SOTU left much unsaid
As soon after delivery, the State of the Union (SOTU) address is often forgotten.
Here and there, a catchy line lives on, such as President Bill Clinton’s “the era of big government is over,” or “Axis of Evil” from President George W. Bush.
Soaring rhetoric was not part of President Donald Trump’s speech earlier this week.
Trump did offer moments that brought universal acceptance, such as the introductions of World War II veterans, victims of the criminal justice system, a 10-year-old survivor of brain cancer, and a boy named Trump who was bullied because of his name.
During his hour-plus address, Trump also cited gains among women in the workforce and within Congress, prompting cheers among Democratic women suffragettes seated in a bloc dressed in white. He also touched on the need for greater border security and a wall, though spending less time on the issue than many predicted.
Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel said, “I hope Mr. Trump and the Republicans join us, rather than continuing to waste time on shutdowns and an ineffective border wall.”
Others noted things Trump left out of his remarks.
First-term Democrat Donna Shalala said the President “did deliver some promising updates,” but offered no “bipartisan solutions to combat climate change and gun violence,” among other issues.
Part of the purpose of a State of the Union is to urge Congress to take action on issues of importance to the President. While Trump was silent on climate change and gun violence, he said plenty about abortion.
After blasting New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for a new law permitting third-trimester abortions, Trump urged Congress to pass a federal law to prohibit the practice. That effort is already underway (see below) with Floridians weighing in (see below).
While Trump did not mention gun control, the House Judiciary Committee, now under Democratic leadership, held a high-charged hearing on the subject. An exchange between Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz and the father of one of the victims of the Parkland massacre went viral (see below).
Sometimes, a President may call for action, prompting the opposing party to do the opposite. Trump may have been angling for that memorable line in history when he said: “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”
The next day, the House Intelligence Committee opted for both war and investigation when they announced a reinvigoration of the Russia probe and other broad investigations. Trump called the committee chairman, California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, “a political hack.”
Post-speech words from within the delegation point toward working together, but leadership will have other ideas. Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell said, “I hope the President will reach across the partisan divide and work with House Democrats …” while Republican Rep. Neal Dunn said he hopes Democrats “will take President Trump’s words to heart and work with us, instead of against us.”
If you’re keeping score, the next State of the Union is only 51 weeks away — unless the government is shut down at the time.
Amended Rubio security bill advances
This week the Senate passed a sweeping security bill that addresses the current situation and the U.S. commitment in the region. The Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, sponsored by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, passed with a broad, bipartisan vote of 77-23.
Much of the coverage focused on an amendment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging Trump not to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria unless ISIS was clearly defeated. Rubio touted the inclusion of two provisions he had co-sponsored in separate bills during the last Congress.
One was the United States-Israel Security Authorization Assistance Act, co-sponsored with Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons. The other was the Rubio-Manchin Combating BDS Act of 2018, which targets those who participate in boycotts, divestments and sanctions against the Jewish state.
“Despite the growing influence of pro-BDS voices on the Left, a bipartisan supermajority in the Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass the pro-Israel Combating BDS Act and other bipartisan measures included in the Strengthening America’ Security in the Middle East Act,” Rubio said.
Also included were provisions championed by Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch and former Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. These fell under the United States-Jordan defense Cooperation Extension Act of 2018.
The measure now goes to the House for consideration.
Dems stall Born-Alive
One day after Trump urged passage of a bill designed to protect newborns who survive abortions, the Senate called for a voice vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. The bill, sponsored by Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse, failed to advance when Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington objected.
“That Senate Democrats would block a bill to protect a baby who survives an abortion speaks volumes,” said Rubio, who is a co-sponsor. “Supporting a newborn’s right to life should not be a partisan issue. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats, like their colleagues in Virginia and New York, seem to have no issue publicly supporting legal infanticide. It is clear that, on the issue of life, extremism has become mainstream in the Democratic Party.”
Sen. Rick Scott is also one of 44 co-sponsors and someone who has some experience on the issue. In 2013 he signed Florida House Bill 1129, which provided the same rights in Florida.
