Border wall, Mueller could affect shutdown
If all goes well, the 115th Congress will end at the close of business Dec. 13. In today’s climate, that is a pretty big “if.”
Topping the “to-do” list of this lame duck session is the spending bill that must be accomplished by that date — or else a partial government shutdown will occur. Among the potential obstacles to meeting the deadline is President Donald Trump’s insistence that $5 billion be included in continuing construction of a wall along the southern border with Mexico.
Trump told POLITICO that “I am firm” when it comes to the funding, raising the possibility of an impasse. Trump believes the recent chaos with some migrants rushing the border puts him on solid footing with a majority of the public.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he could go along with only $1.6 billion in funding, but even that drew rebukes from left-wing Democrats. A more moderate Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa thinks it is all nonsense and a case of misguided priorities.
“President Trump is making reckless threats to shut down the government if Congress does not agree to spend $5 Billion on a border wall, rather than meaningful border security and immigration reform,” Castor said in an email to constituents. “Republicans in Congress and President Trump should not hold the nation hostage.”
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is not only all-in for the $5 billion, but he also wants the entire 800-mile wall constructed. While the president’s demand only covers 20 percent of the wall’s projected cost, Rubio wants that in this bill and the rest in the future.
He said a “partial wall is not enough” and “half of it is as good as none of it. There has to be a process for people to access generosity.”
Democrats in the Senate may also try to exert some leverage by withholding support for the funding bill unless there is a vote on a bill protecting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
In their final days as the majority party in the House, Republicans released a new, 297-page tax package. The bill would, among other things, address glitches in the tax cut bill passed one year ago, revamp the IRS, and offer assistance to disaster victims.
The Senate would unlikely sign onto the entire package, but some of the provisions could be slipped into the “must-pass” spending bill.
Another item in the “must-pass” category is the farm bill, where House and Senate negotiators could not agree on legislation that lapsed Sept. 30. This week, negotiators announced a breakthrough and the proposal is now likely to get done.
Republican Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City is among those on the House negotiating team.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) also expired Sept. 30, but proponents are optimistic it too will pass during the ongoing lame-duck session.
“Not reauthorizing & strengthening #VAWA isn’t an option,” tweeted Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach. “Congress, let’s get to work and make sure our country is a safer place for all women & families!”
The House is scheduled to adjourn Dec. 13 and the Senate on the following day. Final deals should be able to get done, even against the wishes of the far-left and the far-right wings of each party.
While it might take overtime, once a deal is reached, each side has two full years to explain or justify any compromises they make before facing the voters again. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.
In what could almost be termed as a farewell speech, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson addressed the Senate for the first time since losing re-election to Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Nelson took the opportunity to reiterate several points he made in a concession speech following the election.
Among the messages he left was a call for the next Senate and its next Senator to protect and preserve Florida’s environment and its coastline from pollution. He used a reference Floridians have heard for three decades.
To watch highlights of Nelson’s remarks, click on the image below:
“I have seen the blue brilliance of the Earth from the edge of the heavens,” Nelson said, referring to his 1986 space flight 30 years ago, “and I will fight on to save this planet, our homes, and our cities from the spreading plague of greenhouse gases that infect our atmosphere and play havoc with our weather and risk the planet, our children and grandchildren will inherit.”
Nelson returned to the theme of the bruising, negative and expensive campaign with Scott, as well as an indirect slap at Trump. He also called for a return to civility in politics and the Senate.
“We have to move beyond a politics that aims not just to defeat but to destroy,” Nelson said, “where truth is treated as disposable, where falsehoods abound, and the free press is assaulted as the enemy of the people.”
“There are great decisions ahead that will shape the course and character of America in the 21st century,” Nelson said. “Whether an institution such as this congress will be effective in the future is whether the people that make up this institution can get along.”
While it sounded like a farewell, Nelson said this was just one of several more speeches planned before vacating his seat in January.
