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Delegation for 6.12.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Trump, Kim pledge to remove North Korean nukes

Early Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a document that calls for an eventual denuclearization of North Korea. It contained no specifics or a timetable, but Trump described it as “pretty comprehensive.”

Addressing Kim’s concern for security, the U.S. “committed to provide security guarantees,” including, according to early reports, a commitment to cease joint U.S. and South Korean military operations. Kim also committed to returning the remains of American soldiers who never returned home.

An important first step.

Trump described the summit as “a really fantastic meeting. A lot of progress. Really, very positive.” Many Americans heard Kim’s voice for the very first time as he offered his take on the day.

“Today, we had a historic meeting and have agreed to leave the past behind,” Kim said through a translator. “The world will see a major change.”

Trump has admitted Tuesday’s meeting, and signed document, is merely the first step.

McConnell left mark in national, Florida politics

While the country (and most of the world) is focused on Trump’s historic summit with North Korean dictator Kim, a quiet landmark will occur on Capitol Hill. Also on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell becomes the longest-serving Republican leader in Senate history.

Mitch McConnell hits a milestone.

The Kentucky Republican, 76, eclipses former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who served as either minority leader or majority leader for 11 years, five months and ten days. While only in his second term as majority leader, McConnell has left a lasting impact to the relief or chagrin of members, depending on one’s philosophy.

McConnell has had an impact on Florida politics; his tenure is, and will for generations, be defined by his refusal to allow a hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the seat held by originalist Justice Antonin Scalia went unfilled for nearly a year, providing Trump the opportunity to pick and confirm Neil Gorsuch.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson was a strong backer of Garland, but other than participating in a filibuster and voting against Gorsuch’s nomination, he was powerless to stop the majority leader. Barring the unforeseen, the court will lean center-right for years to come thanks in large part to McConnell.

Nelson is not one to rush to a microphone to blast his Senate colleagues, including the majority leader. In fact, it was Texas Republican Ted Cruz who took the unheard of step of calling McConnell a liar on the Senate floor.

However, the three-term Democrat did come close to hammering McConnell recently, but chose to offer a jab instead. When McConnell canceled most of the August recess for the Senate, Nelson, who would rather be in Florida campaigning, questioned McConnell’s motives.

“This is nothing but raw politics,” Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times. “He can do all of that stuff and of course, I’ll be here voting, which is why the people sent me here.”

McConnell pointed to the “unprecedented obstruction” of Democrats as the reason for needing the extra time.

With the tea party movement in full throttle in 2014, McConnell faced a primary challenge from conservative Matt Bevin. GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, the beneficiary of tea party support in his upset win over Charlie Crist in 2010, had a choice to make.

He could either go along with those who went along with him, or support the man who would become majority leader if Republicans regained control of the Senate. In the end, Rubio stuck with McConnell and the rest is history. Just two years later, Bevin was elected Governor of Kentucky.

When Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid was winding down, it was McConnell, among others, who urged him to change his mind and run for re-election to the Senate. Without McConnell’s urging and Rubio’s change of heart, the Senate could be 50-50 today with a Sen. Patrick Murphy being the second statewide elected Democrat.

While it is unlikely a federal agency will be operating in a structure known as the McConnell Building in the future, there is no argument the longest-serving Republican leader has left his mark.

 Rubio joins GOP Senators seeking more low-cost, limited coverage health care

Initial reports indicate premiums for Obamacare-based health coverage are set to soar even higher in 2019. While Republicans on Capitol Hill say the concept was doomed to failure, Democrats blame the recent rollback of the health care mandate led even more insurers to leave the health care exchanges.

Several Senate Republicans, including Rubio, want to make more low-cost, limited coverage policies available to more Americans. The Senators are looking to expand the availability of short-term limited duration (STLD) plans “in order to give hardworking families a more affordable health insurance option.”

Marco Rubio joins Republican Senators in the push for low-cost, quality health care.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the Senators said increasing access to STLD plans “in order to return personal freedom and individual choice to health care.”

