Scaling the wall between a spending deal, shutdown
Earlier in the week, the trending word was “impeachment.” Would information provided by Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer for President Donald Trump, have some impeachable offenses sprinkled in?
That issue is still roiling, but Tuesday’s Oval Office meeting between Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi started another trend. “Shutdown,” as it has so many times before, took center stage.
Vice-President Mike Pence mostly sat quietly as the two Democrats sparred with Trump, but the President gave the sound bite that temporarily changed the focus of news coverage. In his fight to demand $5 billion to continue construction on a border wall, Trump laid it on the line.
“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck.”
Pelosi and Schumer left the meeting claiming victory.
“But the fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his,” Pelosi said afterward. “That was an accomplishment.”
Schumer described Trump’s behavior as a “tantrum,” a term picked up Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach.
“Well, there you have it — @realDonaldTrump is throwing a tantrum and wants to shut down the government if he doesn’t get billions of dollars to waste on his ineffective & inhumane border wall,” she tweeted.
Trump is banking on the notion that a majority of those outside of Washington want the border wall more than they detest sending nonessential personnel on furlough. The President believes the scenes on television news of the migrant caravans massing on the border has pushed more Americans into his way of thinking.
Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando is not convinced, sending out a tweet mocking the border wall.
“Washington standoff continues as Trump threatens to veto bipartisan budget bills and shut down the gov’t over his unnecessary medieval border wall …,” Soto said.
If a confrontation is to occur, the battle lines will officially be drawn next week. The earliest a vote on a spending bill with the $5 billion would be Tuesday, just two days before government funding runs out.
House Republican leadership is trying to round up enough votes to fund the government and the wall. If they are successful, reports indicate it will be “dead on arrival” in the Senate.
That is where a tough choice may confront Republicans, especially in Florida where Trump voters can still make a difference (see Sen. Rick Scott and Gov. Ron DeSantis). If Trump is serious and a shutdown lingers, Republicans who put keeping the government open above the wall will need to weigh their options.
They can either hold out and face the wrath of Trump voters, or feel the prospect of a future primary is not worth denying the president success on his key campaign promise. If it goes long enough, could some Democrats feel a need to deal?
What if the struggle continues past Jan. 3, when Democrats assume control of the House?
In the end, this is all about allowing Trump to keep a campaign promise. After all, while this argument about $5 billion plays out, a Farm Bill with a price tag of $867 billion passed just this week (see below).
Who is reading the electorate accurately? Before we find out, this could get ugly.
Nelson urges more space exploration funding
Sen. Bill Nelson will likely be best remembered for his focus on space exploration and his 1986 journey aboard the shuttle Challenger. It’s not surprising since the three-term Democrat constantly reminded audiences of his time as an astronaut.
On Monday, he offered what is likely to be his final floor speech on the issue of space policy. He urged his colleagues to continue the progress of the last five decades.
To view Nelson’s speech, click on the image below:
“Will humanity still exist far in the future if we chose to stop exploring now? The cosmos offers us limitless opportunities to expand, not just survive, but to thrive,” Nelson said.
It was also a time to thank some of his current colleagues who have worked with him on the issue of space exploration. Nelson singled out Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy.
Nelson offered that pursuing space exploration not only has ramifications for the future, but there are also economic benefits at home.
“Quite simply, jobs and ingenuity are soaring because rockets are soaring,” Nelson said. “And as goes Florida’s Space Coast and the Houston area, so goes the U.S. space industry as a whole.”
Nelson will leave office Jan. 3 and his successor, Gov. Rick Scott, will be sworn in January 8Jan. 8 when his term as governor concludes.
Sen. Marco Rubio predicted his colleague would be remembered as “one of the giants of Florida political history.” Cruz recalled Nelson reaching out to him early in his first term and simply said: “Bill’s a good man.”
Farm Bill a ‘no’ with Rubio, F. Rooney, Gaetz
On Tuesday, the Senate scratched off one item on its “to-do” list by passing the negotiated final version of the $867 billion Farm Bill, aka the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. The vote was 87-13 with all 13 no votes coming from Republicans.
One day later, the House approved the measure by a vote of 369-47. The only members of the delegation to vote no were Republicans Francis Rooney and Matt Gaetz.
One of the 13 Senators voting “no” was Rubio, who said the final version came up short in many areas.
