The fallout from Helsinki still falling
As the week draws to an end, President Donald Trump’s disastrous news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki still rates as the top concern for the media and most Democrats. Some Republicans also criticized the president for clearly accepting Putin’s denial over his own intelligence team, who said Russia had indeed “meddled” in the 2016 U.S. elections.
Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel described the events in Helsinki as “a shameful, dark day” while fellow Democrat Charlie Crist from St. Petersburg tweeted: “Deeply, deeply troubling.”
By Tuesday afternoon, Trump was saying he “misspoke.” Instead of saying “why would” Russia be involved in such nefarious activity, he meant to say “why wouldn’t” they. Democrats such as Sen. Bill Nelson did not buy that at all and joined the chorus of those who believe Putin could be blackmailing Trump.
“If the president really misspoke, he would have corrected it immediately,” tweeted. “He didn’t misspeak — and we need to know: What does Russia have on our president? What is Putin hanging over his head? What is going on with a U.S. president who believes Putin over our own intel community?”
The word “treason” came out during the week, with former CIA Director John Brennan serving as the flag bearer of that movement. Democratic leaders are not yet taking that step, fearing it could backfire later.
Republicans know they can’t defend the original comments and are treading carefully on subsequent clarifications. GOP Sen. Marco Rubio says the House and Senate will keep doing their job, no matter what comes out of the White House.
“In the end, we can present people with information, but you can’t force anyone to say what you want them to say, especially the president of the United States,” Rubio said. “Our job is to pass laws and do things that are for the good of the country … and one of those things should be [imposing] strong deterrence measures with pre-positioned penalties should [Russian meddling] ever happen again.”
In an effort to keep some distance between themselves and Trump on the issue, Senate leadership indicated they are likely to act on legislation sponsored by Rubio and Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen. The DETER Act would impose stiff penalties on Russia if they attempt to interfere in future American elections.
A Wednesday New York Times story reported Trump was briefed before his inauguration, and he “grudgingly accepted,” the fact Putin himself had ordered the mischief. By Thursday, Trump’s favorite program, Fox and Friends, was showing several clips of Trump, beginning in January 2017, publicly saying Russia “and probably others” were involved in election meddling.
Republicans are likely to grab onto that life preserver. They will also try to start a discussion about what else was discussed in the two-hour meeting between the two leaders.
“I’m glad the President clarified his experience in Helsinki, and I think we’ll learn in the coming days the progress the President was able to make in his private discussions with President Putin on the issues of nonproliferation and counterterrorism,” tweeted Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, a fervent Trump supporter.
In the meantime, the roller coaster keeps coasting.
Nelson getting it from both sides on Kavanaugh
It’s nice to be wanted, so when it comes to confirming or rejecting Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Nelson is a target of both sides. While he would be under the most pressure from those opposed to Kavanaugh sitting on the court, conservatives are targeting him just the same.
The Koch brothers’ Americans For Prosperity announced a digital ad campaign as well as a mailer calling on Nelson to vote to confirm Kavanaugh. This follows another ad from a conservative group called One Nation soon after the appeals court judge was nominated.
On the opposite side, Organizing for Action, the spinoff of former President Barack Obama’s political group, has launched a telephone campaign.
“So many of the issues we care about — including reproductive rights, health care, climate change, workers’ rights, consumer privacy, and gun violence prevention — could soon come before the Court,” reads a message that allows people to connect to a senator’s office.
Nelson’s spokesman told the Tampa Bay Times that the office has gotten about 1,700 calls since Kavanaugh was announced and that 200 were for and 1,500 against him.
Nelson, Rubio join to address crisis in Nicaragua
On Wednesday, both Florida Senators joined with a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues to address the ongoing crisis in Nicaragua. The measure is aimed to blunt the growing violence against protesters against the regime of Marxist Daniel Ortega.
The Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018 would impose sanctions on government officials deemed responsible for the violence as well as calling for a negotiated political solution. It also looks to establish intelligence reporting on government officials engaging in human rights abuses and corruption.
“Ortega and his thugs must be held accountable for the abuse and murder of Nicaraguans exercising their fundamental rights,” Nelson said. “This bill makes clear that the United States supports the Nicaraguan people.”
The bill also requires the U.S. Secretary of State to certify whether the Nicaraguan government is fulfilling its responsibility to uphold democratic governance and human rights.
“The United States must stand in solidarity with the Nicaraguan people as they struggle to defend their rights and restore democracy,” Rubio said. “In response to the Ortega government’s violent and lethal repression of his own people, this bipartisan bill will require the President to impose sanctions against Nicaraguan officials responsible for ongoing human rights abuses and corruption.”
Joining Nelson and Rubio in filing the bill were Democratic Senators Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Ben Cardin of Maryland. Republican co-sponsors included Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and David Perdue of Georgia.
Most delegation Dems ‘present’ on ICE resolution
On Wednesday, the House took up a resolution calling for the support of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency as well as its agents. The measure passed by a vote of 244-35 with 133 Democrats voting “present.”