“We urge the departments to provide maximum flexibility for patients and consumers in the final rule by allowing STLD insurance plans to offer terms of up to 12 months in addition to renewal guarantees,” they wrote.

Among the 51-member GOP delegation in the Senate, 34 signed the letter. No Democrats signed on.

Drilling push in Gulf continues; Nelson responds

Over the past few months, Florida was included on a plan for possible expanded oil drilling. Just as quickly, after a quick stop in Tallahassee by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Florida was off the list.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson never bought into Zinke’s assurances. Last week, the American Petroleum Institute (API) announced a multi-state “Explore Offshore” coalition to support the Trump administration’s plan to open previously protected parts of the Atlantic Ocean and eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling.

Bill Nelson wasn’t buying Ryan Zinke’s ‘promise’ to exempt Florida from offshore oil drilling.

Members of the coalition include former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp and Florida Petroleum Council Executive Director David Mica.

It did not take long for Nelson to weigh in, again doubting Zinke’s assurances.

“Here we go. Like us, Big Oil doesn’t believe Florida is really ‘off the table’ to new drilling — despite what Scott and the Trump Administration keep saying — and now they are making a new push to drill closer to Florida’s shores,” Nelson said. “We can’t let that happen!”

In response, Nelson introduced an amendment that would prevent the opening of any new areas closer to Florida’s coast until at least 2027.

Senate Democrats pledge $80 million in key Senate races

If Democrats have any hope of reclaiming the majority in November, they must hold on to their incumbents, some of whom are in tough re-election fights. One of those is Nelson.

The Democratic Senate Majority PAC (SMP) is pledging $80 million for television ads to help six incumbents and to try to take three toss-up Republican seats. The plan is to go on air just after Labor Day and continue through Election Day.

Senate Majority PAC had raised $50 million through April 30. Nelson has already been the beneficiary of $2.2 million in advertising from SMP, which served as a reintroduction and catch up for the three-term incumbent after Gov. Rick Scott came storming out of the gate during the first month of the campaign.

Senate Democrats are vowing to target Rick Scott.

“Democrats’ chances in Senate races across the country continue improving because voters see that they are the candidates fighting for hardworking, middle-class families,” said SMP President J.B. Poersch in a statement. “We are implementing an aggressive media strategy to combat the Republicans’ baseless, partisan attacks and promote our candidates that are fighting for higher wages and lower health care premiums.”

Democrats are targeting Republican incumbents Dean Heller of Nevada as well as Republican open seats in Arizona and Tennessee. In addition to Nelson, SMP is set to help incumbents Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Jon Tester in Montana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

According to Nathan Gonzales of Inside Elections, the Montana race “tilts” toward Tester, while the Tennessee race “leans” Republican. The rest, including Nelson vs. Scott, is rated as “toss-up.”

Nelson may well need every penny. As SMP was announcing their help for Nelson, the New Republican PAC, founded by Scott, was announcing a $3.5 million blitz in television and social media ads against him.

Rutherford announces $32.4 million for Jacksonville port

The economy of the Jacksonville region likely got a big boost with the announcement on Monday of a $32.4 million infusion of federal funding to continue a deep-draft navigation project by the Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT). Monday’s announcement means JAXPORT has received nearly $50 million for the project.

Republican Rep. John Rutherford celebrated the appropriation, which means that when finished, the port will be able to receive mega-sized container vessels which Rutherford says will spur economic growth and create jobs in Northeast Florida.

John Rutherford brings home the bacon to JAXPORT.

“Continued federal investment into the expansion at JAXPORT is a huge win for our region,” said Rutherford. “This important deep dredge project will enhance the economic growth and international competitiveness of JAXPORT, and this increased investment marks a significant step toward furthering JAXPORT’s substantial contributions to Northeast Florida and to our nation.”

The 47-foot deepening improvement project, authorized by the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, is expected to create 15,000 new jobs, with an estimated $24 return for every $1.00 invested.

JAXPORT is a significant economic focal point for Northeast Florida and the nation, supporting $26.9 billion in total economic output, 132,000 jobs and $727 million in state and local taxes, of which $169 million is directly generated by cargo operations.

