Trump follows through on tariff pledge
This week, much of the country and the world is talking about tariffs. That is because President Donald Trump said he would levy a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent surcharge on aluminum.
The media and a number of Republican politicians rang alarm bells saying such tariffs would start a trade war and perhaps undo the gains achieved through the tax cuts. Getting to the root of the matter, GOP Representatives in Congress and the Senate fear it could threaten their majorities in the fall.
When Trump announced his intention to impose the tariffs, his top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, resigned and the markets tanked. The president said, in effect, “no worries; we’ll get somebody else.”
Perhaps the significant pushback from the GOP began to make some headway as the president appeared to back off on Wednesday night from making the announcement scheduled for Thursday. But Thursday morning, he was again laying hints that he was not backing down.
“Our message is pretty clear. We stand with you, Mr. President, on taking tough action against unfair trade,” Brady said. “And with the right tailoring, we think — and exempting fairly traded products that contribute to our national security as well — that our economy can grow and he can hit his target.”
Florida Republicans have not been going out of the way to support the president’s position, but some signed the Brady caution letter. Those included Carlos Curbelo of Kendall, Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key, Ted Yoho of Gainesville, Francis Rooney of Naples, and John Rutherford of Jacksonville.
One of Florida’s top business advocates also urged Trump to change course. After praising Trump for the tax reform that passed in December, Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) expressed their concern with the proposed tariffs in a statement from President and CEO Tom Feeney, a former Republican Congressman.
“Because Florida is a major international commercial hub and exporter, AIF and Florida’s business community are gravely concerned with the impact a new tax on steel and aluminum would have on free trade,” Feeney said. “Any overzealous restraint on trade or tariffs on aluminum and steel here in Florida would potentially undercut the massive benefits Florida employers and employees are seeing as a result of President Trump’s regulatory reform and tax reform.”
In the end, Trump ignored the advice from domestic and foreign sources and imposed the tariffs on Thursday afternoon. As expected, he exempted Canada and Mexico while indicating there may be more carveouts.
“We’re going to be very flexible,” Trump said. “At the same time, we have some friends and some enemies where we have been tremendously taken advantage of over the years.”
The U.S. now awaits the response of the rest of the world.
Rubio joins colleagues to file school safety bill
The two-term Republican joined with 12 GOP colleagues to present a bill designed to allow 100,000 public schools the opportunity to improve school safety. The School Safety and Mental Health Services Improvement Act would provide the schools with access to federal dollars for school counselors, alarm systems, security cameras and crisis intervention training.
Schools needing security upgrades could use federal dollars for the security upgrades as well as help schools identify and treat mental illness. The bill also creates an interagency task force that would make recommendations — not install mandates — for developing best practices to achieve the bill’s goals.
“While we focus on federal action to help prevent future attacks like Parkland, we must ensure that our local public school districts are given some flexibility in deciding how to safeguard their schools,” said Rubio. “This bill will allow 100,000 public schools to upgrade school security by using federal funds for measures such as school counselors, alarm systems, and training to respond to any crisis. Washington may provide the federal resources, but local communities optimally know how to utilize them to install school-specific safety measures.”
The lead sponsor of the measure is Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, a former Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush.
“Safe schools are for the most part a local responsibility, but in this case, the federal government can and should help,” said Alexander. “One way to do this is to give states and local school boards the authority to use federal dollars in different ways to make schools safer.”
Nelson quietly votes to advance banking reform bill
A bill that would effectively roll back some of the provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, passed in 2009, advanced to the next step in the Senate this week through a 67-32 procedural vote. Among the 67 were 17 Democrats, including Sen. Bill Nelson, who voted with Republicans and against their party’s leadership and the bill’s most committed opponent, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Idaho Republican Mike Crapo sponsored the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act. It also brought on 28 co-sponsors including 12 Democrats.
Nelson did not put out a statement or event tweet about his vote, but Warren did not hold back. She tweeted “this bill wouldn’t be on the path to becoming law without the support of these Democrats” while linking to another tweet that listed them by name.
The vote is a significant victory for the banking industry, which has seen its fortunes improve under Trump. He repeatedly promised during the presidential campaign to do a “big number” on Dodd-Frank.
The bill will have a further debate before the final vote, which even Warren expects will end with its passage.
Rubio, Diaz-Balart announce transportation grants for Immokalee
The community of Immokalee is celebrating an infusion of $13 million for local infrastructure projects. Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, who represents the Immokalee area, and Sen. Marco Rubio this week announced the awarding of a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation this week.
Communities from around the country applied for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants, which are set aside to improve access to reliable, safe, and affordable transportation for communities in rural areas. The Immokalee grant was part of a $500 grant fund set aside in 2017.
“I am proud to announce the award of this TIGER grant that will help revitalize Immokalee’s infrastructure,” said Diaz-Balart. “From the installation of streetlights to the construction of bus shelters and sidewalks, the funds from this grant will be utilized to improve the quality of life for Immokalee residents.”