“The farm bill released late (Monday) night fails to do what is necessary to protect farmers, working families and taxpayers,” he said in a statement. “The conference committee had an opportunity to take the best provisions from both the Senate and House farm bills, but instead it appears to have combined the worst elements into legislation that I simply cannot support.”
Among those praising its passage was Republican Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City. Dunn said the bill was “not perfect,” but “gives certainty to our farmers, foresters, and ranchers at a time when many producers are struggling.”
Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee called the bill “a great example of common-sense bipartisanship that will improve the quality of life for millions of Americans.”
The bill funds subsidies and benefits for farmers, as well as funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps. It does not contain a work requirement for the able-bodied to receive the benefits, a demand of conservatives.
The legislation now heads to Trump’s desk.
Google CEO gets earful
On Tuesday, Google CEO Sundar Pichai came before the House Judiciary Committee to talk about two primary issues. One was the collection of personal data from willing and unwilling data donors and the other was political bias in Google searches.
Both sides of the political spectrum were interested in the methods of collecting information. Jacksonville Republican Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville asked Pichai about how much an individual knows about what they might be turning over.
Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton was equally concerned, asking about third parties gathering information on users “without their consent.” Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Orlando said, “my concern is the protection of consumers.”
Gaetz asked about political bias and how conservative views might be suppressed through a concerted effort by Google employees.
“I would strongly suggest that one of the crisis response tools you use is to investigate the discussion among your employees on resisting the Trump administration, the Trump agenda and smothering some of the conservative outlets,” Gaetz advised.
Pichai denied Google takes sides, saying the company operates “without political bias.” At the same time, he did little to quiet the growing uneasiness of Congress and the public at large with Google’s business practices.
Gaetz makes POLITICO Power list
POLITICO has established a “Power List” of 19 people to watch that features “politicians, activists and operatives across the country who are positioned to play a critical role in the political landscape leading up to 2020.” Of the 19, only four are members of Congress, and one of those is Gaetz.
“The controversial Florida Republican and ardent Donald Trump supporter, who just won re-election, will continue making his plea to protect the president on any news channel that will have him in 2019,” said the POLITICO write-up. “With Democrats holding the House majority, he thinks it’s only a matter of time until House Democrats try to impeach the president. And Gaetz will be there to defend him.”
Gaetz believes Trump will need the support he and others pledge to provide.
“(Trump) needs a capable defense on the Judiciary Committee to show what a witch hunt (the Mueller investigation) truly is,” said the congressman, who sits on the committee. “I feel a real sense of obligation to provide that defense.”
“The committee is about to be covered like the O.J. trial,” he added.
While Gaetz will play his role with the vigor he exhibited in his first term, he would be the first to quietly admit that his power on the committee will be reduced with Democrat Jerrold Nadler taking over as chairman. The profile outlines the next two years perfectly.
“Rep. Matt Gaetz isn’t disappearing from your TV screens anytime soon.”
Veterinarian group salutes Yoho
The American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) has three favorite members of the House of Representatives. That is because they are the three veterinarians serving in Congress.
The AVMF saluted all three for winning re-election last month. One of those is Republican Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville.
Yoho, a 1983 graduate of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, was a large animal veterinarian before his election to Congress in 2012. His fellow vets are Louisiana Republican Dr. Ralph Abraham and Oregon Democrat Dr. Kurt Schrader.
Along with his duties on the House Agriculture Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee, Yoho serves as co-chair, along with Schrader, of the House Veterinary Medicine Caucus. Abraham is also one of the 37 members making up the caucus.
Waltz to focus on space issues
With the impending departure of Nelson, space enthusiasts have wondered who would fill the role of leading advocate. Republican Representative-elect Michael Waltz at least wants to be one of them.
Waltz is due to take his seat in Congress next month. While is looking at multiple priorities, he wants to make a difference with space policy by using his military and business background.
“I really want to promote space as a thought leader, particularly in commercial space flight and the cyberspace industry,” Waltz said during a stop in Orlando. “Commercial space flight is ready to explode, truly grow, and I think the triangle from Daytona to Cape Canaveral to Orlando should really benefit from that,” Waltz said.
He also made sure to mention that it’s for more than monetary gain.
