DREAM Act returns
When the 115th Congress ended in December, so did hundreds of bills.
One of those was the DREAM Act, which would have provided legal status and a path to citizenship for those falling into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) category.
This week, the bill was reintroduced in the House as the Dream and Promise Act, providing a path to citizenship after five years for DACA recipients (DREAMers) and those holding temporary protected status (TPS). Democrats hailed the unveiling and began jumping on as co-sponsors.
One of those was first-term Democrat Debbie Mucarsel Powell of Miami. The first person born in South America who was elected to Congress is one of the co-sponsors.
“DREAMers and TPS recipients are Americans in almost every way but on paper,” she said in a news release. “In last week’s Judiciary Committee hearing, I heard Republicans voice their concerns for DREAMERs and TPS recipients across the country. Now is the time for them to demonstrate their support with their actions.”
In November, Mucarsel-Powell defeated the DREAM Act’s staunchest Republican advocate, former Rep. Carlos Curbelo. The bill is unlikely to gain much (if any) Republican support because of what is not in it.
After President Donald Trump ended DACA protection for “DREAMers,” he offered a deal for them in exchange for border wall funding. Democratic leadership quickly rejected such a deal. There is no border security component within the provisions of the Dream and Promise Act.
Republicans claim the bill is not a serious attempt to find common ground but is instead being used as a campaign issue. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a co-sponsor of the original DREAM Act, blasted the rollout of this version.
“My hope would be that Democrats would work with folks to actually get something done,” Diaz-Balart said. “My fear was that they would do something knowing that it couldn’t get done for political reasons, and that’s what this is.”
Diaz-Balart went on to say he could end up voting for it but gives it no chance to become law. Democrats lay all of the problems at the feet of Trump.
“President Trump has removed safeguards that protect DREAMers from deportation and has declined to renew temporary protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants under the Temporary Protected Status,” said Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa, a co-sponsor. “This is not the American way, and I am hopeful that the Senate will take up this important bill after we pass it in a few weeks.”
While waiting for the House bill, there is nothing to stop Republican Senators from filing a similar proposal, but with border security provisions. Once filibustered, the proposal is back to square one.
Groundhog Day on Capitol Hill.
Rubio rebukes Trump
Going into this week’s vote in the Senate to cancel Trump’s declaration of emergency, both proponents and opponents of the President’s actions knew where that vote headed. In the end, it was only a matter of how many Republicans would support every Senate Democrat to vote against him.
With 12 Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, voting to nullify the declaration, thoughts immediately turned to the next actions. Trump will veto the resolution, forcing the House and Senate to come up with a two-thirds majority to override the veto.
While Rubio’s vote against Trump was not a surprise, he did not reveal his intentions until it was time to vote. A group of Senators including Rubio were reportedly remaining quiet in deference to the White House and to allow exploration of compromises as well.
Rubio had earlier expressed concern about the President’s strategy, warning that a future President could claim an emergency on climate change or another issue on which Republicans would object. Sen. Rick Scott followed through on his pledge to support Trump and vote against the resolution.
Hours before the vote, Trump put the resolution in simple terms saying it was about being for or against border security.
To override the certain Trump veto, 8 more Republicans would need to join in if all 100 Senators vote. The numbers are worse in the House.
Only 13 Republicans crossed over when the measure passed 245-182 Feb. 26. An additional 45 would be needed if all 435 Representatives would show up to vote.
After that plays out, attention will focus on the courts where several lawsuits are pending.
Q poll performance
Another poll finds Governor and former Congressman Ron DeSantis as the most popular politician in Florida, while Florida’s Senators lag somewhat behind. The Quinnipiac poll released this week gives DeSantis a 59 to 17 approval to disapproval rating while Rubio is at 50 to 34 percent and Scott comes in at 42 to 38 percent.
Floridians are in a good frame of mind. All age groups, white voters and Hispanics approve Scott and Rubio (who got slightly higher margins). Rubio is just underwater with black voters (37-41) while Scott has a greater deficit of 23-56.
The poll also judged the voters’ views on some key issues that could affect Congressional campaigns in 2020. Despite positive views of Republican elected officials, responses favor Democratic positions on most, but not all, critical issues polled.
Two-thirds of voters are satisfied with the way things are going in Florida, a figure pleasing to incumbents. At the same time, 72 percent are “concerned” or “very concerned” about climate change.
While 64 percent of all respondents oppose offshore drilling, Republicans favor drilling by 54-38 percent. By a margin of 61-27 percent, voters support a proposal to require state and local officials to work with federal immigration authorities, while favoring a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants by 57-35 percent.
