Gun control on a roll?
Congress is not in session this week as members visit with constituents, attend public events or perhaps take a foreign trip. That leaves a full week to get local angles on significant stories such as the mass slaughter in two Christchurch, New Zealand mosques.
The reactions from within the U.S. have been measured for the most part. Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton said “we mourn with you,” but like many of his colleagues, avoided using the term “thoughts and prayers,” which brings derision from those seeking stricter gun laws in this country.
The horrific massacre at the mosques in Christchurch impacts us all. To the families directly affected, the people of Christchurch and New Zealand, and the Muslim community worldwide, we mourn with you.
— Rep. Ted Deutch (@RepTedDeutch) March 15, 2019
Deutch was far from alone in his mournful response as Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell visited a mosque and spoke of “shared messages of love and respect.” Aside from the highly quotable Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who blasted the NRA and “thoughts and prayers” after the shootings, both Democrats and Republicans were mostly respectful.
The fact this tragedy occurred thousands of miles away likely led others to stay away from offering advice to New Zealand on the need for stricter gun laws. Despite this, the reaction of leadership in New Zealand could move the domestic gun control effort a little further down the field.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has already promised “Our gun laws will change,” the day following the massacre. By the first of the week, she announced an “agreement in principle,” for stricter gun laws.
“Within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism we will have announced reforms which will, I believe, make our community safer,” she said. By anyone’s definition, that is warp speed when it comes to government action.
Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens tweeted “Deeply saddened by the mass murder in New Zealand and stand with its people against hatred in all forms. #NZMosqueShootings.” Her tweet was linked to an NPR story about Ardern’s push to change firearm laws.
— Rep Frederica Wilson (@RepWilson) March 15, 2019
New Zealand’s current gun laws are similar in many ways to those in the U.S. While all must go through background checks, those over 18 who pass those checks may purchase “military-style semi-automatic weapons.”
If a democratic nation like New Zealand can move this fast and remove such weapons or make them extremely difficult to acquire, the movement is likely to pick up steam in the U.S. The result could still be the status quo, but Democrats and some Republicans like Rep. Brian Mast could soon have an example to hold up when they try to talk about “common sense” changes.
Mast, a Palm City Republican, supports a ban on “tactical weapons.” Most who describe themselves as “pro-Second Amendment” are against the banning of semi-automatic weapons.
Depending on the contents of the changes in New Zealand, gun control could conceivably be back on the radar when Congress returns March 25.
Scott budget priorities
For eight years, Sen. Rick Scott was heavily involved in the budget process while Governor. Holding a veto pen he could tell legislators what he wanted, but as a member of the Senate, he can only ask.
As the Senate began the process to formulate a budget last week, Scott revealed his priorities for Florida. High on the list are prescription drug prices, freedom and democracy in Latin America and strengthening the American economy.
He also singled out specific areas upon which he will focus upon in the Senate as well as with the Trump administration.
“My Fighting for Florida budget agenda highlights three specific areas that promote Florida’s success,” Scott said in a statement. “These are investments needed to continue growing our economy, supporting our military and their families, and making sure our environment is protected for generations to come.”
Scott mentioned two specific areas, including $200 million for Everglades projects, a figure which the entire delegation is on record of supporting. The President’s proposed budget from last week offered less than $70 million.
He also pointed to what he described as an unfulfilled commitment for Florida’s ports. He is asking for $140 million.
Rubio seeks border funds
Last week, the Senate voted 59-41 to block Trump’s declaration of a national emergency with Sen. Marco Rubio and 11 other Republicans joining with Democrats to thwart the President. Soon after, Trump vetoed the measure setting up a watch of the multiple lawsuits filed to block the declaration.
Rubio said he “cannot support moving funds that Congress explicitly appropriated for construction and upgrades of our military bases.” The two-term Republican and his 11 colleagues faced criticism for siding with Democrats on the highly-polarized issue.
As he was voting against Trump, Rubio introduced a request for additional funding for border security but did not include funding for a border wall. Rubio presented the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Border Security and Disaster Relief Act of 2019 that would provide $3.6 billion in additional funds that would “secure our southern border” plus $15 billion to respond to 2018 disasters.