“As a father and grandfather, every child is a special gift who deserves to be welcomed into the world with open and loving arms,” Scott stated in a release.
In the House, Minority Whip Steve Scalise is behind an effort to present a discharge petition to House leaders that would force a vote on a bill requiring medical care for those surviving abortions. The Louisiana Republican, along with Missouri Republican Ann Wagner need 218 signatures to bring the measure to the floor.
Republicans now hold only 199 seats.
Acosta faces DOJ investigation
Some problems for U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta could be on the horizon after the Department of Justice (DOJ) agreed to look into a lenient plea deal in 2008 for Jeffrey Epstein, an individual who molested more than 100 underage girls in Palm Beach.
At the request of Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, a member of the Judiciary Committee, DOJ said they would look into Acosta’s role in the plea agreement, who at the time was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz has also been calling for another look.
“Jeffrey Epstein is a child rapist and there’s not a single mom or dad in America who shouldn’t be horrified by the fact that he received a pathetically soft sentence,’’ Sasse said earlier this week. “The victims of Epstein’s child sex trafficking ring deserve this investigation — and so do the American people and the members of law enforcement who work to put these kinds of monsters behind bars.’’
DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) will handle the investigation. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said the investigation would look into “allegations that department attorneys may have committed professional misconduct in the manner in which the Epstein criminal matter was resolved.”
OPR is similar to a police department’s internal affairs unit, and results are often not made public. This led Wasserman Schultz to ask for more.
“This atrocious case deserves both a publicly disclosed investigation and complete independence that will ensure accountability. It’s simply not enough,” she said.
Epstein served just 13 months in prison. In comparison, the abuse case of Dr. Larry Nassar in Michigan saw him receive what amounted to be a life prison sentence.
Before his appointment as Secretary of Labor, Acosta was the dean of the Florida International University College of Law.
Gaetz sparks fireworks
For the first time in eight years, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing focusing on gun control. Appropriately, the hearing set off fireworks with one of the Florida members at the center of it.
Among those in the audience were parents of students murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School nearly one year ago. When Gaetz got his turn to speak on a bill to require more background checks, he pivoted to make a case that a border wall could have prevented “acts of violence committed by illegal aliens.”
At that point, Manuel Oliver, who lost his son in the massacre stood and began shouting at Gaetz. He was later joined by Fred Guttenberg, who lost a daughter in the shootings. Chairman Jerrold Nadler admonished both for the outbursts while Gaetz inquired about Oliver’s removal.
Despite the Gaetz exchange dominating news coverage of the hearing, Deutch and his Democratic colleagues were pleased to be pushing gun control measures forward.
“Today, the House Judiciary Committee is finally holding a hearing on gun violence — a crisis that kills 40,000 Americans every year,” said Deutch. “And what I want to ask my Republican colleagues, is it still too soon? Is it too soon to talk about taking action to stop gun violence? Because that’s what I heard after Marjory Stoneman Douglas. But it was already too late.”
Other Floridians on the committee include Democratic Reps. Val Demings and Mucarsel-Powell, along with Republican Rep. Greg Steube.
Webster backs Family Leave
During the State of the Union, Trump called for federal paid time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to “bond with their newborn child.” On the other end of the spectrum, Rep. Daniel Webster joined with five colleagues this week to introduce bipartisan legislation that would allow grieving families to take time off from work following the loss of a child.
The “Parental Bereavement Act of 2019” or the “Sarah Grace–Farley–Kluger Act” would add the death of a child as a life event that would qualify for unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. The law currently requires up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain family events, including the birth of a child, during which an employer cannot terminate an employee who qualifies for such leave.
“Family and life are some of our most precious gifts,” said the Clermont Republican. “As a father and grandfather, I cannot fathom the grief that comes with the loss of a beloved son or daughter. Updating the Family and Medical Leave Act to allow employees protected time-off to grieve their tragic loss is the right thing to do.”