 House passes Lawson’s bill to designate new national landmark 

Florida will hopefully have a new national landmark thanks to the efforts of Democratic Rep Al Lawson, who pushed to make it happen. Last week, the House passed the James Weldon Johnson Historical Preservation Act, sponsored by Lawson, which designates Johnson’s Jacksonville birthplace as a national landmark.

Johnson served a principal of Stanton Grade School and became the first African-American admitted to the Florida Bar Exam since Reconstruction. He served in several diplomatic positions abroad and became a leader within Jacksonville’s NAACP.

The House passed Al Lawson’s James Weldon Johnson Historical Preservation Act.

While he was at Stanton School, he wrote “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” as a poem, which his brother later composed into what became an iconic song within the NAACP and the civil rights movement.

 “I am very pleased that members of Congress have supported this bill and are recognizing James Weldon Johnson for the important contributions he made to our nation,” Lawson said in a news release. “This bill will memorialize Mr. Johnson’s birthplace and serve as a reminder to citizens of the ideals of education, equality and leadership — all characteristics this great man exemplified.”
Lawson’s bill passed the House by a vote of 374-5. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.

DeSantis, Gaetz hit the road for Trump

Two Freedom Caucus colleagues are taking their act on the road with joint rallies in the Panhandle on Saturday. Gaetz and Marineland Republican Ron DeSantis made stops in Pensacola and headed eastward, talking up Trump and talking down DeSantis’s opponent in the gubernatorial primary, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.

Gaetz mocked Putnam, a former delegation member, for waiting until the GOP convention in 2016 before getting behind Trump. Trump has defined the Florida duo as “absolute warriors.”

Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz at a joint campaign event in Pensacola.

Putnam fired back, saying DeSantis is trying to “dial it in” by relying on several Fox News appearances. On Sunday, DeSantis spent a full hour on the network’s weekly program hosted by conservative firebrand Mark Levin.

The duo spent time talking about the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller (“totally unconstitutional”), the National Rifle Association and gun laws, and medical marijuana. DeSantis agrees with Gaetz, who strongly advocates for its legalization.

Both also expressed supreme confidence that Florida is off the table when it comes to drilling for oil and gas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

“I’m not for drilling off Florida; I’ve told the president that,” DeSantis said. “He’s going to give Florida the exemption from that. I have no worries about that.

Later in the summer, the two are expected to make other joint appearances, including one scheduled for The Villages that will include Donald Trump Jr.

Crist joins efforts against newspaper tariffs

Tariffs and Trump have been synonymous with acrimonious debate both at home and abroad over the last few weeks. One of those tariffs affects newsprint, which American newspaper publishers say is driving up their costs.

Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist has signed onto a bill that would address the effects of the Trump Administration’s tariffs on newsprint. In a news release, Crist made it clear he wasn’t backing the bill just to confront Trump, but instead because he claims the tariff is already costing jobs within his Pinellas County district.

Charlie Crist spends time with Vice President Joe Biden during a visit to St. Pete last week.

“An unnecessary trade war with some of our closest partners is already having real, negative consequences for our economy and the newspaper industry in particular,” Crist said. “The Tampa Bay Times recently announced 50 employees would be laid off due to new tariffs — shrinking newsrooms at a time when thoughtful, credible reporting is needed most. “Newspapers are an integral part of our communities, employing our neighbors and keeping us informed. It’s encouraging to see bipartisan and bicameral support for protecting local news.”

According to the Tampa Bay Times, they claim that the tariff would cause the cost of Canadian sourced newsprint to increase by a third. That amount is equal to roughly $3 million per year.

Crist described the bill as bipartisan, but only because he became a co-sponsor. Filed by South Dakota Republican Kristi Noem, the bill had 10 other Republican co-sponsors until Crist became the first Democrat. One of the Republicans signing on was Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis.

Mast demands Corps stop Lake Okeechobee water discharges

For years, the Army Corps of Engineers has released polluted water from Lake Okeechobee to deal with high water levels. Vivid images from the 2016 algal bloom disaster still remain.

