Re-election races bringing out ‘bipartisanship’
This week, two issues began to break through the fog of personal “collusion” between Stormy Daniels and President Donald Trump, as well as the still unproven “collusion between Trump and Russia. Both issues involve some bipartisanship, but tough re-election battles have placed two prominent Floridians at the center of the action.
The first issue surrounds the confirmation of CIA Director nominee Gina Haspel. On Wednesday, she earned a positive bipartisan referral from the Senate Intelligence Committee with a 10-5 vote, sending her nomination to the Senate floor.
Despite the announced defection of Arizona Republicans Jeff Flake and John McCain, along with Rand Paul of Kentucky, Haspel was confirmed on Thursday by a 54-45 vote. Those defections were more than offset by the support of a handful of Democrats representing red or purple states.
Among those was Bill Nelson, who announced his support on Tuesday. Nelson, in a tough re-election fight with Gov. Rick Scott, said: “the brave men and women who work at the CIA deserve a career professional, like her, to lead them.”
After attacks from Scott’s campaign that called Nelson a party line guy, the reason for the three-term Democrat’s support is obvious. At the same time, he runs some risk that his Democratic base will have a hard time swallowing a seat-saving vote.
In an AP story titled “Confirmation vote for CIA chief brings out Democratic rift,” a spokeswoman for a liberal activist group said any Democrat voting for Haspel is “a vote they’re going to have to explain for a long time to come.”
The far left may also want Nelson to explain his being one of only five Democrats to vote for the confirmation of Mike Pompeo as the new Secretary of State. In addition, he was criticized by liberal activists in January for voting to end the brief government shutdown without a fix for undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers.
While Democrats are in a rift over Haspel, DREAMers are creating a schism within House Republicans. A prominent Florida Republican is at the center of an effort to force a vote on DACA, which would legalize this group of immigrants.
In a story published in The Hill titled GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team, House Speaker Paul Ryan is trying to fend off an intraparty insurgency trying to force a vote on DACA.
Three weeks ago, Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo was not even a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, but has since signed on and is now a leader in the effort to get 25 Republican signatures on a discharge petition that would force a vote on that bill and three others.
Curbelo is classified as one of the more endangered Republicans in 2018, which helps explain his decision to take on his party leadership in a big way. According to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, if the discharge petition goes forward, Republicans could lose the majority in the fall. Leadership is working on an alternative plan.
“Clearly we have had a positive impact on leadership and on this institution because now this issue is being taken seriously,” Curbelo told reporters following a Wednesday meeting in Ryan’s office. “We have our plan, we’re sticking to it, but we’re willing to see what theirs looks like.”
As of Thursday, Curbelo and his allies had 20 Republican signatures. If five more sign on and all Democrats join, the four competing DACA bills will be forced onto the floor.
If that happens, some real incumbent protection will break out. Stay tuned.
Nelson applauds Senate vote on net neutrality
On Wednesday, the Senate voted to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to repeal net neutrality rules. The 52-47 vote was as narrow and partisan, percentage-wise, as the commission’s 3-2 vote in December.
This was good news to Nelson, who has long railed against the FCC for even contemplating such action. He said the rules had been established for a reason. Before the vote, he addressed Senators from the Senate floor on the need to repeal.
“The public understands how vital it is to have a free and open internet,” Nelson said. “They do not want to have websites blocked or internet access slowed. And they certainly don’t want internet providers making these decisions.”
The House is not expected to take up the repeal, meaning the Senate vote will have no lasting impact. Democrats are hoping at least for some political gain.
Many Americans do not understand what net neutrality means, but younger voters, who spend far more time on the internet than older voters, know more about what is at stake. Democrats are counting on this being an issue that will help drive millennials to the polls.
Rubio goes after State Department nominee
More than 6 months after her nomination as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, Susan Thornton is yet to be confirmed. If Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has his way, she never will be.
Reports are emerging that Thornton’s nomination is in trouble and could be withdrawn. She is coming under fire for taking conciliatory positions on China, something sure to draw the ire of Rubio, who has indicated he plans to place an indefinite hold on her in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“During the confirmation hearing and in written answers, the current nominee obfuscated or evaded when answering important questions about her troubling record of undermining America’s allies like Taiwan, failing to stand up to China’s efforts to impose its authoritarian will beyond its borders, including in the United States, downplaying human rights abuses in China, and favoring smooth relations with Beijing over a bilateral relationship grounded in reciprocity and reality,” Rubio told the Washington Free Beacon.
On Thursday, things got worse when reports surfaced Thornton was responding to North Korean threats to pull out of the summit with Trump by indicating a partial surrender of nuclear weapons would be sufficient to keep progress going. Rubio was having none of that.
“She is in Tokyo undermining (Trump) by advocating for partial surrender for partial surrender of nukes is unacceptable,” Rubio said.
If Rubio was ready to put a hold on her nomination over China, he made it clear late Thursday that her chance to be confirmed had all but disappeared.
“This is why I will do all I can to prevent Susan Thornton from ever being confirmed as Asst. Secretary of State for E. Asian & Pacific Affairs,” he tweeted.
