The Democratic Party unveiled its new economic plan Monday, which includes the tagline: “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.”
Despite some on Twitter mocking the slogan as sounding a little too much like a Papa John’s ad, Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor digs it.
Among the policy proposals include focusing on lowering prescription drug prices, reforming corporate merger policies, pushing for a $15 an hour living wage, and creating jobs for 10 million Americans.
“These are the things that I talk about all the time,” Castor said Monday at an occasion celebrating the 52nd anniversary of Medicare held in the West Tampa building housing her district office. “We need better wages in the Tampa Bay area. We are still below the median wage when you compare us to other communities across the country,” she said, adding: “We can’t rely on tourism and real estate any longer. We have to support small business entrepreneurs that are often the pathway to better-paying jobs.”
As has been well-documented, the Democratic Party has been severely dismantled in both national and statewide elections around the country since 2010. The party has lost more than 1,030 seats in state legislatures, governor’s mansions and Congress during the Obama presidency, according to the AP.
As far as rebranding the party is concerned, Castor said it was “natural” to renew and refresh the Democratic message every few years.
“I think it encapsulates very well a lot of the policies that we’ve been working on,” she said, citing the push to lift wages to supporting students to attend college without getting hit by loft student loans.
“We’ve been waiting for the president, who said we’re going to do infrastructure, but there’s been no conversation about that,” she lamented.
Meanwhile, members of the House of Representatives are poised to vote Tuesday on a bill that punishes Russia for interfering in the U.S. election, as well as the 2014 annexation of Crimea and its ongoing military activity in eastern Ukraine.
The Senate passed its version, 97-2, earlier this year, but the House had dithered for months on bringing up the bill, reportedly because of resistance by President Donald Trump.
“There was no rational reason to delay or postpone it, and I was disheartened that there was pressure by the White House to stall it,” she said. “But the reports are now that even the president is likely to sign the Russians sanctions bill. This is important. This is a response to Russian meddling in our election and people are asking me about it. They’re asking me about health care, but they also want to know how is the U.S. going to respond to the Russian meddling, and this is one important step.”
Russia issue not yet hurting GOP fundraising or giving Dems advantage
The saga regarding Donald Trump – Senior and Junior – and Russia continues with no end in sight. It began in January and now, following the latest “bombshell,” the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice-president, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, is throwing out the word “treason.”
To their credit, the Florida delegation is showing greater restraint. Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz did call Donald, Jr. “a liar” and that his actions represent “the definition of collusion,” but the t-word remained in the holster.
Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch took the opportunity of the latest revelations to urge the House to vote on a sanctions bill against Russia already passed by the Senate 98-2. Deutch said in a release that “failure to act on this sanctions bill makes the Speaker complicit in the White House’s apparent efforts to repay Russia’s political favors.”
All of this this has got to be killing GOP fundraising, right? Or, at the very least, Trump must be providing sufficient fodder for Democrats to raise a ton of campaign cash to bludgeon Republicans with rhetorical vodka bottles.
Second quarter fundraising reports are due later this week, but the first two months show Trump is actually helping Republicans raise money. While the Russia story percolated, the Republican National Committee set a record in the first quarter.
The RNC raised more than $20 million in May and June, more than twice the amount of the Democratic National Committee. The National Republican Congressional Committee and Republican National Senatorial Committee also set first quarter records.
To be fair, the new administration at the DNC is not yet up to speed, but the message is clear that the Russia issue is not hurting the Republicans on the money end.
Russia will also have little effect on federal races in Florida. In addition to Bill Nelson’s re-election race, a few competitive districts will focus – and raise money – on the usual kitchen table issues.
Nelson is expected to report another strong quarter. Late Wednesday evening, the Orlando Democrat’s campaign announced he will report raising more than $2.1 million between April 1 and June 30. The $2.13 million haul, according to the campaign, comes on top of raising nearly $2.1 million during the first three months of the year. Nelson, according to his campaign, now has more than $5.1 million in the bank.
Candidates in swing districts have either released or leaked their second quarter numbers. Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy, a target of national Republicans, raised $410,000 between April 1 and June 30, according to her campaign.
Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo, targeted by national Democrats, had a big haul with $705,000 in the second quarter, leaving him with $1.1 million cash on hand, according to the Miami Herald. St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist, also a target of national Republicans, hauled in $550,000, according to Florida Politics.
The Herald also reported Bruno Barreiro, one of those seeking the seating of the retiring Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, raised $176,000since his entry into the race in May. Numbers for Barreiro’s opponents were not available.
The old saying, “all politics is local” is likely to be true in all areas of the country, but especially in Florida.
Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.
VP: Touched NASA equipment because “Rubio dared me”
Pence tweeted out from his official Twitter account on Friday that while he and Rubio were touring NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, the Florida senator had dared him to touch the surface of “critical space flight hardware” that had a sign saying “DO NOT TOUCH” taped to it.
Rubio responded jokingly that he had warned Pence that if he broke it, he owned it. NASA’s social media account tweeted back at Pence, telling him that touching it wasn’t a big deal, as they were going to clean it later anyway.
The vice president wasn’t done with the jokes, however.
“Okay…so this isn’t exactly the first time this has happened,” Pence tweeted, posting a photoshopped picture of himself touching a porcupine.
— Tweet, tweet:
Air Force backs moratorium on drilling in the Gulf
The U.S. Air Force supports extending a moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, according to a recent letter from David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, to Sen. Bill Nelson.
In theJune 27 letter to Nelson, Goldfein said he was writing in “whole-hearted support of a proposal seeking to extend the moratorium on leasing, preleasing or any other related activity in the area east of the Military Mission Line in the Gulf of Mexico.” Goldfein said the Air Force fully supports the development of domestic energy resources, so long as it is compatible with the military testing, training and operations.
“The moratorium on oil and gas leasing, pre-leasing, and other related activities ensures that these vital military readiness activities may be conducted without interference and is critical to their continuation,” he wrote.
“The moratorium is essential for developing and sustain the Air Force’s future combat capabilities,” he continued. “Although the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act’s moratorium does not expire until 2022, the Air Force needs certainty of the proposed extension to guarantee long-term capabilities for future tests. Emerging technologies such as hypersonics, 5th generation fighters, and advanced sub-surface systems will require enlarged testing and training footprints, and increased Air Force reliance on the moratorium far beyond 2022.”
Nelson, a long-time opponent of drilling near the coast, filed legislation earlier this year to extend the moratorium until 2027.
