Trump keeps media busy
Any week in which Donald Trump is President is another one filled with fodder for reporters, pundits, bloggers, and social media activists.
This week is sure to keep all the above busy, but staying focused on a particular issue will be impossible.
Just this week alone, Trump is in Vietnam for a second meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence is in Colombia to confer with allies and U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó on what to do about a rapidly deteriorating situation in Venezuela.
Back home, Democrats are officially launching the effort to short-circuit the President’s declaration of emergency to build a border wall. A move his administration made last week to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood will also boil to the surface this week.
The Kim summit is about lowered expectations, with pundits pouncing on Trump’s statement that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was again called on to try and walk back another verbal gaffe.
North Korea is not expected to commit to denuclearization fully, but some like Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan asked Trump to demand the return of all American soldiers killed in the Korean War.
Sen. Marco Rubio is predicting a potentially gruesome fate for Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro in a controversial photo posted Sunday (see Rubio tweet). At the same time, South Florida Democrats, especially Rep. Donna Shalala, are blasting Sen. Bernie Sanders (see “don’t feel the Bern”) for his kid gloves approach to dealing with socialist Maduro.
Back home, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was bringing the resolution of disapproval over Trump’s emergency declaration Tuesday (see Dems launch). It will have little difficulty passing the House and growing signs continue to emerge it could pass the Senate, where Trump will veto it.
The Trump administration’s new rule placing restrictions on organizations such as Planned Parenthood (see Frankel blasts) will begin a new round of acrimonious finger-pointing over the issue of abortion.
Other than that, it should be a routine week.
The national news media has a deepening love/hate relationship with Trump. While they have not taken kindly to being called “enemies of the people,” he provides them with plenty to write (or opine) about on an almost hourly basis.
Trump has plenty of people who hate him, but several on the left give the media part of the blame for Trump being in office. The constant coverage of him, which began the day Trump announced his candidacy, helped energize his deeply committed followers.
Yes, President tends to stray from the truth, but he was spot on when he boasted that he delivers ratings. While the media will find things for which to criticize the President this week, they will also enjoy ratings, readership and electronic clicks on their stories.
The love/hate continues.
Rubio tweet gets buzz
Things got worse in Venezuela over the weekend in many ways. At least two were killed, and National Guard troops burned trucks carrying humanitarian aid.
At the same time, some troops have begun to renounce their loyalty to Maduro, something Rubio has actively encouraged. The second-term Republican then sent a shocking and controversial tweet intimating Maduro could meet a similar fate to that of the brutally murdered Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
The tweet showed side-by-side images of the former Libyan dictator in uniform and another one featuring him as a bloody prisoner just before his murder.
No words from Rubio accompanied the photos.
Rebels overthrew Gaddafi in 2011 and upon his capture, tortured and killed him. One photo posted by Rubio was taken right before Gaddafi died.
Responses to the tweet were mostly negative. Some wondered why Twitter did not censor the post.
Scott to aid timber industry
Hurricane Michael devastated lives, homes and businesses when it swept through the Panhandle in October. The timber industry took an enormous hit, prompting Sen. Rick Scott to seek help on their behalf.
Scott met with timber industry leaders last week and heard some depressing statistics. More than 2.8 million acres with nearly 72 million tons of timber were severely damaged, leaving 16,000 forest landowners in dire straits.
“It could take more than a decade for Florida’s timber industry to recover from the storm’s devastation, and our Panhandle families need help,” Scott said in a letter to Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Scott said he would be working with colleagues in the Senate and House to secure sufficient disaster funding to help those affected. He asked Perdue for his help in securing additional funding and other assistance.
“These families need timely information regarding their status in the numerous USDA programs currently available, and the resources they need to remove debris and begin the process of reforestation,” he said.
As Trump begins a second summit meeting with Kim, he is receiving plenty of advice on what he should (and should not) do. On the positive side was Buchanan’s suggestion about the return of those killed during the Korean War.
Before Trump’s departure Monday, eight Senate Democrats wrote to the President, offering their assessment on what the talks should bring. The Senators, which included Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, urged results.
“We believe your next meeting with Kim thus must demonstrate tangible, verifiable progress on denuclearization and reducing tensions with the North,” the senators wrote.
“As strong advocates for a diplomatic pathway to resolve the North Korea threat, we still believe there is a path forward for tough and principled diplomacy to secure, monitor, and verify the denuclearization of North Korea,” they added.
Trump did not take too kindly to the Democratic nudge.
”So funny to watch people who have failed for years, they got NOTHING, telling me how to negotiate with North Korea,” Trump tweeted. “But thanks anyway!”
The effort to block Trump’s declaration of a national emergency is leaving the starting gate with the House’s introduction of a resolution of disapproval. The resolution, if it gains a majority in both chambers, would preclude Trump from diverting funds to build a border wall from other sources.
