WWTD? (What will Trump do?)
A deal on funding for the Department of Homeland Security was apparently at hand by the end of last week, but an agreement was in serious doubt by Sunday. The two sides were arguing about the number of migrants to be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
President Donald Trump blamed Democrats for what he described as “a new demand,” calling it “crazy.”
The President visited the border city of El Paso on Monday to praise border agents and make a case for a border wall. Democrats are not leaving the photo ops to Trump as several are heading south as well.
Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel Powell of Miami was not one who made a trip but saluted a group of Democrats who went to the border to visit with agents and promote a kinder, gentler approach to border security. She praised the delegation for “showing that we can have strength and compassion at the border.”
Republicans are on the scene to help Trump make his case for more border security that includes barriers. Among those was Sen. Rick Scott who made a stop in Laredo, Tex. late last week to hear from Border Patrol agents.
“These brave men and women risk their lives every day to keep our country safe, and we owe them a debt of gratitude,” Scott said. “Democrats need to stop playing politics and do what’s right for the American people — SECURE OUR BORDER.”
With the specter of another shutdown possibly looming on the horizon, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney appeared to indicate that may not be necessary. On Sunday, Mulvaney also left the door open for Democrats to provide less than the $5.7 billion previously demanded by Trump for the border wall.
“We’ll take as much money as (Congress) can give us and then we’ll go off and find the money someplace else, legally, in order to secure that southern barrier, but this is going to get built with or without Congress,” Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday.
“The president is going to build the wall,” he declared.
Declaring a national emergency is a step several Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, do not wish to take. Rubio has repeatedly cautioned Trump against this.
No matter which unilateral action the President takes, lawsuits will surely follow. If Trump is forced to take this step, a deal for DACA recipients — or DREAMERS — is likely off the table.
The Libre Initiative is bringing a group of more than 50 Dreamers, including eight from Florida, to Washington to speak with negotiators about the now-stalled talks. Both conservative and progressive groups bless the meetings and are advocating for a “Dreamer/Border deal that can unite both parties.”
Were they effective? That question will be answered in the coming days with the announcement on Monday night of a deal in principle.
The devil, as they say, will be in the details.
Rubio accuses Saudi Arabia on Venezuela
Over the last six months, Trump has steadily increased sanctions against the regime of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro. As reports indicate Maduro’s grip on power is slipping, Rubio is accusing Saudi Arabia of attempting to prop up the regime.
Rubio has accused the Saudis of trying to assist Maduro’s government by facilitating oil exports. The cargo of a mysterious ship arriving in Venezuela is at the bottom of Rubio’s accusation.
“@KSAmofaEN (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) why are you blatantly trying to undermine U.S. efforts to support the people of #Venezuela?” Rubio tweeted “A vessel from #SaudiArabia will arrive Monday in Venezuela to sell #Maduro diluents that he will use to pump & sell crude and generate income for his corrupt regime.”
The Saudis dispute the allegation and claim the ship arrived empty. The shipping company stated this trip was scheduled before sanctions went into effect in January.
Rubio blasts Omar
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, angered a bipartisan coalition of Florida Delegation members when she inferred Congressional support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins baby.”
Rubio, a Republican combating the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, quickly called out the remark. “One of the oldest anti-Semitic conspiracies is about Jewish money as an instrument of global domination,” he said. “See the fake anti-Semitic ‘Protocols of Zion.’”
Senate colleague Scott said the remarks proved fringe anti-Semitism “found its way to the United States Congress in the form of extreme liberals like Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.”
But in Florida, slams came from both sides of the aisle. U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, a Sarasota Republican, and Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, both scolded Omar. “The use of stereotypes and offensive rhetoric by Members of Congress, whether anti-Semitic or racist, must end,” said Deutch, who considered the comment a nasty trope.
“Anti-Semitism has no place in this country, let alone in the halls of Congress,” Buchanan added.
Meanwhile, U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings and Lois Frankel, both Democrats, swiped at the rhetoric without naming Omar. “Implying that Americans support Israel and the Jewish community because of money is offensive and cannot be tolerated,” Hastings said.
The outcry elicited an unequivocal apology from Omar, but she affirmed criticism of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as a special interest.
Scott tells Prince: ‘How about Florida?’
The British royal family has their travel planners, but Prince Charles received some input from Florida surrounding a rumored upcoming trip abroad. With the possibility of the heir to the British throne visiting Cuba in the coming months, Scott proposed an alternative.
