Money already starting to flow into Supreme Court nomination process
The political world has had almost a week to absorb the news of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s impending retirement. Predictions of heavy-handed politics surrounding the confirmation of his successor are already coming true.
The spigot of money aimed at influencing the electorate has begun to flow just five days after the announcement. Both sides will see it, feel it, and hear it.
Over the weekend, President Donald Trump revealed he would name his Supreme Court nominee July 9. By Monday, he already interviewed four candidates.
On Monday, a liberal group called Demand Justice announced it would spend money in opposite corners of the country with the goal of peeling off Republican Senator Susan Collins from Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Both are pro-choice. Collins indicated a nominee must “respect precedent.”
Once the nominee is named, the group will invest in holding the line on Democratic defections. Trump has already spoken with North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
All three voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch in 2017.
Closer to home, Gov. Rick Scott is out with yet another ad attacking Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, calling him a “rubber stamp” on judicial votes. The ad points out that Nelson did not vote against any of former President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees, but “obeyed party leaders” by voting against Gorsuch.
On Monday, Nelson indicated he will vote “no” on any nominee that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that guaranteed a woman’s constitutional right to seek an abortion. Even if the nominee is obtuse on the issue before the Senate Judiciary Committee, hardly anyone expects Nelson to vote to confirm any Trump pick.
It is just the first week of the summer-long battle. Both sides will raise tens of millions of campaign dollars on the issue.
When more outside groups join the fight, the spigot will turn into a fire hose. The fun is about to begin in earnest.
Nelson tweaks Scott, FEMA on plight of displaced Puerto Ricans
As a Saturday deadline loomed for 1,700 evacuees from Puerto Rico to leave their temporary residences in local hotels, Nelson tweaked Scott for not being part of the solution. Those affected are part of a federal program called Traditional Sheltering Assistance operated by FEMA.
Scott, who has made several trips to Puerto Rico since last year’s devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, indicated the federal government was calling the shots in this instance.
“We have continued to do all we can at the state level to find real solutions for Puerto Rican families,” Scott said. He also promised, “to continue to fight for Puerto Rican families both here in Florida and on the island.”
His office also provided information on available resources for those affected by TSA’s expiration.
As the deadline approached, a temporary answer came from Massachusetts where a federal judge halted any evictions at least until Thursday. Judge Leo Sorokin blocked the federal government from acting until he could hold a hearing this week. FEMA extended the program until Thursday.
Nelson brought Trump into the conversation and, by extension, Scott, who Trump supports against Nelson.
“(Puerto Ricans) know how they’ve been treated by President Trump. They remember the images of President Trump throwing paper towels into the crowd as his way of serving the people who were hurting at that time, Nelson said.”
He added, “At the end of the day, what we want to make sure is that our Puerto Rican friends understand that elections have consequences.”
In response, Scott’s campaigned labeled Nelson as “all talk, no action.”
Nelson, Rubio urge election supervisors to work with DHS
Few have argued that the Russians at least tried to interfere in the 2016 elections. Both Nelson and Rubio, along with other members of the delegation, believe they will try again.
On Monday, they urged Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner and the supervisors of elections to be on alert and take advantage of assistance available from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In letters to each, the Senators called for a unified effort.
“County election boards should not be expected to stand alone against a hostile foreign government,” they wrote. The (Senate Intelligence) Committee recommended—and DHS now offers—a wide range of services to state and local officials that will support your efforts to make your systems secure. DHS will follow your lead and meet your needs with a tailored set of options.”
Rubio and Nelson offered their help to state and local officials as they seek to combat outside interference.
“Our decentralized system is a strength, but it also means the responsibility resides with each of us to be sure our locality is secure,” they continued. “We look forward to working with you, DHS, and FBI to ensure successful and secure elections this year.”
Rubio, colleagues file new legislation addressing Chinese influence
Rubio has teamed up to propose a bipartisan bill designed to hinder Chinese influence in the U.S. Along with Nevada Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, Rubio filed the “Countering the Chinese Government and Communist Party’s Political Influence Operations Act.”
The proposal calls for the U.S. Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to create an interagency task force to analyze how China tries to influence the U.S. and close allies. The task force would make recommendations to the White House and Congress on whether to create a permanent office to monitor China’s influence on American politics.
“To effectively combat the Chinese Government and Communist Party’s political influence operations, we must better understand the full scope and breadth of their efforts,” Rubio said. “This bill, which requires an unclassified interagency report, aims to do just that, not only for policymakers, but for the American people, media, academia and other impacted sectors,” Rubio said in a statement.