Democrats are expected to approve the resolution with zero defections, before sending it on to the Senate, where enough GOP defections will permit the resolution to go to Trump. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park spoke for her party in announcing support for the measure.
“I joined my colleagues today in introducing this resolution to stop the President’s reckless emergency declaration,” tweeted the Winter Park Democrat. “Congress has a responsibility to protect the Constitution & defend the will of the people. We will not allow the President’s unilateral move to remain unchallenged.”
Trump will be waiting for the resolution when he returns from Vietnam.
“Will I veto it? 100 percent. One hundred percent,” he told reporters last week. “And I don’t think it survives a veto. We have too many smart people that want border security, so I can’t imagine if it survives a veto, but I will veto it.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham predicts the Senate would fail to override a presidential veto. If all 100 Senators vote, Democrats would need 20 Republican defections to thwart the President.
Sen. Scott is all-in with Trump, while Rubio has publicly rebuked the President for taking this step.
Dems blast Acosta
A group of Florida Democrats is calling for U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta to resign. In a letter to Trump, the members said while Acosta was serving as U.S. Attorney for Miami, he was “negligent” in his handling of a notorious sex crimes case involving hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein.
His role in a plea deal allowing Epstein to serve only 13 months in prison has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks. Victims were outraged.
Among those signing the letter includes Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston who tweeted “I am calling for the immediate resignation” of the former U.S. Attorney and former dean of the Florida International School of Law.
Also signing the letter were Reps. Kathy Castor of Tampa, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton.
“We strongly believe that Secretary Acosta was negligent in his duty to represent the best interests of the victims and the U.S. Government,” the letter reads. “As such, we request that you immediately demand his letter of resignation.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders would only say “we are looking into the matter. I’m not aware of any changes.”
Last week, a federal judge ruled prosecutors violated the law in cutting a deal with Epstein. Acosta has maintained the plea arrangement was appropriate.
Water quality and the environment top the agenda for this week’s meeting of the Florida delegation in Washington. The schedule for the first meeting of 2019, announced by co-chairs Buchanan and Rep. Alcee Hastings, is heavy on red tide, harmful algal blooms, offshore drilling, and other water quality issues.
“Coastal water quality issues are of significant importance to all Floridians,” said Hastings. “Last year, Florida faced an environmental disaster with serious economic consequences, when toxic algae coated both coasts
In 2018, Buchanan and Hastings backed a proposal that was signed by Trump to provide more than $100 million to combat harmful algal blooms like red tide. Last year, a Buchanan proposal to increase funding for red tide research was also signed into law.
“Florida’s pristine beaches and rivers are what attract countless visitors to our state each year,” said Buchanan. “It is critical that our bipartisan delegation works together to ensure Florida’s oceans, waterways, beaches are clean and healthy.”
The delegation will hear from experts representing the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium along with The Nature Conservancy. Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein will also join the panel.
“I look forward to hearing from our distinguished panelists on how we can further address the state’s water issues at the federal level,” Buchanan said. “When it comes to protecting Florida’s natural landscape and beauty, our delegation has a rich history of banding together to tackle these important issues.”
Dunn joins art competition
Each year, several members participate in the High School Congressional Art Competition. The House of Representatives sponsors the contest annually in the spring to recognize talented young artists from around the country.
Among those participating is Rep. Neal Dunn, who recently launched the 2019 competition for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District. Submissions can include a variety of artwork including, drawings, collages, and photography, among others.
“The Congressional Art Competition is rich in tradition and brings together students from around the country,” said the Republican from Panama City. “I know we have a vast amount of talented young artists in Florida’s 2nd District and I look forward to displaying the winning piece in the Capitol for all to see.”
High school students are being encouraged to submit their work to their participating member of Congress. The winning piece will be displayed in the United States Capitol building.
The competition began in 1982, and more 650,000 artists have been involved since.
WORKER Act returns
Last week, a bill tabbed as the “GI Bill for American Workers” was reintroduced for the 116th Congress. Rep. Darren Soto joined with Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan to bring back the Working on Rewarding and Keeping Employees Resilient (WORKER) Act.
The bill aims to resolve challenges to American labor and job markets. It focuses on workforce development by addressing jobs, wage stagnation, and continued layoffs because of outsourcing and automation.
“Globalization and emerging technologies have the profound potential to benefit society and be a driver of economic growth,” the Kissimmee Democrat said in a news release. “As we adapt to a changing economy, we must keep the welfare of American workers at the forefront of our legislative priorities.”
The bill provides, among other things, grant programs to support engineering and technology programs in elementary schools, incentivize re-employment, and create a training voucher of $8,000 to ensure every American can attend a short-term training program.
