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Florida Democratic Gala draws big stage, love fest for gubernatorial hopefuls

With another fourteen months to go before Florida Democrats choose their gubernatorial nominee, the most talked-about potential candidate wasn’t at the Leadership Blue Gala, one of the Party’s biggest events.

And he won’t decide if he’ll even run until (maybe) next year.

Nevertheless, Saturday afternoon’s forum in Hollywood — between Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King — was the biggest stage this year for grassroots Democrats to evaluate who might best be the one to end the 20-year exile from the governor’s mansion.

The FDP’s Leadership Blue Gala, taking place at the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, was a “forum,” not a debate, emphasized Progressive Caucus Chair Susan Smith.

However, it became a veritable love fest (literally) between the three candidates.

“I love you,” Graham told Gillum at one point, before looking at King and saying that while she doesn’t know him as well, she loved him as well.

Graham enters the race as the candidate with the best name recognition; throughout the nearly 90-minute event, she separated herself as the public-education candidate.

“The education industry is rigged against our students,” Graham said. “After almost 20 years of Republican rule and under Rick Scott, Tallahassee has sold out our schools to the highest bidder. As governor, I will end high-stakes testing, end degrading school grades and end the lottery shell game. We’ll finally pay teachers what they deserve and make sure every student has an opportunity at success, no matter where they come from or where they live,” Graham said after the forum.

Gillum has been the most electric candidate on the circuit. A dynamic public speaker with a compelling personal story, the 37-year-old Tallahassee Mayor is staking himself out as the progressive choice.

“Can a progressive, whose values reflect in my opinion the majority of us win?” Gillum asked the audience. “In my opinion, it’s the only way we win, is by bringing those folks out to the ballot by telling them that we stand for them, too.”

King proved most interesting on Saturday, perhaps because it was his biggest stage yet for his nascent campaign.

“In my opinion,” he said, “I have double the burden to try to prove that I not only belong here, but that I can earn your trust as your next governor.” King then acknowledged he doesn’t have many long-standing relationships with political officials.

As the creator of the Elevation Financial Group, King developed a consortium of companies specializing in real estate investment, property management and property renovation. He talks relentlessly about how the state needs more affordable housing, chastising Republicans in Tallahassee for raiding the state’s affordable housing trust fund. “To

“To me, that is an attack on working families, it’s an attack on teachers, it’s an attack on law enforcement,” he said. “That is something the day that I’m elected governor.”

Gilliam spoke most passionately about the less fortunate: “We can’t focus our education system and improving the outcomes of our kids if the only jobs we’re creating in this state are low-wage jobs.”

“I’m for a higher minimum wage, I’m for the ‘Fight for $15,'” he continued, adding what the people really want is a working for a wage with dignity.

At one point, moderator Keith Fitzgerald asked the candidates what they felt is the biggest challenge facing Florida, the country and the world.

In her response, Graham name-checked the president, getting one of the night’s biggest cheers.

“The biggest challenge we have facing the United States without question is Donald Trump,” and that he was the biggest challenge facing the entire world, as well.

None of the candidates differed on core Democratic principles if elected governor, such as calling for the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons, banning fracking and expanding Medicaid, but that may not be an option depending on what happens with the American Health Care Act in Washington D.C.

One interesting development occurred during the last question of the afternoon: Do the candidates support an open primary voting system, which would allow Republicans to vote in Democratic Party primaries and vice versa?

Party traditionalists frown on such a tactic, but Gillum and King enthusiastically embraced the idea.

Graham said she preferred a “Jungle Primary,” an election where candidates for the same elected office, regardless of respective political party, run against each other at once, instead of being segregated by political party.

Absent from Saturday’s was attorney and entrepreneur John Morgan, who has said he won’t make a decision about running for governor until 2018.


Rick Scott: hope for a free Cuba better for Florida than current thaw

Readying to join President Donald Trump in Miami Friday for the president’s expected reinstitution of economic sanctions on Cuba, Florida Gov. Rick Scott indicated in Orlando Friday morning that he is ready to support such a move.

At a jobs announcement in Orlando, Scott said he’s convinced the long-term economic advantage of democracy and economic freedom in Cuba is preferable for Florida to any business opportunities and other relationships opening due to the thaw and lifting of economic sanctions that President Barack Obama initiated.

