has now taken it a step further by advocating a coup d’état.
Rubio tweeted “The world would support the Armed Forces in #Venezuela if they decide to protect the people & restore democracy by removing a dictator.” Multiple tweets followed in both English and Spanish concerning the right of the people to rise up.
“The Maduro regime is an illegitimate government which has brought suffering and misery to the people of Venezuela,” Rubio said in an email to The Associated Press, who requested comment about the tweets. “As long as he remains in power there is no hope for a return to democracy.”
The world would support the Armed Forces in #Venezuela if they decide to protect the people & restore democracy by removing a dictator
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 9, 2018
Rubio has pushed for multiple sanctions against the Maduro regime and the U.S. is considering the restriction of oil sales from Venezuela.
Nelson says Space X launch makes visit to Mars more likely
Last week’s launch of the Space X Saturn V rocket from Cape Canaveral made a lot of news last week. Among other things, it can carry a heavier payload and when things go as planned, Space X technology includes a recovery of part of the system.
Nelson, the space program’s biggest cheerleader, was understandably excited about the launch. He feels it will have a dramatic impact on the program, both at home and beyond — as in Mars.
“By all means when we launch in a year in a half, Americans on American rockets that will rivet the attention of the entire country and that will help enormously as people start to focus that we’re serious about this, taking humans all the way to Mars and returning them safely,” Nelson said.
To go forward, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) needs a director. Nelson and Rubio both helped to slow down Trump’s nomination of Oklahoma GOP Rep Jim Bridenstine.
The president renominated Bridenstine after the previous nomination expired in December.
Puerto Rico Governor tweets out thanks; two key Floridians missing
When dishing out gratitude, some play it safe and do not get too deep into the roster of names who helped them get the recognition, or funding, that came their way. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello might have been better off to remember that.
When Trump signed the budget bill last Friday, billions of dollars were targeted toward Puerto Rico for the many critical issues facing the island commonwealth. Rossello was deeply grateful and said so.
— Ricardo Rossello (@ricardorossello) February 9, 2018
He took to Twitter to thank four Democratic Senators that included Nelson, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Vermont’s Patrick Leahy and New Jersey’s Bob Menendez. In another tweet, he thanked Trump for signing the bill, while in another he thanked four governors, including Rick Scott, for their help.
A review of the governor’s tweets following passage showed GOP Sen. Rubio was not mentioned. Rubio was a steady advocate for Puerto Rico and constantly reminded his colleagues that Rossello’s constituents were American citizens, too.
Another one not included was Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando. Soto was quite probably the biggest advocate on Capitol Hill for getting aid to Puerto Rico.
In fairness, Rossello may have called the two Florida lawmakers personally, or mentioned them in later remarks. Perhaps no one was offended, but the omission of the two Floridians stood out.
Gaetz says Trump calls him regularly
The Republican from Fort Walton Beach says President Trump calls him on the phone periodically, principally because he is one of the Trump’s biggest defenders. Gaetz has gained notoriety when he and other House Republicans have called for special counsel Robert Mueller to be removed from the Russia probe.
“He cracks me up when he calls,” Gaetz told BuzzFeed News. “I think it’s because I defend him on television.”
Gaetz, a freshman Congressman who took office only weeks before Trump began his presidency, has become one of the President’s most fervent defenders in Congress. In addition to Mueller, Gaetz has been especially critical of the FBI and Justice Department after the release of embarrassing text messages from some members of senior management of both agencies.
In addition, Gaetz has accused the special counsel’s investigation of extreme bias, and pushed for the release of the controversial memo by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee that alleged abuses by the FBI and Justice Department.
Soto to co-host immigration town hall
The first-term Democrat from Orlando will join with immigration lawyers to host a town hall to discuss the issue with constituents. He will be joined by Shahzad Ahmed and Rosa Melia-Acevedo of NeJame Law to “discuss “the most pressing questions” of the immigration debate.
