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Delegation for 9.14.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Hurricane politics now a way of life

Among many lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina 13 years ago is that politics are a big part of natural disasters. Rightly or wrongly, depending on one’s view, then-President George W. Bush took a big hit on his approval rating based on how he was perceived to have handled preparations and the aftermath of the storm that devastated New Orleans.

Those criticizing Bush latched on to his praise for FEMA director Michael Brown. “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.” is still remembered.

Those supporting Bush and the FEMA effort eagerly repeated the admonition of Lt. Gen. Russel Honore as he rebuked some in the media about casting blame.

“You’re stuck on stupid” became a rallying cry.

Waves slam the Oceana Pier & Pier House Restaurant in Atlantic Beach, N.C. (image via ABC News)

In 2018, the politics began before Hurricane Florence even reached the shore. A Washington Post editorial — not an op-ed, an editorial — said President Donald Trump is “complicit” in extreme weather due to his skepticism on the role of humans in climate change.

The President also fired up his opponents by revisiting last year’s devastation of Puerto Rico brought on by Hurricane Maria. The purpose of an early week briefing was to demonstrate how his administration was ready for Florence, but all that was heard were the words “incredibly successful” when describing last year’s effort in Puerto Rico.

Shortly after that, a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 80 percent of Puerto Ricans have negative reviews of the administration’s response. More than 70 percent are critical of the Puerto Rican government’s response, with two-thirds unhappy with Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who recently reported the results of studies that increased the death toll estimate to nearly 3,000.

Trump’s Thursday tweet that the revised estimate was wrong and inflated, fanned the flames. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami said it takes “a warped mind” to doubt the figures, while Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, an American of Puerto Rican descent, said Trump was “dancing on the graves” of those who perished.

Two of Trump’s most prominent backers, Gov. Rick Scott and Republican Congressman (and nominee for Governor) Ron DeSantis, both disagreed with Trump and did not question the estimates.

Which brings us back to Florence.

As the hurricane approached, Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon accused the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of transferring nearly $10 million from FEMA and giving it to ICE.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson jumped in via Twitter.

“Less than a year after an unprecedentedly severe hurricane season — and just at the start of another — the Trump administration diverted nearly $10 million from FEMA, including its preparedness, response and recovery programs,” he said. “This is unacceptable!”

DHS did not dispute the interagency transfer but says none of those funds could have been used for hurricane preparation or response.

“The money in question, transferred to ICE from FEMA’s routine operating expenses, could not have been used for hurricane response due to appropriation limitations,” said DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton. “DHS/FEMA stand fiscally and operationally ready to support current and future response and recovery needs.”

In the end, if FEMA performs well, this will not be an issue. No matter what happens, the administration will be criticized for something while Trump and his team will say they did great.

While the politics continue outside of the Carolinas, Florida sends best wishes to those going through what our state endured last year.

Nelson, Scott agree on debate dates, networks

Nelson’s campaign has announced that there will be an October 2 debate vs. Gov. Scott, hosted by Telemundo in Miami. The event will be broadcast by network affiliates in Miami, Fort Myers, Orlando, Tampa, and West Palm Beach.

This debate will be the first of three between the two high-profile candidates. Scott, who entered the race in April, poses the first real threat to Nelson as they are tied according to a Quinnipiac poll released last week.

Scott has already attacked Nelson with an ad accusing him of debate dodging. Nelson outlined his acceptance of the debate as Scott “finally” agreeing to take the stage with him. Scott responded to Nelson urging him to accept the other two debates.

Serving as debate moderators will be Telemundo’s Marilys Llanos and Jackie Nespral, news anchor at WTVJ Channel 6. A second debate, to be shown on CNN on October 16, has been agreed upon, but with no further details yet available.

Nelson, Scott dueling education ads

A recent ad from Nelson criticized Scott’s record on education. The ad called “Math” says Scott’s policies have led Florida to a ranking of 40th in the nation when it comes to education.