Respondents also believe, by 50-42 percent, that low-income children should be allowed to attend private schools. Democrats and independents, fueled by overwhelming support from black and Hispanic voters, approve of the idea while Republicans disagreed by 45-47 percent.
One month ago, the Florida delegation put up a united front by asking the Trump administration for $200 million to fund necessary Everglades restoration projects. This week, the President released his proposed budget, and to the dismay of the delegation and the South Florida environmental community, the administration’s offer totaled only one-third of that amount.
The proposed $70 million spending would leave critical projects unfunded, including the planned 17,000-acre reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. Both U.S. Senators and South Florida elected officials put the reservoir as a priority; they seek to prevent recurrences of the ecological disasters coming from lake runoff.
“Failing to meet the basic federal funding commitments to restore the Everglades is contrary to the administration’s goal of improving project partnerships and cost-sharing with states,” read a joint statement from Rubio, Scott, GOP Reps. Brian Mast of Palm City and Francis Rooney of Naples.
“Successive Florida Governors have remained committed to this goal, pushing state funding of this 50/50 federal-state partnership to historic highs.”
Restoration efforts lag two decades after approval of a Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). Gov. Jeb Bush committed Florida to split the costs with the federal government of what was then estimated to be $8 billion.
“Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers envisioned a $200 million per year federal commitment when the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was first authorized nearly 20 years ago, and it is time for the administration to meet that commitment, they added.”
The President’s budget is only a proposal. The delegation will assuredly seek to significantly increase the line item involving the Everglades region, which includes Lake Okeechobee.
Gaetz, Trump disagree
Among Trump’s most reliable supporters in Congress is Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach. Recently Gaetz publicly parted with the President’s well-known skeptical views on climate change.
It began when Trump quoted Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore who described the “climate crisis” as “not only Fake News, it’s Fake Science.” The President said only “Wow!”
About two hours later, Gaetz responded on Twitter.
“Climate change is real,” Gaetz tweeted. “Humans contribute.”
Gaetz is a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus in Congress co-founded by Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch and former Rep. Curbelo.
Along with concern over rising sea levels, scientists have found climate change is a contributing factor for the appearance of larger algae blooms in South Florida.
Waltz pushes Space Command
If Trump’s proposal for a military branch known as the U.S. Space Command is to become reality, it’ll need legislation, and a bill introduced by Rep. Michael Waltz would take care that.
Waltz announced Thursday he has introduced H.R. 1746 directing Trump and the Department of Defense to establish the United States Space Command as a unified combatant command and repeal a conflicting directive in law for a subordinate command.
Waltz is among Florida congressional members who have asked that the command to headquartered in Florida, already home to Cape Canaveral and most of the nation’s space launches, but his bill doesn’t quite call for that.
Congress wants to know more about Russian President Vladimir Putin than the carefully crafted persona created by propaganda. A bill introduced by Rep. Val Demings, passed by the House without dissent this week, seeks to do just that.
The Vladimir Putin Transparency Act guides the U.S. intelligence community to report to Congress regarding the financial assets and hidden networks used by the Russian leader. Putin and his secretive government interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections.
“Every American has the right to a safe country and a secure democracy where their voice matters,” the Orlando Democrat said on the House floor. “This bipartisan legislation is a crucial first step to ensure that the rights of the American people matter more than corrupt Russian money.”
“We will not stand for this attempt to override the voices of the American people. It’s time to hold him accountable,” she added.
The bill’s co-sponsor is Republican Rep. Elise M. Stefanik of New York. Demings and Stefanik have previously introduced the Defend Against Russian Disinformation Act, which recommended investigating the financial assets and networks of the Russian ruling class.
The current bill builds on that work. Demings is a member of the House Intelligence, Judiciary, and Homeland Security Committees.
Bilirakis seeks cheaper pet meds
Americans have long had issues with prescription drugs, whether it is accessibility or cost. It turns out pets have issues of their own and Rep. Gus Bilirakis is trying to assist.
The Palm Harbor Republican is co-sponsoring a bill that would give individuals more choices in prescriptions for their pets. The Fairness to Pet Owners Act would give individuals access to a copy of their pets’ prescriptions without the need to request it, pay an additional fee, or sign a waiver of any kind, according to Bilirakis’ office. This would allow these pet owners to easily decide where they would wish to get their prescriptions.
His office points toward research from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), who said enhanced market competition can benefit pet owners “in the form of lower prices.”
“With this bipartisan legislation, we can help make pet ownership more affordable,” Bilirakis said in a statement.” By ensuring transparency in pricing, pet owners can secure the lowest possible cost for the medications their furry family members need.”