“I’m going to fight for Cuban families to have freedom,” Scott said. “Long-term, that’s good for every Cuban family that’s come here.”

Scott would not respond to press inquiries allowing that Cuba’s regime had survived more than 50 years of strict U.S. sanctions without moving to democracy, and wondering Trump’s vision might be different from that long-standing U.S. policy. Scott said he was looking forward to hearing what the president proposes.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with President Trump to let him know about the importance of democracy and freedom in Cuba. He’s known that all along,” Scott said. “I look forward to hearing exactly what he’s going to say today. I believe it is something that is going to push democracy and freedom.”

Scott insisted Obama’s policy didn’t work. He cited Cuban President Raul Castro‘s human rights crackdowns over the past two years, including almost daily arrests and detainments of the “Ladies in White” protesters. Scott did not directly respond to questions about whether he thought the Obama policy had helped Florida businesses, or improved situations in which Cuba was cooperating on such matters as human trafficking.

“Barack Obama capitulated. Raul Castro hasn’t changed. He’s gotten worse,” Scott said.

“The reality in this: more democracy in Latin America means more jobs in Florida, whether that’s through our ports, or whether that’s through people doing business here… we need more democracy,” he added.


Darryl Paulson: Will Donald Trump be dumped? Part III — Impeachment

The first article in this series looked at the possibility of removing Donald Trump through the 25th Amendment and it concluded there was virtually no chance of that happening. The next article looked at the Constitutional Convention and the debate over whether or not impeachment should be part of the constitution. It also looked at the process that Congress created, as well as the three attempts to impeach and remove presidents.

This article examines whether or not there is a likelihood that President Trump will be impeached. If so, what would be the grounds for impeachment and what is the likelihood of impeaching and removing the president?

If President Trump is impeached, the most likely grounds for impeachment would be obstruction of justice, which was the primary ground for impeaching President Richard Nixon. The charge was that Nixon “obstructed and impeded the administration of justice.”

Just as Nixon fired Special Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Comey and the FBI were investigating the ties of fired National Security Adviser to the Russians, as well as Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

During private conversations between the president and Comey, Trump asked Comey if he could drop the investigation of Flynn. Is this impeachable? It depends on whether Trump was politely asking Comey to drop the investigation, or was he ordering him to drop the investigation. A polite request is not impeachable; a command may well be impeachable.

A second major allegation against Trump is that he has used his office to financially benefit his businesses. After becoming president, membership fees at the Mar-a-Lago resort were doubled to $200,000. Trump was spent many weekends at the resort. Are the increased fees an attempt to profit from his position as president?

Rates at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, just several blocks from the White House, have increased substantially since Trump won the election. The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution prohibits the president from profiting from his position as president.

A third possible charge might be that Trump did not “faithfully execute” his duties as president. Trump’s giving Russian officials intelligence information in the Oval Office put the lives of intelligence agents in jeopardy according to many defense department and intelligence officials.

Another possible charge is the intimidation of potential witnesses. After asking Director Comey to halt the investigation of Michael Flynn in a private conversation in the Oval Office, Trump then threatened Comey by saying, “He better hope there are no tapes of that meeting.”

Others have raised concerns about Trump’s attacks on the judiciary, violating the establishment of religion clause by his Muslim travel ban, and his attacks on the press for being the “enemy of the people.”

If Trump is impeached, his supporters would contend that it was nothing more than a Democratic Party attempt to subvert the will of the people as expressed in the 2016 election results. The idea of a “constitutional coup” overturning the election results is a powerful argument.

The likelihood of impeachment depends on many factors. The more serious the offense, the more likely the president will be impeached. Anything considered to be a “high crime or misdemeanor” raises the chance for impeachment.

A second factor is the president’s popularity. A popular president is far less likely to be impeached. This is a problem area for Trump. He assumed office with historically low approval ratings and they have continued to plummet. His current approval rate is only 36 percent.

A third factor is the president’s relationship with Congress. Trump has won few Democratic friends, but he has also alienated many Republicans. Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank, contends that only 50 to 100 House Republicans are true Trump supporters. “The balance sees him as somewhere between a deep and dangerous embarrassment and a threat to the Constitution.”