“Less money for teachers, less money for students,” the ad states. “When it comes to public education, Rick Scott failed our kids.”

To view “Math,” click on the image below:

In rapid response, Scott launched his own ad called “First.” Nelson is not mentioned and instead shows Scott listing on a message board the areas in education where Florida ranks first among the 50 states.

The script asserts that Florida’s “strong economy” has led the state to lead in “fourth-grade reading and math scores … eighth-grade reading … High school AP classes and college education … ranked first in the nation.”

To view “First,” click on the image below:

In a race expected to be among the most expensive, if not THE most expensive in the nation, the battle of the airwaves will continue until November 6.

Rubio praises protesting Dolphins player

Week Two of the NFL season got underway Thursday night, but the previous week seemed to center more on football and less on any protests conducted by players during the national anthem. One of those who did kneel was Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, who was praised by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rubio did not salute Stills for “taking a knee,” but instead tweeted support for the player’s service to the community. Stills spent 9/11 working with local area veterans, saying it was “powerful to be with them on this day.”

Miami’s Kenny Stills (left) and Albert Wilson kneel during the national anthem. (Image via Steve Mitchell/USA Today)

“You don’t have to agree with how or why he has chosen to exercise the 1st Amendment before every game to acknowledge the hours he gives voluntarily, on his day off, to serve his fellow Americans,” Rubio said in the tweet.

The two-term Senator says he does not agree with the anthem protests, but says players have a right to do what they are doing. While lauding Stills’ volunteer work is one thing, acknowledging the right of Colin Kaepernick to be an activist in the movement he started could be another matter to Rubio’s Republican and conservative base.

“Look, I support his right to stand for what he does. I don’t agree with what he did, but I support his right to do it,” Rubio said in May.

Republicans and conservatives hold up Kaepernick for special scorn after photos surfaced soon after he launched the kneeling movement showing him wearing socks depicting police officers as pigs. Rubio also told TMZ in May that Kaepernick deserves to be on a team.

The controversial quarterback has been out of football after opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in 2016.

Gaetz bill on cannabis research clears committee

The use of cannabis for research took another step forward on Thursday when the House Judiciary Committee approved the Medical Cannabis Research Act. The bill is sponsored by, and a top priority of, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach.

Gaetz has been a strong proponent of updating laws to further the use of medical marijuana around the country, as well as its use in research. He says legislation on this topic has not come out of Congress in 40 years.

Matt Gaetz’s medical cannabis research bill passes committee.

The bill has 40 co-sponsors comprised of 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans. The six Floridians signing on range from Republican Reps. Ted Yoho of Gainesville and John Rutherford of Jacksonville among conservatives, to progressive Democratic Reps. Darren Soto of Orlando and Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach.

Moderate Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and Carlos Curbelo of Kendall are also co-sponsoring the bill.

“We must ensure that an adequate and uninterrupted supply of research-grade cannabis is available to safe harbor provisions for research facilities,” Gaetz said before the hearing. “I am proud to lead the efforts to unlock cures through important scientific research.”

If enacted, the Department of Justice would be required to issue more licenses for cannabis research. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a hard-liner on legalizing marijuana.

Despite the insertion of a controversial provision precluding anyone with a felony or misdemeanor drug conviction from engaging in cultivation, the measure was reported out of committee on a voice vote.

Dunn’s veterans’ education bill moving in Senate

Nine months after passing the House 420-1, legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City is finally showing some movement in the Senate. The Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act, which would expand veterans’ job and educational opportunities, recently cleared the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

The bill requires the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a veterans outreach plan and publish data on veterans’ participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in its annual “Indicators” report.

Neal Dunn’s veteran education bill makes headway in the Senate.

It updates the NSF Noyce Teacher Scholarship program, fellowship program, and cyber grant programs to include outreach to veterans. Additionally, the bill tasks the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy with examining how to increase veteran participation in STEM career fields.