Nelson, Rubio split on Saudi Arabia
The Republican-led Senate is breaking with Trump on issues involving U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia following the murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi. On Wednesday, the Senate voted 63-37 to begin a process that would curtail U.S. aid for the Saudi operations in the ongoing civil war in Yemen.
If approved, the White House pledged a veto, saying it “would harm bilateral relationships in the region.” Nelson voted in favor of stopping the aid while Rubio, who believes Trump does not need Congressional approval, voted in the minority.
“No. 1, this is a War Powers Act vote,” Rubio said. “I’ve never believed the War Powers Act is constitutional. I also don’t believe that even if it were, what we are doing in Yemen now with Saudi Arabia rises to the level that would trigger the War Powers Act.”
Rubio argues that U.S. support of Saudi Arabia’s efforts, in the form of weapons and intelligence, is not a formal involvement in the war itself, and thus is within President Trump’s authority with or without approval from Congress.
The War Powers Resolution was passed in the 1970s as a way for Congress to check the President’s authority to involve the nation in conflicts overseas.
If the legislation passed and were signed by Trump, the only permissible U.S. military operations in Yemen would be aimed against al-Qaida.
Pelosi cuts deal, gets nom
On Wednesday, current House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi made a deal with the Problem Solvers Caucus to address their concerns. Later in the day, she was nominated to be the next Speaker of the House.
Nine members of the caucus, including Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, had withheld their support unless Pelosi and House leadership met their demands on measures designed to break gridlock on popular bills.
“We are pleased to report that, after months of constructive discussions, and a meeting with Ranking Members this morning, we have reached an agreement with Leader Pelosi and Ranking Member (Jim) McGovern that will help Break the Gridlock,” the statement read.
While Pelosi earned the party’s official nod, there is always the chance she could face a challenge on the House floor when the official election is held. Among those voting, 32 current or future members did not vote to nominate Pelosi, leaving the chance for some last-minute intrigue or wheeling and dealing.
“As the 1st woman Speaker, @NancyPelosi has proven herself a force to be reckoned with & willing to listen to the diverse voices that make our Caucus great,” Murphy tweeted after the agreement was announced. “She’s earned my vote for Speaker. No matter who has the gavel or who’s in the White House, I will always put #FL07 first.”
Soto was equally pleased with the deal and is supporting Pelosi, saying he “proudly cast my vote for @NancyPelosi for Speaker today! I applaud her for visionary courage and commitment to our proposed good government rules reforms.”
Gaetz, DeSantis blast Airbnb
The recent decision by the online hospitality service Airbnb to delist more than 200 properties in the West Bank has created some massive blowback in the United States and Israel. This week 18 Americans, many of whom own dual-citizenship in the U.S. and Israel, sued the company for religious discrimination for the exclusion.
Members of the Trump administration and pro-Israel elected leaders on Capitol Hill described the Airbnb move as “anti-Semitic.”
Florida leaders weigh in, including Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, and others, who claim Airbnb caved in to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that is attempting to pressure Israel to leave the West Bank.
DeSantis said he was seeking to “determine what actions I can take as governor to fight back against this wrongheaded policy.”
Gaetz, who is serving as a co-chairman of the DeSantis transition team, agreed with the former congressman, who was the delegation’s strongest proponent of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Gaetz was right about Greenberg, the elected Tax Collector for Seminole County. Greenberg claimed Airbnb’s action violated Florida’s anti-BDS laws and said the county is reviewing contracts currently in force with the company.
Murphy tapped as Blue Dogs co-chair
As the centrist House Democratic Blue Dog Coalition continues a gradual rise to prominence, the group’s leadership will change once the new Congress is seated in January. Three new chairs, including Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, were elected this week to head the growing group.
Murphy will serve as co-chair for administration, while Arizona Rep. Tom O’Halleran will be co-chair for policy and California Rep. Lou Correa will be co-chair for communications. All three are completing their first term.