A final factor impacting impeachment is the party control of Congress. Republicans control both the House and Senate. Even if the House votes to impeach, which is not likely at this point, it would still require two-thirds of the Senate to remove Trump. This means that 19 of the 52 Republican senators would have to join all 48 Democrats in order to get the necessary two-thirds vote.

How likely is it that 19 Republicans will vote to remove the president? Based on prior history, the chance is zero. How many senators of the president’s party have voted to remove their president? None!

If Democrats win control of the House in 2018, the odds for impeachment dramatically change. It would then be surprising if Trump is not impeached.

In the end, what is most likely is that Republicans will denounce Trump’s behavior, much like Sen. Joe Lieberman denounced Bill Clinton‘s disgusting conduct in the Monica Lewinsky affair?

While denouncing Trump’s conduct, most Republicans will likely justify his behavior by saying he is a newcomer to politics and is unaware of the rules of the game.

At best, Trump critics can hope that Trump will follow the Nixon option. After constant criticism of his character and behavior, Trump will resign rather than face four years of humiliation and frustration.

Then again, Trump has said he has never prayed for forgiveness of his mistakes, so don’t hold your breath waiting for him to see the light.


Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

For Jacksonville, Donald Trump means White House access

President Donald Trump barely carried Duval County in 2016. Yet, for Jacksonville power brokers, the Trump era has meant access to the White House.

The most recent manifestation of that was just this week, as a JAX Chamber delegation was received by one of the more important people in Trump’s orbit: Omarosa Manigault.

Manigault has a Jacksonville connection. She recently married Pastor John Newman, and she is spending many weekends here in Duval County. (Newman was also at the White House event).

Manigault organized the event, also, which had a significant guest appearance: Kellyanne Conway, the omnipresent campaign spox for Candidate Trump who now helps with messaging from inside.

The event would have had more star power: VP Mike Pence, who came to Jacksonville this year selling health care reform, had planned on being there, but the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise saw an alteration in plans.

Conway knew her audience and spoke specifically to them, lauding the size and the visibility of the Chamber, and signalling a commitment to the long-awaited river dredging for JaxPort — with federal money, sought since 2003, finally reaching the project.

“Jacksonville is better positioned now with the White House than we’ve been in a long time,” said one source who was inside the room.

Receptions are nice. But reality is nicer.

Marty Fiorentino, of the Fiorentino Group, has done significant work already with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao — a relationship worth its weight in gold as Jacksonville’s crumbling infrastructure may get a restorative reprieve from the Trumpian infrastructure plan.

Susie Wiles, as campaign chair during the stretch run, arguably won Florida for Trump, rescuing a Sunshine State operation that couldn’t get out of its own way. The President and his staff won’t forget that.

Fiorentino, Wiles, Manigault: no one would have predicted that troika as having a direct line to the Executive Branch in 2016, when Trump’s political obituary was written daily as he battled Hillary Clinton.

And compared to last year’s White House reception, which our source saw as pro forma, Jacksonville representatives received a lot more enthusiasm from the Trump staff than the Barack Obama staff.

This comes just days after Jacksonville’s Mayor, Lenny Curry, made his own visit to D.C. for the White House Infrastructure Summit — accompanied by an ally of singular importance to Curry and Trump both, Florida Governor/Senator-in-waiting Rick Scott.

Curry met with staffers and Cabinet Secretaries, making the case for the JaxPort dredge, and taking the opportunity to talk about specifics with actual people in person, rather than through a proposal on paper.

Curry had been on conference calls with White House officials before, but this level of access to the White House is new.

“Relationships are evolving,” Curry said.

Two meaningful events in fewer than seven days equal one very big signal that Jacksonville has a unique opportunity on the federal level in the Trump/Pence Administration.

Darryl Paulson: Will Donald Trump be dumped? Part II — The Constitutional debate

In my recent op-ed, I examined the possibility of removing President Donald Trump through the 25th Amendment. That amendment allows for the president to be removed if the vice president and a majority of the cabinet find the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

This option is highly unlikely to succeed.

Impeachment is the more likely problem confronting Trump, although the chances of success are minimal at this time.