Rubio joins Coons in highlighting need for pediatric medical research
A briefing featuring experts from Nemours Children’s Health System and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia aimed to highlight the urgent need to include children in cancer research and precision medicine initiatives.
Sen. Rubio and Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, co-hosted and spoke at a policy briefing this week to highlight the need for pediatric medical research. The policy briefing came as the House was poised to take up a package in the coming days that could close a research loophole.
“Even though our technical capabilities have caught up to enable researchers to pinpoint similarities in adult and childhood cancer genomes, the law that prompts companies to examine the drug’s safety in children has not been updated,” said Rubio. “The pace of innovation is moving much faster than the ability of a republic to keep pace with.”
Rubio said the House could take up a package that included legislation — the RACE for Children ACT — to close what he called an “unintended loophole” this week.
Rubio — along with Republican Cory Gardner, and Democrats Michael Bennet and Chris Van Hollen — reintroduced the RACE for Children, or Research to Accelerate Cures and Equity for Children Act, in February. According to Rubio’s office, the bill would update the Pediatric Research Equity Act to reflect the latest advances in drugs, and has the backing of Nemours Children’s Health System, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, MD Anderson Cancer Institute, and more than 100 pediatric cancer advocacy programs.
“Now what this is, this is the result of a lot of hard work from a number of stakeholders, including our hosts here today. So this is an exciting step forward, but it is only one piece of the puzzle,” Rubio said this week. “With the launch of the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot and the All of Us Precision Medicine initiatives, we have a real opportunity to close the gaps between public policy and research with today’s technology. And we must all work together to ensure that as we close that gap, pediatric medicine in general and pediatric oncology in particular are not left out.”
Kate’s Law draws some bipartisan support within delegation
Just before the House and Senate went on their July 4 recess, two contentious bills came up for final votes in the House. One isKate’s Law, named after the murdered San Franciscan Kate Steinle, which calls for strict penalties for criminal aliens who return to the U.S. after being deported.
Virginia Republican Bob Goodlette was the bill’s sponsor with Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz and Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan among 17 co-sponsors. The bill passed 257-167 with 24 Democrats joining all but one Republican (Justin Amash of Michigan) voting in favor.
Among the 24 Democrats voting aye was Val Demings of Orlando, Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg.
That same day, the House also passed theNo Sanctuary for Criminals Act which, among other things, would withhold federal grant money for “sanctuary cities.” Goodlette was also the sponsor of that bill, while Gaetz and Buchanan were also co-sponsors.
It passed on a more partisan vote, 228-195. All Florida Republicans voted for it and all Democrats voted against it.
“Taxpayer dollars should not be going to jurisdictions that provide safe harbor to dangerous criminals,” Buchanan said while noting Steinle’s alleged killer was on the street because of sanctuary policies. “These two bills ensure we prioritize public safety.”
Also adding voice to his yes vote on both bills was Naples Republican Francis Rooney.
“It’s tragically too late to save the life of Kate Steinle, who was murdered by a 5-time deported criminal illegal alien with 7 prior felony convictions,” Rooney said in a statement. “We must deter illegal immigrants who have been convicted and deported, from re-entering our country.”
Single-payer health care becoming more popular with delegation Democrats
While Republicans try to unite on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, Democrats are not solidly behind a plan themselves. One idea floated in 2010, but gaining some traction recently, is the idea of single-payer health care.
Those signing on are Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, Al Lawson of Tallahassee, Darren Soto of Orlando, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Kathy Castor of Tampa.
While such legislation has almost zero chance of passing a Republican Congress, Castor told Florida Politics that now is the time to look for alternatives to bring down escalating costs of health care in America. The idea is polling better than in the past.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in June found 53 percent, the highest ever, support single payer. The number of Democrats supporting it represents 52 percent of the Democratic caucus, but that is watered down by zero support from Republicans.
Gaetz’s beach ownership bill heads to House floor
Legislation overturning decades of federal government restrictions in the Florida Panhandle is headed to the House floor, after the House Committee on Natural Resources recently OK’d it.
Sponsored by Rep. Gaetz, the bill gives leaseholders in Santa Rosa Island the option to acquire fee simple title to their land. Melissa Nelson Gabriel with the Pensacola News Journal reports the bill would overturn restrictions put in place by the federal government when it deeded a portion of Santa Rosa Island to Escambia County after World War II.
The federal government transferred land that was part of the Santa Rosa Island National Monument to Escambia County in 1947. Since then, according to Gaetz’ office, Santa Rosa Island resident have been ineligible to own their land, only lease it. While businesses and residents of Santa Rosa Island initially only paid lease fees, Gaetz’s office said the rules have changed and residents are now required to pay both lease fees and property taxes.
“Residents of Santa Rosa Island have suffered under double taxation for years,” said Gaetz in astatement. “My bill will help lift this unfair tax burden, and will finally give Santa Rosa Island residents the ability to obtain titles to their property. As a Republican, I believe land ownership is a cornerstone of the American dream — and now, for Santa Rosa Island residents, it’s finally within reach.”
The bill would require Escambia County to turn over to Santa Rosa County the land it owns there within two years, thus eliminating confusion around county land ownership, said Gaetz’s office. It also calls on Escambia to preserve the areas of the conveyed monument land that are dedicated for conservation, preservation, public recreation access, and public parking.
Sen. Rubio has introduced similar legislation in the Senate.
“This is a team effort on the part of federal, state, and local governments,” said Gaetz. “This is how legislation is supposed to work. I am happy to hear that the bill will come to a vote soon, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and the Senate to make this long-anticipated goal a reality at last.”
Yoho defends Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting
Rep. Ted Yoho came to Donald Trump Jr.’s defense this week, saying a meeting with someone who might have information helpful to a campaign isn’t out of the ordinary.
“Keep in mind, she wasn’t an official for the Russian government, the way I understand it. She’s a lawyer — a Russian lawyer — and if somebody comes to us and says, ‘Hey, we’ve got information on an opponent,’ yeah, I think that’s an appropriate thing to do,” the Yoho Republican toldCNN’s Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room this week. “I don’t think it was inappropriate for what he did. If you’ve got information about an opponent running against you, wouldn’t you want that information to vet it, to see if it’s real information, and to use it accordingly? And you can’t do that if you don’t have the initial meeting.”
Donald Trump Jr. acknowledged this week that he met with a Russian lawyer, who he had been told might have information helpful to his father’s presidential campaign. The statement was issued in response toNew York Times reporting that Trump Jr. was promised damaging information about then-candidate Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya.