“Our veterans deserve every opportunity to succeed when they enter civilian life and this important legislation is a step in the right direction by expanding educational and job opportunities for our heroes,” Dunn said in a news release. “With the surge in technology over the last decade, we desperately need more experts in the science and math fields. Our veterans are equipped to take on this challenge and many have already worked in the technology field while serving our country.”

Castor announces $1.4 million reimbursement for local schools

Not only did Hurricane Maria force many Puerto Rican families to relocate to Florida, children of school age were placed in local schools throughout the state. Tampa was no exception and Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor sought reimbursement for the local school district.

Last week, she announced that Hillsborough County Public Schools will receive $1.4 million in federal reimbursement for costs incurred during the 2017-2018 school year for serving K-12 students displaced by the hurricane.

Kathy Castor is announcing $1.4 million in reimbursements for Hillsborough schools.

Hillsborough County Public Schools enrolled approximately 1,500 students displaced due to Hurricane Maria and 70 percent of students have remained in those schools for the new school year.

“Hillsborough teachers, caseworkers and the school district aided students and families from Puerto Rico to ensure that their education was not disrupted in the wake of one of the most serious disasters in American history,” Castor said in a news release. “I am very proud of their dedication to the education of these students and support for families.

Additionally, a total of $75 million funding is being disbursed to colleges and universities around the country that enrolled displaced students. The University of South Florida received about $171,000 for its work aiding displaced students.

Castor has been leading a Puerto Rico Recovery & Assistance Task Force made up of local and regional government, nonprofit and faith-based organizations to maximize collaboration and assist relocated families following the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

Mast touts compromise for South Florida reservoir

South Florida delegation members believe a major cause of the algae-infested water in their region is a giant step closer to being fixed. Earlier this week, Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City announced a deal between the House and Senate to pass a bipartisan Water Resources Development Act that would, among other things, officially authorize building a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

The significance of that action is that instead of releasing the polluted water from the lake into local waterways, that water can be directed into the reservoir. It would also expedite an enhanced regulation plan for the lake.

Brian Mast seeks compromise for South Florida water woes.

The House had previously passed the bill in June but had not received a vote in the Senate.

“This bipartisan bill includes all of the Treasure Coast priorities from the version passed by the House on June 6, 2018 and also includes an updated bipartisan provision that I wrote with Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Bill Nelson to authorize the EAA Southern Storage Reservoir,” Mast said in a communication with constituents. “Getting this bill signed into law is absolutely critical in our fight for clean water.”

Mast said the compromise bill is expected to be voted on in both chambers during September.

 Wilson questions Trump’s fitness to lead

Things between Trump and Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson have been rather quiet since last year’s dust-up over a planned condolence call to the widow of Wilson’s Miami Gardens constituent. It got uglier when White House Chief of Staff John Kelly got involved.

Amarosa had faded from the headlines as well but reinserted herself. She released a secret recording of Trump talking about terrorists in Niger, the country where Wilson’s constituent, Sgt. LaDavid Johnson and three Army colleagues were ambushed and killed in October 2017.

Frederica Wilson believes Donald Trump is completely unfit for office.

On the recording, played on the television program, The View, Trump can be heard saying that being a terrorist is “the only thing” one can do in Niger to earn a living. He also said, “I wouldn’t want to be a terrorist right now.”

In describing his administration’s efforts to fight terrorism Trump further said, “you know people don’t say that’s the reason they’re there is because we forced them out (of the Middle East) and it’s not nearly as intense, but it’s pretty intense, you see that happening.”

Wilson took umbrage at those comments, claiming it represents another piece of evidence showing why Trump should not be President.

“The recording is yet another example of how unfit Mr. Trump is to serve as our nation’s commander-in-chief and how he cannot resist any opportunity to massage his insatiable ego by taking false credit,” she said in a statement. “Unlike the four men who lost their lives much too soon, hero is a word that will never be used to describe him.”