The legislation was introduced marking the 26th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which was signed into law Feb. 5, 1993. It is also endorsed by The Farley-Kluger Initiative, a movement which began in 2011 to amend FMLA to include parental bereavement.
Bilirakis gets cash for Pasco
Rep. Gus Bilirakis announced this week that Pasco County Schools, in collaboration with Youth and Family Alternatives and Premier Community Health Center, has received $100,000 in federal funding. The purpose is to improve the physical and mental health of students and families in the area.
The services are delivered through the School-Based Health Center, which is located at Gulfside Elementary, a Community Partnership School. It has already provided services to approximately 500 students within surrounding neighborhoods.
“I have been a longtime advocate for this type of collaborative partnership, which improves health outcomes within underserved populations in our community, said the Palm Harbor Republican. “Children whose primary needs are met are better able to focus on their education and become more likely to reach their highest potential.”
Additionally, parents and students were given information and education regarding nutrition and disease prevention/management, mental health counseling and limited direct health services. However, the services were limited due to space in its current location.
The grant will allow remodeling the facility to include private exam rooms, therapy rooms and conference rooms.
Crist puppy protector
Congressman Charlie Crist, along with a bipartisan coalition of Representatives, reintroduced a bill this week that would promote the welfare and living conditions of commercially-bred dogs.
The Welfare of Our Friends Act (WOOF) would protect dogs from unscrupulous breeders by reforming the Animal Welfare Act to include a prohibition of licenses to dealers connected to animal abuse.
It targets individuals and entities associated with dealers who have previously had their licenses suspended or revoked.
Crist led efforts on this issue during the previous Congress along with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican. The two are joined this year by Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern and Pennsylvania Republican Glenn Thompson.
“We must care for all of God’s creatures, working together to promote animal welfare,” Crist said.
The United States Department of Agriculture regulated federally licensed commercial dog breeders who sell dogs to retail pet stores, to commercial brokers or directly to consumers. While current regulations are meant to protect the well-being of dogs, they fall short and contain loopholes that allow bad actors to continue unhealthy breeding and retail practices.
The WOOF Act would close those loopholes. The amendments would not affect family pets, livestock or hobbyist breeders.
Spano leads small-business subcommittee
First term Rep. Ross Spano has landed a role as the lead Republican on a House subcommittee. Spano was appointed Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Investigations, Oversight and Regulations by Small Business Committee Ranking Member Rep. Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican.
The Dover Republican expressed gratitude for the appointment.
“I’m humbled to have earned the confidence of my colleagues,” Spano said in a statement. “This leadership position will enable me to continue fighting for small businesses across Florida and now throughout the rest of the country.”
Spano was also appointed to the House and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Mast blamed for personal attacks
Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis began replacing the South Florida Water Management District Board. His decision to ask for their resignations came after advice from Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City.
One of those former board members blames harassing calls she received on Mast. In a video posted late last week, former board member Melanie Peterson also received threats and held Mast responsible.
“To be honest with you, I blame U.S. Congressman Brian Mast for his rhetoric, for his bullying and for perpetuating this kind of behavior,” Peterson said. “This isn’t how civilized human beings settle differences or discuss differences or come up with solutions for communities.”
Mast accused the board of catering to “special interests” and a exhibiting a lack of transparency, especially with their vote to extend a lease for sugar farmers on Everglades agricultural land. He responded that he had policy differences with Patterson, but denied he was responsible for the harassment of Patterson.
“I have never called for anybody to go and make personal attacks to any of these water management district board members,” Mast said. “I don’t think, in my opinion, they were being accountable.”
Rooney’s ‘strong relationship’
With South Florida construction projects set to finally get off the ground, planning and cooperation are moving forward. This week, Rep. Francis Rooney met with Major General Scott A. Spellmon, Deputy Commanding General for Civil and Emergency Operations for the Army Corps of Engineers about securing funding for Lake Okeechobee and Everglades Restoration projects.