CNN reported that Veselnitskaya is a Russian lawyer who represents Russians who want to see an end of U.S. sanctions.
Yoho told CNN that he also would have probably taken the meeting.
“Do I think it’s appropriate? I think I probably would have done the same thing,” he said. “I mean, it’s opposition research and, you know, anybody that’s been in an election — you’re always looking to get the upper hand.”
— Tweet, tweet:
— DCCC spokesman Cole Leiter responds: “Congressman Yoho’s admission that he would have taken opposition research from Russians with ties to Vladimir Putin is outrageous. Sadly, Yoho is taking his cues from fellow Florida Republican, Congressman Brian Mast, who called Russian hacked material ‘open source,’ and the National Republican Congressional Committee, which actually used material hacked by Russians in their 2016 attack ads. Voters are looking for leaders, not opportunists who are willing to sell out the sanctity of our Democracy for cheap political points.”
Murphy, T. Rooney join West Point oversight board
Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Tom Rooney have joined the board overseeing the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, reportsScott Powers with Orlando Rising.
The two members — Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, and Rooney, an Okeechobee Republican — were appointed in May to congressional seats on the academy’s Board of Visitors, which in many ways is the equivalent of a Florida university’s board of trustees.
TheU.S. Military Academy Board of Visitors keeps an eye on and considers the morale and discipline, curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs, academic methods, and other matters relating to the academy.
Both were appointed by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, and have indefinite terms. They join the board’s chair, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York, U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, and six presidential appointees.
Crist named co-chair of economic task force
The St. Petersburg Democrat has been named a co-chair for the Blue Dog Coalition Task Force on Economic Growth for the 115th Congress. He is joined by Lou Correa of California.
The mission of the task force is to advocate policies that focus on creating a positive economic climate geared toward boosting economic growth and creating jobs. Among the goals are advancing policies that accelerate the economic recovery, create good job opportunities for middle class Americans and assisting small business owners as they work to grow their companies.
“While our economy continues to recover from the great recession, too many hardworking Americans still struggle to find good-paying jobs and entrepreneurs still face difficulties to secure loans needed to start or expand their own businesses,” said Crist in a statement. “It’s our job in Congress to work together to address these challenges, creating an environment that fosters economic growth.”
Blue Dog Democrats, who advocate some fiscally conservative policies, have not held much influence in recent years following the defeat of several prominent members, including north Florida’s Allen Boyd. By re-filling the pool with new members such as Crist and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, coalitions with moderate Republicans may be possible – if leadership permits.
“The Blue Dogs are continuing their tradition of strong leadership on economic growth, fiscal responsibility, government reform and accountability, and national defense,” said Daniel Lipinski, the group’s co-chair for policy of Illinois.
Diaz-Balart tours Herbert Hoover Dike
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart toured the Herbert Hoover Dike with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and Hendry County officials to get an update on rehabilitation efforts.
“The rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike is a key step towards restoring the Everglades,” said the Miami Republican, who is the founder and co-chairman of the Everglades Caucus “In Congress, I will continue to work with our federal and local partners to ensure that critical rehabilitation projects like the Herbert Hoover Dike remain a priority and are adequately funded.”
Diaz-Balart, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, was able to secure nearly $50 million for repairs this year. Diaz-Balart was able to include $82 million for the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation project and $76.5 million for Everglades restoration in the energy and water bill for fiscal 2018.
“Florida is fortunate to have so many diverse natural treasures that have significant impacts on our local community” he said in a statement this week. “These funds will go towards the ongoing Everglades restoration work that is vital to the ecosystem’s preservation. Continued funding for the Herbert Hoover Dike is critical to the timely rehabilitation of the waterway.”
Diaz-Balart was joined by Col. Jason Kirk, the commander and district engineer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District; Clewiston Mayor Mali Gardner, LaBelle Mayor David Lyons, and Hendry County Commissioner Karson Turner.
“I’m glad that Mayors Gardner and Lyons and Commissioner Turner were able to join me on this tour to get a first-hand look at the progress being made,” said Diaz-Balart. “I particularly want to thank Colonel Kirk for his unwavering and steadfast leadership.”
Lake O Rural Health Network gets federal rural health grant
Rep. Diaz-Balart recently announced the health network received a $297,408 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. TheRural Health Network Development Program grant can be used to “provide support for networks of rural providers to integrate administration, clinical, technological and financial functions to improve health care delivery.”
“This grant will allow LORHN and local medical professionals to deliver a higher quality of care to its patients in Florida’s rural communities,” said Diaz-Balart in a statement. “I look forward to continue working with LORHN as they serve Southwest Florida.”
LORHN serves rural parts of Southwest Florida, including LaBelle, Clewiston and other areas of Hendry County.
Ros-Lehtinen calls on Germany to do more for Holocaust survivors
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wants German officials to do more for Holocaust survivors, calling on officials to “comprehensively address the medical, mental health and long-term needs of survivors.”
Last year, Ros-Lehtinen and other members of the Florida delegation called on Germany to provide more financial assistance to Holocaust survivors.Kevin Derby with Sunshine State News reported the group cheered with the country announced it would lift caps on assistance to survivors for home care.
Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement that last year both the House and Senate “unanimously agreed that Germany must do more to ensure that all Holocaust survivors can live their remaining years in the comfort and dignity that they deserve.”
“We urged our partners, Germany, to reaffirm its commitment to comprehensively address the medical, mental health, and long-term care needs of survivors by guaranteeing full funding to meet those needs. Now Germany has an opportunity to step up when it concludes its upcoming negotiations with the Claims Conference, and the Claims Conference leaders must recognize that Germany can do more for survivors,” she said in a statement ahead of annual negotiations between the government and the Claims Conference.
“Those leaders at the Claims Conference must not accept anything less than a comprehensive, permanent, and accountable commitment to fully fund survivors’ medically prescribed needs,” she continued. “Allowing once again for a modest increase when so much more is needed is not consistent with Germany’s past statements of responsibility, would defeat the purpose of the Claims Conference, and would tragically force tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors to continue to suffer when we all know the resources exist to provide the care and dignity that survivors worldwide deserve.”
Ros-Lehtinen urged the two sides to “do the right thing and not settle for anything less than what is really and truly needed.”
The good news for Republicans in the 2018 Florida Congressional elections is that Republicans have dominated not only the congressional elections, but also most elections statewide. The Republicans currently hold a 16 to 11 advantage in congressional seats.