The bill is currently in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Crist/Deutch on LGBT elder bill
Two Florida Democrats have filed legislation designed to offer protections for elder LGBT adults and increase their access to health care and culturally competent services. The Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act is the work of Oregon Democrat Suzanne Bonamici with Deutch and Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg joining as original co-sponsors.
The bill updates the Older Americans Act to better serve LGBT elders, who face disproportionate barriers to accessing support programs and are at a higher risk of experiencing isolation and poverty. The bill would improve services by establishing a National Resource Center on LGBT Aging and determining the needs of LGBT older adults through data collection and research.
“I’m deeply honored to reintroduce this bill in Connie’s memory and in honor of her and her wife Ruthie’s lifelong activism in the LGBT community,” said Deutch in a joint release. “LGBT seniors face unique challenges and are at greater risk of facing bigotry and discrimination in their twilight years.”
The legislation is named after Ruthie Berman and Connie Kurtz, longtime advocates for LGBT equality. Connie fought for the rights of LGBT older adults until her death in 2018. Ruthie, her widow, continues to serve as a champion for the cause.
“The Older Americans Act provides critical support and services for millions of Americans yet fails to address the specific needs of our LGBT seniors,” Crist said. “LGBT seniors disproportionally face isolation, poverty, and poor health outcomes as they age.
“Paying homage to Floridians Ruthie Berman and the late, great Connie Kurtz — trailblazers in moving equality forward — this legislation takes into account the needs of LGBT seniors, so they can live out their golden years with greater security and peace of mind.”
SAGE USA, National Center for Transgender Equality, and the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund endorse the legislation.
A recent threat from MS-13 gang members to target police officers has the attention of Capitol Hill. Earlier this week, Rep. Vern Buchanan called for immediate passage of his Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act, which calls for swift deportation of criminal aliens.
Buchanan filed the bill on the first day of the 116th Congress but has not yet generated a co-sponsor or significant attention. He believes the recent threats from the most notorious gang in the Americas should change that.
“We can’t allow vicious gangs like MS-13 to enter or live in the United States,” the Longboat Key Republican said. “My bill would help ensure these criminals don’t slip through the cracks and threaten the lives of law enforcement and ordinary citizens.”
The bill would allow the immediate deportation of any member of a gang engaged in crimes of violence or felony drug offenses, even if they have been legally admitted to the country. Under current law, they could not be deported solely because of their affiliation with a criminal gang.
Buchanan’s bill also disqualifies the gang members from immigration benefits including receiving asylum protections or temporary protected status.
“When these violent gang members brazenly plot to assassinate law enforcement officers, I have one response — deport them immediately!” Buchanan said.
Steube eyes vets fees
The Florida delegation is a leader in Congress when it comes to bills supporting veterans physical and financial needs. This week, Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota filed a unique measure that would waive application fees for special use permits when veterans or veterans’ groups are seeking to conduct public events for veterans on federal lands or gather at national memorials.
The Free Veterans from Fees Act would waive fees associated with any demonstration or special event whose primary purpose is to commemorate or honor either a group of people because of their service as veterans or immediate family members of veterans. Permit applicants remain subject to all other laws, regulations, and policies regarding the application, issuance, and execution of special use permits for a veterans’ demonstration or special event.
“Our nation has long valued giving our Veterans the opportunity to travel to our nation’s capital to visit national war memorials through national honor buses and honor flights,” the first-term Republican said in a news release. “This bill would waive the various administrative and processing fees associated with visiting these memorials.”
Joining Steube in filing the bill was Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Signing on as original co-sponsors were Republican Reps. Neal Dunn of Panama City and Rep. Tom McClintock of California.
“These men and women made a valiant sacrifice by serving in the armed forces and giving them the opportunity to visit the memorials in their honor without pesky fees is the least we can do to recognize their service,” Steube added.
Both Steube and Dunn are former Army officers, while Gabbard was an officer in the Hawaii National Guard.
Whether Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, several are trying to figure out Rooney. When it comes to high-profile issues, there is something for everyone.
The second-term Republican has clearly stated he supports a carbon tax, something not normally associated with Republicans, as one tool to combat climate change. That earned him the wrath of Grover Norquist, the conservative anti-tax crusader who heads Americans For Tax Reform.
This week, he introduced the Free Right to Expression in Education (FREE) Act. The legislation follows what Rooney describes as attempts to silence conservative voices on college campuses.
“This legislation will prevent colleges from quarantining free expression and end unconstitutional zones used to stifle student speech,” Rooney’s office said.
Conservatives would clearly support that effort, but during a recent speech in Cape Coral, he talked about some of the challenges of Everglades restoration. Among the problems is “try(ing) to deal with the continuing menace of agriculture in the (Everglades Agricultural Area) EAA.”