Other bill co-sponsors are Republicans Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas, along with Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey.
Lawson dismisses attack from Brown
Freshman Rep. Al Lawson says he has a record that he is proud of. His opponent in the Democratic primary for the District 5 Congressional District, Alvin Brown, claims Lawson doesn’t show up for work.
In a weekend broadside aimed at Lawson, Brown provided statistics the incumbent missed 8.6 percent of roll call votes in Congress with only one other first-term member missing more.
“The record reveals that he had great difficulty showing up to work,” Brown said.
Lawson was dismissive when reporters asked for his comments. Instead, he pointed out some accomplishments and compared himself to his predecessor.
“I passed four pieces of legislation that sent millions of dollars to Jacksonville for dredging and for a bus system in Tallahassee,” Lawson retorted.
“My predecessor was there for 24 years and didn’t get anything passed,” he added, referring to former Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown.
Brown is the former mayor of Jacksonville before his defeat by current Mayor Lenny Curry. Lawson spent 28 years in the Florida Legislature representing Tallahassee before his election to Congress in 2016.
Corcoran backs Costello in CD 6 primary
Among the Florida Congressional races producing the most curiosity is district 6, which is being vacated by gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis. Conventional wisdom would point to the winner of the GOP primary between state Rep. Fred Costello, Michael Waltz and John Ward having the upper hand in the fall.
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran is lending his support to fellow legislator Costello. Corcoran heaps praise on several issues, but especially Costello’s stand on transparency and taxes.
“Representative Costello was best known for his integrity, his belief in home rule and his willingness to promote bold reforms in health care, pensions, ethics, growth management and taxes,” Corcoran said. “Florida taxpayers have now saved over $1 billion in direct response to Fred initially standing alone for transparency in taxation and against Tallahassee raising property taxes.”
Corcoran and Costello were both elected to the legislature in 2010.
While it is a Republican-leaning district, national Democrats are pouring resources behind the effort of former Clinton administration official Nancy Soderberg, one of three Democrats seeking the nomination. Stephen Sevigny and John Upchurch are competing with Soderberg.
Those watching this district will look for the campaign finance reports from the second quarter, which are due to be released later this month.
After VA revelations, Buchanan calls for heads to roll
Following revelations of neglect and abuse at Veteran Affairs nursing homes, a delegation Republican is calling for an investigation. After investigative articles in USA Today and The Boston Globe, Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan wrote to the leadership of both the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
The articles pointed to veteran patients with bedsores and a lack of personal hygiene. With three of the worst-rated VA nursing homes in Florida, Buchanan, the co-chairman of the Florida delegation, described the situation as “a national disgrace” and “heads must roll.”
“Some of the more disturbing reports detail incidents involving a veteran found covered in a ‘urine and feces-stained sheet,’ another in which a veteran’s leg had to be amputated after an infection went untreated for so long that ‘his toes turned black and attracted maggots,’ and one case in which a patient died while an aide who was supposed to check on him hourly failed to check on him at all and instead played video games on her computer,” Buchanan wrote.
There are almost 50,000 veterans being cared for at nursing homes run by the VA. Three of the 60 VA nursing homes ranked with the lowest one-star rating was in Florida with the Bay Pine, Lake City and Tampa facilities getting those marks.
“We need real accountability and transparency at the VA and every agency employee needs to fulfill their mission of caring for those who have served our country” the letter continued. “It’s a national disgrace that any veteran should die from negligence. Heads must roll at the VA for those responsible for gross misconduct and negligence,”
Hastings: GOP ‘hamstrung by gun lobby’
Democrats around the country are more associated with gun control, while Republicans talk about mental health and fortifying schools. Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings is clearly in the camp of more gun control and castigates Republicans for their alliance with the National Rifle Association (NRA).
In an op-ed for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Hastings said the GOP, “hamstrung by the powerful gun lobby, has sat idly by as this gun violence epidemic has gripped our communities.”
He points to his cosponsorship of “40 pieces of legislation that would go far in curbing this epidemic.” If Congress is unable to do anything, Hastings, co-chairman of the Florida delegation, wants local communities to have the authority to do it on their own, currently prohibited through a state pre-emption law.
“This is unacceptable, and that is why I sent a letter to the Florida Legislature, advising them to prioritize overturning the pre-emption law, not only because it places a stranglehold on communities that care about ending gun violence, but because it may very well be unconstitutional,” he said.
