Scott, DeSantis celebrate new Jerusalem embassy
On Monday, the United States was well represented for the official opening of its new embassy in Jerusalem. Some key Florida-based elected officials joined Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and others for the ribbon cutting.
The controversial action comes 70 years to the day the U.S. recognized the Jewish state (see “On this day in the headlines”). Monday’s events were a big deal.
With the U.S. leading the way seven decades before, under a Democratic President, a Republican is making a similarly bold move. President Harry Truman shocked the world in 1948 while President Donald Trump did the same in December when he announced this country’s go-ahead to make a move from Tel Aviv.
A string of bipartisan pledges to move the embassy have been a part of U.S. presidential elections for decades. Trump made the same promise, but in the end, was the only one to keep it.
It was Trump’s second chance to make a move. One year ago, he punted away that opportunity leading Marineland Republican Ron DeSantis to criticize the president sharply.
Describing Trump’s action as “deeply disappointing,” DeSantis, a Congressional leader in the movement to relocate the embassy, wound up in the mostly uncharted territory of being on the opposite side of a policy issue with Trump.
Fast forward one year and the embassy is now in Jerusalem and Trump has endorsed DeSantis, who attended the opening, in his bid to succeed Rick Scott as Governor of Florida. DeSantis interviewed with Fox News from Jerusalem but otherwise did not hype his break from campaigning to join the festivities.
Scott was not shy about telling everyone he was among the celebrants on Monday. Before the event, he posed for a photo op with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which will no doubt be seen again during his campaign against Sen. Bill Nelson.
Trump’s decision also earned some bipartisan support. Nelson, Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz of Weston agreed with the move, as did Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Opponents, based largely on the potential for violence, saw their fears confirmed as dozens of demonstrators (or rioters depending on the news source), were shot and killed by Israeli forces along the fence separating Israel from Gaza.
On the political side, former presidential candidate and Utah Senate hopeful Mitt Romney blasted the choice to deliver the opening prayer at the embassy opening. Romney called the Rev. Robert Jeffress a “religious bigot” who has criticized the Jewish, Muslim and Mormon faith in the past.
With mixed emotion present in the U.S., that is not the case in Israel, where “Trump Make America Great” signs adorned Jerusalem light poles. On Sunday, Jerusalem’s soccer team announced it will now be called Beitar Trump Jerusalem.
Seventy years after Israel was recognized, there is no sign of peace in the Middle East. Monday’s violence surrounding a ceremonial diplomatic ceremony shows there is little prospect for calm even in the distant future.
Trump aides excelling
Michael Cohen isn’t the only person with Trump’s ear.
CNBC’s Brian Schwartz reports former Trump campaign adviser Scott Mason is reaping the benefits of his insider connections in Washington, D.C., as a lobbyist for Holland & Knight, a firm that brought in $22 million in 2017 with the help of Mason’s influence.
New business: With Mason on board, Holland & Knight added Google parent company Alphabet, Tesla and Peabody Energy to its client roster.
Shots at Cohen: In Schwartz’ story, Mason draws a stark contrast between Cohen and others in the influence biz. Cohen isn’t a registered lobbyist. “It’s unfortunate what he did, and it tarnishes what we have been doing for 20 years,” Mason says.
Sweet nothings: Schwartz notes Mason isn’t the only ex-Trump aide excelling under the president’s reign. Others, like Corey Lewandowski, have had success — coming to be known as the ‘Trump whisperers.’
Nelson, delegation Democrats accuse Scott of cutting Medicaid
A proposal by Scott to hasten the deadline individuals have to apply for the Medicaid program caught the eye of Nelson, Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor and 11 other delegation Democrats. The move, according to Nelson, would cut nearly $100 million from the program.
“I rise here today because the state of Florida has again proposed to harm thousands of seniors and folks with disabilities who rely on Medicaid for their health care,” Nelson said on the Senate floor.
Nelson and House Democrats wrote to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Director Seema Verna asking her to reject the Scott administration’s request to require Medicaid enrollments occur within 30 days of a medical event instead of 90 days.
“Retroactive eligibility is designed to protect Medicaid beneficiaries — including seniors, pregnant women, individuals with disabilities, and parents — and their families from the steep costs of medical services and long-term care,” they wrote. “Importantly, this protection was also designed to minimize uncompensated care costs faced by hospitals and other health care providers who take care of our neighbors and are already challenged by the state’s low reimbursement rates.”
Nelson tweeted “The state of Florida is trying to cut $100 million from Medicaid. That’s unacceptable. And that’s why @USRepKCastor and I have joined forces today in calling on the federal government to block the state’s outrageous plan.”
Scott did not respond directly, but Mallory McManus, spokeswoman for the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA), issued a statement saying it was “categorically false” to say the proposal affects the care received by Medicaid beneficiaries. Requiring quicker enrollment will result in “better-coordinated fully integrated care, as well as access to preventive services.”
