School safety disputes
While much of the country wondered if Donald Trump would sign the government funding, or border wall bill, Florida used Valentine’s Day to recall the horrors of one year ago in Parkland. Many in the delegation and others throughout the state remembered the 17 students and staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Lawmakers issued statements remembering the events of those who lost their lives. Most were in conjunction with prescriptions to prevent future occurrences, which varied by the member’s political party.
No one offered a stronger tribute than Rep. Ted Deutch. The Boca Raton Democrat had his social media pages emblazoned simply with “2.14.18” and posted a pinned tweet that contained a rolling screen of the names of those lost and a message of remembrance.
“Standing today and always with the community of Parkland and the families of the victims of the MSD shooting as we honor their lives one year after their tragic deaths, he said.”
The day before, Deutch stood on the floor of the House asking for all to remember those lost, and to “end the silence” to make communities safer from gun violence.” He was joined by his colleagues from the delegation, who stood behind and beside him.
Deutch and his Democratic colleagues celebrated the approval by the House Judiciary Committee of a universal background checks bill. The bill now heads to the House floor, which Deutch said is “long overdue.”
“Every American who sends a child to school each day puts faith in the community to keep that child safe,” Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala said in a statement. “Thankfully, the House Judiciary Committee took action last night by passing H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which I co-sponsored and will be the first major gun legislation in over a decade that the House of Representatives will consider.”
Republicans offering condolences pointed to school safety measures instead of gun control efforts, including both U.S. Senators.
Sen. Marco Rubio joined with two bipartisan colleagues to introduce the Eagles Act, which would expand the role of the U.S. Secret Service to protect communities “proactively mitigate threats of violence at schools.”
“To prevent future tragedies, we must be proactive and utilize a multipronged approach to identify and stop any threats,” said Rubio. “This bill will expand threat assessment programs so that more school districts can be trained to identify threats and properly intervene.”
Sen. Rick Scott, who announced his support for the bill, said: “Our hearts are heavy as we remember the 17 victims.” He added his support for the bill “to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.”
While the approaches to school safety still vary along party lines, a recent Marist poll shows a similar divide. A Marist poll found that 51 percent favor stricter gun laws, down from 71 percent immediately after Parkland.
The background checks bill will clear the House but will likely have a difficult time making it to the Senate floor for a vote. The Rubio bill, co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, will clear committee; from there, its future is uncertain.
Trump: Wall will be built
As the Feb. 15 deadline approached for passing a spending bill to fund a quarter of the government, lawmakers received a 1,159-page document Feb. 14. With the bill expected to win approval in the House and Senate, the biggest question centered around whether Trump would sign it.
Trump is not getting the $5.7 billion he sought for a border wall, but instead $1.375 is provided for “pedestrian fencing” with a prohibition against a concrete structure. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama describe the funds as a “down payment” on his wall.
Among other items in the bill is a policy addressing family separations while another would prevent the Department of Homeland Security from allowing a Representative or Senator from being refused entry into a detention facility. Former Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz were denied entry to a Homestead facility in June.
Confusion and conflict are likely to come over a provision that Democrats sought which lowers the number of beds for detaining those stopped at the border by 9,000 beds. Republicans indicate another provision exists to exceed the current 49,000 beds if circumstances dictate.
An item not included was a proposal championed by Rep. Bill Posey seeking to provide back pay for federal contractors who lost wages due to the shutdown. Another was a proposed extension of the Violence Against Women Act, an issue important to bipartisan members of the delegation.
Democratic strategists clearly believe Trump will be damaged among his core supporters by signing the bill, counting on the fact illegal immigration is an issue of the highest importance to them. Those supporters are relying on concrete assurances from the President the wall will be built despite receiving much less than he demanded.
They were likely heartened by reports Trump will declare a national emergency at the border after signing the bill. Democrats along with Republicans like Rubio will be far less enthusiastic.
Rubio seeks stock buyback tax
A Democratic argument against the 2017 tax cut package that significantly lowered the corporate tax rate was the corporations would not invest in their companies as Republicans predicted they would. With the Democrats being proven right, Rubio is offering legislation to stop corporate efforts to exploit loopholes.
With corporations increasingly using their tax windfall to buy back stock instead of putting those funds into their companies and employees, Rubio will introduce legislation that will tax these buybacks as they would dividends. According to Rubio, the move would spur greater business investment and create more jobs and increase wages.
“Why are profits not being invested into the company or new companies?” Rubio asked in a series of tweets. “Because our economy is driven by large & active investors who pressure for increase earnings per share.”
Research indicated that stock buybacks in 2018 amounted to $1 trillion.
Scott wants no congressional pensions
One of the perks of serving in the U.S. House and Senate is a generous pension awaiting members when they retire. Republican Sen. Scott would like to see an end to that.
The first-term Republican, one of the wealthiest members on Capitol Hill, has joined with fellow Republican Sen. Mike Braun to launch the End Pensions in Congress Act. Braun was a wealthy Indiana businessman before upsetting Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in the 2018 midterm election.