The bad news for Republicans is virtually everything else. Most of the important election factors favor the Democrats.
Money has always been the lifeblood of politics, and Republicans have dominated partisan fundraising for over two decades. This is why the recent fundraising report is bad news for the Republicans. The Democrats raised $1.3 million more than the Republicans in the second quarter ($1.67 million for the Democrats and $338,00 for the Republicans). The total raised for the first six months of 2017 find the Democrats leading Republicans $3.5 million to $2.4 million for the Republicans. This is almost an apocalyptic sign.
The president’s approval rating is directly related to election success. President Trump started with the lowest approval ratings in modern history, and the only direction his ratings have gone is down. Trump’s approval is now in the mid-30’s, which will drag down many Republicans.
Trump’s poor ratings are tied to three primary events. His firing of FBI Director James Comey, his alleged ties of Trump and Administration officials to the Russian government in trying to impact the 2016 election results, and the strongly negative reaction by the public to the Republican effort to, “repeal and replace Obamacare.” Combine this with the failure of the Trump Administration to pass a single major piece of legislation, it is easy to see the dilemma facing Republicans in congress.
Another obstacle confronting Republicans is the impact of midterm elections. Since 1952, the president’s party has won majorities in only four of 16 midterm elections. Each of those four elections where the president’s party won contained unique circumstances that do not now exist.
In 1964 and 1976, Democrats won enormous majorities in the House that almost guaranteed losses in the next midterm election. LBJ racked up a large House majority as a reaction to the extreme positions of Goldwater and, in 1976, Democrats won a huge majority due to the reaction against Nixon and Watergate.
In 1962 and 2002, the majority party maintained control due to the popularity of their president. In 1962, President Kennedy’s popularity hovered around the 70% range due to the Berlin and Cuban missile crises. In 2002, President George W. Bush’s popularity rose to 60% due to 911 and the Afghanistan invasion. Presidential popularity almost always increases when there is an international crisis.
Since the Republican Party does not have a 2 to 1 majority like the Democrats had in 1964 and 1976 and, since the Republicans do not have a president with high approval rates such as occurred in 1962 and 2002, the conditions are good for a Democratic victory.
Finally, the generic ballot finds Democrats with a 7-point advantage, 44 to 37%. If the Democrats can maintain at least a five-point lead in the generic ballot, they should be able to flip the 24 seats needed to regain a house majority.
The opportunity is there for the Democrats. It was also there for them in the 2016 election, and look what happened. Opportunity does not guarantee success.
While the 58-year-old Naples Democrat has the backing of local Democrats and activists, he will face an uphill battle in the Southwest Florida congressional district. Rooney, the former ambassador to the Holy See, handily won his election in 2016, and the district — which covers part of Collier and most of Lee County — is a Republican stronghold.
Still, Holden isn’t letting that stop him. Hetold the Naples Daily News he plans to attack Rooney on health care and the environment.
The Naples Daily News reported Holden’s political activism stretches back to his parents, who were civil rights activists and were against the Vietnam War. He helped flip a City Council in White Plains, New York, through a series of campaigns and as the local Democratic party chairman during the late 1980s and ‘90s.
Holden moved to Naples two years ago.
Gov. candidate Chris King weighs in on “Trumpcare”
We know how the delegation Democrats feel about theGOP health care bill. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, both candidates for governor, make no bones about their distaste for the effort to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”
This week the other Democratic candidate, Winter Park Businessman Chris King, went on the record with a detailed critique of the legislation that is dividing Republicans. While the message is similar to what is heard in Washington, King presents his case in simple terms.
“First, it’s not a health care bill. It’s a massive tax cut bill paid for with huge cuts to health care,” he said in a release issued by his campaign. “Trumpcare is an attack on older Americans. Anyone over 50 will feel the draconian cuts most acutely.”
King makes the case the bill will allow “insurance companies to charge older Americans 5 times the amount they charge everyone else.” The Affordable Care Act allowed those companies to charge older Americans 3 times the amount.
“As governor, I will do everything I can to protect affordable, quality health care coverage for all Floridians,” he said.
Save the date
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president, will attend a fundraising reception for his re-election campaign at The Francis in Sarasota on July 23.
The event is being billed as a chance to meet Kaine and hear about strategies to “combat the policies coming out of the Trump administration.”
Watchdog looks into rapid rise by Ballard Partners DC operation
TheCenter for Public Integrity recently profiled the continuing rise ofBallard Partners’ Washington, DC office, as well as founder and President Brian Ballard. Stories featuring Ballard’s ties to President Trump are not new, but this one comes from an organization dedicating to “revealing abuses of power; corruption and betrayal of public trust by powerful public and private institutions using the tools of investigative journalism.”
Ballard “must ply his trade in the nation’s capital without looking as if he’s selling access to a president who has promised to stand up to special interests – a tricky course to navigate that has quickly tripped up other Trump alumni such as former campaign manager-turned-lobbyist Corey Lewandowski,”the story reads.
“There’s a lot of blurred lines, you know,” Ballard said. “It’s easy to say ‘oh, you’re a Trump person, you get this and that,’ but I don’t think it works out that way.”
Among the many interesting revelations from the article involves Ballard client Univision. Following the hostile relationship between the network and Trump (hethrew out correspondent Jorge Ramos from a campaign press conference), Univision has retained Ballard to “help mend the rocky relationship between Trump and the network.”
The Center for Public Integrity is led by Chief Executive Officer John Dunbar, the former chief investigative reporter for the Florida Times-Union and a graduate of the University of South Florida.
Murphy to lead Future Forum Foundation
Former Rep. Patrick Murphy has been tapped to serve as the chairman of a new political non-profit organization, which aims to identify solutions to the challenges facing millennials.
Dubbed the Future Forum Foundation, the group will raise and deploy resources to provide advocacy organizations, elected leaders and other forward-thinking individuals a platform to explore the changing dynamics facing young Americans. The group is expected to conduct research, hold events, and create partnerships with the private sector, young professionals and students.
“Now is the time for the next generation of leadership to step up and take the lead. I’ve seen first-hand the disconnect between the leaders who serve us and our changing young workforce. Millennials are at the heart of every critical issue facing our nation,” said Murphy, a Palm Beach County Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2016.
“They are defining the future of work. By gaining a better understanding of the economic uncertainty and the disruption caused by technology and automation, we can empower a new generation of leaders to find solutions.”