“I’m proud to join Rep. Ryan and colleagues in support of the WORKER Act to provide the necessary tools and continue empowering our American workforce,” Soto said.
Steube celebrates treaty
One year before Florida became a territory of the United States, diplomats from Spain and the United States officially entered into an agreement ceding a large portion of the region to the U.S. Within that territory was what is now present-day Florida.
The Adams-Onis treaty cemented the deal February 22, 1819, and Republican Rep. Greg Steube of Lakewood Ranch took action to celebrate the bicentennial. Steube introduced a resolution in the House highlighting the event.
“It is important to commemorate this momentous anniversary,” Steube said in a news release. “My hope is that with this Resolution we will shine a light on this often-overlooked piece of American history. The Adams-Onís Treaty is not only an important part of my state’s heritage but also the heritage of the United States.”
Steube gained several co-sponsors within the delegation that included Democrats Deutch and Soto. Joining them were Republicans Dunn, Mario Diaz-Balart, Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast, Bill Posey, Ross Spano and Michael Waltz.
Frankel criticizes abortion rule
Late last week, the Trump administration issued a new rule making changes to Title IX funding that could dramatically affect funding for organizations such as Planned Parenthood. The move has elicited outrage among Democrats, including Frankel.
The rule change prohibits organizations that receive Title IX federal funding from referring clients to abortion providers or performing abortions. Other contraceptive services are not affected.
“BREAKING: This draft final rule is the White House’s latest attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, attack women’s health care & undermine the nation’s family planning programs,” tweeted the West Palm Beach Democrat. “This is dangerous, and we will fight to protect patients’ care & #SaveTitleX #NoGagRule”
Planned Parenthood indicated they would seek an injunction to block the move, but if that fails, they will no longer accept Title IX funding to maintain the ability to provide abortion services and referrals.
Not ‘feelin’ the Bern’
Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders responded “no” to a question whether Guaidó should be the recognized leader of Venezuela. Democrats, already concerned that Republicans are dominating the issue in South Florida were quick to respond to the Senator who just announced his candidacy for President earlier in the week.
“He is not going to be the nominee of the Democratic Party,” Rep. Donna Shalala told POLITICO. “He has demonstrated again that he does not understand this situation.”
On Saturday, Wasserman Schultz, who represents a district with a sizable Venezuelan presence, hosted a public forum featuring Guaido’s Chargé d’affaires Carlos Vecchio. She has been a voice recognizing Guaidó and calling for Nicolas Maduro to step aside, a message conveyed by the Florida Democratic Party (FDP).
“Florida Democrats have been unequivocal: We recognize Juan Guaidó as the President of Venezuela, denounce the legitimacy of the Maduro regime and his efforts to remain illegally in power,” the FDP said in a statement.
Sanders responded later that Maduro must “refrain from violence,” but did not call for him to step down.
Floridians talk CPAC
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the leading gathering of conservative politicians and activists, begins Thursday in suburban Washington, D.C. Floridians have played a prominent role in recent CPAC history, with three set to take part this year.
Rep. Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach will join a panel entitled “Democracy Died in Darkness: Judges, Prosecutors and American’s Modern Monarchs.” Another panel titled “Democracy Breaking Through Darkness: Can Europe and Venezuela be Liberated?” features Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples.
Rep. Waltz of St. Augustine joins a panel titled “Is the Best Missile Defense Really the Best Offense?” With his father in Vietnam, Donald Trump Jr. will make an appearance on center stage.
Rubio was a CPAC favorite shortly after his election the Senate in 2010, gaining a wild reception among attendees. Some of the enthusiasm ebbed when he was part of the “Gang of 8” promoting comprehensive immigration reform in 2013.
Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Al Cardenas served as chair of the American Conservative Union (ACU), which runs CPAC, from 2011-2013.
On this day in the headlines
Feb. 26, 2001 — A review by the Miami Herald and Knight-Ridder newspapers revealed that had Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris had let South Florida counties complete manual recounts, George W. Bush would have won the election outright. Al Gore would have gained only 49 votes in Miami-Dade County, leaving him 140 votes short.
Republicans were quick to respond to the news. Mark Wallace, a Miami lawyer for the Republican Party said Bush won on Election Day and “he won after the manual recount, and he won at the conclusion of all the litigation.”
Feb. 26, 2016 — The 10th Republican presidential debate of the election cycle held in Houston brought spirited confrontations between front-runner Trump and Florida Sen. Rubio. Seeking to present a more combative tone, Rubio challenged Trump on one of his signature issues.
After Trump told him to “be quiet,” Rubio tied two issues into a single sound bite. “If he builds the wall the way he built Trump Towers, he’ll be using immigrant labor to do it.” Trump responded with “such a cute sound bite.”