Impeachment and the Constitutional Convention.

On July 20, 1787, delegates at the Constitutional Convention raised the issue of impeachment of a sitting president. The debate was heated.

Charles Pinckney of South Carolina moved to strike impeachment from the Constitution. Pinckney contended that elections would hold the president accountable.

George Mason of Virginia asked, “Shall any man be above Justice?” Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania moved that the impeachable offenses be enumerated and defined.

James Madison of Virginia listed possible impeachable offenses. “He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers.” Many Trump critics see him guilty of the last charge.

Pinckney and Rufus King of Massachusetts worried that impeachment would jeopardize the independence of the president. Eldridge Gerry of Massachusetts countered that “A good magistrate will not fear them (Congress). A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.”

The delegates at the Constitutional Convention gave the House the authority to bring articles of impeachment by majority vote. Impeachment, in contrast to the public perception, does not mean removal from office. It only means a majority of the House believes there are grounds for the Senate to hold hearings on whether or not to remove the president from office. General offenses included treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors.

Presidential Impeachments.

Andrew Johnson, a Democrat who assumed the presidency after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, was bitterly distrusted by the Radical Republicans who dominated Congress. Johnson, a Tennessean, was viewed as too sympathetic to the South.

Johnson’s problems escalated after Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act in 1867, which required the president to get Senate approval before firing a cabinet officer. Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton without seeking Senate approval.

The House voted to impeach Johnson. After a three-month trial in the Senate, the Senate fell one vote short of the necessary two-thirds needed to remove the president. The vote was 35 to 19 in favor of removing Johnson, and seven Republicans voted to acquit.

Over a century later, President Richard Nixon, who won a landslide victory over Democrat George McGovern in 1972, fell victim to the Watergate scandal. The scandal involved the effort of members of the president’s re-election team to break into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex.

Although Nixon denied any knowledge of the break-in, it later became known that the president had tapes of all the conversations in the Oval Office. The House brought articles of impeachment against the president and the primary charge was obstructing justice.

During hearings by the Senate Watergate Committee, a number of Nixon aides gave damning testimony about the president’s involvement. After nine months, President Nixon became the first president to resign rather than face removal by the Senate. On Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon wrote that “I hereby resign the office of President of the United States.”

During the Bill Clinton administration, an investigation into Arkansas land dealings by the Clintons while he was governor, ultimately led to his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

During the Senate hearings on whether to remove the president, his attorneys argued that Clinton was the victim of a partisan attempt to remove him from office for having consensual sex with Lewinsky. However abhorrent his personal conduct, the issue was not an impeachable offense.

The public agreed and attacked Republicans for wasting time and money on trying to remove the president. Clinton is the only president to face impeachment and see his personal popularity rise. His approval rating climbed to over 70 percent, and the Senate fell far short of the two-thirds vote necessary to remove him from office.

Part III Forthcoming:  Will Trump be Dumped? Impeachment


Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg specializing in Florida Politics and elections.

Sharon Day nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica

President Donald Trump is nominating Sharon Day, a former Republican National Committee co-chair from Fort Lauderdale, to be his ambassador to Costa Rica.

Day recently stepped down from her role at the RNC, a position she held since 2011.

She’s served on the Executive Committee of the Broward County Republican Party since 1994, and in 1996 was elected as state committeewoman for the Broward County Republican Party.

Speaking at the Republican Party of Florida’s spring quarterly meeting in Tampa in late April, Day informed the audience that she had been offered a position within the Trump administration. She didn’t elaborate at the time, but did say: “We have gone through more vetting, and they know more about me than I know about me.”

Day gave a spirited defense of the Trump administration in that speech, saying that as proud Republicans they needed to talk up and support the president wherever they went, including at grocery stores or church.

Meanwhile, the fate of another Florida Republican rumored to be getting an ambassadorial post remains unresolved at this time.

Since January, it’s been speculated that Miami Republican Carlos Trujillo will be chosen by the administration for a potential ambassadorship to Argentina or Panama.

However, those positions — as is the case with dozens of other ambassador posts — remain unfilled at this time.