Trump nominates #FloridaMan as ambassador to Italy
President Donald Trump will nominate Vero Beach resident Lewis Eisenberg as the ambassador to Italy, reports Kristina Webb with the Palm Beach Post. Eisenberg will also serve concurrently and without additional compensation as the ambassador to the Republic of San Marino.
Eisenberg is the co-founder and managing partner of Ironhill Investments in New York, and is the former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Eisenberg also served on Trump’s inaugural committee and donated more than $35,000 to Trump’s presidential campaign.
He now faces Senate confirmation.
Backlash against bourbon?
The nation’s bourbon industry could take a hit if the European Union acts on a threat to respond to a blanket steel tariff being mulled by the Trump administration.
Amanda Holpuch with The Guardian reported recently that EU officials confirmed one of the targeted products could be bourbon, 95 percent of which comes from Kentucky. According to The Guardian, U.S. spirit exports to the EU were valued at $654 million in 2016, 20 percent of which was from bourbon.
As Senate Republicans return to Washington this week, looking to salvage their attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, support grows among Democrats for a single-payer health care system.
The co-sponsor count for Michigan Democrat John Conyers‘ “Medicare for All” bill now stands at 113, nearly twice as many as last year. One of those new Democratic co-sponsors is Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor.
Castor signed on to the legislation in April, joined by five other Florida Democrats this year: Alcee Hastings, Frederica Wilson, Al Lawson, Darren Soto and Ted Deutch.
In a brief interview Monday after speaking with health care officials in Tampa on the opioid epidemic, Castor said that while she knows that such legislation won’t be passed anytime soon in a Republican-controlled Congress, she thinks now is the time to look for alternatives to bring down escalating costs of health care in America.
Under a single-payer system, all Americans would have health coverage, while the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates 22 million people would become uninsured under the Senate GOP health care plan.
Republicans believe support for the issue can hurt Democrats at the polls.
Although Florida Senator Bill Nelson doesn’t support such a plan, the fact that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren does was enough for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to run a Facebook ad last week linking the two lawmakers.
Citing Warren’s recent comments on getting behind a single-payer plan, the ad’s narrator says such a system “would be absolutely devastating for Florida families and businesses.”
Castor noted that she has previously supported a government public-option plan.
The idea of a public option is to create a separate, government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers offering coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchanges. President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders included versions of the public option in their proposals in 2009 when they first began working on health care reform. But they dropped the idea relatively quickly.
Democrat Patrick Murphyembraced the idea during his unsuccessful Senate run last year, as has current gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham.
Support for a single-payer health care system has never been higher.
That’s the highest level of support in the 19 years since Kaiser began polling on the issue. However, Kaiser Health officials point out that “a prolonged national debate” on the issue could easily shift the public’s attitudes.
According to the Kaiser Health website: “For example, when those who initially say they favor a single-payer or Medicare-for-all plan are asked how they would feel if they heard that such a plan would give the government too much control over health care, about four in ten (21 percent of the public overall) say they would change their mind and would now oppose the plan, pushing total opposition up to 62 percent.
“Similarly, when this group is told such a plan would require many Americans to pay more in taxes or that it would eliminate or replace the Affordable Care Act, total opposition increases to 60 percent and 53 percent, respectively.”
David Jolly offers some advice for his former GOP colleagues when called upon to comment on President Donald Trump‘s more egregious tweets: Just ignore him.
“No more trips to the White House. No more flights on Air Force One. No more accepting his gratuitous offers of signing ceremonies, White House cocktails, or meetings with his children. No more asking the White House for permission, for policy advice, or for the President’s priorities,” the former Pinellas County congressman writes in an op-ed on CNN’s website.
“Honor your oath as a fiduciary of Article I, who holds the public trust. Strike out with your own bold agenda that wins the hearts and minds of the American people. And leave this President behind. Leave him to his Twitter account and to placating his base with disgusting tweets.”
New polling suggests that it’s not just media elite and/or Democrats who have grown weary of some of Trump’s outlandish Twitter comments, such as his broadside against MSNBC “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski, who he said last week was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” when he saw her a few months ago.
According to a poll conducted by Morning Consult in partnership with POLITICO published Wednesday, 65 percent of those surveyed said it was “unacceptable” for Trump to attack Brzezinski as he did.
Even among Republicans, more people called it unacceptable (46 percent) than acceptable (28 percent) for the president to say such things. Both men and women agreed the tweets were unacceptable, though more men (22 percent) than women (12 percent) found the comments acceptable.
As a prolific commentator on CNN and MSNBC since Trump’s inauguration in January, Jolly has been mostly critical of the president’s policies and performance in office. While that makes him an outlier among Republicans currently in office, he’s hardly the only conservative on cable airwaves taking issue with Trump, joining Ana Navarro, Jennifer Rubin, GeorgeWill and others on the right to criticize the president.
“You see, when members of Congress condemn a tweet and then fall in line with the President’s awkward leadership of domestic and foreign policy — such as when they race to be his guest at a South Lawn ceremony celebrating passage of a flawed health care bill that even the President himself now disowns — all their condemnation, and congressional resolve itself, is exposed as meritless,” Jolly writes.
Trump’s tweet against Brzezinski was certainly one of the most flagrant comments since using Twitter as president, earning a flood criticism from Democrats and even some Republicans in the immediate aftermath last week.
“President is a poor role model for America’s children, all of us,” Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor tweeted last week. “His tweets, actions are far beneath the dignity required of the office.”
One Democrat deciding not to comment on the latest social media messages from the president: Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.
Speaking with reporters in Tampa earlier this week, Nelson was asked (by this reporter) if he was bothered by Trump’s tweets onBrzezinski, as well as another featuring a mock video showing him body-slamming WWE promoter Vince McMahon, whose face was covered by a CNN logo.
“The essence of your question is — you’d like me to jump all over the president, and I’ll tell you what my answer is — I can’t do anything about how he conducts himself, but I can do something about how I conduct myself,” Nelson responded. “And it is my responsibility to conduct myself as a gentleman, to respect others, to try to be bipartisan, to try to bring people together and build bipartisan consensus.”
“That is my responsibility and my obligation, and I tried to do that, and I will continue to try to do that,” he concluded.
In the wake of Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff‘s four-pointlost to Republican Karen Handel in last week’s special election, there has been much hand-wringing among Democrats desperate to show that they’re building momentum going into the 2018 midterms.
Ossoff’s loss was the fourth special election to go to the Republicans in the first six months of the Trump presidency.