He sent a letter to the Crown with an appeal to avoid Cuba and perhaps visit Florida instead. A visit to the communist island nation would provide tacit approval of the regime of Raul Castro.
“A trip of this magnitude by the Crown provides unwarranted legitimacy to a dictatorship with a decades-long history of persecuting and imprisoning its defectors and repressing its people,” Scott wrote.
“By visiting Florida, you have the opportunity to stand with the people of Cuba and fight for a new era of freedom and opportunity,” Scott continued. “Conversely, a visit to Cuba signals your support for a ruthless dictatorship that has denied Cubans their basic rights for far too long.”
A spokesman for the Prince did not react to Scott’s letter and did not confirm the visit would take place. If it occurs, it would be the first visit to Cuba by the Crown
Democrats battle Whitaker
The Trump administration will have a new U.S. Attorney General this week if all goes as expected. Following a strictly party-line favorable vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, a floor vote on William Barr is Thursday. With the GOP holding a 53-47 majority and Sen. Rand Paul as the only Republican voicing opposition, Barr is on track for confirmation.
“I had a great meeting with William Barr today, and I’m proud to support his confirmation as Attorney General,” Scott said in a statement last week. “Mr. Barr is undoubtedly qualified and fully committed to fighting for and serving the American people as head of the Department of Justice.
With Barr coming in, interim Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is on the way out, but not before a highly contentious appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. Whitaker was obstinate in his answers to Democratic questioners but indicated he did nothing to impede the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller.
Whitaker’s approach clearly annoyed committee Democrats, including Rep. Val Demings of Orlando.
“This has been painful because I believe that you have worked to make our criminal justice system, to make a mockery out of it,” she said.
Trump laid the blame for the tenor of the hearing squarely at the feet of Democrats. In a tweet, the President said Republicans treated Obama officials much better.
“The Democrats in Congress yesterday were vicious and totally showed their cards for everyone to see,” he said. “When the Republicans had the Majority they never acted with such hatred and scorn!”
NRCC targets Florida Dems
After losing 40 House seats in November, Republicans are eager to win many of those back in 2020. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has revealed a target list of 55 Democratic-held seats.
Among those on the list are Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, Mucarsel-Powell of Miami and Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables. Also included is the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Cheri Bustos of Illinois.
“Freedom or socialism — that’s the choice in 2020,” said NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer of Minnesota. “Whether they are calling for open borders, refusing to denounce rampant anti-Semitism, advocating for a 90% tax rate or moving to legalize the murder of newborn babies, the new socialist Democrats are pushing an extreme agenda that is sorely out-of-touch.”
Republicans indicated they are mostly targeting first-term Democrats or those serving in districts Trump won in 2016. Democrats previously announced a 2020 target list of 33 GOP-held seats, including Spano and Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City.
At the same time, Democrats have launched a program to defend 44 districts with those factors in mind. Mucarsel-Powell is the only one from Florida to make the DCCC defense list.
Seismic ban floated
On Monday, Rep. John Rutherford co-introduced a bill that would ban seismic testing in the Atlantic.
“In response to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issuing five Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) which would advance permit applications for seismic air gun blasting off the Atlantic Coast, the bipartisan Atlantic Coastal Economies Protection Act [would] prohibit these permit applications for seismic air gun testing from moving forward in the Atlantic Ocean,” asserts a release from Rutherford’s office.
“The waters off the East Coast are home to vulnerable mammal populations, military operations, tourist destinations, and a vibrant maritime economy,” said Congressman Rutherford.
“Allowing seismic testing in the Atlantic is unnecessary and potentially hazardous to the coastal communities that rely on a healthy ecosystem. The U.S. should not jeopardize our coastal economy by expanding seismic testing and offshore drilling, particularly when our energy needs continue to be met.”
U.S. Reps. Mast, a Republican, and Shalala, a Democrat, are among the Florida co-sponsors.
Rutherford, Lawson celebrate grants
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao visited Jacksonville City Hall last week, and she did not come empty-handed.
Chao presented Mayor Lenny Curry a $25 million check representing a grant previously awarded in December.
Jacksonville plans to use the money to begin adding a fleet of autonomous vehicles to join existing public transportation with a multimodal transportation center. Another targeted program involves the removal of Hart Bridge ramps located next to Metropolitan Park and sports complex.
Both Jacksonville area representatives, Democrat Al Lawson and Republican Rutherford, celebrated the grant which they played a role, along with Rubio, in obtaining.
“We let them understand the importance of where Jacksonville can be a model, not only for surrounding counties but throughout the state and throughout the country,” Lawson said.