“It’s time for term limits, and it’s time to make those in D.C. realize that the era of career politicians is over,” Scott said in a statement. “Americans should not have to foot the bill for generous salaries and pensions for members of Congress, and I am proud to be working on common sense solutions to make Washington work for families across the nation.”
Scott previously co-sponsored Braun’s No Budget, No Pay Act, which would prevent Congress from receiving paychecks if a budget failed to pass, leading to a shutdown.
As expected, the Senate voted to confirm William Barr to be the next Attorney General of the United States. The 54-45 vote sends Barr back to the Justice Department to serve in the same role as he did between 1991-1993.
Barr earned the backing of three Democrats, while Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the only no vote among Republicans, while Richard Burr of North Carolina did not vote. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Cinema, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Alabama’s Jones broke with their party and voted to confirm.
Once installed, Barr will assume oversight of the investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Democrats were not convinced Barr would remain impartial and were concerned when he would not commit to releasing the entire contents of any report issued by Mueller.
“Mr. Barr is undoubtedly qualified and fully committed to fighting for and serving the American people as head of the Department of Justice,” said Scott after meeting with him last week.
Trump approval rises, not in Florida
The first polling numbers following the government shutdown are beginning to trickle in and to the surprise or consternation of Trump detractors, the President’s numbers are slightly going up. In seven national surveys taken after shutdown and last week’s State of the Union address, Trump is averaging a nearly 45 percent job approval number, while 53 percent disapprove.
Every previous poll had the President underwater by at least 10 points.
Gallup provides a good example detailing Trump’s rise. Between the latest poll and one taken during the shutdown, Trump’s approval rose from 37 to 44 percent, while support of Congress remained at 21 percent.
In Florida, the largest swing state in the nation, the President does not do as well, coming in with a 41 percent approval rating according to a Florida Atlantic University poll. The survey showed a 46 percent disapproval rating, compared to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s approval-disapproval numbers of 40 and 44 percent, respectively.
Respondents were not merely expressing dissatisfaction with both parties. Gov. Ron DeSantis showed a 48 percent to 18 percent gap between approval and disapproval.
The poll also showed 55 percent support the construction of a border wall while 37 percent oppose. Another response found 51 percent approving Congressional funding for a border wall if it means avoiding a government shutdown.
While Trump and his signature issue seem to be enjoying an uptick, he is often one tweet away from a reversal.
Gaetz clash pushes fundraising
The confrontation between Rep. Matt Gaetz and the fathers of two victims of the Parkland tragedy continues thanks to some fundraising efforts. A Crowdpac effort called #MakeMattPay has raised $41,000 so far to defeat him in 2020.
During a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Manuel Oliver and Fred Guttenberg stood and challenged Gaetz before committee chairman Jarrold Nadler of New York told the men they were not permitted to interrupt. Gaetz inquired into the feasibility of having them removed.
That inspired the early effort to unseat the second-term congressman, who represents the conservative 1st Congressional District. Gaetz has easily won both primary and general elections.
Gaetz remained confident about his re-election prospects.
“Thank you for raising funds for my 2020 opponent,” Gaetz tweeted. “On question: who is it?”
Waltz subcommittee assignments
More than one month after the 116th Congress swearing in, members are still learning committee or subcommittee assignments. Among those is Rep. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine.
Waltz, who was previously appointed to the House Armed Services and Science, Space and Technology Committees, welcomed his appointment to subcommittees whose jurisdiction includes multiple Florida priorities.
The former Army Special Forces officer will sit on the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee and the Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee under Armed Services. Waltz was also chosen for Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight under Science, Space and Technology.
“These Subcommittee assignments are an important opportunity to craft and develop thoughtful policies for Florida’s economy and our national defense,” Waltz said in a news release.
“The ability to support the continued growth of our commercial space industry from the Subcommittee on Space is a tremendous privilege and will be critical to ensuring these 21st-century jobs remain in Central Florida.”
Keep Congress working
As the Feb. 15 deadline to fund the government and prevent another government shutdown approached, Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park introduced legislation designed to keep Congress in Washington during any stoppage.
The Keep Congress Working Act, introduced with Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick, would force Congress to remain in session to work during a shutdown. According to Murphy, the recent record-breaking 35-day shutdown cost American taxpayers more than $3 billion and forced thousands of federal workers to survive without pay.
The act will also prevent Congressional leaders from conducting legislative business for more than 12 hours if the government is not funded either in part or as a whole.
“No business in America would tell its leaders to pack up and go home in the middle of a crisis. It is irresponsible to ignore our duty to govern while a shutdown remains unresolved,” said Murphy
“When Congress fails to do its most basic responsibility of funding the government, it should be forced to keep working until both sides can agree to a sensible solution. This bipartisan legislation would simply ask Congress to do the bare minimum — stay in town and work around the clock until the job is done,” Murphy continued.