The event is set for Tuesday, February 20 at the Kissimmee Civic Center at 201 E. Dalkin Ave. It begins 6:30 p.m.
Immigration will be a hot topic over the coming weeks as both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have pledged to have a debate on the issue. Trump has offered a plan to legalize 1.8 million undocumented young people in exchange for an end to both “chain migration” and the “visa lottery,” along with providing $25 billion for a border wall.
Soto said the topics they plan to cover at the town hall are DACA, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), the travel ban, extreme vetting, and more.
Demings joins to file bill addressing airport staff shortages
The first-term Democrat from Orlando has joined with Texas Democrat Filemon Vela to introduce a new bill that would authorize an additional 500 Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Officers and 100 Agriculture Specialists per year. The Border and Port Security Act is designed to combat ongoing domestic staffing shortages at U.S. airports, seaports and land ports.
Orlando International Airport (MCO) has experienced chronic shortages which have impeded its ability to handle passenger quantity despite its growth as a world-class airport. Two months ago, Demings and her colleagues from the area protested the loss of up to 10 CBP agents.
“The hardworking men and women at Orlando International Airport have helped to make it one of the nation’s best ports of entry, and it’s time they got the backup they need,” Demings said in a statement. The current situation at Orlando Airport and other ports of entry is not sustainable. This bill is a critical step toward the balanced level of staffing necessary to ensure speedy travel and necessary security for all passengers.”
From 2009 to 2016, international passengers arriving at MCO grew by 89 percent, from 1.49 million to 2.83 million. Despite this, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority reports that Customs and Border Patrol staffing levels have remained the same at the airport’s two Federal Inspection Stations.
Among other things, the bill would increase CBP’s capacity to screen passengers, provide them with the staff necessary to support its front-line personnel, improve CBP’s staffing model, and require CBP to report to Congress to better detect and prevent smuggling. In the event that the staffing increases called for under the bill are not achieved, it requires the Comptroller General to review the factors.
Crist: Florida felons need voting rights back
Following a recent federal court decision that invalidated Florida’s process for restoring voting rights, the Democrat from St. Petersburg is calling out his home state for the “shameful” disenfranchisement of 1.5 million Floridians. In a USA TODAY op-ed, Crist said Florida is one of only three states that permanently banned felons from voting needs to be fixed quickly.
Crist was well-known for his advocacy in restoring the voting rights of non-violent felons during his terms as Attorney General and Governor of Florida. He pointed out that more than 155,000 were able to have their rights restored, but more needed to be done.
“The right thing is rarely the easy thing, and we were in for an uphill battle,” he wrote.
He criticized “the disappointing steps taken by the Republican Cabinet in 2011, reversing the progress we made.” Crist also praised the petition effort to get a rights restoration measure on the ballot for 2018.
“Come November, the power is now in the hands of the people — where it belongs,” he wrote.
Trump signs Buchanan bill to improve foster care system
The Republican from Longboat Key touted a bill he sponsored that was recently signed by President Trump. The bill is designed to help children and improve the foster care system.
The Family First Prevention Services Act would facilitate keeping families together and keep children out of group homes or the foster care system. More than 500 state and national child welfare organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Defense Fund and the Child Welfare League of America, supported the bill.
Buchanan thanked Michigan Democrat Sander Levin for his partnership in introducing the bill. He stressed the bill’s importance “given that we’re in the middle of an opioid and heroin crisis, which creates many, many vulnerable children.”
The bill will fund a program to address child abuse and child neglect due to substance abuse and reduce wait times for children in a fragile transition period by helping states update antiquated child placement systems. In addition, it will help grandparents who are asked to care for their grandchildren and provide parent training and family therapy to keep kids at home and out of the child welfare system.
In addition to Levin, the bill had 8 co-sponsors including Orlando Democrat Soto.