“Sgt. Johnson’s family is still waiting for answers about how La David got separated from his unit during the deadly ambush in Niger,” Wilson added.

Barzee Flores claims Diaz-Balart’s health care record is ‘hurting families’

Democratic challenger Mary Barzee Flores has introduced her first ad of the election campaign for District 25, criticizing incumbent Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart on his health care record. In a new ad in the new ad titled “Afford,” Barzee Flores blasts the incumbent for accepting contributions from drug manufacturers and his health care votes.

“When I was a teenager, my dad died because we couldn’t afford the health care he needed,” Barzee Flores says in the ad. “So, when Congressman Diaz-Balart takes over a hundred grand from drug companies, votes to let them raise prices and to take coverage away from people with pre-existing conditions, I know exactly how that’s hurting families.”

To view “Afford,” click on the image below:

Barzee Flores went further in criticizing the veteran Republican.

“My opponent, Mario Diaz-Balart, has spent his 30-year political career looking out for the corporate special interests who’ve lined his pockets, not the working men and women of South Florida,” she said in a statement to Florida Politics.

The Diaz-Balart campaign responded harshly to the ad’s content.

“These are the type of lies you would expect from a radical,” the campaign statement read. “Mario has a record of supporting protections for pre-existing conditions, providing resources for mental illness, and seeking to lower skyrocketing premiums for hardworking Floridians.”

Barzee Flores’ ad comes after Diaz-Balart went after her in an earlier ad over cases handled by attorneys at her husband’s law firm.

House passes Ros-Lehtinen-named Israel security bill

As her career in Congress winds down, Ros-Lehtinen was honored by her House colleagues this week by naming legislation after her. A bill to enhance security assistance from the U.S. to Israel was renamed the Ileana Ros-Lehtinen United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018.

The original version was jointly introduced by Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton. Ros-Lehtinen is the chair and Deutch the ranking member of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Speaking on the House floor, Ros-Lehtinen said she was “humbled to have my colleagues rename bill after me.”

This bill codifies the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel that resulted in an unprecedented $38 billion in security assistance over ten years. The bill also ensures Israel has access to the weapons needed to defend itself against any and all threats, enhances Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge to better address evolving threats, and authorizes new cooperation on drones, space, and global humanitarian projects.

“My friend Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has been a stalwart friend of Israel throughout her time in Congress, and it is a fitting honor that this bill to strengthen the US-Israel relationship bears her name,” Deutch said. “Israel is under constant threat from every direction. A threat to Israel, our strategic ally in a turbulent region, is also a threat to our national security. Enhancing Israel’s security is a step toward strengthening our own national security.”

On Wednesday the House passed the bill by a voice vote. The Senate passed the companion bill on August 1.

On this day in the headlines

September 14, 1993 — Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed their draft peace agreement at an emotional White House Rose Garden ceremony, an event that put a dramatic human face on their emerging reconciliation but also showed how difficult it may be to achieve a secure peace. Nudged by their host, President Bill Clinton, a somewhat reluctant Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and an eager PLO Chief Yasser Arafat shook hands before the world’s cameras.

But in words and symbolism, the ceremony, conducted before virtually the entire Washington political establishment, two past presidents and eight former secretaries of state, showed how difficult the road ahead may be. Clinton said the world was grateful for the important step taken by the two leaders adding “their tenacity and vision has given us the promise of a new beginning.

September 14, 2013 — American and Russian negotiators meeting in Geneva moved closer to an agreement that would ultimately strip Syria of its chemical weapons. After a marathon second day of talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, both sides expressed optimism.

A significant sign of movement at the U.N. came when the Obama administration effectively took force off the table in discussions over the shape of a Security Council resolution governing any deal with Syria. Obama reportedly maintained the right to respond without U.N. backing if Syria reneges on its commitment, but Russia would not allow a resolution to contain the authorization of force.

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