A minority of Democrats have called for abolishing ICE following the separation at the border of children from parents or adults when entering the country illegally. Republicans had originally sought to have a vote on a Democratic bill calling for the abolishment of ICE but pivoted to this strategy instead.
“This isn’t about whether you support ICE or not,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a floor speech. “I’m going to vote present on it because they’ll use it politically,” the California Democrat added.
Among those voting yes were 18 Democrats, including Blue Dogs Crist of St. Petersburg and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park. Also voting for the resolution was Al Lawson of Tallahassee.
With the exception of Kathy Castor of Tampa, who did not vote, the remainder of Florida Democrats voted “present.”
“Voting present means that they’re not willing to stand up for our men and women who sacrifice their lives to keep America safe,” the Louisiana Republican told Roll Call. “It’s a clear vote.”
Facebook removes page after Gaetz grilling
After pointed questioning, Facebook removed a page that seemingly advocated shooting Republican legislators. The questioning came from Republican Rep. Gaetz during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee.
Gaetz confronted Facebook’s head of policy, Monica Bickert about the company’s negligence toward a page known as Milkshakes Against the Republican Party. During the hearing titled “Facebook, Google and Twitter: Examining the Content Filtering Practices of Social Media Giants,” Gaetz asked Bickert to read from two posts that discussed shooting Republicans.
“How many times does a page have to encourage violence against Republican members of Congress at baseball practice before you will ban the page?” Gaetz responded.
Bickert then said that she would follow up with the post. The page is no longer active.
“I am glad Facebook swiftly removed this offensive page; while I unconditionally support the First Amendment, inciting violence against others due to their political affiliation is not Constitutionally-protected speech,” Gaetz said in a statement after the page had been removed.
Dunn, Yoho tapped for Farm Bill conference committee
The House has announced its representatives on the conference committee that will come up with a final version of the Farm Bill (HR 2). Two of those representatives include Republican Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City and Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho.
“I am honored to represent our farmers in Florida and the Second District on the bicameral Farm Bill Conference Committee,” Dunn said in a news release. “We all depend on a thriving agriculture industry and we need to ensure that this Farm Bill works for all of our producers.”
With the Senate’s recent passage of the amended 1,240-page, multibillion-dollar measure, the two chambers will work out the differences and develop a final bill for a vote in both chambers. Among the major differences that require negotiation is the level of reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The House passed the bill in June by a razor-thin margin of 213-211 while the Senate approved it by an overwhelming 86-11 vote.
“I am honored to be one out of 429 House members chosen to participate in the final negotiation of the 2018 Farm Bill,” Yoho said. “Representing the farmers and ranchers of my district and the great state of Florida is a privilege I do not take lightly. We have a unique opportunity to provide certainty and security to the hardworking families who put food on our table every day.
Both Dunn and Yoho are members of the House Agriculture Committee.
DeSantis now has everyone’s attention
When Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis announced he was leaving his safe seat in Congress to run for governor of Florida, few took notice. Even fewer recalled that he was running for the Senate seat held by then-presidential candidate Rubio before he decided to run for re-election, which prompted DeSantis to do the same.
Polls showed current Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam comfortably ahead, but DeSantis had the backing of nationally-known conservative commentators such as Sean Hannity and Mark Levin as well as fellow Judiciary Committee member Matt Gaetz. All have campaigned with DeSantis.
All of a sudden, many more are now paying attention to his effort to win the GOP primary.
DeSantis’ most important backer is Trump, which can be a game-changer in a primary. On Wednesday, Donald Trump, Jr. joined DeSantis for a raucous rally and a later fundraiser in Orlando.
Over the past week, two shock polls show DeSantis with a double-digit lead. The most recent was a survey conducted by GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio showing DeSantis with a 42-30 lead.
“It’s clear this is all about Trump and this is bad for Adam Putnam,” Fabrizio told POLITICO.
Putnam, a former Congressman and part of House leadership, is well-funded and well-organized. He promises to have a strong get-out-the-vote effort and is backed by Attorney General Pam Bondi.
At the same time, his campaign has taken on water from revelations of his department’s mishandling of some concealed weapons permits. and the Democrats are using the issue against Putnam on the campaign trail.
One of the remaining questions for the rest of the campaign is whether Trump will come to Florida for a rally with DeSantis. Both campaigns have diametrically-opposed hopes on whether that will occur.
Challenger Patel outraises Posey in Q2
No one has Florida’s Eighth Congressional District on the radar for an upset, but Republican Rep. Bill Posey’s opponent turned some heads in the second quarter. Democratic challenger Sanjay Patel raised $101,000 over the last three months, besting Posey by more than $30,000.
The positive quarter prompted Patel to declare momentum in a district Republicans have possessed for many years. Patel’s first-quarter report was the best by a Democrat for that district in this century, and the second quarter’s total topped even that.