Former Scott general counsel appointed interim No. 3 at DOJ
Late last week, Rachel Brand, associate attorney general in the Department of Justice, announced she would be leaving her post. Brand was No. 3 in the line of succession behind Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Stepping in as acting associate attorney general is Jesse Panuccio. He might be remembered in Florida as the former general counsel for GOP Gov. Scott as well as Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
Panuccio’s appointment is expected to be temporary until a permanent replacement is named and confirmed by the Senate. Panuccio previously served in the role for three months until Brand was confirmed.
Brand worked under Rosenstein, who is currently responsible for the special counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller. Should Rosenstein unexpectedly leave his post, Panuccio would not assume oversight of the investigation. Instead, it would be led by Solicitor General Noel Francisco.
Save the date
Scott Sturgill, Republican candidate for Florida’s 7th Congressional District is bringing in a big name for a March 1 fundraiser. Former House Speaker John Boehner will headline the event to be held at the home of Gary and Barbara Bryant in Longwood.
A VIP reception, accessible by a $2,700 contribution, is scheduled for 5 p.m. followed by a general reception at 6 p.m. A $500 contribution gains admittance.
Sturgis is facing Florida Rep. Mike Miller in the GOP primary for the right to take on first-term Democrat Stephanie Murphy.
Paulson’s Politics: Is Florida turning blue? Maybe?
We know Elvis sang about Blue Hawaii. Is there a blue Florida on the horizon?
Optimistic Democrats point to recent special election victories after losing all special elections over the past decade.
First, Democrats won a special election in Miami-Dade, flipping a state senate seat held by Republicans. Next came a surprising Democratic win for Democrat Rick Kriseman versus Republican Rick Baker in the St. Pete mayor’s race. Although the race was nonpartisan, Kriseman made it a partisan race in a heavily Democratic St. Pete.
If Democrat Margaret Good can defeat Republican James Buchanan in a special election for HD 72, a strong Republican district, Democrats will have a trifecta of victories heading into the fall general elections.
Democrats also point to demographic changes in Florida that they believe will shift the balance of power in Florida. They specifically point to the influx of 300,000 Puerto Rican’s into south Florida after Hurricane Maria.
Critics point out that a quarter of this Puerto Rican population is children who cannot vote. Of the remaining 225,000, only about 57 percent, or 130,000, will register to vote. Only 60 percent of those will vote, and a quarter of those will vote Republican. The net gain for Democrats is 40,000 new voters. Hillary Clinton would still have lost Florida by 90,000 votes.
Democrats ignore that some demographic factors favor Republicans. Nate Cohn wrote in The New York Times that 10 of the 25 fastest growing metro areas in 2016 were in Florida, and all but one of those voted for Trump. The Villages, the fastest growing metro area in the country, voted for Trump by 39 percent.
White voters over age 50 make up much of the demographic change in Florida, and by a margin of 45 to 21 percent, they register Republican.
Most of the trends in 2018 favor Democrats, but most of the trends in 2016 also favored Democrats and they lost. Although Barack Obama won Florida by 90,000 votes in 2012, Hillary Clinton managed to lose Florida by 113,000 despite most factors pointing to a Democratic victory.
On this date in the headlines
February 13, 1998 — St. Petersburg Republican C.W. “Bill” Young was promised the role of Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee by House Speaker Newt Gingrich if the current chairman, Louisiana Republican Bob Livingston, retires.
(After Gingrich resigned, Livingston was set to become Speaker in January 1999, but himself resigned after admitting an extramarital affair. Young was then appointed committee chairman by Speaker Dennis Hastert.)
On that same day, Monica Lewinsky returned to Washington to testify before a grand jury as part of the special counsel investigation of President Bill Clinton.
February 13, 2013 — Following President Obama’s State of the Union Speech, Republicans called on GOP Sen. Rubio to deliver the party’s response. Among Rubio’s lines was “Mr. President, I don’t oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors.”
The response is best remembered for Rubio being stricken with “dry mouth.” As a national audience watched, he was forced to stop and grab a bottle of water before continuing.