“Humbled my colleagues on @HouseBlueDogs unanimously elected me to lead our 24-member coalition,” Murphy tweeted. “I’m excited to co-chair this group of principled, pragmatic Democrats as we work in a bipartisan way to put our fiscal house in order and keep our nation safe.”
The 18-member group, which includes Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, will substantially increase in 2019. With the Democrats electing 38 new members in this year’s midterms, 7 of those will be joining the coalition.
When Democrats last held the House majority eight years ago, the coalition boasted 54 members, but the 2010 Republican tsunami cut their margins in half, and the erosion continued. Now that the Democrats are back in charge, the Blue Dogs are sure to cause House leadership some anxious moments as leaders also try to satisfy the far-left faction of the party.
Former House Republican leaders can relate as they tangled with the conservative Freedom Caucus for years.
Deutch, Crist, Rooney join on climate change
This week a bipartisan group of representatives introduced a new climate change bill, but one that carries a familiar goal. Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch and Crist joined with Republican Rep. Francis Rooney and two others to introduce the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA) that has already drawn support and outrage.
In short, the bill calls for a carbon tax that is deemed necessary by supporters to reverse the negative effects of climate change, but a job-killer by detractors.
“This aggressive carbon pricing scheme introduced by members from both parties marks an important opportunity to begin to seriously address the immediate threat of climate change,” said Deutch in a joint news release. “The status quo is unsustainable; the time to act is right now.”
If enacted, the bill would help reduce U.S. carbon pollution by 40% in 10 years, with 91% reduction target by 2050 (versus 2015 levels). According to the sponsors, this would be achieved by pricing carbon at $15 per metric ton of CO2e and increasing the price by $10 every year.
The Treasury Department would return 100% of the net revenue back to the American people, a policy highlighted by a Treasury Department report as helping lower- and middle-income families.
“The devastating findings released in last week’s report show that the clock is ticking, and continued inaction would be catastrophic — for our environment, our economy and peoples’ health,” said Crist. “We are taking a historic step with the introduction of this bipartisan legislation; Congress must act with the urgency this crisis demands.“
Americans For Tax Reform (ATR), headed by Grover Norquist, warned of the consequences if what they described as a “horrible bill” should pass.
“Democrat Florida Congressman Ted Deutch has introduced a carbon tax bill to impose a new national energy tax on the American people,” read a statement from ATR. “The bill is a massive tax increase which will increase utility bills and the price of all products and services.”
A quote from Rooney was not included in the release, but ATR sends a message anyway. They urged supporters to “Call Florida Republican Congressman Francis Rooney (with phone number included) and ask him why he is supporting this vicious tax which seeks to impose a backdoor two-child limit.”
This refers to a provision that per-person family rebates would include only the first two children.
Obama uses Crist to talk bipartisanship
On Saturday, the Baker Institute, named after former Secretary of State James Baker, hosted their 25th anniversary gala at Rice University in Houston. One of the highlights was a sit-down exchange of thoughts on bipartisanship with former President Barack Obama and Baker.
While the two talked about how partisan the current climate has become, Obama said the divide could be described by a Fox News viewer having “a different reality” than a reader of The New York Times. He then brought up an example familiar to most Floridians.
“I still feel bad for Charlie Crist, the governor down in Florida — hugely popular — but he didn’t get the memo that he wasn’t supposed to cooperate with me,” Obama recalled of the famous joint appearance with Crist in 2009.
“He supported the recovery act (aka stimulus) at a time when the economy was contracting right after the crash of 2008. I think the fact that I gave him a little ‘bro hug … that was it,” Obama said. “I felt bad for the guy because he became a cause célèbre … which is how Marco Rubio got elected.”
Another news-making exchange was Baker expressing pride that he made it through his government service without being indicted. Obama expressed similar pride that no one in his administration was indicted during his eight years.