“That’s not just an economic issue; that’s a national security issue. The Chinese and Russians have explicitly stated in their national security strategy that they will eclipse the United States in the 21st century.” Waltz added.
Waltz is also interested in issues involving health care, veterans and national security. He served as a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard along with multiple deployments as an Army Green Beret officer and national security specialist.
Since he will be a freshman member, Waltz is low on the totem pole when it comes to requesting and receiving committee assignments. The Science Space and Technology Committee, whose membership consists of Republicans Dunn, Daniel Webster, and Bill Posey along with Democrat Crist, is on the Waltz wish list.
Seniors push Webster health care incentive
A senior group known as the Mature American Citizens (AMAC) is pushing for the Good Samaritan Charitable Physicians’ Services Act, which aims to incentivize doctors to offer pro-bono health care. The bill, designed to “rein in costs,” was introduced in May by Webster, a Clermont Republican.
Webster’s bill would provide incentives through a charitable tax deduction for the free care doctors provide to patients. According to AMAC, the savings the federal government would experience would be in the billions. The bill would apply to the nearly 73 million Americans enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“Americans deserve a health care system that will ensure access to health coverage for all, rein in costs, and allow our health care professionals to improve health care delivery through innovation,” Webster told the Daily Caller this week.
“This bill is a creative, common-sense solution that ensures our most vulnerable Americans have access to the care they need, from the doctor they choose, at a price they can afford.”
According to AMAC senior counselor Bob Carlstrom, the bill would also encourage lower-income individuals and families to form relationships with their primary care physicians. They would also be more likely visit doctors before their ailments become too serious.
Currently physicians can and do provide pro-bono work through nonprofit clinics, but to get any sort of tax deduction, they must go through a “ridiculous” process that involves billing patients for the services both parties already know they cannot afford, Carlson said.
Castor, Crist: Investigate All Children’s
Florida delegation members Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist are asking the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to provide an update and further investigation into serious allegations of abuse and neglect at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg after a report showing the hospital had provided negligent care to patients leading to several unnecessary deaths and medical complications.
Dr. Jonathan Ellen, the hospital’s CEO, resigned this week after a Tampa Bay Times report uncovered a troubling trend of inadequate and deadly care.
“While we welcome the change in leadership at All Children’s as a prudent first step, this is no substitute for effective oversight by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” the Tampa Bay Area Democrats said in a joint statement.
“We continue to call for a federal investigation to provide the answers and accountability demanded by the seriousness of this situation. Major corrective actions must be taken to re-establish the high quality of care patients deserve and the pre-eminent reputation the institution held for decades.”
The Times report found 11 patients had died within just a year and a half and that the 2017 death rate at the hospital was the highest among any other Florida pediatric heart unit in more than a decade. Surgeons lost needles in infants during surgeries and applied patches to holes in children’s hearts that failed. Sutures from surgeries ruptured, leading to deaths and permanent disabilities among survivors.
Ellen had chaired the University of South Florida Board of Trustees’ committee overseeing the consolidation of its three regional campuses and is now considering steps for replacing him in that role
Buchanan provision protects pets
A provision in the Farm Bill that passed out of Congress includes a ban on the slaughter of household pets for food, a priority of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. The Sarasota Republican sponsored the bipartisan legislation, the Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act of 2018, along with fellow Florida Delegation Co-Chair Alcee Hastings, a Miramar Democrat.
Earlier this year, the bill passed the House. The inclusion of the legislation in the Farm Bill allowed the act to land on the desk of the president.
“Millions of Americans enjoy a special bond with their beloved dogs and cats,” Buchanan said. “It is horrifying to think any of them would be slaughtered for food.”
It may surprise some to learn killing cats and dogs for consumption remains legal in 44 states. But Buchanan’s law would put in place a federal penalty of $5,000 for violators.
The legislation also highlights Buchanan’s cuddly history with animal welfare activists. A past Human Society Legislator of the Year and co-chairman of the Animal Protection Caucus, he worked closely with groups like Animal Wellness Action and championed the rights of cats to avoid the deep fryer.
“We applaud Rep. Buchanan for his leadership on this critical legislation that protects our dogs and cats from ever becoming victims of this cruelty and sets a global example to encourage the rest of the world to do the same,” said Holly Gann, director of federal affairs at Animal Wellness Action.