Last week discharges began again, but lake levels are not unusually high. Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City sounded the alarm, seeking an end to the releases.

Discharges to Lake Okeechobee are ‘unacceptable,’ says Brian Mast.

“It is unacceptable that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would discharge massive amounts of water into our community without knowing whether the water was safe,” Mast said. “That’s why I’m calling on them to immediately cease the discharges until they can prove that the water is safe!”

Mast wrote to Assistant Secretary of the Army R.D. James demanding the releases stop until it can be determined what is in the water.

“I cannot fathom why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would see fit to discharge massive amounts of water without knowing, with certainty, whether the water was safe — especially since there is no immediate risk of flooding or dike failure,” Mast wrote.

“I cannot stand idly by while discharges destroy our backyards, businesses are shuttered, people get sick and our environment is destroyed.”

While it will not immediately stop discharges, the House passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 that includes provisions to build a reservoir that would stop the water releases in the future.

Ros-Lehtinen, Deutch file bill to reinstate ZTE penalties

Last week, the Trump administration changed course and allowed Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE to get back into business after paying financial penalties and changing top management. While some believe the move came because of some behind-the-scenes bargaining with China over trade, the criticism that came originated from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill.

Legislation is surfacing that would negate Trump’s ability to give the company a reprieve. Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch, both senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, filed a bill that would prevent Trump from canceling penalties.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ted Deutch, both senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are attempting to prevent Trump from canceling penalties on China manufacturer ZTE.

“There is simply no justification for the President bailing ZTE out and allowing the Chinese company to continue doing business with the U.S.,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a joint statement. “The firm blatantly and repeatedly violated U.S. laws by re-exporting sensitive technologies to rogue regimes in Iran and North Korea. Allowing China, through ZTE, to have access to our critical telecommunications infrastructure is a serious threat to our national security.”

ZTE was found to have avoided U.S. sanctions by selling prohibited products to the regimes that are both on the list of state sponsors of terror.

“ZTE doesn’t deserve a bailout from President Trump,” Deutch said. “It is unclear why the President is ignoring the warning of his own Administration, but letting ZTE off the hook after Trump owned businesses move forward with real estate deals funded by the Chinese government raises serious concerns.”

To become law, Trump would need to be convinced to sign the bill even if it cleared both chambers.

 On this day in the headlines

June 12, 2004 — Beneath the towering vaults of Washington National Cathedral, about 4,000 mourners — leaders of government, heads of state, captains of industry, brokers of power — sat rapt as Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, who died June 6 at 93, was commemorated by his admirers and commended to his God. Later, Reagan was buried in a hilltop ceremony under a setting sun in his beloved California.

The pomp of the national funeral in Washington was nearly unprecedented in American annals, more than two extraordinary hours of thundering organ, swelling chorus, haunting silences and elegant prayers. Eulogies were spoken by President George W. Bush, former President George H.W. Bush and former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

June 12, 20012 — The administration of Florida Gov. Rick Scott is headed to a legal showdown with two different federal agencies over a contentious voter purge. Florida filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Washington, D.C., demanding that the state is given the right to check the names of its registered voters against an immigration database maintained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“I have a job to do to defend the right of legitimate voters,” Scott told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto. “We want to have fair honest elections in our state and so we have been put in the position we have to sue the federal government to get this information.” Homeland Security officials said they could not comment on the lawsuit.

Kim’s unusual cargo

If the effort to find agreement on denuclearization between the U.S. and North Korea goes in the toilet, it won’t be hard to find them. The North Korean dictator made certain of that.

Kim Jong Un brought a security detail to Singapore, as well as one unusual personal item.

Before leaving for Singapore, Kim checked off important items to bring with him. That list includes sufficient clothing, a large security detail, a bulletproof Mercedes limousine for the detail to follow on the run, and one other necessity.

A portable toilet.

Though staying at a Singapore hotel suitable for heads of state, Kim made alternate arrangements for personal necessities. The speculated reasoning for the high-level Port-o-Potty was to prevent intelligence agencies from gleaning any information on Kim’s health.

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