“Today’s announcement by the Department of Transportation is significant news for Immokalee,” Rubio said. “Having seen firsthand the devastation Hurricane Irma inflicted on southwest Florida; this grant will provide critical resources that will fundamentally transform Immokalee’s damaged infrastructure as residents continue to rebuild and recover.”
Since the launch of the TIGER grant program, $5.1 billion has been awarded for capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure over eight rounds of competitive grants. Throughout the TIGER program, these grants have supported projects that have a significant impact on the Nation, a metropolitan area, or a region.
Despite critics, DeVos’ Douglas High School visit ‘sobering’
The U.S. Secretary of Education visited Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, the first day back for students since the Valentine’s Day shootings. Depending on the account, the visit with either controversial or sobering.
Betsy DeVos was led by school officials as she walked around the school without the media. During a media availability at a nearby hotel after her visit, Fox News reported DeVos described what she saw and heard from students as “sobering and inspiring.”
“Some of them are doing quite well, but they all acknowledge that it’s a day-to-day situation,” she said. “For students who were actually in the building involved, it’s very tough.”
On the day shooter Nikolas Cruz was indicted on 17 counts of first-degree murder, DeVos did not bring up the plan to arm some teachers. She responded to a question with “to say I support arming teachers is an oversimplification and a mischaracterization.”
DeVos indicated her support for having “people who are expert in being able to defend and having lots and lots of training in order to do so.”
‘Crystal Ball’ looks at possible Democratic wave in 2018
The talk about a Democratic wave in midterm elections continues. This week some statistical evidence bolstered that notion, while at the same time warning there is still time for Republicans to minimize what should be some losses in November.
Two Florida races were among the 26 nationwide that changed ratings, all favoring Democrats. In updates of congressional race assessments announced Thursday morning, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed its rating of Murphy’s Florida’s 7th Congressional District from “Leans Democratic” to “Likely Democratic,” and changed Buchanan’s Florida’s 16th Congressional District from “Safe Republican” to “Likely Republican.”
Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball is run out of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, assessing federal elections. Their analysis indicates Republicans are facing headwinds, in part because of enhanced Democratic enthusiasm.
“Democrats have been consistently overperforming Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential performance in special elections held since Donald Trump’s election,” Kyle Kondik, Sabato’s managing editor, stated in a news release issued Thursday morning. “My colleague Geoffrey Skelley has been tracking these elections, which are mostly for state legislative seats but also include a handful of congressional specials, and he calculates that Democrats have been running on average 13 points ahead of Clinton’s 2016 margin in the nearly 90 races held so far featuring a Democrat and a Republican.
“That speaks to the overall political environment, which clearly favors Democrats right now,” Kondik added.
At the same time, Sabato and Crystal Ball caution Democrats about becoming overconfident. The need to win 24 seats currently held by Republicans to gain control of the House, but that is no slam dunk.
Despite all these changes, Crystal Ball still thinks the odds of a House flip are only about 50-50, although they say those odds are probably generous to Republicans at this point. They write “we’re also cognizant of the fact that there’s still a long way to go.”
Over the past few months, some other races changed ratings, mostly in favor of Democrats. The seat held by retiring Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen now “Leans Democratic,” Republican Brian Mast of the 18th District (a new target of liberal donor Tom Steyer) is now in a race that is “Likely Republican” while fellow Republican Curbelo’s re-election is rated “Toss-Up.”
The open seat currently held by Republican Ron DeSantis is rated as “Likely Republican,” while St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist joins Murphy in the “Likely Democratic” category.
Gaetz to host Western Hemisphere Field Hearing
The Republican Congressman from Fort Walton Beach will host a forum on drug trafficking and terrorism next week. Gaetz will be joined by policy experts, law enforcement, and local elected officials to discuss the roles of countries like Venezuela and terror organizations like Hezbollah in drug trafficking.
Gaetz’s goals are to identify main threats, receive recommendations to target those threats and to develop and execute a plan on how Congress can assist in combating and eliminating those threats.
The “Western Hemisphere Field Hearing” begins at 1 p.m. on March 12 at the National Naval Aviation Museum on Naval Air Station Pensacola. News media are invited.
Murphy launches bipartisan veterans’ employment bill
Creating incentives to hire veterans is the purpose of a bill introduced by the first-term Democrat from Winter Park and Republican Rep. Steve Knight from California. The Encouraging Veterans Employment Act of 2018 authorizes the Department of Defense to give preference to business that employs veterans when awarding contracts.
Murphy is the Ranking Member of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce. Knight is the Chairman of the committee.
“Military service members risk their lives to keep our nation safe and have earned the opportunity to succeed once they decide to transition into the civilian workforce,” said Murphy. “The men and women of our military learn valuable skills and develop unique leadership qualities that make them an asset to employers — who may be unfamiliar with the value of hiring veterans.