Until Republicans join Democrats to pass sensible legislation, Hastings says “the madness won’t stop.”
F. Rooney exchanges idea with Army Corps leadership
Multiple issues involving Lake Okeechobee have the attention of delegation members representing the area. Included among those is the structural integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike and the releases of millions of gallons of polluted water into other South Florida waterways.
Last week, Naples Republican Francis Rooney discussed the issues with the leadership of the Army Corps of Engineers. Colonel Jason Kirk, the Corps’ district commander, updated Rooney on their plans while Rooney talked about funding from his end.
“Colonel Kirk and his team have been great partners in finding ways to reduce discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River,” Rooney said after the meeting. “Moving water south by using existing structures and temporary pump stations is critical to the health of our Southwest Florida environment and economy.
The level of the lake was showing three feet higher than usual for this time of the year, and these levels are closely monitored by the Corps to protect the structural integrity of the dike and the safety of the surrounding communities. Rooney said the good news is that they have now reduced the water levels even though water levels have continued to rise consistently.
The Corps of Engineers is also working with state and local officials to move water south.
“I am working to secure the funding necessary to expedite repairs of the (dike) many years ahead of schedule so that more water can be held in the lake during times of above average rainfall and hurricane events,” Rooney added. “For the first time, we have secured full funding for the dike, $212 million.”
Despite unease with Pelosi, Frankel stands with Democratic leader
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has come under increased criticism from Democratic activists and candidates running for office, citing a lack of results in elections and policy battles with Trump and Republicans. Many fear Republicans are using the veteran lawmaker from San Francisco as a campaign issue.
Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel is in Pelosi’s camp.
“If we get back the House, Nancy Pelosi deserves to be the speaker,” said Frankel, a Pelosi ally from West Palm Beach. “She is leading this effort to get these candidates elected. She is barnstorming the country. She is helping to fashion the message.”
Part of the criticism coming from younger Democrats points out the age of their party’s House leadership. Pelosi is 78, while her top lieutenants, Maryland’s Steny Hoyer and South Carolina’s James Clyburn, are 79 and 77 respectively.
This should not be a generation fight at all,” Frankel, 70, added. “And people who want to make it into a generational fight are, quite frankly, people who don’t like seniority because they want power.”
Frankel could have a point. The youngest member of the Pelosi leadership team, 56-year-old Joe Crowley of New York, was defeated in a shocking primary upset by 28-year-old socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
On this date in the headlines
July 2, 2015 – Northwest Florida will be receiving the “lion’s share of economic damages” from Florida’s portion of the $187 billion settlement arrived at Thursday between BP and five coastal states. The settlement resolves years of legal fighting over the environmental and economic damage done by the company’s catastrophic oil spill in 2010.
Florida’s share is $3.25 billion. According to state Sen. Don Gaetz, the Panhandle should start seeing the money flow by January 2016.
July 2, 1995 – Former Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell saw charges of tax evasion against him thrown out by a federal district court judge. Judge James Robertson found the criminal case against him was far too removed from independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s original mandate in 1994 to investigate the business dealings of President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton.
“The independent counsel’s explanation of how this indictment is ‘connected with’ the original grant was a recitation spanning six degrees of relationship,” Robertson said. “He has identified no common witnesses, described no similar pattern of conduct, cited no similar applicable law.”
A Florida birthday in Washington
There’s a very important man behind the scenes at the Florida House on Capitol Hill, and staff members at the educational and cultural nonprofit weren’t going to let his birthday pass without celebration.
Guy Padgett, the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ at the Sunshine State’s embassy in Washington, D.C., was surprised on his birthday last week when his colleagues presented him with a Florida-shaped cake, along with cupcakes designed to look like oranges.
He’s the longest-employed staffer at the organization, helping maintain the outside grounds and indoor areas since 2007. Before then, he would do contract work for the nonprofit.
“He’s absolutely amazing, and Florida House can’t run without him,” said Diana Beckmann, executive director of the Florida House. She estimates his total time working with the organization dates back 20 years.
Beckmann said his ties to the local community make Padgett an agent of goodwill. When the Florida House needed a place to store furniture briefly, Padgett successfully secured a spot with the church across the corner.
He knows everyone, and they know him, too. If a “picture of Guy” is posted on the Florida House’s Instagram account, it’s very well-received, Beckmann said.