“Addressing the crisis on our southern border and helping local communities still struggling to recover from recent disasters, including communities in Florida devastated by Hurricane Michael, should not be a partisan issue,” Rubio said in a news release. “Yet Congress continues to fail the American people by ignoring the border crisis and playing politics with disaster funding at the expense of local communities.”
It also contains funding for rebuilding Tyndall Air Force Base and additional assistance for Puerto Rico.
The report from special counsel Robert Mueller is due any day now. Analysts believe Mueller will not report direct collusion between Trump and Russia, but it will likely have some juicy tidbits that his opponents will want to spread far and wide.
That explains why Democrats have been clamoring for months that the entire report should be released. Trump has called the investigation a “witch hunt.”
Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Orlando wonders why he would not wish to have his vindication released if that is Mueller’s conclusion.
“If the president is as innocent as he would like us all to believe, he should be the No. 1 person calling for full transparency and an open investigation,” she tweeted. “The American people deserve to see Mueller’s report.”
Republicans, including Attorney General William Barr, have called for releasing either a summary or all the report except for sections that must be kept confidential by law. Republican Rep. Ross Spano of Dover proudly pointed to his vote on a nonbinding resolution calling for the report’s release, which passed 420-0.
“I was proud to vote ‘yes’ on this measure so that the people can reach their own conclusions,” he said.
In the Senate, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina put a hold on that chamber’s resolution. Before lifting the hold, Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is demanding an investigation into the conduct of the Department of Justice during the Hillary Clinton email investigation of 2016.
Trump’s “witch hunt” characterization of the Mueller probe is gaining greater traction. A USA Today poll released this week shows half of Americans, 50 to 47 percent, agree with the President’s terminology.
By a 54-42 percent margin, independents also use the “witch hunt” term. At the same time, 52 percent of all respondents have “little or no faith” in the President’s denials of collusion.
‘Low energy’ redux
Will the nickname “Low Energy Jeb” return to Trump’s Twitter account? The President can’t be too happy with former Florida Governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who is practically urging a Republican to challenge Trump next year.
“I think someone should run just because Republicans ought to be given a choice,” Bush said during an interview with former Barack Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “It’s hard to beat a sitting president, but to have a conversation about what it is to be a conservative, I think it’s important.”
Axelrod was only too happy to tweet an excerpt from the interview that included Bush’s remarks. Bush also alerted his followers the interview with Axelrod was coming.
Deep blue Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is reportedly considering a run. Bush spoke at Hogan’s inauguration this year and came away convinced the two-term Governor is at least considering a primary challenge.
In the end, Trump will not be the first to use the “low energy” moniker this year. One of Trump’s biggest supporters in Congress, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach took to Twitter to describe Bush’s suggestion as “a low energy troll.”
NRCC targets Dems
The report from special counsel Robert Mueller is due any day, but for those hoping impeachable offenses will be revealed, expectations are decreasing daily. That will not stop some Democrats, such as California Rep. Maxine Waters, from wanting to move ahead with impeachment proceedings.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is against pursuing impeachment at this time, but the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) wishes to tie Democrats to the impeachment movement. Polls show most Americans do not wish to take that step at this time.
In a new social media ad campaign, the NRCC is targeting all 55 Democrats on their list with an attempt to link them to the pro-impeachment movement. Those being connected to the effort include Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Charlie Crist, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala.
To view the ad, click on the image below:
The ad contains images of Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Talib, who famously said “We’re gonna impeach the mother f*****r” as well as a quote from Pelosi saying impeaching Trump “is not worth it.”
“The socialist Democrats in Congress need to definitively state if they will stand up to the baseless attempts to impeach our president or if they will once again roll over for the extremists running their caucus,” NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer stated in a news release.
“Instead of trying to overturn a legitimate and lawful election, these childish socialists should buckle their chin straps and figure out how they will sell their socialist agenda in the American heartland.”
The ads are clearly intended to intensify the division within the Democratic Party, especially by linking the majority of the caucus, like Pelosi, who does not support impeachment to the minority view. None of the four targeted Florida Democrats have said they favor impeachment.
With a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, abortion legislation is one of several polarizing issues drawing more significant attention. Gaetz is behind an effort to enact tougher abortion restrictions, along with allowing federal funding for faith-based pregnancy centers.
Gaetz made his remarks while attending the reopening of the Life Options clinic in Milton.
“We’ve got some really important debates in the Congress that are ripening on questions of life,” Gaetz told the News Journal at a ceremony for the reopening of the Life Options Clinic.