Murphy and Fitzpatrick have previously introduced legislation to hold Congress Members accountable to taxpayers by enacting a lifetime lobbying ban ad withholding their paychecks if they fail to pass a budget on time.
Webster returns part of salary
With the national debt now exceeding $22 trillion, the federal lawmakers know they must look for ways to reduce that debt. While conservatives like Rep. Daniel Webster thinks raising people’s taxes is a bad idea, he is voluntarily giving back some money to the U.S. Treasury
This week, Webster brought a check to the Bureau of the Fiscal Service at the Department of Treasury. It is not the first time he has done so.
Each year since his election to Congress, Webster has reverted his salary back to 2008 levels. Webster reasons that if all government spending were to do the same, the federal budget would balance.
“For too long Washington has operated under the mindset that if money is collected, it should be spent,” said the Clermont Republican. “As an advocate of reducing spending, every year I return money from my salary back to the American taxpayers.”
Webster understands his contribution is a drop in the bucket, believes the annual practice is in keeping with core principles.
“I ran for office pledging to do my part to stop the spigot of spending and get our fiscal house in order,” he continued. “Although this check may appear to be a small action given the trillions of dollars the federal government spends, it is a step in the right direction.”
Gun checks questioned
When the Bipartisan Background Checks Act passed out of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, was among the 15 no votes.
“Clearly, the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee don’t care about preventing gun violence, they simply are playing politics with Americans’ Second Amendment rights,” he said.
The ardent gun rights supporter offered one amendment he said would prevent firearms from landing in the wrong hands. It would have required law enforcement be notified whenever a criminal trying to purchase a gun failed a check.
If the buyer were in the country illegally, ICE would get a call. His proposal failed.
“Democrats have shown their true colors,” Steube said. “ It is clear they are not interested in preventing gun violence or stopping the illegal purchase of firearms.”
Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, held a differing view, calling the amendment and others “non-germane.”
“It is my hope that, as we move forward, [Republicans] will choose the health and safety of Americans over political charades,” Nadler said.
Frankel wants Saudi activists released
The recent actions of top leadership in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have brought vocal and sustained criticism from members of both parties on Capitol Hill. That criticism boiled over into outrage with the murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi in October.
Another issue has the attention of Rep. Lois Frankel and several colleagues that deal with Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women. Frankel has introduced a resolution in the House demanding Saudi Arabia “immediately and unconditionally” release imprisoned women’s rights activists.
Frankel and her colleagues claim the women are also the victims of abuse. At least one was reportedly waterboarded.
The resolution calls for the government of the United States to demand the release of the women. The Saudi government counters that the women are not being held for activism, but for contacts with “hostile” foreign powers.
In a tweet, Frankel said she and her colleagues are “calling on Saudi officials to end this crackdown, release the activists & calling for the U.S. to sanction the Saudi officials responsible.”
Stop the STUPIDITY
Florida Democrats were busy this week introducing legislation involving shutdowns. While Murphy proposed a bill (above) requiring Congress to stay in town during a shutdown, Rep. Donna Shalala has joined with colleagues to propose a bill designed to prevent them.
If enacted, the federal government would continue to be funded at levels matching the previous year. The exceptions would be the legislative branch and the Executive Office of the President.
The bill has a long name that reads the Stop Shutdowns Transferring Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage in the Coming Years. It will be known as the Stop STUPIDITY Act.
“A government shutdown should never be used as a negotiating threat due to policy differences, and no person should be furloughed or worse, working without pay because Congress can’t do its job,” said Shalala, a Coral Gables Democrat. “As Members of Congress, we are expected to faithfully uphold the duties of the office and serve the people who elected us with honor and compassion.
“We can’t allow a 35-day shutdown become the norm in Washington, and by introducing this bill we will ensure federal employees receive a paycheck,” she added.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner introduced a companion bill in the Senate. During the shutdown, more than 800,000 federal employees were either furloughed or required to work without pay.
“The impact of the shutdown not only affected 800,000 federal employees, but it affected local businesses in our community, too,” Shalala added.
On this day in the headlines
Feb. 15, 1973 — The first planeload of former POWs from the Vietnam War touched down at Travis Air Force Base in California the day before. Most of those on board had been held at the notorious “Hanoi Hilton.”
Navy Capt. Jeremiah Denton spoke for the former captives thanking those attending for the warm welcome. Among those expected in the coming days include Major Brian Peterson of Marianna.
Feb. 15, 2018 — A teenage gunman armed with an AR-15 rifle opened fire on students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, killing 14 students, three adults and wounding 16 others. The gunman had a troubled past filled with disciplinary problems that led to his expulsion from the school.
“This is one of the worst days I can imagine for Broward County, for Parkland, for anywhere,” said Rep. Deutch, whose 22nd Congressional District includes Parkland. “This was a blow to the gut for me and for the entire community.”
Happy birthday (Feb. 16) to Neal Dunn of Florida’s 2nd Congressional District. And belated wishes to Donna Shalala (Feb. 14) of Florida’s 27th Congressional District.