Progressive groups sue over Rick Scott’s judicial appointment power

When Gov. Rick Scott appointed a conservative jurist to the state’s Supreme Court in December, he made clear he wasn’t done.

“I will appoint three more justices the morning I finish my term,” he said, referring to the mandatory retirement in early 2019 of the court’s liberal-leaning triumvirate of Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy A. Quince and R. Fred Lewis.

Now, two progressive organizations are saying to Scott: Prove you can. They say he can’t.

The League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and Common Cause on Wednesday sued Scott in the Supreme Court, saying he doesn’t have the power to name their successors—only the governor elected after Scott does.

They filed a petition for “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.

The upshot of their argument is that Scott can’t replace the justices in question because he’ll be out of office earlier on the same day all three retire, and their terms last till midnight.

“The Florida Constitution prohibits a governor from making a prospective appointment of an appellate judge to an existing seat before that seat becomes vacant,” the writ argues.

It adds: “A prompt, final decision on this pure question of constitutional law … would preempt cynical complaints by anyone dissatisfied with the decision that the case was contaminated by political considerations.”

“Our office has not officially received the suit,” said Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis, declining comment.

Scott’s addition of former appellate judge C. Alan Lawson to the bench created a three-judge conservative minority, including Justices Ricky Polston and Charles Canady, whose name was on a list of then-GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump‘s “potential Supreme Court picks.”

Assuming the Republican Scott appoints three more conservatives in 2019, the seven-justice court could tilt 6-1 to the right, with current Chief Justice Jorge Labarga remaining. His mandatory retirement is in 2023.

“The Florida Constitution establishes a mandatory retirement age for justices that occurs on or after their 70th birthdays,” the court’s website explains.

Three more conservative judges may well be appointed anyway, even if left to the next governor: Florida hasn’t chosen a Democrat for the Governor’s Mansion since Lawton Chiles was re-elected in 1994.

The lawsuit, however, sticks to a “constitutional question that has plagued this State for decades: When a judicial seat opens on a Florida appellate court due to an expired term coinciding with the election of a new governor, whom does our Constitution authorize to appoint the successor, the outgoing governor or the newly elected governor?”

In December 1998, days before Chiles died in office, he and then Gov.-elect Jeb Bush, a Republican, avoided a crisis by jointly appointing Quince to the court to replace Ben F. Overton.

In 2014, lawmakers placed a proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot, backed by Republican state Sen. Tom Lee, that would have given Scott the power to name the new justices. But it failed to gain the required 60 percent approval.

“There may be many reasons voters rejected the amendment, there can be no doubt one reason was that a newly-elected governor is not only more accountable, but also better represents the will of the people who just voted than someone elected four years ago,” the writ says.

Ultimately, Scott “lacks authority because the expiring judicial terms run through the last second of the evening of January 8, 2019, by which time his successor will have begun his or her term or, alternatively, if the vacancies occurred earlier in the day, his successor’s term still will have already begun by that time,” it says.

“… (I)f any ambiguity existed in our constitutional scheme, it should be resolved in favor of allowing the incoming governor, who best represents the will of the people, to fill judicial vacancies arising the same day he or she is set to take office.”

The plaintiffs also include LWVF President Pamela Goodman, former LWVF president Deirdre Macnab, and Liza McClenaghan, the state chair of Common Cause Florida. They’re represented by Tallahassee attorneys John S. Mills and Thomas D. Hall, a former Clerk of the Florida Supreme Court.

Rick Scott: No hard feelings between him and Richard Corcoran

Chalk it up to “passion.” Or politics.

Gov. Rick Scott, speaking to reporters after a Wednesday bill signing, explained away the open tension between him and House Speaker Richard Corcoran after the House this year tried to gut VISIT FLORIDA and do away with economic development organization Enterprise Florida, his two favored state agencies.

By the end of the recent Special Session, however, lawmakers agreed to the creation of an $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund to be controlled by Scott, full funding for tourism marketing, and $50 million to help kick-start repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee.

That deal is said to be in return for Scott’s approval of a controversial education funding policy bill (HB 7069), pushed by the House, that critics say slights traditional public schools in favor of privately-managed charter schools. Scott says he’s still “reviewing” that bill.