Rubio praises Iran actions
Late last week, the U.S. Treasury Department took action designed to disrupt a currency exchange network in Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the rogue regime was able to procure and transfer millions of U.S. dollars to their Revolutionary Guard (IRGC-QF). Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was quick to praise the efforts of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and department regulators.
“The Iranian regime and its Central Bank have abused access to entities in the UAE to acquire U.S. dollars to fund the IRGC-QF’s malign activities, including to fund and arm its regional proxy groups, by concealing the purpose for which the U.S. dollars were acquired,” said Mnuchin. “Today we are targeting Iranian individuals and front companies engaged in a large-scale currency exchange network that has procured and transferred millions to the IRGC-QF.”
While praising the efforts of the Trump administration, Rubio was critical of the cooperation between the U.S. and Iran during the Obama administration.
“We must stop the international flow of Iranian terrorist funding that the flawed Iran nuclear deal unleashed,” he said in a statement. “I applaud the Treasury Department for acting swiftly to impose sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities that enabled the regime and the Central Bank of Iran to convert and flood the Revolutionary Guard and its terrorist proxies with hundreds of millions in U.S. dollars.”
Farm bill splits delegation Agriculture Committee
House Republicans are working to get a massive farm bill out of committee this week. After emerging from the Agriculture Committee, it is now slated for the Rules Committee to consider dozens of amendments.
The bill covers multiple subjects from overhauling the sugar program along with keeping farm supports and crop insurance, to name just a few provisions. What is making this a partisan bill is increasing for those receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps).
Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi want to torpedo the bill mainly because of that provision. Al Lawson of Tallahassee and Darren Soto of Orlando are also against the proposal.
“I am disappointed Republicans have chosen to mark up a partisan Farm Bill that includes severe cuts to nutrition assistance for Americans in need,” Lawson said. “Moreover, this Farm Bill fails to invest in rural development and bioenergy programs and undermines conservation efforts.”
Committee Republicans, including Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City and Ted Yoho of Gainesville, have a different view.
“We all depend on a thriving agriculture industry, and this Farm Bill works to ensure that we will continue to have safe and affordable food on our tables,” Dunn said in a newsletter to constituents. “From protecting crop insurance to streamlining burdensome regulations, we are fixing the Farm Bill to protect and support the agriculture industry.”
According to POLITICO, the bill’s sponsor, Texas Republican Mike Conaway, did not have the votes Friday but expects to have them by midweek.
Gaetz salutes Armed Services Committee for test range funding increases
As the National Defense Authorization Act moves through Congress, several delegation members touted the benefits they were able to get into the bill that provides tens of billions of dollars in funding. Add Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz to that list.
Gaetz is applauding the Armed Services Committee for adding a $41.9 million increase for military test ranges, which includes the Gulf Test Range in his district. The Range, which covers 120,000 square miles of overwater airspace, is important to many forms of training and testing.
The committee passed the funding bill by a vote of 60-1.
This is a great bipartisan first step. I look forward to the House passing this bill, and continuing to rebuild our great military,” Gaetz said.
Assignment Editors — Republicans Greg Steube and Julio Gonzales, who seek to replace retiring GOP Rep. Tom Rooney, will take part in a candidate forum on Tuesday evening. The NOVA Republican Club is hosting the event beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Nokomis Community Center, located at 234 Nippino Trail in Nokomis.
Wilson: Briefing ‘traumatized’ widow of Niger ambush victim
Late last week, the Pentagon released their report on what happened to a Miami soldier and his colleagues who were killed in an ambush in Niger last October. Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson, who has regularly called for an accounting as to what happened to Sgt. La David Johnson and his colleagues, attended a private Pentagon briefing with Johnson’s family.
The report reveals that after coming under attack, Johnson and fellow soldiers took cover and returned fire. The group became separated, and Johnson wound up more than one-half mile away from the original attack site before being killed.
“The widow, she is still traumatized from the briefing,” Wilson said. “They expected more closure as to his remaining hours and days because he was missing for two days.”
The Army said it took longer to find Johnson because he was so far away from the original attack site where other victims were discovered.
Johnson was a constituent of Wilson’s who participated in a program founded by the longtime legislator called the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, which mentors African-American boys and young men in Miami-Dade County. She became embroiled in controversy with Trump and Chief Staff John Kelly, which began with the dissatisfaction of Trump’s call of condolence to Johnson’s widow.
South Florida Republicans seek forced DACA vote
As 2017 gave way to 2018, Congress was working on a bill to provide those involved in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program some form of permanent status. A judge’s ruling in February against executive action by Trump removed some of the urgency.
Several bills, including the DREAM Act favored by nearly all Democrats and some Republicans, were awaiting hearings or some action. Last week an effort primarily led by South Florida Republicans took drastic action to get things moving.