Jacksonville’s proposal, which it submitted last July, was selected as one of 91 out of 851 applications from all 50 states. Chao indicated there could be more to come in the future.
“We want to partner with you to help you achieve even more of your goals,” she said.
Rutherford described the grant as “a big win for Jacksonville and our entire Northeast Florida region.”
Lawson backs Curry
Lawson and Curry made other news when the two-term Democratic Congressman endorsed the Republican mayor for a second term as mayor. Lawson is the second major Democrat to officially endorse Curry following the earlier support offered by former Mayor Tommy Hazouri.
“Lenny Curry has worked across the aisle to build partnerships that deliver results for all of Jacksonville’s families,” said Lawson. “He has earned my respect and support.”
Two Republicans and one independent candidate are challenging Curry on the March ballot. He enjoys a significant fundraising advantage with over $3 million on hand at last report.
Curry said: “Congressman Lawson has been a strong advocate for Jacksonville in Congress and I have appreciated our opportunities to collaborate in a bipartisan manner to keep Jacksonville moving forward.”
Crist to protect Gulf Coast, again
Congressman Crist is seeing through his work defending Florida’s Gulf Coast in a new capacity after experiencing the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout.
As then-Governor Crist said, he’d never forget seeing “the toxic tar balls washing up on our beaches, the near collapse of our fisheries and the marine life covered in toxic sludge.”
Now as a member of Congress he watched earlier this month as nearly $2 million went to the Florida Institute of Oceanography at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s College of Marine Science.
The RESTORE Act Centers of Excellence grant program directs funding from civil penalties paid by BP after the 2010 disaster to marine research efforts to support healthy fisheries and aquatic habitats.
“Research supported by the Florida Institute of Oceanography is vital to not only restoring our waters but will help protect Florida’s ocean ecosystems and our economy,” Crist said.
Crist has been working with veteran Congresswoman Kathy Castor on efforts to protect Florida’s Gulf Coast as well as its inland waterways. When he was governor, Crist proposed a constitutional amendment to prohibit offshore drilling, but the Republican-controlled legislature at the time quickly killed that effort.
Now Crist serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and, last month, was one of a bipartisan coalition to reintroduce legislation banning offshore drilling.
Castor’s call to action
Prompted by statistics from NASA indicating 2018 was the fourth-warmest year since 1880, Democratic Rep. Castor sounds the alarm. The chair of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is urging a concerted plan of action to tackle climate change.
Scientists from NASA, working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also reported temperatures globally to be 1.5 degrees warmer than the average temperatures from 1950 to 1981. They reported the past five years have been the warmest five-year period on record.
“Latest @NASAClimate data cannot be ignored,” Castor tweeted. “We have a major endeavor ahead to reduce greenhouse gases and build the #cleanenergy economy with quality jobs and innovative technologies.”
Castor has already said that the work by the committee will be among her most important.
“We have a moral obligation to act to protect our great country and future generations from the costly impacts of the changing climate,” Castor said. “I am determined to begin work immediately and look forward to the commitment, passion, experience and perspectives of each of my Democratic colleagues.”
Spano files for re-election
As the 2018 campaign continues to play out, Republican Rep. Ross Spano has already put the wheels of a 2020 campaign in motion. Last week, the Dover Republican filed a statement with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) declaring his intention to run for re-election.
Spano is accused of accepting personal loans from two friends and then loaning his campaign $167,000. Campaign finance reports showed his Democratic opponent, Kristen Carlson, was outraising him by a two-to-one margin.
Carlson has called for an FBI investigation
Spano’s spokeswoman said the loans had been repaid through a bank loan to himself. That transaction would appear on the next campaign finance report, she said.
Spano has rebuffed critics’ calls for him to resign. Instead, he is now making media appearances, especially on Fox News, commenting on illegal immigration and climate change issues.
Buchanan talks issues
After months of national arguments on immigration, guns and other high-profile issues, Republican Buchanan attended a town hall in Sarasota to hear from constituents. Most of the approximately 50 in attendance held similar views as Buchanan, but he heard opposing views as well.
A green card holder complained about immigrants who come to the U.S. not wishing to assimilate, while several attendees applauded one who said America does not need “more unskilled foreign labor.”
Buchanan indicated his support for stronger immigration enforcement, but Congress is evenly balanced by party, which calls for a bipartisan approach. The ongoing discussions in Washington regarding border security could lead to something Trump could sign.