“Our brand is worse than Trump,” Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan lamented the day after Ossoff’s loss, while New York Representative Kathleen Rice of New York told CNN the entire Democratic leadership team should go.
First and foremost, Rice and Ryan are referring to Nancy Pelosi, who has been at the head of the Democratic House leadership since 2003.
Pelosi has fought back tenaciously, saying she isn’t going anywhere, and she has a majority of supporters in her caucus, such as Tampa U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, who continues to stand by her despite the growing criticism of her tenure.
“This is the exact wrong time to be having this discussion because everyone needs to be focused on defeating this health care bill in the Senate this week,” Castor told FloridaPolitics when asked Monday morning in Tampa where she stood on the issue.
The calls among some Democrats to oust Pelosi have been ongoing for years as the Democrats have continued to lose seats in the House of Representatives. Those grumblings were loud after last fall, and reached a fever pitch way back in 2010 after the Republicans took back the House and the speakership from Pelosi.
While calling Pelosi “a strong leader,” Castor said Monday that “over the next few years, you’re going to see a change in the House leadership.”
One would think so. Pelosi is 77. Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer from Maryland is 78, while assistant Democratic leader James Clyburn turns 77 next month.
While some pundits and Democrats said that last week’s election was one that Democrats needed to show that they will have a big year against vulnerable GOP incumbents in Congress, others have noted that it was a district that has always been Republican.
“This is Newt Gingrich’s (former) district; (now-Health Secretary) Tom Price’s district. A first-time candidate. That was going to be a toughie,” said Castor, who made a campaign appearance for Ossoff.
In fact, Price defeated his Democratic challenger last November by 23 percentage points, and Georgia Six was Gingrich’s home district for more than 20 years. But it was also a district that is changing, and is now the 6th best educated congressional district in the country.
Trump narrowly won it by just 1.5 points over Hillary Clinton last fall, however.
“I thought it was a warning shot to the 70 other districts out there are more Democratic, or more independent than that one, you just watch,” said an ever-confident Castor about the Democrats chances of winning back House seats in 2018.
I’m not distraught over that at,” she said. “I’m more hopeful than anything.”
“That’s untrue, because they propose to cut about $850 billion out of Medicaid over the next decade, and you simply cannot cut that far without damaging the health of our neighbors,” Castor told reporters Monday at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge located on the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida.
“That’s a fallacy,” Castor added. “It would have a devastating impact on our neighbors.”
On Sunday, two officials with the Trump administration denied the bill will severely cut Medicaid.
“It slows the rate for the future, and it allows governors more flexibility with Medicaid dollars, because they’re closest to the people in need,” she told host George Stephanopolous.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Health Secretary Tom Price echoed Conway’s remark, saying that the Medicaid cut “all depends on what you’re comparing it to,” claiming it will be affected by how medical care costs change from year to year.
In fact, the legislation would roll back the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, starting in four years. It would also make deeper cuts to Medicaid by placing “per capita caps” on the program such that states will receive only a set amount of money for each recipient, no matter how much their care actually costs.
Unlike the House health care bill, the Senate bill appears to preserve coverage for pre-existing conditions by barring states from having the option to apply for a waiver. However, the Senate bill would allow states to apply for waivers so insurance companies could deny coverage for a list of Essential Health Benefits, including outpatient, mental health, maternity, and emergency room care, among others. Coverage of these benefits is guaranteed by the ACA. The House and Senate versions of the bills would change that.
“In states that choose these waivers, insurers could decide not to cover expensive cancer therapies,” said Heddie Sumpter with the American Cancer Society Action Network, one of several health care organization coming out in opposition to the Senate bill.
The opposition to the GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act is also providing great concern to some Latino organizations.
“Under the ACA, millions of Hispanic families across the country, and tens of thousands in Tampa have finally attained quality health care coverage that they would otherwise not be able to afford,” said Sylvia Alvarez with theNational Council of La Raza, who said the Senate bill would provide just as much pain to Latinos as the earlier passed version in the House of Representatives.
Citing a study conducted by the national NCLR branch, Alvarez said between 2013 and 2015, the overall uninsured rate for non-elderly Hispanics in Florida declined from 29 percent to 19 percent. Among Latino children, she said the rate dropped from 14.4 percent to 8.5 percent during the same two-year period.
Castor said she can’t figure out why congressional Republicans — first in the House and now in the Senate, are going about eviscerating the Affordable Care Act in a way that won’t bring relief to many of their own constituents.
“I heard no one on the stump out there saying ‘we’re going to target kids, we’re going to target seniors and nursing homes and the disabled community for cuts, and that’s their campaign platform,” said the Tampa Democrat. “Instead they’re using this repeal and replace for the Affordable Care Act as a guise to go change the Medicaid program like never before.”
Castor said it was time for Republicans and Democrats to come together in Washington to fight against higher health care costs. “Nothing in the GOP Senate bill addresses the issue of higher costs,” she said, adding as she is
“Nothing in the GOP Senate bill addresses the issue of higher costs,” she said, adding, as she is wont to do, that Congress should work on reducing the price of prescription drugs.
Upon the first review of what Republican Senators euphemistically call the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” Kathy Castor says it’s “worse” than the much-derided “American Health Care Act” passed earlier this year by the GOP House.
What most upsets the Democratic congresswoman from Tampa is that the bill “radically” restructures Medicaid.
“This is a dramatic overhaul of Medicaid that will cause families to lose care and present a very difficult budget to Florida,” she said in a conference call Thursday afternoon.
Medicaid is a federal/state program partnership that is administered by the states but mostly funded by Washington. In Florida, it’s mostly provided to children, people with disabilities and the elderly living in nursing homes suffering from specific ailments.
Currently, the feds pay on average about 64 percent; states pick up the rest.
The Senate GOP plan would repeal this structure, replacing it with caps on how much money states receive each year. Castor says this is a problem, because Florida already spends less on the program than most other states, despite it being the third largest in population.
Bloomberg News reports that, starting in 2025, the Senate bill would index Medicaid spending to a slower growth rate than the House version, which indexed Medicaid to the faster growth rate of medical inflation plus 1 percentage point, to try to keep pace with the disproportionate growth in health care costs.
Approximately 3.6 million Floridians rely on Medicaid, close to 20 percent of the state’s population.
“The Senate bill includes enormously consequential changes, that will clearly move the country backward on child and parent coverage,” says Joan Alker, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Children and Families and a research professor at Georgetown University.