Carlos Curbelo of Kendall, who recently came out to fully support the DREAM Act, along with Miamians Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen filed what is known as a discharge petition designed to force a debate on the issue. They need 218 members to sign the petition to force action.
In other words, they need 25 Republicans to join all Democrats to begin debate. Along with the three Floridians, four other Republicans have joined the effort.
We’ve taken this aggressive action in the U.S. House because quite frankly we are tired of waiting,” said Curbelo. “I am sick and tired of the politics of immigration. Both sides use the issue to help them with their base voters.”
Ros-Lehtinen noted, “the time to act is now.” Diaz-Balart said, “I also gave (leadership) plenty of time to bring other common-sense bills to the floor through regular order, but enough is enough.”
It should be noted that it is extremely rare for members of the party in power to try to force a vote on their own leadership.
According to news reports, Speaker Paul Ryan had an “animated” discussion with Curbelo on the House floor.
“I don’t think that’s the right way to go,” Ryan said when asked about the strategy a few weeks ago. “I don’t want to bring up legislation that won’t get signed into law. I don’t think it makes any sense to bring a bill through a process that would produce a bill that will get a presidential veto. I just don’t think that’s in anyone’s interest.”
Under House rules, all of the pending bills would be debated and the one earning the most votes would be dubbed “queen of the hill.” If it then secures a majority, it would pass the House and earn the title “king of the hill.”
Along with the more progressive DREAM Act, another one of the four bills is sponsored by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The Goodlatte bill is far more conservative than the other three.
NFIB unveils brand-new look
A well-known advocate for small business and a major player on Capitol Hill is getting a new brand and a new look on the web. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) this week rolled out their new logo and a new website as part of their effort to reaffirm their status around the country.
The new brand and website launch as NFIB prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary in June. They cited the recent effort to help pass the Republican tax cuts in December as a big win for small business.
“Our new brand captures the strength of NFIB and our drive to stand up for small and independent businesses,” said Juanita D. Duggan, NFIB president and CEO. “But this new brand is much more than a new look. It is the public visual of our continuous commitment to our members to serve as the voice of small business for the next 75 years and beyond.”
The new brand and updated website are at nfib.com.
On this day in the headlines
May 15, 1948 — President Harry S. Truman, in a move that surprised the world, tonight recognized the new Jewish State of Israel in Palestine a few minutes after it was proclaimed. The news caused intense elation among the Zionists, stunned the Arabs, and threw the United Nations into turmoil.
“The United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new State of Israel,” Truman said in an official statement. Later that same day, the Soviet Union recognized the existence of Israel.
May 15, 1969 — The resignation under fire of Justice Abe Fortas from the U.S. Supreme Court opened the way for the appointment of two Supreme Court Justices by President Richard Nixon in the immediate future and the possibility Nixon might name a majority of the court during his term in office. Chief Justice Earl Warren had earlier announced his intention to retire.
Fortas acknowledged he had accepted a $20,000 annual fee from a convicted stock manipulator’s foundation, but insisted his judicial duties were not compromised. Fortas is the first high court justice to quit the court under fire in the history of the nation.
(Note: Nixon appointed, and the Senate confirmed, Warren Burger as the new Chief Justice. After Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell of Tallahassee were rejected by the Senate, Harry Blackmun was confirmed to replace Fortas.)
May 15, 1972 — Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a candidate for president, was shot and gravely wounded just after completing a campaign speech near Washington, D.C. Doctors were confident Wallace would recover but feared paralysis.
A white man identified by police as Arthur Bremen, 21, of Milwaukee, was arrested at the suburban shopping center where the shooting occurred and was quickly brought under Maryland and federal charges.
D.C. too cool?
The nation’s relationship with its capital could be distorted by ‘coolness.’
That’s the gist of a Washington Post Magazine cover story by David Fontana, who offers a historical glimpse of the capital city and argues its financial and cultural trends in the past few decades — especially recently — have distanced it from the country as a whole.
Writes Fontana, “We should all be willing to consider the possibility that the forces of wealth and coolness are distorting Washington’s relationship with America — and that what is good for Washington as a city might, in the end, be bad for it as a capital.”
The ‘govster’: Just as hipsters have emerged in San Fransisco, New York and Los Angeles, the nation’s capital has produced ‘govsters,’ or people who are “able to enjoy the benefits of living in a cool city while also working for the federal government or somehow exercising influence over the direction of national politics.”
Numbers: The average single-family home price increased 317 percent between 1991 and 2016. Between 2000 and 2010, D.C. contracting dollars more than doubled. Between 2009 and 2012, more millennials moved to the nation’s capital than anywhere else.
Prose for thought: “ … while progressives recognize that place causes poverty or prosperity, they often struggle to consider the possibility that place might also cause politics — that the culture of the city that governs the country might be an impediment to fixing the nationwide inequality that progressives rightly despise.”