“If it’s something that makes a little bit of sense, he’s going to take it,” Buchanan said. “We need to get on to other things.”
Later, as Buchanan was discussing paying for government services without going deeper into debt, an attendee interrupted him with “No more tax cuts for you! That’s how we’re going to pay for it!”
Buchanan was not disappointed with the size of the crowd, claiming a smaller group enables attendees to “have more of a conversation.”
Deutch, Freedom Caucus join on veterans bill
Targeting those who would scam veterans and their benefits were the subjects of a House bill that gained unanimous support late last week. The measure was co-sponsored by Deutch of Boca Raton and Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina.
The bill, which passed the House for the third consecutive year, targets groups or individuals who offer pricey services to veterans for services that are already available for free to obtain information regarding pensions and other issues. The penalty for violators would be a fine and imprisonment for up to five years.
“After veterans and their families have made such sacrifices for our country and our national security, it is so deeply reprehensible that people would seek them out to defraud them with these scams,” said Deutch. “Congress must put a penalty to the crime so we can discourage this predatory behavior. Let’s close this despicable loophole and protect our veterans from pension poachers and fraudsters.”
Deutch and Meadows hope the third time is the charm. The Senate has failed to act on the previous two bills passed in the House.
“Congress has both a responsibility and an obligation to step up and protect our veterans against financial predators,” Congressman Meadows said. “Closing loopholes in existing laws and providing law enforcement with additional tools to crack down on criminals targeting veterans’ benefits will be a needed reform to the process.”
The bill brought together a pair of unlikely allies. Deutch is a well-known progressive Democrat, while Meadows is one of the leading voices of the conservative Freedom Caucus.
Wasserman Schultz, Dems walk tightrope on Fairfax
The mess that continues to unfold in Virginia has captured the attention of politicos and elected officials around the country. Prominent Democrats that include Gov. Ralph Northam and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring are under scrutiny for dressing in blackface, but allegations of sexual assault against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is drawing in other Democrats from California to Florida.
The Fairfax allegations bring back memories of the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court last fall, where Kavanaugh was accused of by multiple women of sexual assault. Democrats such as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz are being watched for how they handle the current situation and the one involving Kavanaugh.
Wasserman Schultz is one who can claim consistency in her official public responses. She described the claims against Kavanaugh as “credible allegations of sexual assault” that should be investigated before going on to oppose his confirmation on the grounds of him being an “unabashed partisan.”
Last week she responded to questions about the Fairfax allegations saying the “allegations should be looked into. As far as I know, she is the only one that’s made those allegations. And if she says it happened, and she has been as detailed as she has, I think an investigation is warranted.”
A second accuser came forward shortly after the interview with The Hill.
Wasserman Schultz and many of her female Democratic colleagues will face some scrutiny for their participation last year in a “national walkout” on behalf of the Kavanaugh accusers. The theme of the walkout, posted on social media, was “women must be believed.”
On this day in the headlines
February 12, 1993 — President Bill Clinton has nominated Miami-Dade State Attorney Janet Reno to become the next Attorney General of the United States. If confirmed, Reno would become the first woman to hold that position and the second Floridian appointed to the Cabinet after the appointment of Carol Browner to run the Environmental Protection Agency.
During a Rose Garden announcement ceremony, Reno pledged to use the law to protect children from abuse and violence “and to give each of them the opportunity to grow to be strong, healthy and self-sufficient citizens of our country.” She was Clinton’s third choice for the role after previous nominees Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood was forced to withdraw after it was revealed each had hired undocumented aliens to work in their homes.
February 12, 2013 — The criminal trial of former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer was cut short when Greer pleaded guilty to four counts of theft and one count of money laundering. That meant neither Sen. Rubio nor former Gov. Crist would be called to testify.
Other prominent Republicans were set to be called as witnesses, including former Sen. George LeMieux and former Congressman and Attorney General Bill McCollum. Crist, who chose Greer to head the party, was unconcerned about testifying saying “I’m always happy to tell the truth.”
Rubio learns family secret
For all of his life, Rubio thought he was the first among his family to become a lawyer. It turns out he was second by more than 200 years.
The Cuban-American Senator traces his roots back to Spain, where his third great-grandfather, Jose de Reina y Tosta, earned a law degree from the University of Granada in 1786. He became a prosecutor in Seville.
Rubio’s story is part of the PBS series Finding Your Roots, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, who asked Rubio for his thoughts after the revelation he was not the first in his family to become a lawyer.
“I thought I was,” Rubio replied, adding: “First in two centuries.”