“The only question on my mind is how quickly and sharply this U-turn would occur,” she added, saying that it would ultimately end the guarantee to the state of federal funding for Medicaid.
Alker says what’s most provocative is that the restructuring of Medicaid has nothing to do with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act: “This is just something that Congress is doing while they’re in the neighborhood.”
The American Hospital Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the Association of American Medical Colleges all came out in opposition to the bill Thursday afternoon.
Under the Senate bill, the federal government would continue paying subsidies to health insurance companies through 2019. It would also provide $50 billion to help stabilize insurance markets and hold down premiums from 2018 through 2021 — in other words, until after the next presidential election.
Castor says that the Senate bill, unlike the House counterpart, does preserve pre-existing conditions protections. But she says that provision is “totally undermined” by the fact that states can waive other insurance rules that could weaken the protections for essential health benefits, as well as lift caps on what a patient pays to an insurer. Also, the bill would provide $62 billion in grants to states for similar purposes from 2019 to 2026.
Also, the bill would provide $62 billion in grants to states for similar purposes from 2019 to 2026.
At least four GOP senators are already indicating they cannot support the bill as written, raising the possibility there won’t be an up-or-down vote on the bill within the next week, a self-imposed deadline created by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The House Financial Services Committee passed the bipartisan “Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act,” one of five flood insurance related bills the committee advanced Wednesday.
Polk County Republican Dennis Ross and Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor are sponsors of the Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act, which now goes to the full House for consideration.
The lawmakers say the bill would encourage the development of a robust private flood insurance market that will provide homeowners more coverage options and lower costs.
“Currently, many homeowners in Florida and across the country face unaffordable flood insurance premiums and a lack of coverage options, largely due to burdensome federal regulatory barriers that give the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) a harmful monopoly over flood insurance policies,” said Ross. “The Flood Insurance Market Parity and Modernization Act will greatly benefit consumers in flood prone areas because it will remove these unnecessary barriers and allow more private flood insurers to enter the market, which will lead to increased competition and more affordable, comprehensive policies.
“Giving consumers options will ultimately hold the NFIP accountable for affordability, quality flood maps and service. I am proud this bill is moving forward with strong, bipartisan efforts and I thank Rep. Castor and my committee colleagues for supporting this important legislation.
“I am proud this bill is moving forward with strong, bipartisan efforts and I thank Rep. Castor and my committee colleagues for supporting this important legislation.”
“Families, homeowners, and small-business owners across Florida deserve financial stability, peace of mind and less confusion when it comes to flood insurance,” said Castor. “This bipartisan legislation is an important step towards a much-needed alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program. Competition can bring lower prices and relief from the flood insurance rate increases that threaten hardworking families and small businesses. In the previous Congress, Floridians led the way to a bipartisan flood insurance fix, and I was proud to join with Rep. Ross to lead the charge, then as I am today.
“This bill will provide sound solutions for my Tampa Bay neighbors and protect them from unreasonable flood insurance rate hikes. This is particularly important given NOAA’s recent warnings to brace for an above-average hurricane season.”
The committee passed four other bills, including the National Flood Insurance Program Administrative Reform Act of 2017, which seeks to make administrative changes to the NFIP to increase fairness and accuracy, and decrease taxpayer risk.
They also passed two bills introduced by Missouri Republican Blaine Luetkemeyer: The Taxpayer Exposure Mitigation Act of 2017, which would enable the NFIP to engage in private-sector risk transfer deals and would allow the development of private or community flood maps as an alternative to NFIP’s outdated maps. HR 2565 would require the NFIP to study how it uses replacement costs in setting premiums.
And by voice vote, the committee approved a bill by California Republican Ed Royce to amend the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 to ensure community accountability for areas repeatedly damaged by floods.
The flurry of legislation comes as the federal-government-managed NFIP is set to expire at the end of September, offering policymakers a chance to rethink the program, which is $25 billion in debt.
Local Realtors are closely tracking the various bills, including Brandi Gabbard of Smith & Associates in St. Petersburg. She is also running for City Council this year.
“The National Association of Realtors along with many other groups are focused on getting a long-term reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program and avoiding the unintended consequences and surprises many homeowners experienced following the passage of Biggert-Waters in 2012,” Gabbard says. “There are a number of different bills moving through the House and Senate and we are pleased that the Florida delegation is actively engaged in trying to make sure the interests of Floridians are represented in the debate. This is an incredibly important issue to Pinellas County residents specifically.
“I will continue to fight for good policy that works in their favor and to make sure this vital program does not lapse on Sept. 30.”
President Donald Trump told a crowd in Miami Friday he was keeping a campaign promise to roll back the “terrible and misleading deal” the Obama administration made with the Castro government in Cuba in 2014.
Two hours later, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor told reporters that the work of engaging the Tampa Bay area and the communist island will continue.
“I think President Trump’s new policy is regrettable and it takes us backward, because what it will do will really complicate our neighbor’s ability to travel to Cuba,” said Castor, a Democrat who has been a House leader in trying to end the economic embargo since flying to Cuba in 2013. “It’s going to make it more expensive, more costly and add bureaucratic red tape.”
Trump’s new policy will directly limit commerce with GAESA, the business and commerce wing of the Cuban military.
On non-Cuban-American travel, one change would make Americans visiting under the Obama administration categories of permitted travel subject to a Treasury Department audit, which could have a cooling effect on travel by adding a potential layer of inconvenience.
In his speech, Trump mentioned the lack of political and religious freedom for the Cuban people, as well as the release of political prisoners.
Of course, this is the same politician who said in Saudi Arabia last month: “We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”
“When you look at what they’ve said in Saudi Arabia, the relationship with Turkey, the Philippines, where the leader there is outright taking the lives of some of his citizens there’s a great inconsistency there,” Castor acknowledged.
In the years before Obama’s 2014 announcement, a group of local business and political leaders began pushing for more liberal relations with Cuba, saying that the Tampa region — the third largest area of the country for Cuban-Americans — was strategically behind getting prepared for when the fifty-year plus economic embargo was ultimately a thing of the past.
Nobody has been a bigger leader in the local movement than Al Fox, president of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation. He called Trump’s announcement one of the worst foreign policy decisions in the country’s history.
“A new Trump policy change does nothing to benefit Cuba and more importantly, treats United States citizens as second-class citizens,” Fox said in a statement. “By what logic can Dennis Rodman, as an American citizen, travel freely to North Korea but not to Cuba? You will not find one Cuban on the island of Cuba that will support President Trump’s anticipated announcement, including the small dissident movement.”