Mast sees path to fix algae problem
Incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City are on the same page on many environmental issues, especially addressing the ongoing problem with toxic algae. That is why DeSantis tapped Mast to head his environment and agricultural transition group.
Mast has repeatedly criticized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for decisions to release heavily polluted water from Lake Okeechobee that leads to the algae problems in local rivers and streams. The issue was part of his successful re-election campaign last month for the District 18 seat in the House.
Mast, along with a bipartisan group of delegation members, actively championed for authorization to construct a reservoir to contain the discharges from the lake. After chairing the first meeting of the transition group earlier this week, Mast indicated the state could play a significant role in helping provide short-term solutions.
According to Mast, his constituents will be well served when the DeSantis administration begins to have conversations with the Corps, which controls discharges from Okeechobee, and the South Florida Water Management District about how much water needs to be stored in Okeechobee.
“Our water is the lifeblood of our environment, and the environment is the lifeblood of our economy here,” Mast said. “[DeSantis] recognizes that.”
After Parkland report, Deutch calls for gun control
A preliminary report from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission was released this week with recommendations that include arming public school teachers. While praising the commission’s efforts, Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch criticized the notion and again called for tighter gun restrictions.
Deutch, who represents the area that includes the school in Congress, called support for arming teachers “concerning.”
“Teachers want to teach, not be armed for combat in their classrooms,” Deutch said in a statement issued after the report’s release. “Law enforcement cannot push their responsibilities to make our communities safer on to civilians that should be focused on educating their students.
The 15-member commission, chaired by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, voted 13-1 to approve the recommendations, which also included ways to improve school security. Deutch again offered a recommendation not highlighted in the report.
“(W)e cannot ignore the role that easy access to the most dangerous firearms played in the worst school shooting in our state’s history,” Deutch added. “The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act made important changes to our gun laws, including raising the minimum age for buying a gun and creating a red-flag law for law enforcement. But there is more we must do to strengthen our gun laws to make it harder for potential killers to access firearms, especially assault rifles — the weapon of choice of mass shooters.”
In leadership, Diaz-Balart came through for Miami-Dade
On Jan. 3, Democrats will assume leadership over House committees. As he prepares to turn over his gavel as chairman of the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was able to bring nearly $10 million in transportation funds to Miami Dade County.
Diaz-Balart announced that Miami-Dade was getting $9.5 million in a Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“As House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee chairman, I am grateful to be in a position to bring much-needed dollars home,” said Diaz-Balart. “I thank (Secretary of Transportation) Secretary (Elaine) Chao for continuing to invest in our community’s transportation sector, and for providing the county with opportunities to improve and upgrade our infrastructure.
Rubio, with his seat on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, also played a role in securing the funds. He said the funds would help implement local development plans.
Diaz-Balart looked back at his time as chairman of the subcommittee, pointing to nearly $80 million he had secured for his area through many different programs and grants during his tenure as the subcommittee chair.
On this day in the headlines
Dec. 14, 1998 — The body of Gov. Lawton Chiles will return to the tiny Panhandle town of Century to start a slow procession across North Florida Tuesday, a reminder of the 1970 journey that made him famous. He earned the nickname “Walkin’ Lawton” for his long journey on foot during his first U.S. Senate campaign that year.
The procession will end at the state Capitol, where his body will lie in state until funeral services Wednesday. Chiles, 68, died Saturday after apparently suffering a heart dysrhythmia, or abnormal heartbeat, while riding an exercise bicycle at the Governor’s Mansion early in the morning.
Dec. 14, 2000 — In a poignant end to an extraordinary election, Vice President Al Gore conceded the presidency to Texas Gov. George W. Bush and vowed to help his Republican rival unite the nation. Gore delivered a deeply personal concession speech after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the ongoing recount in Florida that was continuing five weeks after Election Day.
“Let there be no doubt that while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it,” Gore said from the Eisenhower Office Building near the White House. “I accept the finality of this outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people, and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”
Dec. 14, 2003 — “We got him!” Those were the words of U.S. Administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer as he announced the capture of fugitive former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He was captured at 8:30 p.m. local time in a walled farm compound near Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.
“It marks the end of the road for him,” Bush said during a nationally-televised address from the White House. Bush promised Hussein would “face the justice he denied to millions.”