(The reference to Crist begins at 18:15)
Last chance for Land and Water Fund
Delegation co-chair Vern Buchanan wants $900 million set aside before year’s end for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired at the end of September. The Sarasota Republican co-sponsored bipartisan legislation filed by and stressed this week that the fund, which helps cover expenses at U.S. National Parks, brings a return on investment in Florida alone.
“This important conservation program will help preserve Florida’s iconic environmental resources for future generations,” Buchanan said. “It’s regrettable that despite broad bipartisan support Congress allowed this vital fund to expire.”
Through the years, the LWCF covered more than $1 billion in investments for the Everglades, Biscayne National Park, Osceola National Forest, the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Caspersen Beach, according to Buchanan’s office, as well as helping maintain the Florida National Scenic Trail. And if the fund gets renewed, Buchanan expects more investment in Florida’s shoreline.
The funding helps national parks nationwide, of course, from Yosemite to the Grand Canyon. Of course, $900 million isn’t exactly couch money, but Buchanan says the money boosts a $60 billion ecotourism industry, creating a half million jobs and generating $3.5 million in state and local taxes.
Diaz-Balart praises Nicaragua sanctions
With Nicaragua already under sanctions from the U.S., the Trump administration piled on more this week. On Tuesday, the administration announced sanctions against Vice-President Rosario Murillo, the wife of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, along with an Ortega aide named Nestor Moncada Lau.
The Treasury Department issued the sanctions via executive order for the regime’s recent crackdown on anti-government protests. The administration accused those sanctioned of undermining Nicaragua’s democracy.
“I commend President Trump for signing a critically important Executive Order that gives the Department of the Treasury and the Department of State greater authority to block the property of those who engage in human rights abuses, contribute to corruption, and destabilize democratic institutions in Nicaragua,” said Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami in a statement.
“After months of violent oppression, media censorship and egregious human rights abuses, the Ortega regime and its cronies must be held accountable for their crimes. Today’s Executive Order is an important step in promoting democracy, rule of law, and basic human rights for the people of Nicaragua.”
Ballard chairs DeSantis inaugural
Brian Ballard is taking on a familiar role of heading inaugural planning following a significant election. This time it is Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis who has tapped Ballard to chair his inaugural committee.
The dominant Florida and Washington lobbyist has previously co-chaired the inaugural committees of Gov. and now U.S. Sen.-elect Scott, along with former Governor, Attorney General and now-Rep. Crist.
Ballard, alongside his wife Kathryn, is charged with planning the Jan. 8 inaugural ceremonies for the new Governor. Also contributing will be co-chairs Stanley and Gay Hart Gaines, and lobbyist Bill Rubin, a close ally of Scott.
“The 2019 Inauguration will be a celebration of our great state as we move forward together toward continued success,” DeSantis and incoming First Lady Casey DeSantis said in a statement. “The Inaugural Committee will play a critical role in organizing inclusive inaugural events which reflect the diversity and uniqueness of Florida.”
This day in the headlines
Nov. 30, 1994 — Georgia Republican Rep. Newt Gingrich, set to become the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years, is facing ethics charges for misusing his staff for political reasons. The complaint to the House Ethics Committee, which said Gingrich mixed his staff with his political action committee (GOPAC), was leaked to the media, much to the chagrin of at least one Republican committee member.
Rep. Porter Goss of Sanibel was outraged both by the leak and the accusation itself. Goss said the complaint “was a long stretch” and he did not see any violation of House rules.
Nov. 30, 2010 — President Obama is proposing a two-year freeze on the salaries of federal employees, an unexpected announcement that represented the first in a series of White House moves to seize the initiative from Republicans on the issue of the economy. Despite the fact the GOP posted historic gains of 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats during the midterm elections three weeks ago, Obama is certain to get pushback from public employee unions who heavily supported him in 2008.
“The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require broad sacrifice, Obama said from the White House. “And that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government.”