This is the latest bill Murphy has sponsored on behalf of veterans. She recently introduced another bipartisan bill, the BATTLE for Servicemembers Act, to help the estimated 250,000 service members who leave the military each year to successfully transition to civilian life.
Murphy has also worked with Indiana Republican Susan Brooks to introduce a bill (H.R. 3558) to improve access to critical health care services for women veterans, including mammograms, maternity care, and routine gynecology visits.
Soto gets backing of Progressive Caucus PAC
The Orlando Democrat received the backing of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Political Action Committee, an endorsement he might need as a buffer against a possible primary challenge by a congressman who once was a prominent voice for that caucus.
“Darren Soto is a fighter for economic justice. He works tirelessly for working Americans, and he always has. He marches for civil rights and civil liberties — for Dreamers, for Muslims, for LGBTQ Americans,” Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC Co-Chair Mark Pocan said in a news release from Soto’s re-election campaign. “The struggle for women’s equality has no better friend than Darren. Soto supports health care for all, a strong social safety net, and robust protections for workers who want to organize and fight for better wages and working conditions.”
Right now the endorsement appears more as a possible weapon for Soto’s only opponent in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, Republican candidate Wayne Liebnitzky of St. Cloud. Liebnitzky, whom Soto beat in 2016, is campaigning on a firm conservative platform and seeking to characterize Soto as too liberal for the district.
“He has only done what party leader [Nancy] Pelosi directed him to do, instead of taking care of the area,” Liebnitzky said. He added, “I guess I won’t lose any sleep tonight awaiting their endorsement.”
Yet off in the wings is the previous incumbent in the district, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who had been one of the most strident progressive Democrats in Congress during his three terms. Grayson reportedly has been talking to Democratic consultants, trying to assemble a team as a possible challenge to Soto in a CD 9 primary.
Webster files bipartisan bill to commercialize innovations
This week, the Republican Congressman from Florida’s 11th Congressional District teamed with Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinksi to introduce ways of bringing innovations to the marketplace. The two legislators unveiled the Innovators to Entrepreneurs Act of 2018.
The bill expands the proven, successful Innovation Corps program. The Innovation Corps program, known as I-Corps, was created by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2011 to teach scientists and engineers how to turn their laboratory innovations into successful commercial products and services.
“The Innovators to Entrepreneurs Act expands on the time-tested I-Corps program through adding a course for commercialization-ready participants,” Webster said in a news release. “The NSF’s I-Corps program will bridge the divide between the academic world and commercialization sphere, playing a critical role in the efforts to increase innovation for all Americans.”
The course is based on the highly successful Lean Launchpad curriculum developed by innovator Steve Blank and widely used throughout Silicon Valley and beyond. Since its inception, over 1,000 teams have participated in I-Corps.
“The federal government invests a lot of money in research and development annually,” said Lipinski. “I-Corps is a modest investment that leads to a big return on federally-funded research by significantly increasing rates of research commercialization, economic activity, and job creation.”
Mast, Curbelo opponents pick up NARAL endorsements
Palm City Republican Mast and Kendall Republican Curbelo both have credible challengers to their re-election bids. This week, their challengers picked up endorsements they hope will mobilize women voters and carry them to victory.
NARAL Pro-Choice America, self-described as the country’s leading pro-choice advocacy group, has endorsed Democrats Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Lauren Baer for their bids to unseat the two incumbents. Mucarsel-Powell is challenging Curbelo while Baer is taking on Mast.
“Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Lauren Baer’s dedication to expanding access to reproductive health care is exactly what we need in Congress right now, “said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “We know they will stand up to the attacks the Trump administration and the GOP Congress make on affordable and accessible health care for all. They’ll fight for the values women and families in their districts hold dear, and that’s why we can’t wait to get them elected.”
The Mucarsel-Powell race against Curbelo is rated as a tossup by the Sabato Crystal Ball. She welcomed the support.
“Now more than ever, we need women in Washington who will bring our voices and protect our rights,” said Mucarsel-Powell. “As a Latina immigrant, I come from a long line of strong women, and I am proud to have the endorsement of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Like Mucarsel-Powell, Baer is taking on a well-funded opponent and hopes abortion rights will play a vital role in the campaign.
“As a woman, a mother, and a proud defender of reproductive freedom, I am honored to have the support of NARAL Pro-Choice America,” said Baer. “Choosing to bring our daughter into the world was one of the most personal and important decisions my wife and I have made, and the act of carrying her, and now caring for her, has only reaffirmed my belief that reproductive choices are best left to women themselves.
On this day in the headlines
March 9, 1995 — The Florida Senate passed a bill that requires criminals to spend 85 percent of their sentences behind bars. “The message is clear that if you commit a crime in Florida, you will be punished and you will do your time,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg.
March 9, 1999 — The body of former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun’s laid in repose at the Supreme Court building. Blackmun, who served on the Court for 24 years, authored more than 300 opinions during his tenure, most notably the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.