“I am humbled, honored and inspired by the over 1,000 donors who have now contributed to our efforts, and by the incredible organizations who have endorsed our campaign,” Patel said in a news release. “Together, we will win and work together to make health care a human right for every American, protect our environment, secure the American Dream for working families, and ensure that every kid can get a great education from pre-K through college or trade school without a lifetime of debt.”
He noted that his campaign received more than 1,200 individual contributions in the second quarter averaging $68 per contribution. Patel also stated that 84 percent of the quarter’s donations were from Florida, and 70 percent were from the district, while 65 percent of Posey’s second-quarter take came from political committees.
Despite his second-quarter success, Patel still trails Posey in the money race. He has $160,000 cash on hand, while Posey has $642,000 in the bank. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, publisher of “Crystal Ball,” describes the seat as “safely Republican.”
Crist testifies against tariffs on Canadian paper
As the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Canadian paper products begin to kick in, those affected began to raise their concerns, including the Tampa Bay Times newspaper. Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg took up the Times’ cause, and that of other newspapers, before a hearing conducted by the U.S. International Trade Commission.
“I am deeply concerned with the pending anti-dumping and countervailing duty imposed on uncoated groundwood paper from Canada,” Crist said in his testimony. “The newspaper industry, the largest consumer of uncoated groundwood paper, relies upon this input to provide information to millions of Americans every day.”
Crist echoed the claims of the Times, who the tariffs will increase costs by up to $3 million annually and force further layoffs. The Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash also offered testimony.
Last month, Crist and South Dakota Republican Rep. Kristi Noem introduced the PRINT Act, which would block the new tariffs from taking effect. The bill has nearly 30 co-sponsors from both parties.
“Newspapers are an integral part of our communities, employing our neighbors and keeping us informed,” Crist said when introducing the bill. “It’s encouraging to see bipartisan and bicameral support for protecting local news.”
Following Buchanan request, House committee to probe VA nursing homes
Additional revelations of patient abuse and neglect at U.S. Veterans Affairs nursing homes has prompted more congressional scrutiny. The House Veterans Affairs Committee is investigating the agency after half of the 133 facilities received a failing score from an internal review.
On June 28, Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan from Longboat Key wrote to committee chairman Phil Roe, a Tennessee Republican, urging the committee look into the matter. Buchanan also wrote to the chairman of the Senate VA Committee.
“We need real accountability and transparency at the VA, and every agency employee needs to fulfill their mission of caring for those who have served our country,” Buchanan wrote. “It’s a national disgrace that any veteran should die from negligence. Heads must roll at the VA for those responsible for gross misconduct and negligence.”
In ordering the investigation, Roe said he was “disturbed” by the reports. Buchanan said the investigation must be comprehensive.
“A congressional investigation should leave no stone unturned in finding out how this happened in the first place and how it can be prevented in the future,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan said the fact that Florida had three of the lowest-rated VA nursing homes prompted his letters. While he is not a member of the committee, Florida is represented by Republicans Gus Bilirakis, Neal Dunn, and Brian Mast.
Hastings: newest Dem star could ‘fizzle out’
The upset win in a New York congressional Democratic primary by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rocked the Democratic establishment. She quickly became the star of the party and, to some, a symbol for the future.
Judging from recent news stories, Ocasio-Cortez has been less than humble, That has rubbed many senior Democrats, including Rep. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, the wrong way, saying her bright star could dim.
“Meteors fizzle out,” Hastings said. “What she will learn in this institution is that it’s glacial to begin with, and therefore no matter how far you rise, that’s just how far you will ultimately get your comeuppance.”
Ocasio-Cortez is said to be working against the senior members in trying to get a progressive agenda to move faster. She is also under fire for remarks made on NPR about Israel’s “occupation of Palestine.”
She has endorsed several insurgent candidates around the country, including Chardo Richardson in Florida. Richardson is challenging incumbent Stephanie Murphy in the District 7 race.
“You come up here and you’re going to be buddy-buddy with all the folks or you’re going to make them do certain things?” Hastings said. “Ain’t happening, OK?”
On this day in the headlines
July 20, 1969 — An estimated 530 million people watched Neil Armstrong’s televised image of the first manned trip to the moon, hearing his voice describe the event as “ … one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
July 20, 1985 — Sharon Christa McAuliffe has been named by NASA to be the first private citizen to fly aboard the Space Shuttle. McAuliffe, a 38-year-old social studies teacher from Concord, N.H., made the grade from among 10 elementary and secondary school teachers in a competition that saw more than 10,000 seek the chance to spend a week in space.
During a White House ceremony attended by Vice-President George Bush, McAuliffe choked back tears. She said that when she goes into space aboard the Challenger in January, “there’s going to be 10 souls I’m taking up with me.”
July 20, 1993 — After refusing quiet nudges to resign, embattled FBI Director William Sessions was fired by President Bill Clinton. With a brief telephone call, the president terminated the tenure of Sessions, then later called back to tell him it was effective immediately.
Clinton said later in the day that it was “time this difficult period in the agency’s history is brought to a close.” Clinton is expected to name former FBI agent Louis Freeh to replace Sessions.