This concerned the agriculture industry and members of both parties, included the state’s highest-ranking elected Democrat.
“We all want solutions to our water issues, @RepRooney,” tweeted Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried. “But farmers are often the best stewards of our land and environment. They are NOT a menace. They are an asset!”
Rooney’s spokesperson clarified saying the Congressman was referring to only the sugar industry in a specific region and not cattle or vegetable farmers.
Despite that, a leading Democrat advocating for agriculture against a Republican siding with environmentalists was a rare political sight.
Mast backs Army’s malaria research
Medical research into the prevention and treatment of diseases continues around the country and the world. Two members of Congress are looking to provide continued support to efforts by the country’s leading Army hospital.
Mast, a Palm City Republican, and California Democratic Rep. Jimmy Panetta this week introduced a House Resolution recognizing the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and its leadership in researching and protecting service members from infectious diseases such as malaria.
“Congress should do all we can to help the United States continue to lead the fight against preventable diseases like malaria,” Mast said. “Supporting Walter Reed’s continuous efforts in improving care for our veterans and their innovative research in the prevention and treatment of malaria is a bipartisan goal we can all get behind.”
The resolution supports the United States military’s current goals of researching new interventions to prevent and treat malaria, as well as sustained or enhanced research efforts so that once eliminated in a country the disease does not return. The bill also encourages continued leadership by WRAIR to ensure that the health of our armed force is not jeopardized by vector-borne diseases.
Background checks for ammo
Earlier this week, the Democratic-led House of Representatives filed a third gun control bill with the unveiling of legislation named after one of the victims of last year’s Parkland shootings. Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz of Weston is the bill’s sponsor.
“Jaime’s Law,” named after Jaime Guttenberg, whose father, Fred, has been a crusader for tougher gun laws. This bill builds upon the recently passed bill requiring universal background checks on gun purchases by requiring similar background checks for purchases of ammunition.
“Even though ammunition is every bit as necessary for the operation of a firearm as the firearm itself, federal law does not require a background check to prevent prohibited purchasers from purchasing ammunition,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Jaime’s Law will close this ammo loophole.”
While Guttenberg and Democrats hope the bill would become law, they are counting on political repercussions for Republican Senators if it does not.
“We’re going to remind everyone in the Senate about what happened in the House the last election,” Guttenberg said. “A lot of people who were wrong on this issue got fired. Put it up for a vote, pass this legislation, or we’ll flip the Senate on this issue.”
Guttenberg will also be remembered for a House Judiciary Committee hearing last month on the background checks bill. Along with another Parkland father, Manuel Oliver, the two men were in a heated confrontation in the hearing room with Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, who inquired of committee chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler whether the two men could be removed.
Diaz-Balart’s new press secretary
After serving in U.S. Rep. Diaz-Balart’s office for the past seven years, Katrina Bishop is departing Friday as the Congressman’s press secretary. Bishop’s next job will be working for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. She’ll be serving as the group’s public affairs manager starting March 25.
“Congressman Diaz-Balart took a chance on a barely-out-of-college grad and I will forever be grateful to him for taking that chance,” Bishop said in a statement announcing the departure.
“Being able to serve my hometown Congressman and work for our community has been the opportunity of a lifetime, and it is something I will always cherish.
Taking over for Bishop will be Laura Hernandez, who was serving as a caseworker in Diaz-Balart’s district office. Bishop also included a note to those she had worked with as press secretary.
“Thanks to all of you who I have met along the way,” Bishop said. “I appreciate your kindness, professionalism, and willingness to answer my calls at all hours of the day.”
On this day
March 15, 1997 — Surgeons successfully repaired a torn tendon in President Bill Clinton’s right knee in a two-hour operation after he slipped and fell at golfer Greg Norman’s home in Florida. Despite the injury, Clinton said he will travel to Helsinki next week for a summit with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
“I feel great,” Clinton said after the surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Doctors reattached the quadriceps tendon to his kneecap after a stumble that put him in severe pain. The President said doctors “did a great job.”
March 15, 2016 — As voters head to the polls for the Florida Presidential Primary, Sen. Rubio is reassessing his candidacy. With Trump remaining a solid front-runner, Rubio gave hints he might drop out if things go badly for him in his home state primary.
“If I were in the position Donald Trump is in right now, everybody in the party would be telling everyone else to get out and rally around,” Rubio told the Miami Herald. However, at an election eve get-out-the-vote rally in Jacksonville, the one-term Senator said, “we’re going to shock the country,” and “we’re going to do what needs to be done.”