Gaetz is a co-sponsor of the federal version of the “fetal heartbeat bill” along with 173 other Republicans in Congress. The bill would prohibit abortions once a heartbeat is detected.
A similar bill enacted in Kentucky was blocked by a federal judge late last week. The federal bill is unlikely to make it out of committee in the Democratic-controlled House.
Gaetz is also joining other House Republicans in arguing for the passage of the “Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” a bill requiring abortion providers to provide medical care to an infant who survives an abortion attempt.
“I support welcoming our faith community into the problem-solving environment,” Gaetz said. “Too often, the faith community feels like government is resistant to solutions if those solutions involve a power higher than government.”
After the ceremony, Gaetz said he supported the federal rule change that would now allow organizations such as the Life Option Clinic to receive federal dollars.
A part of Jacksonville in dire need of cleanup is one step closer to that reality. Rep. Al Lawson has announced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sending a $9 million grant to the First Coast to help clean up the Fairfax Street Wood Treaters Superfund site.
Lawson has said that the grant will help to clean up the 12.5-acre site in a predominantly residential area by removing debris. The project is scheduled to launch in March and is expected to last approximately six months.
“I am excited that the city of Jacksonville will be receiving this federal grant to address to contamination in the Fairfax Street Wood Treaters Superfund Site,” the Democrat from Tallahassee said. “We should be doing everything we can to eliminate this hazardous matter and clean up our community.”
The recent action is the latest addressing the problem. Last year, Lawson assisted with a $25,000 EPA grant to examine the site.
“While surveying the area, I met with former Fairfax Street Wood Treaters employees who are, sadly, extremely ill from the chemicals they were exposed to while working at the plant,” Lawson continued. “It is unfortunate that it has taken this long to remedy this problem, but I am confident this is a move in the right direction.”
Cannabis for vets
With Democrats now in charge of the agenda in the House, Rep. Charlie Crist has reintroduced a bill that looks to protect veterans’ best interests when it comes to health care treatment options. Crist has joined with Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska to launch the Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act; the legislation was initially filed in July 2018.
If enacted, the law would protect veterans’ cannabis treatment options and their ability to be employed by the federal government. Currently, the law prohibits marijuana use by federal employees and is grounds for termination.
“For our veterans’, cannabis has been shown to address chronic pain and PTSD, often replacing addictive and harmful opioids,” said the Democrat from St. Petersburg. “At the same time, the federal government is the largest employer of our veterans’ community. This conflict, between medical care and maintaining employment, needs to be resolved.”
The bill would also prohibit marijuana metabolite testing from being used as the sole factor to deny or terminate federal employment for civilian positions if the individual complies with the marijuana laws in their state of residence. It also only extends to an individual’s past, private use of cannabis and does not prohibit probable cause testing if an individual is believed to be impaired at work.
“For federal employees complying with state cannabis law, they shouldn’t have to choose between a proven treatment and their job.”
Americans for Safe Access, Florida for Care, Marijuana Policy Project, National Cannabis Industry Association, NORML, Veterans Cannabis Coalition and the Weed for Warriors Project each support the bill.
New Omar resolution
After a recent uproar involving comments regarding Israel from Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, the House considered a bipartisan resolution to criticize her remarks. When a group of Democrats forced House leadership to instead vote for a watered down resolution, the issue appeared dead.
The approved resolution condemned other forms of hatred in addition to anti-Semitism, of which Omar was accused of uttering. When counting the votes, 23 Republicans voted against it, including Republican Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota, who said Omar was not facing any consequences for her rhetoric.
Steube and three of his colleagues have filed another resolution that mentions Omar explicitly and holds her up for condemnation.
“Instead of specifically addressing the persistent anti-Semitic remarks made by my colleague, House Democrats chose last week to make a mockery of this institution by giving her troubling behavior yet another pass,” Steube said in a news release.
“I am pleased that the House of Representatives now has an opportunity to consider legislation that directly addresses the growing problem of anti-Semitism that unfortunately exists inside our institution.”
The resolution has no chance of seeing the light of day on the House floor, but it does serve a purpose. For those who “no” on the anti-hate resolution, they now have a document that explains why.
Their vote was called into question by some Democrats, including Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, an Omar defender, who wondered “where is the outrage?”