In addition to $206 million previously acquired by the House, $610 million will be set aside to complete repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike by 2022 instead of the end of decade.
“After meeting with Major General Spellmon, I am confident that we will continue to have a strong relationship with the Corps, and that work on the (Everglades Agricultural Area) EAA reservoir, completion of Herbert Hoover Dike repairs, and addressing the Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule (LORS) will be issues of high importance,” said the Naples Republican. “I will continue working with the White House and Appropriators in Congress to ensure that the maximum funding possible for these projects is achieved.
Rooney has successfully advocated for funding to complete the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects. The efforts have led to a $115 million set aside for CERP in the 2019 budget.
In total, nearly $1.1 billion has been secured for dike repairs and CERP projects since 2018.
Wasserman Schultz compares Trump, Maduro
The dire situation in Venezuela has garnered a great deal of national and worldwide attention. Much of the world, including Trump, is calling Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro a dictator and supporting opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the new leader.
In the Northern Hemisphere, Trump is claiming a “national emergency” at the Southern border with Mexico and may take executive action to build a border barrier if Congress does not come to an agreement. According to Wasserman Schultz, that means Maduro and Trump have something in common.
“(An emergency declaration) is not legal, not in compliance with the National Emergency Act that he would be attempting to utilize, and there’s certainly not a national emergency,” the Weston Democrat said on CNN.
These (represent) actions of a dictator. The president, on the one hand, has been declaring his opposition to the actions of a dictator in Venezuela at the same time that he is suggesting that he would act like one here in the United States.”
Should Trump make the official emergency declaration in mid-February, as many expect, Wasserman Schultz will be at the front of a challenge to his authority. As the newly-installed chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee on military construction, she pledges to fight the president every step of the way.
“I would absolutely, along with my colleagues, challenge the president’s ability to make such a declaration,” she said.
Wilson named subcommittee chair
Another member of the Florida delegation is now serving as a subcommittee chair in the House. Rep. Frederica Wilson was appointed to head the House Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee of the Education and Labor Committee.
The committee states its mission as overseeing education and workforce programs from early learning through secondary education and from job training through retirement. The HELP Subcommittee has legislative and oversight jurisdiction over laws directly impacting American workers and businesses.
“As chair of the HELP Subcommittee, I will conduct responsible oversight that holds the Trump administration accountable for ensuring that the nation’s labor laws that protect workers’ rights to form unions and collectively bargain are fairly administered by the National Labor Relations Board,” the Miami Gardens Democrat said.
“There’s a lot of work to do. I am looking forward to a Congress that will first and foremost prioritize the interests of hardworking Americans and their families.”
Serving on the subcommittee is Republican Rep. Rooney while Shalala is a member of the full committee.
On this day in the headlines
Feb. 8, 1973 — The Senate voted 77-0 to establish a committee to investigate political espionage against Democrats during the previous year’s presidential campaign, including the June 17, 1972, break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington. North Carolina Democratic Sen. Sam Ervin will head the 7-person panel of four Democrats and three Republicans.
Tennessee Republican Sen. Howard Baker will serve as vice chairman of the committee that also includes Florida Sen. Edward Gurney who was among the three Republicans chosen. A final report was due Feb. 28, 1974.
Feb. 8, 2009 — As the Senate pores over its version of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus initiative that would send about $13 billion into Florida, community leaders are planning how to spend the federal dollars coming their way. The House passed their version earlier this week on an entirely partisan vote.
In Palm Beach County alone, 200 projects are under evaluation for possible funding once the final version passes Congress. Rep. Ron Klein said everything is on the table, proclaiming “we need to be bold. We need to move quickly and recognize there is no silver bullet,” said the Boca Raton Democrat, who is also a member of the House Financial Services Committee.
Happy birthday (Feb. 8) to Republican Rep. Bilirakis of Florida’s 12th Congressional District.
Correction: In the last issue, we incorrectly stated the party affiliation of Nelson Diaz. Diaz is the Chair of the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County. We regret the error.