“What’s great is that people have passion for what they believe in,” he said. “I know the Speaker has passion for what he believes in; I have passion for what I believe in. Both of us went out there and tried to explain to others (our positions) … but we came together for what is a win for our state.”

Scott in fact went to the districts of House members who supported Corcoran’s plan to defund the agencies and more or less publicly shamed them.

Cut to this week, when Corcoran joined Scott on a “victory tour” to several cities to “celebrate the major wins for Florida families and students during (the) legislative Special Session.”

“I’m proud of the fact we’re able to fully fund VISIT FLORIDA; I’m proud of the fact we have this new development tool, $85 million that’s going to work to get more jobs here; I’m proud that we’re going to partner with the (Donald) Trump administration to help finish the dike,” he said.

Scott was at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to sign a bill (SB 7022) “which provides pay raises for Florida’s sworn state law enforcement officers, correctional officers and state employees,” according to a press release.

“… I’m glad the Speaker believed in all those things and we went to five cities to celebrate that success,” Scott added.

As far as any fight next year for business incentives, which Corcoran calls “corporate welfare,” Scott said he’ll decide then—his last year in office. He’s term limited in 2018.

Till then, “I’m going to keep working hard to get more jobs … I’ll use the tools that we have to call on companies … and I think it’s going to work,” he said.

Top House GOP leader shot at congressional baseball practice

A top House Republican, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, was shot Wednesday at a congressional baseball practice just outside of Washington, officials said. Several other people were also believed to have been hit, according to a lawmaker who witnessed the shooting.

Scalise, the House majority whip, was in stable condition at George Washington University Hospital, according to one congressional aide. His injuries were not believed to be life-threatening.

President Donald Trump said he was “deeply saddened by this tragedy” and was monitoring developments.

The shooting occurred at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, where lawmakers and others were gathered for a morning practice. Alexandria police said a suspect was taken into custody and “not a threat.”

Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Mich., said Scalise was at second base when he was shot.

“I was looking right at him,” Bishop told Detroit radio station WWJ. “He was a sitting duck.”

Rep. Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican, said two law enforcement officers were believed to be among the others shot.

Brooks said that Scalise, 51, was down on the ground with what Brooks described as “a hip wound.” The Alabama lawmaker said he colleague “crawled into the outfield, leaving a trail of blood.”

“We started giving him the liquids, I put pressure on his wound in his hip,” Brooks said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan‘s office said Scalise’s wounds were not believed to be life-threatening and that a member of the security detail was also shot.

Scalise is the No. 3 House Republican leader. He was first elected to the House in 2008 after serving in the state legislature.

Katie Filous was walking her two dogs near the field when she heard “a lot of shots, probably more than 20.” She said the shooting “went on for quite a while.”

Filous said she saw the shooter hit a uniformed law enforcement officer, who she said was later evacuated by helicopter. She said the officer had gotten out of a parked car, drawn a handgun and shouted something to the gunman, who then fired.

Rep. Jeff Duncan said in a statement that he was at the practice and “saw the shooter.”

“Please pray for my colleagues,” Duncan said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

VA reform bill backed by Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson headed to Donald Trump

A bill to reform the Department of Veterans of Affairs is heading to President Donald Trump, after the U.S. House of Representatives approved it this week.

The House voted 368-55 on Tuesday to approve the the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, gives the VA secretary the authority to fire and demote employees. It also adds protections for whistleblowers, by prohibiting the secretary from using his or her authority to fire employees who filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.

The bill cleared the Senate on a voice vote last week. It now heads to Trump for his signature.

The bill had significant bipartisan support in the Senate, including from Sen. Bill Nelson, who signed on as one of 39 co-sponsors.

The measure comes more than three years after a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for an appointment. VA employees created secret lists to cover up delays.

The VA has been plagued by years of problems, and critics complain that too few employees are punished for malfeasance. The bill lowers the burden of proof needed to fire employees — from a “preponderance” to “substantial evidence,” allowing a dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.

“At the end of the day, this bill is about holding the bad actors accountable, protecting the whistleblowers, and refocusing the VA on its missions to serve our nation’s heroes,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican during a floor speech Tuesday. “With the passage of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, we are turning the page to a fresh start for the VA.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

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