Calls among other Republicans for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to pull her nomination are likely to grow.
Delegation Democrats call Scott to take action on health care
Florida Democrats are bringing health care back into the 2018 campaign season by calling on Scott to use his authority to increase access to coverage for Floridians that have lost, or will lose, health coverage due to rising costs.
In a letter to Scott, led by Kathy Castor of Tampa and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton signed by all 11 House Democrats and Nelson, they point to six areas where the governor can take action that does not directly involve expanding Medicaid. The lawmakers are anticipating the announcement in the coming weeks of insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that may put health coverage out of reach for many Floridians.
“There are a number of actions at the state level that you can take to help increase health coverage and increase the affordability of care for families that will mitigate the harm and higher costs facilitated by Republicans in Washington,” they wrote. “We urge you to work to implement some or all of these options to help ensure stability and lower costs for our neighbors.”
They pointed out that 1.7 million Floridians are enrolled in health care through exchanges under the ACA, with 9 out of 10 of those receiving assistance to pay premiums. They closed the letter with a pledge to work with Scott and “thank you for your consideration.”
Wednesday a big day for Rutherford
Wednesday was a busy day for the first-term Republican from Jacksonville. Not only did Rutherford get a high-profile bill passed in the House, he was appointed to one of the chamber’s high-profile committees as well.
The Protect and Serve Act, sponsored by Rutherford and co-sponsored by Orlando Democrat Val Demings and Panama City Republican Neal Dunn, increases penalties for those who target law enforcement officers for injury or death.
On the House floor, Rutherford noted 87 law enforcement officers have been shot this year, 28 fatally.
“For this reason, I introduced bipartisan legislation with my good friend and former Orlando Police Chief, Representative Val Demings, that will ensure that there are the strongest possible penalties for anyone who decides to target and harm not only federal law enforcement officers but also local and state officers.”
The bill passed the House by a large bipartisan majority of 382-35. Among the delegation, only Democrats Alcee Hastings and Lois Frankel voted against it.
Earlier on Wednesday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican, announced Rutherford’s appointment to the committee. He currently serves on the Veterans Affairs, Judiciary, and Homeland Security Committee.
“With the retirement of one of our great Subcommittee Chairmen, Charlie Dent, we needed to bring a new Member on board, and have made additional changes in Subcommittee leadership as well,” Frelinghuysen said. “We welcome Rep. John Rutherford to the Committee, and I look forward to working closely with him over the next weeks and months to complete all 12 Appropriations bills in the House, and to fulfill our fiscal commitments to the country and the American people.”
Biden weighs in with CD 6 endorsement
Earlier this week, Democratic Congressional hopeful Nancy Soderberg received her biggest endorsement to date. As she tries to win the nomination in District 6, Soderberg was endorsed by former Vice-President Joe Biden.
Biden said he is supporting Soderberg after knowing her for 30 years, dating back to her service as a staffer in the Senate. He also pointed to her service in the White House and the State Department as an Ambassador to the United Nations.
“I’m supporting Nancy because she’s a problem solver, and will fight for the values of the 6th District: growing the middle class, creating jobs you can raise a family on, ensuring every family has access to affordable health care and every child can get an affordable education,” Biden said. “She has the knowledge and experience to make a difference and get things done for the people of the 6th District.”
Soderberg has one plausible Democratic opponent in the primary, making Biden’s support a big plus among intraparty voters.
“I am honored to have the support of Vice-President Biden, who has dedicated his life to standing up for American men, women and children,” Soderberg said in a statement.
Soderberg has raised nearly $1 million and had $595,000 cash on hand as of March 31. Her primary opponent, Stephen Sevigny, has $227,000 on hand.
The winner will likely face either John Ward or Michael Waltz, both well-funded, in the general election. District 6 is a GOP-leaning district currently represented by Republican Ron DeSantis of Marineland, who is leaving the seat to run for governor.
Soto nabs endorsement of civil rights icon
A civil rights legend has weighed in on the District 8 Democratic primary between former Rep. Alan Grayson and first-term incumbent Darren Soto. Georgia Democrat John Lewis revealed on Thursday he is backing Soto, calling Soto “a champion of civil rights.”
“Darren Soto is exactly the kind of leader we need in our country today,” Lewis said in a statement. “He brings a passion for fairness, justice, and equality for all. Against a tide of hatred, Darren knows that only love can save our country,”
Lewis was one of the leaders of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and has served in Congress since 1987. He called Soto a “rising star.”
“He has my full support and I hope the people of Central Florida will send him back to Congress because we need him,” Lewis said.
The winner of the Soto-Grayson primary will face Republican businessman Wayne Liebnitzky.
Mast joins Veterans Affairs Committee
Last week, rumors circulated that Palm City Republican Brian Mast was under consideration to be the new Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). A “White House official” confirmed Mast was under consideration to lead the agency with 360,000 employees serving 9 million veterans.
That now seems unlikely because, on Wednesday, Mast was tapped for a seat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He will continue to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee as well as the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“Brian is already a tireless advocate for veterans, and — as a veteran himself — is keenly aware of the challenges our nation’s heroes face,” said committee chairman Phil Roe, a Tennessee Republican. “Representative Mast will be an excellent addition to the committee, and I look forward to working with him to reform VA.”