Last week, Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings introduced legislation that would limit the actions of plainclothes law enforcement officers in unmarked cars. The Corey Jones Act is named after a musician killed after pulling a gun on a police officer Jones thought was there to rob him.
Former Palm Beach plainclothes officer Nouman Raja was convicted earlier this month of manslaughter and attempted first-degree murder after audio recordings revealed Raja never identified himself as an officer to Jones. Hastings’ bill will ban plainclothes officers in unmarked vehicles from engaging in traffic stops.
“This common-sense legislation will help keep both law enforcement and the citizens they police safe,” Hastings said in a news release. “Tragic incidents like this can easily be avoided by prohibiting plainclothes law enforcement officials driving unmarked vehicles from making traffic stops, which can lead to situations full of confusion and even confrontation.”
Joining Hastings as original co-sponsors include Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, who said, “This legislation is aimed at preventing future tragedies, keeping law enforcement officers and citizens safe.” Also joining as a co-sponsor was Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch, who added, “This common-sense bill could help keep the public safe and prevent confusion while still ensuring law enforcement officers can do their job effectively,”
Frustrated by process
When Republicans were the majority in the House, governing proved more difficult than campaigning when dueling caucuses had different agendas. For example, the priorities of the conservative Freedom Caucus led them to vote against priorities of GOP House leadership.
It is now the turn of Democrats to go through the pains of governing with members who want to vote with Republicans occasionally when they share similar views. Mucarsel-Powell is one member in a swing district concerned with the political consequences of toeing the party line while others buck leadership.
During last week’s Democratic whip meeting, Mucarsel-Powell rose and questioned members in safe districts voting with Republicans, while first-term representatives like her remained loyal, but face campaign attack ads next year.
She may have been referring to someone like her colleague, Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park. Murphy was one of a few Democrats who crossed over to support Republican amendments to bills through a procedure known as a motion to recommit (MTR).
Murphy defeated former state Rep. Mike Miller by 15 points in November.
Some Democratic members wish to do away with the MTR process, while some of the rebel freshmen class seek tweaks to ensure transparency.
Earlier this month, Ballard Partners, headed by Trump fundraiser Brian Ballard, agreed to represent the government of Zimbabwe in Washington. Once the destructive dictator Robert Mugabe was deposed, the new government felt it was worth $500,000 per year to establish relationships to recover from a decade of sanctions.
The Ballard agreement with Zimbabwe is the latest among a trend since Trump’s election. Two other Washington firms with strong ties to the President have also signed foreign clients.
Chartwell Strategy Group, started by another Trump fundraiser, David Tamasi, is representing the governments of Kosovo and Georgia. Sonoran Policy Group, which features two Trump campaign veterans, has earned $9 million from four foreign interests, including a $5.4 million contract with Saudi Arabia.
Since its launch in 2017, Ballard Partners has either represented or currently represents the Dominican Republic, Qatar, Mali, Maldives, Kosovo, Turkey and now Zimbabwe. They have also taken on opposition political parties in the Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.
Freedom and liberty
Scott was joined by Rubio late last week for a joint rally in Miami supporting freedom and liberty in Central and South America. They were joined by Cuban, Venezuelan, Colombian, and Nicaraguan community leaders to confirm their support for those living under repressive socialist dictators.
Also in attendance was Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and former Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.
On this day
March 19, 2005 — After a seven-year battle in the courts, Judge George Greer gave the final order to remove the feeding tube of Terri Schiavo, who has been in a persistent vegetative state since 1990. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, has met with opposition from his wife’s parents, as well as Gov. Bush and right-to-life politicians.
Attorney General Crist did not become involved, but the U.S. House passed a bill seeking to stop Greer, a move blasted by Democratic Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa as an “abuse of power.” The Florida Legislature tried in vain to prevent the removal through a bill filed by state Sen. Daniel Webster of Ocoee. The tube was removed at 1:45 p.m.
March 19, 2016 — President Barack Obama is set to depart for his controversial trip to Cuba and will be the first sitting American President to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. Obama will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro before attending a state dinner Monday and throw out the first pitch at a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team Tuesday.
The trip has been in the planning stages since 2013, but many in the Cuban-American community believe it should not be happening at all. Among those is Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, who said the White House would “see what else it can concede in advance of the president’s trip to Cuba to promote more funds going into the pockets of the regime.”