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. E.J. Otero, who has family in Cuba, has been a virulent critic ofObama’s move to end the diplomatic freeze out of Cuba back in December of 2014. He said Trump’s announcement “achieves a sense of balance,” adding that it didn’t go as far as the exile community would have liked but (obviously) will annoy supporters of rapprochement such as Castor and Fox.
The most significant fact “is the hotels,” Otero says. “If they’re state-run, you can’t stay there.”
Retired Tampa CPA and Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce official Jose Valiente also has family in Tampa. For years, he was a critic of any type of exchange with the Castro-led government but changed his attitude after a trip with the Chamber to Cuba a few years back.
Valiente said the announcement will affect the burgeoning entrepreneur movement in Cuba, specifically mentioning those who have started up restaurants, bars, bed-and-breakfasts, and farms in recent years and who were getting ready for “an avalanche” of American tourists that were going to be coming to Cuba.
“He said it was a great day in Cuba, ” Valiente said of Trump’s remarks. “I’m still trying to figure that out still what was so great about the announcement today to benefit the Cubans there today.”
Castor held her news conference at Tampa International Airport, which began offering commercial flights to Havana in 2011, and to other Cuban cities last winter.
Joining her at the news conference were officials from the Florida Orchestra, the University of Tampa and the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, all of whom have worked with their Cuban counterparts in recent years. The Aquarium agreed to cooperate with the National Aquarium of Cuba on research affecting their shared marine environment back in 2015.
“We’ve got a lot to learn from them, so the exchange has been tremendously helpful for us, and hopefully productive for them too,” said Margo McKnight, Florida Aquarium’s senior vice president of conservation, science and research. She vowed to continue that relationship,
“We won’t be daunted,” she said. “We have lots more to do and a lot more to learn.”
Castor maintained a similar attitude. She said the Tampa Bay area will continue to be a leader in cultural and scientific exchanges, but said that the loosening of travel restrictions over the past few years is being reversed, costing travelers money and more bureaucracy.
She said her greatest concern was that a reduction of U.S. tourists will erode the ability of private entrepreneurs on the island to grow their business.
Although the Tampa Democrat has a been a leader in trying to increase relations between the two nations, she’s by far not the only member in Congress who believes in that strategy.
Last month, 55 U.S. Senators, led by Arizona Republican Jeff Flake and Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, reintroduced the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which would eliminate current restrictions on traveling to Cuba for tourism purposes.
“Any policy change that diminishes the ability of Americans to travel freely to Cuba is not in the best interests of the United States or the Cuban people,” Flake said Friday. “It is time Senate leadership finally allowed a vote on my bipartisan bill to fully lift these archaic restrictions which do not exist for travel by Americans to any other country in the world.”
Castor has also entered a bipartisan bill in Congress calling for the elimination of the economic embargo. That measure does not have a majority in the House, however.
In a statement proclaiming Monday as “Pulse Remembrance Day,” Gov. Rick Scott described thePulse nightclub shooting that killed 49 people a year ago as “an attack on Orlando, our state, the Hispanic community and on the LGBTQ community.”
Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, the leading advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in Florida, is “glad” Scott acknowledges the killings were a direct attack on the gay community, specifically the Latino gay community.
But Smith believes the governor could go even further — by signing an executive order to include sexual orientation and gender identity in an anti-discrimination measure.
“We want to make sure that is in addition to, and not a substitute for, the real work of making sure that discrimination is not acceptable in the state of Florida, and he can do that with an executive order and a stroke of a pen,” Smith said at a Ybor City news conference Monday morning.
Also at the event were Congresswoman Kathy Castor and GaYBOR District co-founder Carrie West.
“We hope he does that, and we hope any candidate running for office that invokes the name of Pulse has the courage to name the victims and make clear their stance, not in platitudes, but in real promises,” Smith added.
That last comment referred to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a leading Republican candidate for governor next year. On Sunday, Putnam issued a statementthat neglected to mention that many of those of those killed last year in what was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history were gay and/or Latino.
Just a week after the shootings last year, Equality Florida called on Scott to take executive action to protect people from discrimination for sexual orientation or gender identity. Although many local governments include the LGBTQ community in their own human rights ordinances (including St. Petersburg, Tampa, Miami and a host of others), the state of Florida does not include sexual orientation and/or gender identity in its statewide laws.
The Florida Legislature once again opted not to pass the Florida Competitive Workforce Act this spring, the bill that would sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s list of groups that cannot be discriminated against. That’s despite the fact that the bill had its most momentum ever going into a session with 36 different co-sponsors, including Republicans like Dana Young, Chris Latvala and Joe Gruters.
The FBI declared the Pulse nightclub shooting an act of terror — but not a hate crime — despite the shooter targeting a gay club during Latin night.
“This was a hate crime, but the federal government did not follow through and designate it as a hate crime,” Castor said. “The march toward equal rights and civil rights in America has been steady, but sometimes it’s been slow.”
“Hate was clearly at the center of it,” Smith said, a reference to how the father of killer Omar Mateen had openly spoken about his disgust for gay people.
While the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage two summers ago was a wonderful achievement, Smith said there is still much work to be done “in the face of a rather ugly backlash” with the LGBTQ community.
“Everybody can stop that joke being told at the dinner table, they can intervene when they see street harassment, they can speak up in their workplace and ask ‘do we have policies that make it clear that everybody is going to be respected and treated equally?'” Smith asked rhetorically.
Just hours after the shooting, Equality Florida set up a GoFundMe page for the victims and their families. They took in $9.5 million before merging with the OneOrlando Fund, which ultimately raised more than $31 million.
In August, the organization also set up its new two-month “Safe & Health Schools Project.” That program is designed to provide all Florida school districts with resources necessary to support and affirm LGBTQ students.
And Castor said that there’s a lot of work to be done, referring specifically to President Donald Trump‘s selection of Roger Severino, a former Heritage Foundation staffer.
Severinohas arguedthat same-sex marriage threatens religious liberty and that civil rights protections should not extendto transgender patients.
Castor also said that Congress continues to refuse to support ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has failed to gather support back in the 1990s.
“As we remember our neighbors who lost their lives at the Pulse nightclub, it’s very important to honor them with action, and all of us can join together tonight in Ybor and come together but then demand that policymakers across the country really do action on equal rights for everyone,” Castor said, referring to an event commemorating the event scheduled to take place at Ybor’s Centennial Park at 7 p.m.