While not serving on the committee during his first 16 months, Mast has been active in issues involving veterans. He has been involved in the Warriors Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members who have served in combat.
On Thursday, caucus members welcomed acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to Washington, where they met to discuss ways to improve service to veterans. They also discussed the bipartisan VA MISSION Act of 2018, which passed overwhelmingly Wednesday.
“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to serve our veterans on the Veterans Affairs Committee,” Mast said in a news release. “Our first-of-its-kind office in the West Palm Beach VA has resulted in more than 100 new cases that we’re taking a look at to help veterans in our community, and being on this committee will give me an even better platform to advocate for my fellow veterans.”
Diaz-Balart touts Everglades funding in water project appropriations
The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a $44.7 billion funding bill that would provide significant funding for the Everglades and Florida water-related projects. Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, a senior member of the committee, could not be happier.
With the committee’s approval of the 2019 Energy and Water Development funding bill, projects within the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan totaling $67.5 million would receive federal funding. Another $96 million would go toward funding necessary repairs on the Herbert Hoover Dike on Lake Okeechobee.
“The Everglades is the heart of the Sunshine State’s ecosystem, and we must do everything we can to preserve it for future generations,” said Diaz-Balart in a news release. “Not only will these projects sustain the Everglades and the tourism it supports, but it will also protect Floridians’ access to clean drinking water and mitigate against future floods.”
The bill provides $200 million for flood and storm damage reduction, along with another $140 million for maintenance and improvements for Florida waterways.
Other delegation members on the committee are Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney and Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.
Shalala Center will be minus one Shalala on Saturday
While some Congressional races garner more news than others, District 27 covering Miami is getting a lot of attention this week. The biggest news involves a Democratic debate scheduled for Saturday.
In one of those you-can’t-make-this-up moments, the scheduled debate is slated for the Donna E. Shalala Student Center on the campus of the University of Miami. Most of the contenders will be there with the exception of Donna Shalala.
This will mark the second consecutive debate the former Clinton Administration official and president of the University of Miami has missed. She skipped another debate Tuesday night to attend a film screening.
“Donna ‘No-Show’ Shalala is consistently disrespecting the people of this district by missing these debates, especially one at a building named after her,” said state Rep. David Richardson, one of her opponents. “Donna Shalala says she’ll be ‘ready on day one,’ but she is not even ready to debate the other candidates. This is not how elections should be run.”
Shalala, who pledged to attend a July debate, dominated a February poll where most respondents were unfamiliar with the other candidates.
One of the candidates who is attending the debates, has another issue besides Shalala. Kristen Rosen Gonzalez has been accused of defamation for public comments she made last year.
Last fall, Rosen Gonzalez accused former Miami Beach Commission candidate Rafael Velasquez of exposing himself to her. He confirmed the lawsuit this week.
More than a dozen candidates from both parties are running to succeed retiring Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
It’s infrastructure week (again), and some trade groups across the nation are asking for something unique from Washington: money for park maintenance projects.
In a Tuesday letter to Congress, 12 Florida trade groups joined a national coalition of 40 organizations asking members to dedicate funding to the National Park Service’s $11.6 billion maintenance backlog. The ask comes as White House officials and Congress consider a nationwide infrastructure spending plan.
“Rebuilding and fixing the National Park System will help to employ thousands of American workers, support continued tourism and economic development in hundreds of park gateway communities, and ensure that our national treasures are preserved for generations to come,” the letter reads.
Don’t take their word for it: A study commissioned in 2017 found that investing in maintenance projects could create or support more than 2,467 jobs in Florida, and 110,169 jobs nationwide.
Numbers talk: The more than 10 million visitors to park sites in the Sunshine State in 2017 spent $613 million in nearby areas.
Signatories include: The Florida chapters of the American Institute of Architects, American Planning Association and American Society of Landscape Architects, along with the Asphalt Contractors Association of Florida, Inc., Associated Builders & Contractors, the Florida Engineering Society, Florida Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association, Florida Surveying and Mapping Society, Florida Transportation Builders Association, National Association of Women in Construction of Greater Palm Beaches, National Association of Women in Construction – Tampa Chapter #36, and the Suncoast Utility Contractors Association.
On this day in the headlines
May 18, 2001 — President George W. Bush released a blueprint plan that calls for the U.S. to find and develop new sources of energy. The plan prompted fears of new oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coast.
Democratic Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa said if the administration seeks to move oil rigs closer to the coast, “they have a huge fight on their hands.” Republican Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young of St. Petersburg said, “There will be a bit of a battle if there is an attempt to rescind the Florida moratorium” on drilling.
May 18, 2011 — The vehicle that will usher the shuttle program into retirement was given a rock star-like escort in Cape Canaveral. Flanked by hundreds of Kennedy Space Center workers and led by its four-man crew, shuttle Atlantis made a final trip from its processing hangar to the vehicle assembly building.
The crew and KSC employees took their time admiring the last shuttle that will fly in orbit. The shuttle program will officially end following the mid-July mission.